My bike was just there. And now it’s gone.
I’d been leaning “The Beast” up against the window at Jimmy John’s for a year. For the first few months that I worked there, I was really paranoid about locking it up every time I got back from a delivery. But I noticed that the other delivery riders didn’t bother. So why should I? No one ever had their bike stolen. No problem, right? Wrong.
Without my bike, I was without not only my transportation but also my job. I deliver at least a dozen sandwiches a day for Jimmy John’s. I bike to live, and live to bike.
So one morning not too long ago I’m in the middle of individually wrapping a batch of fifty-four sample sandwiches at JJ’s, and the phone rings. It’s just me and my boss in the shop, and she’s in the back. “I’ll get it,” I call out to her, and head for the phones,
“Jimmy John’s ODU, how may I help you?”
“This is the ODU police. Could you send the owner of the stolen bicycle out to meet our officer in the parking lot?”
“Wait, what? There’s only one rider here right now- me.”
I turned away from the phone bank to look at the window to see that my bike, “The Beast,” was indeed gone. In phenomenological terms, it was present in its absence.
I whipped off my gloves and apron and walked outside where a squad car was waiting for me in the parking lot. A brawny man in blue stepped out of an Old Dominion University Police cruiser, and said, “I’m Officer Beard. Are you the owner of the bike?”
“I just watched a person jump on your bike and ride away. I apprehended him on the other side of the parking lot. Would you like to press charges?”
I was caught off-guard by the question. I had become so used to leaving my bike at the ready in front of Jimmy John’s, and so trusting of our neighbors and customers that I didn’t really think anything of just leaving my bike out. It took me only a couple of seconds to make up my mind, “Yes, I do want to press charges.”
Officer Beard smiled and said one of the oddest things I’ve ever heard, “I need to have you identify the bicycle. Get in the car, and I’ll give you a ride over.”
And that’s how I came to be standing over my bike as it lay on the asphalt as a police officer took pictures of it, and asked me, “How much is it worth?”
“At least two thousand dollars.”
“Do you have receipts?”
“Not with me. But I can get them.”
“Can you get them by the end of the day?”
“Yes, I think so.”
I knew better. I knew I should have been locking my bike when it was at the shop. But I’d gotten lazy about it. I only locked it on deliveries to bike racks on campus. At the shop my bike was safe. Or so I thought.
After my six-year-old son’s unlocked bike was stolen from school bike rack, I had drilled into his head that he needed to lock it up. I kept on him to put his bike away, and not leave it laying on the lawn or across the sidewalk. At home, I kept my bikes indoors, away from prying eyes.
I had seen my friends’ and coworkers’ bikes get stolen even when they were locked up. I had to explain to one kid that a twenty-dollar pair of bolt cutters trump a twenty-dollar cable lock. I had the nicks on my Kryptonite U lock to prove that bolt cutters couldn’t cut it. I had preached the Gospel of the U Lock more than once. “U Lock it, or you lose it.”
Just as the time to wear a bike helmet is before you crash, the time to lock your bike is before it’s stolen.
The easiest way to keep your bike in one place is to put a lock on it. And different situations require different locks. The lock that you need in Manhattan will be much heavier than the lock you need while bikepacking the Yukon. In a low-risk environment, you may be able to get by just fine with a combo cable lock. But U locks are always more secure than cable locks. The heaviest option by far is a New York-grade chain lock, like the Kryptonite Fahgettaboudit.
If you’ve invested in a top-notch bike, you’ll also want to invest in a locking seat bolt clamp for your Brooks saddle and locking quick-release skewers for your wheels. While those make it harder for high-end components to be swiped off of your otherwise secure bike, you also need to pay attention to what you’re locking your bike to.
And your bike is only as secure as what you lock it to. A two hundred dollar unobtanium bike lock isn’t worth two cents if you lock it to a rickety wooden fence post. It’s not just the size of your lock that matters. It’s what you do with it.
You can also decrease your odds of having your bike stolen by locking it up next to bikes that aren’t locked as well. Most bike thieves are opportunistic and will grab the first bike that they can get away with. Locking your bike up next to bikes that aren’t locked up at all will make it more likely that the thief will take the unlocked, or just poorly locked, bikes first. No, it’s not fair, but it works.
So lock that bike up. If your bike is your life, if you rely on your bike for your job and health, than treat it with respect. Don’t be a fool like I was.
My day in court is coming up. Any day now I’ll be receiving a subpoena in the mail, summoning me to testify in court. For what it’s worth, I’m going to ask the judge for leniency. If the thief of my bike is addicted to drugs, I want the judge to divert them into a treatment program. I don’t want to be paying profits to a private corporation to house another convict.
But I also don’t want to see any more stolen bikes.
In the winter author Wesley Cheney delivers freaky fast sandwiches in Norfolk, Virginia for Jimmy John’s. In the summer he leads bicycle tours down Alaska’s White Pass for Sockeye Cycle Co. He also broadcasts his ukulele performances on Periscope, warts and all.