The Journey Continues -- Bike Stolen and Returned

There is no final destination, only occasional milestones.

The journey has taken many serendipitous turns since the traveler arrived in San Francisco, more than a month ago.

Did I proclaim that I didn't lock my bike once going across country, and nothing happened? Well, three weeks into the city life, the bike was promptly stolen, while locked. It didn't end there: two days later, the bike, the beloved KR White Dragon Horse, was returned. Here is the heartwarming story.

On Wednesday, September 11th, I stopped at a grocery store for some fruit. Quick trip, I thought, so I used a soft cable lock to lock the bike to a parking meter.

Five minutes later, when I came out of the store, the bike was gone. The thief nowhere to be seen.

The next day, I obtained a copy of the theft scene video from the grocery store. A homeless guy stole my bike, 20 seconds before I came out of the store. At least two persons witness the theft right in front of their eyes, within 5 feet, and did nothing.

I was quite upset, for many reasons. First, I was sad to lose the bike that went across the country with me. We are like old friends. We had so much pain and fun together. The bike is also the graduation gift from a dear friend, and the labor of love of the people who helped to build it up. What was lost was the emotional connections, friendship, and memories. Second, I blamed myself for not taking extra caution. The trust and safety of the summer bike journey disarmed my vigilance against the dark side. Third, upon seeing the video, I was shocked that people on the side walk just watched the theft happen right in front of their eyes, and did nothing.

As I ran around the block, trying to find any trace of the bike, I realized that I would never be able to see the city in the same light again. I would always be scanning the streets for my lost bike, thinking of every homeless person on the street as the potential bike thief, and not being able to enjoy the beauty of the city. In some ways, the lost sense of safety and peace of mind were even worse than the lost material.

To get back the beloved bike, and recover the peace of mind, I was determined to track down the bike thief, no matter what it takes. The workers at the grocery store, recognizing the thief from the security camera, told me that the thief is a "crazy, homeless person who steals stuff and begs for money around the neighborhood." He has stolen bikes before. I called the police on Wednesday, but they had other priorities. I called the police again on Thursday, and waited for 1.5 hours for them to come to the store to identify the thief on the security camera tape. But they didn't come.

So, I decided to take justice into my own hand. On Thursday evening, I went around the neighborhood, talked to a dozen homeless people, pretending that I want to buy a stolen bike, and eventually found my way to Civic Center -- the unofficial "stolen bike exchange" of San Francisco.

(To one homeless person, I asked if he knew the middle-aged, bearded, homeless guy who hangs around in the neighborhood and begs for money. He replied, who doesn’t beg for money? How true. Don’t we, or most of us, “beg” for money one way or another? Humbled by this “homeless philosopher.”)

After a few more leads, I finally met Cory, the "clearinghouse" of stolen bikes. Cory buys stolen bikes from the numerous bike thieves in the city, and resell them. I saw a transaction happen right in front of me. A young man, in his 20s, tried to sell a beautiful aluminum bike with carbon fork for $100 to Cory. When the young man opened his backpack, I saw a big pliers which he probably used to cut the locks. I chatted with the young man, and he shamelessly said he "is in the business of finding things, and sees Cory on a daily basis." I felt sad for this able-bodied, white young man, who has nothing better to do with his life than stealing bikes.

I approached Cory, and pretended that I was looking to buy a road/touring bike. He didn't have one on hand, but promised he would contact me if he sees one. I left the belly of the beast before it got pitch dark.

As I continued to monitor Craigslist and other potential location of my lost bike, I got an email from the police on Friday noon. They said they got my bike. I was overjoyed.

It turned out, that about half an hour after my bike was stolen, Vanessa, who works at TimBuk2, saw the homeless guy walking away with my bike. The homeless guy was too short for the bike, and he is dirty, messy, and wearing oversized winter slipper, while walking away with a fully-outfitted touring bike. That picture raised an alarm in Vanessa, and she courageously confronted the thief. Upon inquiry, the thief clearly didn't own the bike. Vanessa threatened to call the police, and cornered the thief so that he couldn't get away with the bike. Eventually, the thief fled, and Vanessa recaptured the bike!

Then, Vanessa reached out to SFPD through Twitter. Offier Friedman, who manages SFPD's anti-bike-theft Twitter account, matched the bike with my police report. So, after less than 48 hours, the KR White Dragon Horse was reunited with his old buddy.

I was so grateful for Vanessa. Her courage and sense of citizenship/responsibility helped to create a miracle of the city. What was restored was not just the bike, but also the "faith in humanity." It made me realize that for every one bad guy out there to hurt you, there are ten good people out there to help you. So many people offered assistance and support -- the owner and workers at the grocery store, my host family, my colleagues, and the police. It's a heartwarming experience. And, once again, I am able to appreciate the beauty of the city, instead of watching out for the stolen bike.

There are those who steal bikes; there are those who witness the theft and did nothing; there are those who had the courage and citizenship to act upon their conscience. We choose who we want to be.

Vanessa and Officer Friedman -- thank you!


lichiness said...

Zilong! I'm so glad you got your bike back. (^_^) Truthfully though, I was hoping that all of your detective work was the path that was going to lead you to the ultimate reunion. =) Ultimately I suppose it was a combination of a stranger's kindness and sense of justice along with your good karma!


Anonymous said...

Zilong ich bin ganz traurig dass wir keinen Kontakt haben, aber ich habe den provider gewecselt und vergessen alle Email Adressen zu speichern. Bitte hier meine neue Email klink1antik@web.de

Liebe Grüße Petra u HJ

Katharine Merow said...

Based on your experience (and your accrued wisdom!) do you have any advice for fellow victims of bike theft?

markus dombois said...

I am thrilled to have read of your adventures and travails and the resolution to this misfortune. As I live, so do you: all human misery is based on unfulfilled expectations. I also appreciate and concur with your astute observation on lawns and the American perception of nature.

Anonymous said...

What a great story, thanks for sharing your adventures, I'll continue to read your posts.

Funny observation about lawns, thanks for that.

@Katherin, advice on BayArea stolen bicycles. Check local flea markets: Laney College, OAK Colesium, Mission St. on 15st., Solano DriveIn, Concord.

Walk thru the Civic Center as well, be careful, if you do see your bike for sale ask a cop for help.

Bike theft is a business, no sense getting into a confrontation with third party stolen bike sellers.

For more info,Google stolen bikes SF, or contact SF Bicycle Coalition...

Good luck.

Unknown said...

Thank you for coming to visit us Zhilong

Anonymous said...

I also had a bike stolen about a year ago.

A friend waited for 3 weeks as she suspected that the bike would turn up for sale online and was correct. It was posted with photos so clear that it was clearly my bike.

The person selling the bike turned out to be a sleazy bike store owner. His bike shop was off the beaten trail in an industrial park and probably dealt mostly in stolen items.

I called the police who went to the store and convinced him that it would be easiest for him to just give it back to me.

The lazy cop didn't even write out a police report and even struck up a conversation with the shop owner as if that guy didn't know my bike was stolen. He already had admitted that the person who he bought it from was a homeless guy.

If this Asian man can "infiltrate" the bike theft ring, we all wonder... of course... why it is that the so called "detective" who handles bike thefts could not do the same thing.

Another case of lazy government employees in San Francisco.

Anonymous said...

What a heartening thing it is to read about you and your journey. It is a gift to your adopted country, which you honor and improve with your presence.
Thank you, Zhilong!

Anonymous said...

I a so sorry that you had your bike stolen, but thrilled you got it back. I hope the police act on the information you gave them about the ring. I am impressed by your detective work! I would suggest that you buy a cheap clunker for your trips around the city, and save your touring bikes for longer rides to avoid another theft. I have had two bikes stolen -- one (in SF) from my locked car in my garage. The other in NYC. My bike was locked with a U-shaped lock in front of the gym in a good area of town in broad daylight. Now, I never leave my bike unattended. Enjoy the rest of your time in San Francisco!

Anonymous said...

Nice story! Do you have a Surly? Me too.

Anonymous said...

the U lock is not enough for those who make a livng stealing bikes. It can be sawed through; mine was and it was parked during the day in a very public place. have lock improved since then? someone else can answer that question.

CAzulay said...

Great to hear it! I got my stolen inside my building less than a month ago here in SF. I guess I should check it out what's on Civic Center if it is still there. It might be too long ago now. Anyway, great to hear that that are still people out there to help out. Great for you and your bike that you both back together! Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Dear Zilong,

Very inspired by your story but several things troubled me about your words and your approach. Please understand that if you traveled across America and were a black woman or man you would have been discriminated against, very likely injured and maybe even dead.

Anonymous said...

Also, troubled by your assertions that the educational system is the best on earth. As a non us citizen you are more likely to be chosen over American born students. Research statistics on American born Asian and other people of color undergrad graduation rates. If you were so spiritually advanced you would see all people are the same (some good most not so much). You will see Americans are nicest when you're passing through their towns but set up life and see the true nature of the dogs were are forced to deal with here.

Willybee71 said...

I had my treasured bike stolen from me at a Community Swimming pool when I was 16...
I had actually mowed lawns for half the summer to pay for it. Spent the rest of summer '66 pumping Gas and mowing lawns to replace it !!
So glad you got yours back !!!

Stock Trading Guide said...

You my friend are, "in sync" with the universe.


Diane said...

Zilong, hello. What a great story of redemption! I had my treasured mountain bike stolen out of my locked car three weeks ago. My car was broken into right across from the Civic Center. This is a unique bike and has been on many a special journey. I would love to tap into your resources and most specifically the place that is a holding depository of stolen bikes. Please be in touch with me ASAP and welcome to San Francisco! Warmest regards, Diane