True Story: Last Night My Bike Got Stolen (but the thief brought it back!)

It was a Sunday night in Minneapolis. 40 riders set out on an urban course, an alleycat race. It’s a monthly must-attend event for me, the underground No Name Alleycat Series, held every first Sunday night of the month.

Well, tonight I rode in the No Name — 25+ miles of city streets, stop and go, navigating checkpoint to checkpoint on a scavenger hunt — and then I came into the end, the finish at a bar in the heart of the town.

Stolen on 11/02/14

I run inside to hand in my manifest sheet. My answers are scrawled in red marker. I’m happy with a solid finish.

Then back outside. My bike is gone! My heart sinks. I was inside for just a couple minutes, but a thief took the cue and rode away.

“Where’s my bike? Did you see anyone?” I ask frantically to two guys standing and smoking on the sidewalk.

vigilante stolen bike thief
Meet the Vigilante Bringing Bike Thieves to Justice
Combing the internet and the streets, this unassuming cyclist is doing what Minneapolis's law enforcement can't: Tracking stolen bikes and the perpetrators responsible. Read more…

“Oh, that was your bike?” one said.

“Yes. Where’d it go, who took it?”

“Some guy… some guy who rode that way.”

He points east down Franklin Avenue, a choked urban street that runs across town. I squint and look blocks ahead, the faint traces of a blinking red light (my bike’s taillight?) rolling away.

I take off running. My bike shoes clomp on cement. I chase the red blink ahead, slowly getting away.

Breathing hard. Feet screaming from running in tight, cleated shoes. But finally I catch the light. NOT my bike. It’s a dude in a wheelchair rolling away, a blinker on the back of his rig.

Protect Your Bike From Thieves: What You Can Do
Protect Your Bike From Thieves: What You Can Do
Bike thieves are after your ride. But you can make a bike harder to steal. Follow these tips from an "undercover bike vigilante" to make your bicycle more secure. Read more…

Defeated, I run back to the bar. Same fellas still outside smoking.

“Did you see who took it?” I plead. They seem hesitant, and then offer a vague description and point east again.

Another alleycat rider rolls up to the bar. “Can I borrow your bike, someone just stole mine.”

I hop on the borrowed ride and pedal east again, my LED helmet light on full blast. I scan each bike on the sidewalk. I look down alleys.

At a grocery store I stop to look at a rack of bikes. Mine is no where around.

It’s been 10 minutes. Losing hope. I ride and scan, hoping the bike has been ditched. It’s a track bike, fixed-gear and brakeless — not an easy bike to steal and pedal away with unless you know how to ride it.

I’m mad at the thief and mad at myself for not locking it up. The bike is a custom build, a model I’ve shaped over the years to fit me and my style.

That day, I’d just put on new pedals. It’s going to be a huge loss, and I feel in the melodrama of the moment that the bike is going to be hard to replace.

In a daze. I’m rolling on the dark city street. A few turns, another few blocks, aimless scanning. I give up.

I pedal back to the bar. Then, someone is yelling: “Your bike!”

The smoking fellas are pointing across the street. I roll over to a group of bikers unlocking their rides, shouting, “Do you see my bike?”

They are confused. Wrong group. I look back to the bar. “It’s here,” the smokers shout.

Twin Cities Stolen Bikes page put out the alert

My bike is back, returned by the thief. Outside the bar are a few friends from the race. “We sent a couple guys out to look for your bike,” they tell me.

As I was away the alleycat racers had mobilized and were in the vicinity searching. A Facebook alert on the Twin Cities Stolen Bikes page had been released within minutes of the theft.

I gripped my bike’s handlebars and looked at the frame. “Where’d it come from? How’d it get back?”

The smoking fellas were suddenly gone. One was hiking west on the sidewalk. We caught up. He soon admitted, vaguely, that he’d taken the bike, but he was getting out of there before we called the cops.

High fives. Huge relief. A weird and erratic chase that led to no where but somehow netted my bike’s return.

The guy walking west and away from the bar? He said he’d taken it on a joy ride as “a joke.” Not funny for me. A lie also, I suspect.

What happened? I never got a full answer. My guess is that the bike was hidden near the bar, never taken very far away. It was returned after the smokers and their bud realized we were determined to get the bike back.

I said thanks to all my friends who’d jumped up to help. Then I needed to head home. A few blocks away, smiling huge and flush with emotion or adrenaline from the search, I noticed the bike was tracking strange.

The handlebars were off-kilter, twisted a few degrees on the stem. I dismounted and looked at it head-on. There’d been a crash, or the bike had been thrown down hard. I suspect the joy-rider had been kicked off by the pedals after trying to coast on the fixed-gear.

I got out my tool and loosened the stem. Adjusted the handlebar back into place. Cars were racing by on the street a few feet away. Lights blinked and glowed, signs and street lamps and brakes, stretching away into the dark of a city night. I clipped in and rode home. Next time — even if away for a minute — I’ll use my lock.

Stephen Regenold

Stephen Regenold is Founder of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of five, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.