It started with a gut feeling and ended with a guy riding away shaking his head after his failed attempt to steal a light off someone’s bike.
A few minutes ago I was walking on SW Oak Street between 5th and 4th on my way to the post office with two big boxes in my hands (mailing out posters to our 100 first subscribers!) when I saw a guy riding toward me. The first thing that caught my eye was that he was biking on the sidewalk. I also noticed he had an old bag slung over his shoulders. I have spidey senses for everyone on a bike downtown. I notice them all. It’s what I do. This guy in particular set off signals in my head not only because he was riding on the sidewalk but his head was on a swivel as he seemed to be checking out parked bikes.
He could have just been a generally bike-curious dude like I am. Or he could have been a thief. It was just a hunch; but a hunch that comes from years of covering bike theft and seeing how this stuff goes down. As we both came closer to a nice new Kona cyclocross bike I thought to myself: If he stares at it and then stops, gets off his bike and approaches it, I’m going to watch him closely.
And sure enough, that’s what he did.
He passed up the Kona, got off his own bike, then walked back toward the Kona. At this point I had turned around and was watching him. Then he proceeded to grab the front light that was clamped to the handlebars and started to wiggle it free. At that point I took a risk and yelled at him. “Hey man, is that your light?! Are you stealing that light?”
At the same time, another guy who was walking by noticed what was going on. He walked right up to the thief and sort of blocked him from running away. The thief quickly started shaking his head and muttered some unintelligible words. A few seconds later he had dropped the light on the ground, made his way back to his bike and pedaled away. The guy who assisted me then walked up to a nearby security guard (who was on a bike) and gave him a description of the theif. (He gave chase, but I didn’t stick around to see if anything came of it.)
“Thanks for stepping up,” I said to the guy. “I’m glad you said something. And I’m glad I wasn’t the only one,” he replied.
If you parked a blue and white Kona outside 421 SW Oak today, please be aware that you nearly had your nice Light & Motion front light stolen. I twisted it down so it’s under your bars and not as easy for prying eyes to see. In the future I would strongly recommend that you do not leave anything valuable on your bike. Ever.
Bike prowls are very common in Portland. Over the years I’ve lost several saddles, a seatpost, several sets of lights (including a dynamo light which required the thief to cut wires to get it free), a frame bag, and so on and so on. I would love to see more done to prevent this very annoying crime. More secure bike parking would be a start. Perhaps signs that say: Do not leave valuables attached to your bicycle (the City already has signs in auto parking areas that say essentially the same thing).
I can’t recall ever being so close to a theft in-progress. And it happened in broad daylight on a very busy sidewalk in downtown Portland.
UPDATE, 10/15 at 1:37pm: Just heard from the owner of the bike via email:
“I normally park in a secured parking location at my office, but I was leading a workshop yesterday at the building I parked in front of. I do try to remember to take my light with me, but I do forget sometimes, especially once its daylight. I’ve lost a few lights over the years, which is so annoying and potentially dangerous if you need to get home in the dark.
THANK YOU many times over for saving my bike light. Its so nice to know there are people out there watching out for each other. It really was over the top and I appreciate it. Do you happen to know the name of the other guy in the article you wrote? I’d like to thank him as well.
I’m Truly grateful and I promise to try to remember to take it off the handle bars next time. :)”