Three years later, my stolen bike is back

Who took it? Where has it been this whole time? And how did it end up attached to a fence near my house?

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I have spent the better part of a day now trying to fill in the gaps, but they’re big gaps and impossible to fill. Nearly three years of gap. I am specifically intrigued by the very end of it. Wednesday morning, in fact. Maybe Tuesday night.

I want to know about the hours in which my bike, mostly disassembled but not entirely so, ended up locked to a very visible fence not half a mile from where it was stolen.

Nearly three years ago, someone stole my most beloved bike out of my house in Boulder. It was a Mosaic – custom titanium with S&S couplers for easy travel. It was my sanity machine at a time in my career when I was on the road as often as I wasn’t. The kind of bike you get on and everything just feels right. I could take my hands off the handlebars, sit up, close my eyes, and drop my hands straight back down to the hoods. It was part of me. Then one morning, around 4am, someone took it. It was brazen and targeted, removing two expensive bikes and leaving the rest.

On Wednesday morning of this week, the builder of that bike, Aaron Barcheck, emailed me two photos of it sitting chained to a fence near my old house. The subject line was “Old school coupled frame find…” and the ellipsis at the end made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

He had it, he said. It’s not hard to tell it’s mine. There’s an extra coupler on the seat mast and post-mount disc tabs on the rear, the result of that confused rim/disc transition period around 2014. It has my name polished into the top tube, too. That’s a dead giveaway. 

A guy named Kyle (not all heroes wear capes, but many are named Kyle) found it first, called up Mosaic HQ, and Aaron came down and freed it within hours. That was easy to do because it was locked by the main triangle, which comes apart thanks to those S&S couplers. He left the lock dangling on the fence.

It was in decent condition, he said. Probably rideable. Rebuildable. 

I don’t think I have to tell you how unlikely all of this is. After 30-odd months gone, with nary a whiff on internet resale sites or elsewhere, my bike reappeared in decent condition locked to a fence in just such a way that anybody who knows what it was could remove it at any time, but anybody who didn’t would think it was locked.

I have so many questions.

Since the theft I’ve had Google and eBay alerts set up for “Mosaic Fretz,” hoping someone would confuse my name for the bike’s model name. I daydreamed of spotting a Mosaic Fretz on Craigslist, feigning genuine interest to arrange a meetup, then punching the guy’s lights out or maybe kicking him right in the nuts (it was my daydream, OK?), and getting my bike back. Even after anger slowly faded to acceptance I would still spot stripped metallic frames chained to bike racks around town and think just for a moment that they might be mine.

I imagined it much like it actually happened: my bike, chained to something, missing most of its parts but with its soul intact, waiting for me to free it and take it home where it belongs. 

I still don’t understand how it came back to me. These things don’t happen; this frame should have been chucked in a dumpster the second the thief realized it was unsellable. It should have been gone forever. I have two theories. Both hinge on a goodness of humanity that bike theft generally extinguishes. 

Here is the first.

Perhaps we have a good Samaritan in our midst. Perhaps this frame, unique and unsellable, was chucked unceremoniously into the bushes off to the side of Goose Creek, near where it was found. It sat in the mud and long grass for three years until a recent rain swept it out and into view. This person, bless them, was walking their dog along the creek and stumbled across a piece of immediately identifiable craftsmanship.

They knew they’d found something valuable to someone. They had a bike lock. For safe-keeping, they locked it in a visible spot – the hope, of course, would be that the owner would ride by it, or someone who knows me would. The chance of that is near 100% on any given morning in this town and at that corner. 

Maybe our good Samaritan even knew that the couplers on the frame meant that though they’d locked it, it wasn’t actually locked. Maybe they knew that I would know this but the average thief might not. Or maybe they just locked it up and hoped that some series of planets would align and we would find each other and arrange an unlocking. Maybe they were willing to sacrifice their nice chain lock for the greater good, figuring the owner of this frame would simply cut it free. 

There are a few problems with this theory, though. One, the bike isn’t that dirty. It doesn’t appear to have sat outside for years. Ti might not rust but it gets dirty. This bike looks like it was kept inside. At the very least, tucked under a tarp somewhere. It is roughly as dirty as it was when it was stolen. 

The huge bike lock. Why? Why was it chained to the fence with a massive lock? Why was it chained by the separatable main triangle?

Theory number two. 

What if my thief had a change of heart?

What if the thief stole my bike, sold all the valuable and sellable parts, and chucked the frame in a closet or a garage or under a tarp in a backyard, where its mere existence and its sad nakedness became a constant, inescapable reminder of the thief’s moral turpitude. Where most bikes would simply get sold, this one couldn’t be. In my parted-out bike the thief saw their own failures. Maybe one day, a Tuesday in August, my thief snapped. 

He (I have no idea if it was a he, but it’s a good guess) couldn’t remember exactly where my house was, just that it was near this bike path. Returning it directly to me would be a bit risky anyway. But he figured I probably rode the path a lot. His thiefy little mind had figured out how the couplers work while stripping the bike for parts, realizing as wheels and fork and bars and saddle came off that this frame was not something sellable. It is the Hope Diamond of bicycles. One of a kind. Hawking it on eBay would be like trying to sell the Mona Lisa weeks after a high-profile break-in at the Louvre. So my thief sat on it. And it ate at his shriveled, thiefy heart. 

I love that the thief couldn’t figure out how to remove the Super Record cranks. Look at the photos above – they’re still on there. The attachment bolt on these cranks, crucially, is reverse threaded. Nobody on Earth knows why. It’s also deep inside the axle and requires a long 10 mm allen wrench to access. That was enough to stump my thief, who isn’t a particularly smart thief. Even a smart thief is no match for Campagnolo.

On this Tuesday in August, the day my thief’s conscience finally fought back, he grabbed a big chain lock, the kind you lock up a nice bike with. Arriving before dawn in a 1998 minivan rolling on an undersized spare – the crappy car of choice for mediocre thieves everywhere – he parked on the side of the road and walked down the Goose Creek path to approximately the right neighborhood, stopping at an intersection with a metal fence. He locked my frame via the main triangle, knowing this would allow me to free my bike in seconds. He placed the bike upright, a position of care, chainrings on the concrete, leaned against the fence in a place where hundreds of cyclists pass every morning. And then he left. 

Under this theory, he passed by later that day, just to check. If the bike was gone, perhaps some small amount of guilt would dissipate with it. It could be a fresh start for him.

He peered at the fence. The lock hung alone. My thief let slip a small smile then turned to leave, slipping on a small patch of mud and smashing his shin against a metal grate. Because karma’s a bitch.

People keep asking me if I’ll rebuild it, and of course I will. I have to. If it is rideable – and I don’t know that yet because I haven’t actually seen it in person – it needs to be ridden. Maybe it will become the world’s most ridiculous bar bike; maybe it will get a roadie rebuild like it had before.

The original finish was intricate, involving hours of polishing, masking, then sandblasting. Part of the reason I didn’t paint it was because I wanted it to age gracefully. No dyed grays here. A travel bike gets beat, packed and unpacked and rubbed and scratched, and the gorgeous finish, even before the bike was stolen, was already gaining the marks of use. I could sand blast it again, start over. But I don’t know if that’s right. I don’t think it is.

If it is willing and able, it will roll again. Those three years spent who knows where are just part of the story.

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