The first summer I lived in Milwaukee, I had a brand new bike stolen out of my apartment when I was on the road with my friends’ band. I’m sure many of you reading this know the feeling, and it unfortunately happens to people more times then I care to say.
Today, I was in a rush and foolishly left my bike unlocked while running into the Riverwest Coop for a minute. I’m in there often and know most of the staff/volunteers by name, so didn’t think much of it especially given that it was 10°, but that’s all it took.
I came outside to no bike, or the Stevemobile as my friend Sam likes to put it, and my heart just sank. It must’ve been a joke. I ran into the street just waiting for a friend to come riding back with my bike, but no one came. I ran back inside and asked if anyone had seen someone leave with it, but no luck.
I immediately called my friend Ayton at Truly Spoken Cycles, and while I got on the phone to make a police report, he already put out the alert to facebook-land. I started walking home, and ran into my friends Sean and Colin who were out riding for Flavor Cycle, and immediately went on the bike-hunt for me. I ran inside and grabbed my girlfriends bike to start making laps in the neighborhood. I zig-zagged all the surrounding neighborhoods, then decided to start exploring west on route to Dream Bikes, the next nearest bike shop that somebody might try selling it at.
It was there that I had a chance to get on my phone to share a photo of my bicycle online, but a handful of friends, neighbors, and complete strangers were already on it. One of those strangers called me, and put me in touch with his neighbor who both saw and took a picture of a few kids with my bike in front of her house. She had shared the photo on the Riverwest Neighborhood Association (RNA) page, and a few friends – Jeremy Prach, one of the Riverwest24 organizers, and Ruth Weill with the RNA – steered my direction there. I emailed the lady who made the post to please call me, thinking it was simply a siting, then raced over to Wright and Dousman, just a few blocks from where it was stolen.
I thought I was going to have to take it back from the thieves, and my friend Sean was on his way over to help me. When I got there and checked my phone, I was comforted with her response of “I have it”, her address, and an invite to simply “come on over”.
She had my bike!
I (like I should’ve in the first place) locked up my bike, and walked up her steps and was greeted by Don Nelson, who you may know from Foundation Tiki Bar. He was his always friendly-self, and welcomed me into his house. His wife Erin was inside holding their baby, and I was greeted by their overly-friendly black poodle, Poppy.
They had noticed a few kids walking with the bike, then saw them trying to get into a few cars along their block as they doubled-back. They noticed it had a Riverwest24 spokecard and was too big for the girl riding it – a pretty clear indication that it wasn’t theirs – and snapped a photo. Don stood on his porch watching them pass a second time, and they ditched my bike in the middle of the street and ran off towards the river. He went outside and got the bike, and stored it safely in his backyard for me.
Don bought his house thirteen years ago, and it was the ugliest one on the block, a real fixer-upper. He now boasts a warm, comfortable home, and is someone you’d love to have as a neighbor.
It was from his home that I biked a few blocks to mine, ghost-riding my girlfriend’s bike alongside me. I walked down the street to get a coffee at Fuel Cafe, and as I’ve typed this all, have been approached by a few concerned friends and acquaintances asking me about what happened.
It made me realize that I’m proud to live in the Riverwest neighborhood, and that I have a lot of the friends and strangers that I’m happy to call neighbors. There is a real sense of community here, and you can’t put a price on that. Life would have gone on without my bike, but it warms my heart to see that there are people here who go out of their way to look out for their neighbors. I love this neighborhood, and everyone I know in it.
Bicycling may be just a ways to commute for you, or a fun hobby, but I’ve always thought of it as a fun, healthy way to bring people together and help create and grow a sense of community in our city.
So what should I take from all of this? Maybe nothing, maybe just happy that I recovered my stolen bicycle, and that no one was hurt. But it’s more then that. It reiterates for me that we should all live more compassionately and take care of one another, and I hope to pass that along to you.
If you ever have your bike stolen, there’s a few things you can do to help recover it;
– Make a police report with a full description of your bike
– Find a photo of your bike, and immediately post share the photo with a description on any/all of your social networks. People will help spread the word.
– Contact all area bicycle shops with the same information.
– Post up a stolen bicycle ad on Craiglist’s “bike for sale” section, and keep an eye on there for someone trying to sell it.
– If you live in Milwaukee, utilize the MKEBKE.com Facebook group. It will reach a wide audience in little time that will help keep an eye out for you. We’re also working on creating a better stolen bike resource to help reunite people with their bicycles.
To prevent bike thefts, make sure you;
– Lock your bike properly with a strong, secure lock (not a cheap cable lock). Kryptonite and Abus both make great locks that have warranties, and you can also register your key and order replacements.
– Make sure you minimally lock your frame to a secure location. Some street poles are loose and can be easily pulled out of the ground, and porches can be broken if someone is really determined to get your bike.
– If you can, bring your bike in your house whenever possible. If you’re leaving it locked up overnight, or even just for a few hours, it’s much safer in your house.
– If you have a larger lock and/or cable, lock up your tires as well. This especially holds true if you have quick release tires. If you can only lock one tire, lock up your back tire, it’s more expensive to replace.
– Some people register their bikes with the city, but having a photo of your bike and/or yourself with it will be helpful in the unfortunate circumstances that yours is stolen.
(Stuporbowl 2013 in Minneapolis)