An excerpt from Tales of a Boy and His Bike
Due to be released in the 1st quarter of 2017 ISBN 978-0-9953161-3-3
How to lose a bike
If you live in Toronto and you lock your bike anywhere but in your living room or handcuffed to your wrist, the odds are good that, one day, you’re going to get your bike lifted. It’s almost inevitable. You make your best effort with locks and chains, but they were made to be busted, keys and locks just can’t be trusted. Even the venerable “U” locks have been cracked. What’s a boy to do?
All cups are made broken. Stay with me here. That is to say, when a cup is made, it’s inevitably going to get broken. Someone is going to drop it, knock it off a table, elbow it off the corner of the armchair. It might simply get misplaced or stolen, You need to recognize that one way or another, it’s going to leave you. With a bit of luck, it might not break in your lifetime, but it will depart.
We also need to recognize that it’s only a cup, just a thing. We don’t want to become too attached to it, since we know it will get broken or maybe lost or stolen. Having anxiety over a cup is a little over the top n’est ce-pas?
So it is with all things. We tend to get too attached to things and have anxiety and remorse when we lose them, or they break or they are taken away. So it is with bicycles. So it was with me.
I had just returned to Toronto, after having lived in Calgary for five years and I needed a new bike. I had grown from a trouble-making teen into a relatively stable young man by this time. I went to see my friend Gary Duke at Duke’s Cycle and Sports.
Mountain bikes were just becoming all the rage and Gary had a nice selection of machines. In the end, we landed on a Miyata, a nice Japanese machine with middle of the road pricing, about $600. I was told that Miyata means Rice Paddy of the Shrine, in Japanese. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that it’s a popular last name in some regions of Japan.
This machine was equipped with an upper end Suntour gruppo di componenti, and nice gnarly all terrain tires. It used high tensile steel tubing, beautifully brazed lugs and oversized fork tubes. All black with white lettering. To be sure it was heavy, weighing in at 28 pounds, compared to the Supercorsa which tipped the scales at a shade over 20 pounds. All in all, though it was a very nice machine, tough and durable.
It became my daily ride for a couple of years, until it disappeared one fine afternoon in September.
I was at Ryerson, looking into some part time courses and I had locked the Miyata to a “No Parking” sign. In this case, it was a sign sitting at the top of an eight foot steel pole, stuck in the sidewalk. I used one of the early Kryptonite U locks which was sold with some sort of guarantee against theft, not that it would have helped much as the thieves didn’t break the lock. As it turns out, the steel post was inserted into a steel collar, itself imbedded in the sidewalk. The collar was immovable, but the sign post could be pulled out of the collar. The thieves just rolled up, lifted out the sign post, slid out my bike and replaced the post.
When I came out of the building, and onto the street, my bike just wasn’t there. It was quite a stomach punch. At first I felt violated, then I felt disappointment. That was soon followed with despair and then anger and finally betrayal. I asked around if anyone had seen anything. Nope. No one had seen a thing. How could no one have seen anything!? It was the middle of the day!
I made my down to 52 Division at Dundas and McCaul to report both the theft of my bike and the sketchy sign post. The officer at the desk seemed, uninterested, to say the least. Without even making eye contact he hands over a form, “Fill this out,” he says with a few taps of his finger. I feel my pockets for a pen. He seems to notice this and tosses out a Bic extra fine.
I dutifully and sadly sit down on one of the hard plastic chairs and, like Will Smith in Men in Black, struggle to fill out the form on my lap. It becomes quickly apparent, that without the serial number, nothing is going to happen. I leave with the form and take the subway home to Castleview manor, bike helmet trailing along behind me like a lost cat following me home.
I related the tale to my neighbour Mike and he tells me about a couple of his bikes that were stolen. I ask him if the cops did anything. “Maybe, but I didn’t get either of the bikes back and I never heard from the cops.”
He goes on to say that bike theft is almost the perfect crime to commit if you’re so inclined. The cops don’t treat the crime as serious, and view bicycles as toys. The bicycle itself isn’t the end game for the thief, since they are often taken by drug users who only want to sell the bike for their next fix. Any professional bike theft ring would have the stolen bikes shipped quickly to another province in the back of a cube van or quickly dismantled for the value of their components - which aren’t stamped with serial numbers and are therefore unidentifiable.
Then, even if a thief gets caught, good luck getting a judge who has any interest in a conviction for some drug addict stealing toys. It just isn’t worth them worrying about.
According to a 2014 University of McGill study, only about 2.4% of bikes are recovered of the 2,000 reported stolen in Montreal. - and those are the reported cases. The study suggests that some 20,000 bikes are taken every year. The majority of people don’t bother to report their bike stolen as they know it isn’t worth their time and effort. Astonishingly, something like 7.5% of the people who have their bikes stolen, are despondent and simply give up riding completely.
I wasn't about to give up riding, since I still had my Gitane, but getting my Miyata taken was a real punch in the gut.
Then one day, about the middle of November, I was riding home from work when I saw my Miyata. I was crossing St. Clair, going southbound down Spadina Rd. The unsub was sitting at the red light east bound. I pulled to a stop, crossed Spadina and headed back to St. Clair just as the suspect started out across the intersection.
Now it’s not like I had owned the only black Miyata in the City. Gary had mention that he had sold at least a dozen of them just at his store alone. There could be scores of them out there. Still, I decided to follow this guy and see where he went. What if it was my bike? Should I tackle the guy and make a citizens arrest? I wonder if I should get some cable ties so I could ‘cufff him? No. I’d have to stop for that or go home first, then I’d loose him. Should I just find out where he lives and then get Mike to help me steal my bike back, maybe steal it out of his yard, or wherever he kept it. Maybe he keeps it in a locked garage. That’s break and enter … a whole other consideration. Should I just confront the guy and tell him I want my bike back?
Whoa. Wait a minute, I’m putting the cart before the horse here. Just follow the guy and see where that takes me.
He continued along St. Clair, past Poplar Plains, past Avenue Road, past the Granite Condo. When he gets to Yonge, he turns south. He continued a couple blocks then turned east, onto Rosehill Ave. He went behind a large apartment building on the north side and locked his bike to a communal rack. In a moment he disappeared inside.
I felt like a spy. I waited for a few minutes to make sure he didn’t just re-appear. I waited until I couldn’t see him in the lobby through the large, glass door, then I waited until even the memory of him being in the lobby disappeared.
I laid my Gitane down behind some bushes and nonchalantly strolled to the Miyata. Yep. It sure looked like mine, but it could have been one that just looked like it. I needed to get the serial number from the bottom bracket to be sure. I pulled a pencil and notebook out of my shoulder bag, lugged the Miyata up and over on it’s side and quickly wrote out the number. NVG00128A6B or something like that. I replaced the Miyata as I found it and ran back to the Gitane, laying on its side, behind the bushes. I could almost hear the theme music from Mission Impossible or Man From U.N.C.L.E.
There was nothing for it at this point, but to ride home and find the receipt from Dukes, upon which Gary had dutifully noted the serial number of my bike. Receipt, receipt, receipt. Wheres the bloody receipt!? Found it! Not too hard really, as I was writing in those days and had a couple of books published by Lone Pine Publishing, so I kept receipts for everything that could have anything to do with writing bicycle books.
I pulled the notepad out of my shoulder bag and compared the numbers. If they matched, I had my man. I’d call the local police at 53 Division and let them know where they could pick up the perp. Steady now. Careful NVG00149A6B. Bah! It wasn’t a match. I was so sure.
So I didn’t get my bike that day, or any other day for that matter. It was probably in Saskatchewan by now or dismantled into its component parts and sold piece by piece. I didn’t crack the stolen bicycle ring, but what a thrill it was to feel the adrenaline start flowing and my blood race as I followed the suspect along St. Clair and onto Yonge Street. What a rush to hide in the bushes and wait for him to disappear and then copy out the serial number. In a way, even the disappointment of not finding a match was a bit of a thrill. I knew I had done my best. I had put myself out there for good or ill.
I also learned a lesson that day, but didn’t really get it until some years later and that lesson is this; We get too attached to things. We act like everything is going to work out for the best all the time, despite the evidence to the contrary. We see almost everything fall to dust, but we think that everything is so permanent. It’s not. Everything is only here for a while, then it’s gone. We don’t “own” anything. We only have it until we lose it, give it away, break it or it gets taken by someone who wants it more. Everything is impermanent.