Len and Tamara Rubin have been working on a prototype for a new folding bicycle. The Portland couple had the bike sitting outside, unlocked in their backyard and a couple of days ago it was stolen. Since the prototype was a one-off and represented many hours of work, they decided to spare no expense (budget permitting) in trying to recover it. This has included a decision to form their own group (which they insist on calling a "posse") and follow leads to track down and reclaim the bicycle. Tips have poured in, including a number of tips describing the bike as being seen in the possession of "homeless-looking" people. To date, the bike has been spotted on a public use path that's a known hangout for homeless who camp in the bushes nearby; on a Trimet bus going across town, and in front of a couple of restaurants. Tracking and reporting the bike's whereabouts has been done by dozens of people using cell-phone cameras and various social media.
Their story -- and the ensuing commentary -- can be found here.
If you read the article and comments, you'll note that the Rubins plan was to locate the bike, gather a "posse" and approach whomever had the bike to take it back. They have asked that people do NOT call the police if they see the bike; police in Portland have had a bad rap lately due to several incidents where mentally-ill people were shot by police officers under not-always-clear circumstances. To date, the bike is still out there somewhere, and another "posse" ride is being planned for the weekend.
A few thoughts come to mind:
1. This can't go well. I imagine a "posse" of ten or twelve people on bicycles approaching a homeless man on the Springwater Corridor path and even with ten-against-one this scenario could go badly. Ten regular citizens on bicycles are not trained to deal safely or non-violently with someone who may be mentally ill or addled by drugs or alcohol and the potential for escalation in such a situation seems great.
2. While I sympathize with the Rubins, who lost an object that represents untold hours of research and development and holds the key to starting a business, I think any "reasonable" expectation of security goes out the window because the bike was left unlocked. If you leave a bicycle unlocked outside anywhere, it can and will get stolen. Saying it was in your backyard and that therefore you should have a reasonable expectation of security is ridiculous. If you want security, lock up your bike with a really good lock, and if it's at home keep it in the house and out of sight when you're not riding it. In a society where private ownership of property is the norm, the only reasonable expectation I have anymore is that if I leave my stuff unlocked and unattended someone else can case my home, and then come along and steal it.
3. How far would I go to get back my bicycle if it were stolen? Granted, my bike means a lot to me; but I have a day job and I doubt I'd be able to just take multiple days off work to pursue leads. Simply dropping everything to hunt down a stolen bike is an unrealistic option for most people; and asking a dozen of my friends and family to drop everything and help form a "posse" seems even more unlikely. The truth is that, beyond locking the bike securely and keeping a file with the serial number and photos, calling every pawn shop and secondhand dealer in town, and posting a description and photo of the bike online, there's not much more the average citizen can do in the event of theft.
(Another thought: I don't Tweet or use Facebook, and the fact is that a growing number of people do. I may no longer be the average citizen, since I don't really use social media much.)
It's been years since I had a bicycle stolen. My bike had been locked at a restaurant near the shop, and someone cut the metal railing the bike was locked to (with bolt-cutters and a dremel tool, judging by the marks left on the railing) to take the bike. I walked back to work, and assumed my bike was gone for good. Three hours later, two co-workers who'd gone out for lunch together saw a homeless man riding my bike, weaving drunkenly back and forth across the street. He stopped for a red light. They walked up to him, took hold of the handlebars and calmly said, "this isn't your bike", and watched as he slowly got off the bike and walked away without saying a word. They brought my bike back to me, only a little worse for the wear (light dremel scratches were visible on the frame where my lock had been). Grateful as I was, I hadn't asked anyone to go after my bike, and if it had turned violent I would've felt horrible.
How far do you go in securing your bicycle? And how far would you go to recover it if stolen?