Bike stolen at Ride The Rockies in Breckenridge is reunited with its owner | SummitDaily.com

Bike stolen at Ride The Rockies in Breckenridge is reunited with its owner

After a long day of riding, Michael O'Brien was resting in Steamboat Springs on Tuesday when he got the news: His beloved black and green Cervelo had been found.

Just as mysteriously as it had disappeared from the Ride The Rockies kickoff last weekend in Breckenridge, O'Brien's custom road bike rolled back into his life.

O'Brien, a 50-year-old Virginia resident who just completed his ninth Ride The Rockies tour on Friday, said his bike was located after someone left it outside Steamboat's City Hall and then phoned police from the library down the road.

Other than a few scratches on the front fork, the bike was in good condition. O'Brien believes the man who was caught on a surveillance camera stealing the bike last Saturday got spooked by all the media coverage and wanted to unload his ill-gotten goods.

"The guy who stole the bike didn't realize there was surveillance," he said. "Usually, when bikes are stolen you never see them again."

Breckenridge police have yet to name a suspect in the case, the first reported bike theft in Ride The Rockies in 33 years. However, O'Brien spoke in glowing terms about the police officers that came to his aid.

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"The police officers in Breck were awesome," he said. "They got there immediately. A stolen bicycle is probably not the end of the world, but it was important to me."

The theft delayed O'Brien's start on Sunday — he was, in fact, one of the last riders to leave — but he soldiered on to Edwards with a last-minute replacement provided by the Ride The Rockies organizers.

O'Brien was more than a little disappointed not to saddle up with his $8,000 Cervelo; it was the set of wheels he bought just after a collision with a truck a year and a half ago totaled his old bike and put him into an ambulance with a broken clavicle and busted right thumb.

"It's a symbol of my coming back — how I survived," he said of the bike.

It took him several months of physical therapy to return to form.

The Ride The Rockies tour has long been a vehicle for change and transformation in O'Brien's life. Back in the 1990s, his brother, a Catholic priest then based in Aurora, was the first person to get O'Brien hooked on cycling when he invited him to sign up. O'Brien went on to complete the event three more times during that decade.

Then life intervened. He lost his job; he put on 60 pounds.

In 2013, however, as he looked at Ride The Rockies memorabilia at his home office in Dumphries, Virginia, he thought to himself, "Awesome times. I'm never going to do it again." He had to prove himself wrong. He had to climb that hill one more time.

With support from his wife, he started training for the 2014 Ride The Rockies. And he's been riding it every year since, prepping for the steep and mountainous Colorado terrain with long jaunts through a 112-mile stretch of Shenandoah National Park.

But it isn't just about the physical challenge of riding through some of the toughest and steepest roads in the country. O'Brien has also used Ride The Rockies as a means of raising money and awareness for World Bicycle Relief, a Chicago-based nonprofit that distributes bicycles to people in the developing world. Thus far, O'Brien, along with a posse of other riders, has been able to raise nearly $150,000. That translates into about 1,000 bicycles.

In his first year, he had four people riding for the cause. This year, O'Brien corralled 15 riders to meet the goal of raising $50,000.

"Here in America, we don't really think of distance," he said. "In developing countries, distance is a devastating barrier. It's what keeps a kid from getting an education, aid workers from healing the sick."

Riding means everything to Michael O'Brien. It's about testing his endurance and doing good, but it boils down to something far more elemental for the information technology consultant.

"It's freedom," he said. "I like being unplugged. We live in such a connected world. I'm like everyone — I get a buzz on my iPhone, I'm like, 'What's that.' There's just something about being in nature. Cycling makes me feel grounded; it makes me feel connected."

And thanks to a thief who got cold feet, O'Brien got his ticket to ride back.