The Outsider: An open letter to bike thieves
I can’t believe I didn’t take the seat post. I always take the seat post.
On Wednesday night — or afternoon, or sometime between 4:35 p.m. and 9 p.m. — my 2007 Yeti was stolen from the bus stop on Granite Street in Frisco. There’s a whole Oprah behind this story, but, in a nutshell, I was scrambling to catch the final bus back into Breckenridge for the start of the Bakers Tank trail race. My bike is the best and fastest way to travel in summer, especially when construction on Highway 9 is clogged like an aging artery, but I knew there wouldn’t be enough time to pedal to the far side of Breck and still run a decent race.
There also wasn’t enough room on the bus bike rack for my beat-up, second-hand, dual-suspension rig. Nope, at that time in the afternoon, three rental bikes were already piled onto the rack, and after a few years of living in Summit and Eagle counties I know well that no one is allowed to bring a bike on the bus itself. When the rack is full, you either wait for the next bus or suck it up and leave your machine behind.
And, every time I’ve done that in the past six years, I’ve always taken my seat post. Always.
But, for whatever reason, this time was different. I’ll admit it — I was ticked about the whole situation. The three bikes clogging the front-loaded rack were noticeably rentals. Where were the renter-riders headed, and why weren’t they doing so on the bikes they only had for a few hours? (They could ask me a similar question: Why ride the bus when biking only takes an extra 10 minutes? The unspoken blame goes both ways.)
So, instead of taking an extra five seconds to remove my seat, I shoved the bike into the bushes behind the bus stop, hoping and praying that it would go unnoticed for a few hours until I could get a ride back to Frisco after the race.
Like so many people up here, my bike is one of my prized possessions — it gets me where I need to go way faster and with less effort than a skateboard — and, like a naïve mountain local, I assumed the best from people at the bus stop. My Yeti stayed safe and sound during a long, meandering day in downtown Breck on the Fourth of July, so why would anything happen on a random Wednesday afternoon? (For starters, I never once forgot to remove the seat post on the Fourth. For starters.)
I can beat myself up going through these questions, over and over, until I find someone — anyone — to blame but myself. I could blame the tourist bikes hogging the bike rack. I could blame the Summit Stage rules that don’t allow for bikes inside the bus, even on a short commuter jaunt for a local (funny how often we use that identity to get what we want, or think we deserve.) I could blame the whole set of circumstances that had me on my bike that Wednesday, when I’d usually take the convenient option and drive into Frisco for a staff meeting before returning to Breck for a race. I could even blame the thief, which is what my friends and other folks have done.
Instead, I have a modest proposal: Bike thieves in the mountains should have to earn their keep. If you can beat me on a five-mile trail ride anywhere in the county — your choice, we can even bump it to 10 miles if you want — then the bike is yours. At that point, I’d say you earned it. The one rule: We both have to ride my bike, the same Yeti you stole, and I can guarantee I know that son of a gun better than you ever will. I’ll even give you a handicap and leave the seat post for a second time.
Damn, that would be fun. But, like most fantasies and modest proposals, I doubt if it will ever happen. We’ll see — whoever stole the bike knows how to find me.
So where does that leave me, aside from bike-less and still a little pissed off? It leaves me sitting on the silver lining. A few weeks ago, I read a fantastic biography of Muhammed Ali. It describes how, as a young boy, Ali (then Cassius Clay) left his bike sitting unattended in his Louisville hometown. The bike was stolen, young Clay was livid, and so he went to find a cop. He finally tracked one down at the local boxing gym, where the cop told him if he really wanted to get back at the thief, he should learn to box.
And so he did. Years later, after the World Heavyweight Champion started going by Ali, rumors swirled that he threw his Olympic gold medal in the Ohio River to protest racial inequality. Ali confirmed the rumors in his 1975 autobiography. Years later, the Smithsonian discovered that, no, he hadn’t tossed it into the river in rage — it was stolen when he left it unattended, just like his bike.
The silver lining? Even The Greatest forgot to do the one, simple thing it took to protect a prized possession. That puts my seat post in perspective.
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