Yesterday I was forwarded an email from a customer. Unfortunately, the content of the email was all too familiar to a bike shop worker in Chicago. It read in part: “Hope you're well and enjoying this glorious summer. I went to the basement laundry room to put in a load and noticed or rather horrified to see that my "Chief" has been stolen…Loved, loved my bike. Sadly yours,” signed "T" (customer). They had written the email in hope that we would keep our eyes open for the bike.
My first reaction was anger, frustration, and disappointment. I always hate to hear about customer bikes being stolen, and even knowing that occasionally stolen bikes are recovered, I was pessimistic that we would ever see this Chief again. I closed my email and went about my business building up new bikes to fulfill customer orders.
A few hours passed by, and then I was alerted to another email a good samaritan had passed along to our Facebook fan page account. It was a screen grab from a Facebook group (Chicago Bike Selling) notorious as a front for people trying to sell stolen bicycles.
Sure enough, it was our customers bike, stolen out of his basement the night before. The bike was a little worse for the wear. The thieves had torn off his brass bell, and thrown away his basket. They had also flipped the handlebars over in a foolish attempt to mimic the look of bullhorn handlebars popular on fixed gear bicycles. The bike was looking pretty sad and lost, but the really important parts were still there.
At this point, we knew we needed to get the bike back. We just needed to figure out exactly how we were going to do it.
It was a little tricky getting in contact with the sellers. I don’t want to give away the entire method we used to track down the bike in case it can be used again in the future, but I did reach out to a former co-worker for help, and a few different online accounts were used to make contact and arrange a meeting to buy the bike.
At this point we contacted the Chicago Police Department and asked them for help recovering the bike. Luckily, we are friends with an officer (MY) in the bicycle unit who was very helpful putting us in touch with the tactical unit in the area where the bike ended up. A time and meeting place was set for the evening, and the police agreed to come to the meeting. We had a few hours to go before the meeting, and could only wait.
We noticed a second post go up on the bike selling page, this time looking more anxious to move the stolen bike. It appeared the sellers were getting suspicious of our original offer to buy it, and being such a hot bike, they were in a hurry to unload it as soon as possible. Some people had started to comment questioning why they were trying to sell an expensive bike for only a fraction of it’s value. The bike was getting a lot of interest on the page, and other people were commenting offering to buy the bike.
We could see the bike slipping away, and frantically worked to get back on top of the situation. A second account was used to once again contact the sellers and arrange to buy it at a much earlier time. Luckily, they bit and the police and decoy buyer moved into position for the meetup. The deal went down better than expected. Four people showed up, and not only did they have our stolen Chief, but they also brought another valuable bike which had been stolen from a customer of another shop. Five CPD officers rushed the sellers when they showed up with the bikes, and were able to apprehend them. It was truly a great sight being forwarded the pictures of the bike thieves in handcuffs being lined up in front of a police cruiser.
So, here is the bottom line. At Heritage, we make our bikes ourselves by hand. This means that we care very much about every bike we sell. Every single one of our bikes represents sweat and hard work by our fabricators, painters, and mechanics to get them ready for our customers. We work way too hard building our bikes and our customers work way too hard earning the money they spend on our bikes for us to stand idly by while some idiot steals one of our bikes and tries to sell it for a pittance. We have absolutely no sympathy for bike thieves, and will do everything in our power to make sure the worst thing possible happens to anyone stealing a bicycle in Chicago.
Our customer has been reunited with his beloved Chief after being separated for less than 24 hours, and he couldn’t be happier. We can’t wait to get the bike back into the shop to clean it up, check it over, and replace the missing pieces.
Now ask yourself, would your bicycle company do this for you?
Thanks to:"B" - Facebook fan who alerted us of the posting
Officer MY - Bike cop friend of the shop
Chicago Police 24th District
"S" - Our friends who set up the meeting with bike thieves