Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

12 November 2015

Reunited With A Favorite Bike

For those of us who are dedicated cyclists, nothing hurts worse than having our beloved rides stolen.  It's happened to me a few times.  I lost bikes that, frankly, were meant for the purpose: "beaters" that were meant to be locked in urban combat zones.  However, I also lost a relatively nice bike and my first custom build to thieves.

For a time, I thought that having had more than one bike stolen was a sign that one was a true New York cyclist.  Just about everyone with whom I've ridden in the Big Apple has had at least one bike to theft.  In fact, one fellow with whom I sometimes rode in Prospect Park actually sat shiva after losing his classic Ron Cooper.

(I am now recalling how, when drafting him, I would see the tzitzit dangling from the tallit katan he wore under his jersey!  Only in pre-hipster Brooklyn, right?)

For about 99 percent of us, having a bike stolen means never seeing it again.  That's because bikes are pretty easy to transport, take apart and repaint.  Also, law enforcement agencies--at least here in the US--don't seem to make bike theft a high priority.  That's at least somewhat understandable in areas with lots of violent crime but less so, I feel, in relatively tranquil places like suburban or rural college campuses.

Still, when we lose our bikes, we try not to lose hope of being part of the 1 percent whose machines are recovered.  As with just about any other kind of theft, the more time that elapses from the moment the bike is filched, the less likely that bike is to be reunited with its owner.  And, of course, if you lose your wheels far away from home, there's even less chance that you'll ever see them again.

Such a realization left a fellow named Thomas "bummed/heartbroken" the day he left Japan in 1992.  For the previous two years, he'd been stationed in the  northern part the country as a US Navy Pilot.  The riding was "beautiful" there, he says, and the Mercian Strada he'd purchased as a college student a decade earlier got him around. 

He'd raced on that bike against folks like Davis Phinney, Alexi Grewal and Andy Hampsten before even most cyclists had heard of them.  It also made an appearance in the movie American Flyers.  As he explains it, he rode as an extra with the Cinelli team.  The bike the team issued him broke three weeks into the filming, so his Mercian took over.

Well, one cold day a year into his tenure in the Land of the Rising Sun, he stopped at a ramen house to warm his bones with a bowl of noodles.  He parked his Mercian outside the eatery and--you guessed it--his bike wasn't there when he came back out.

He filed a report with the local Japanese police as well as with base security.  No luck--at least not for a while.

In 2009, he was stationed with a squadron in San Diego. As he tells the story, one "glorious" day (Aren't they all in San Diego?), a box appeared on his front porch.

You guessed it:  his Mercian was inside the box.  At least, the frame was, anyway:  the Campagnolo and Cinelli parts, and even the fork, were stripped off. 

Somehow or another, the frame was recovered in Japan.  Because he was in the military, Thomas was much easier to track down than his bike. 

He spent the next few years tracking down replacement components. Once he found them, he sent the frame back to Mercian for restoration. "I'm sure that my next ride on the bike will give me just as much and more joy than that first ride in 1981."

Even though I read and watch all sorts of dark and moody books and films, I like a happy ending now and again.  This one is even better than the one in Breaking Away, don't you think?


  1. We have had a rash of stolen bikes at my workplace -- three in recent weeks. Fortunately, after years of dragging their heels, management somehow found a safe indoor spot in the corner of the warehouse. This is great news. I've never had a bike stolen (knock wood) and this will help.

  2. Great story! My old dirty Specialized cheap 90s mountain bike was recently stolen from my driveway - it was right up in front of the garage awaiting new tubes I had just bought. I live in a semi-rural area (well, is it rural at all when Amazon puts a warehouse just down the road?). Anyway, it was annoying not only for the blatant violated feeling one gets but for some reason Specialized bikes, even cheap ones, seem to fit me really well. It was heavy and old and not anywhere near their best bikes but it served my purpose of roaming around a countryside mostly composed of dirt, mud and gnarly weeds. Plus I bought it new and I just simply liked it.

  3. MT--I'm sorry to hear about the thefts. I once had a nearly-new Bridgestone RB-2 stolen from a place where I worked. So, I feel for your co-workers.

    Frenchy--They stole it from your driveway? In a semi-rural area? I'm sorry to hear about that. It doesn't matter whether the bike is old or new, whether you bought it new or used, or whether it's a high-end model or a "rat": If you love and depend on, or simply enjoy your bike, it hurts to lose it.