I loved my white bicycle like some people love their dog. So when the bike was stolen, I went a little nuts.
The bike, an all-white, single speed, had a very specific look, so whenever I saw a bike with even a partial resemblance, I locked in, fight-ready to rescue my beloved bicycle. Occasionally I spotted similar looking bikes on the road, going the other way and, without hesitation, I spun-round and chased them down.
I suppose that must have been very alarming for those poor cyclists. One minute, you’re riding along. The next minute, some asshole pulls up alongside, creeping hard on you and your bike, and then, inexplicably, turns away.
Who even does that?!
This was not the first bike I’ve seen stolen in Portland.
One sunny day in June, 2007, at the end of my first day of work at OMSI, I returned to where I’d locked my bike and found it had been replaced with a junker bike with two flat tires. My lock was still there, it had been either clipped or sawed-through and wrapped around the junker.
While I wasn’t excited about the theft, I was also kind of glad to see that bike go. I hated that bicycle and was thankful for the excuse to finally replace it, which is, I guess, if you’re bike is going to get stolen, the best possible outcome.
The white bicycle was the first (and last) bike I assemble from brand new.
I’d recently been hit by a car. The driver was gunning for an open parking spot in the Pearl District (a rarity). The driver turned hard and sent me sailing into a gather of signs for a nearby construction site, mangling my bike as they drove over it. The last thing I remember, as I was launched out of my saddle, was reaching down to the bell on my handlebars for one last, angry ding.
I got a quote from a bike shop for a replacement. It was a modest quote, but realistic. I took that to the lawyers, and returned to the shop with the paydirt. I’d never done anything like that before. The swagger! To walk around the shop and point to rims, components, a frame and all the trimmings, saying “That one.” and “I’ll take that one.” and “Two of those, good sir.” And so on.
I chose a white frame, with silver components. Even the rims were painted white! Even the chain was white. A white chain!
It’s safe to say, I got a little carried away.
Temporary insanity notwithstanding, I’d managed to murder-out a stunning bicycle. Even if it was a boutique piece, it was solid—bombproof.
Likely, that is what lead to the bike’s theft—it was, too pretty.
There’s a valuable lesson to be learned there. About pretty things, about the impermanence of life, and the consequences that come with showing-off—especially if you’re as careless as I was—to have left it parked in a friend’s backyard, leaning against their garage, like a radiant unicorn in the night.
This was on a quiet suburban street in North Portland, not much foot traffic. To get into the back yard, meant moving aside a massive gate, a very loud chain-link fence that creaked and rattled like a marching band every time it opened or closed. We were all inside the house, playing board games, in a room close to the driveway—nobody heard a thing.
Someone passing by had seen the bike, seen their chance, and, like the wind, took it, and disappeared.
What a pro.
I’ve recounted this story numerous times, to many people. Almost every one of them catch on the part where I’m chasing after bicyclists who are riding a similar looking bike. They want to know what I would do if one of those cyclists I chased down were actually riding my bike.
It’s a good question.
In spite of appearances, I’m not thrilled that my first, and possibly only instinct, would be to attack—take back the bicycle, end of story. Especially since so much time has passed now, the bike, if it’s still in one piece, could have been sold many times over by any number of people. Even if it hasn’t been sold, even if I encounter the very thief who took it, I am loathe to admit, they stole it fair and square. They didn’t even have to clip a lock. There’s a solid argument that any cyclist whose bike is stolen in such a way was probably not the bike’s rightful owner in the first place.
The chances I’ll ever cross paths with my dear bicycle again are exceedingly slim. I’d like to think I would be able to behave myself, even if, historically, my track record is not stellar.
Until then, I can only dream, as I often do of my white bicycle, hoping its new rider is giving it a run for its money. Hopefully it’s out there, somewhere, slicing through traffic like the radiant unicorn it was meant to be.