Knowledge, Technology And Social Networking Converge To Recover A Stolen Bicycle

A Row Of Locked Bicycles

Bicycles, as lightweight objects which can’t be permanently affixed to anything, are an easy target for thieves. Even when they are locked, a determined thief will manage to break them free.

It’s a combination of determination on the part of the thief and the limitations of the lock. No bicycle lock is foolproof. With enough time and effort a thief can break or cut the lock and make off with the bike.

Bicycle thieves have always counted on a couple of things. First, that many bikes of the same type are mass produced, making it hard to distinguish one person’s bike from another. Second, that it’s easy to transport a bicycle far away from where it was stolen without attracting much attention. In other words, the thieves have a degree of anonymity upon taking a bike.

No member of the general public has any way of knowing with certainty whether a bike in a thief’s possession belongs to him. And since most people don’t even ride bikes, all bikes look more or less the same to them.

In order to apprehend a thief for absconding with someone else’s bike, a certain amount of knowledge is necessary. Being able to distinguish between bicycle types is mandatory. If you don’t know a road bike from a mountain bike, you are unlikely to see one type of bike as being out of place in a certain setting or with a certain person.

To improve upon the odds of determining that something is wrong, one must be familiar with different bicycle brands. This gives one an idea of how much a bicycle costs and how likely it is to be seen out in the community.

Some bikes are so uncommon that few people own them and they usually fall into a category, such as racer or triathlete. Anyone who doesn’t fall into those categories is suspect if seen with a specialty bike that one would not expect them to own.

But knowledge is only half the game. Suspecting someone of being in possession of a stolen bike is useless if nothing can be done with that knowledge. This is where technology comes in.

Today, thanks to the wonders of modern electronics, nearly everyone has a camera in his or her possession a vast majority of the time. Taking a snapshot of oneself or one’s surroundings has become commonplace.

Everyone does it; everyone shares the resulting photos with their friends. And people talk about those photos, which is a perfect opportunity to show a questionable bike/owner combination to others for their opinion.

That is exactly what happened recently in Florida. “Quick-thinking cyclists reunited a Florida triathlete with his stolen $5,000 bike before he’d realized it was gone.

How did this happen, you ask?

It started when a triathlete spotted a guy wearing “plain clothes” riding a customized Cannondale. A lot of knowledge about bikes was necessary to recognize that the bike was not only a triathlon bike, but was customized.

The triathlete, who did not know the owner of the bike snapped a picture and shared it with the St. Pete Cycling Facebook page. There, a discussion about whether the guy in the photo owned the bike or  not ensued. Most thought he did not.

A strange coincidence made a bizarre story even more unbelievable. The owner of a bike shop who knew the bike’s owner happened to see the photo on Facebook. He called and left him a message asking if his bike was missing. He also arranged to meet the triathlete who had spotted the bike to see if they could get the bike back.

In order to get the bike back, the two of them offered the thief $220 to buy the bike from him. The thief accepted their offer. After securing the bike, they called the police who they hoped would catch him.

Meanwhile, the owner of the bike didn’t even know that it was missing from his garage. When he was contacted about his bike, he discovered that it wasn’t in his garage.

Why they didn’t just call the police first is difficult to fathom. Even if they wanted to offer to buy the bike from the thief, if the police were already present, they would be able to arrest him on the spot.

Now, he has made $220 from stealing a bike and will go unpunished unless someone recognizes him from the Facebook photo and turns him in. While this approach did result in the bike being returned to its rightful owner, the fact that the thief profited from his actions may just encourage him to steal more bikes.

Both he and the bike’s owner learned a lesson. He learned that it’s easy to profit from stealing bikes. And the bike’s owner learned that if you don’t keep your garage locked, your bicycle may disappear.

Social media has many uses beyond providing a social environment. The tools and relationships social networking furnishes allow information to be spread among groups of people quickly and efficiently. And this is the only thing standing between thieves getting away with a crime and getting caught.

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