Steal a bike and this may be your new residence. 826 Paranormal

Steal a bike and this may be your new residence. © 826 Paranormal

Your cyclocross bike is stolen: what do you do? (Besides cry, obviously.) This writer explains the steps he took to recover his bike, and his struggles along the way.

Urban Ecology of a Stolen Cyclocross Bike

by Jeff Ackley

Two years ago, I started bike commuting to Arizona State University (six miles each way) after not having ridden in a decade. I decided to get a versatile cyclocross bike. It could be easily converted between a road, touring, commuter and light duty mountain bike. While cyclocross is one of the fastest growing sports in America, ’cross bikes are still fairly rare. I starting racing in a local race series with about 50 other people, got hooked and was interested in getting a faster race bike. About 10-50 bikes are listed on the Phoneix Craigslist every day, but a ’cross bike only appears every week or two, and it was never the right size or what I was looking for. So, I started upgrading and customizing my bike over two years, while putting about 5000 miles on it.

Then it got stolen, a comedy of errors ensued, and all was amazingly resolved in less than 24 hours.

Here is the timeline:


I finish adjusting a brand-new saddle that actually fits me and is comfortable throughout multiple hour rides. For the first time in two years, I am happy with every part of the bike, it is, for all intents and purposes, “perfect.”


6 p.m.: The bike parking area inside my local rock climbing gym is full, so I lock it up outside with a thick $40 Kryptonite cable lock.

6:30 p.m.: While I am inside, two fellow climbers witness a “sketchy” guy with a long goatee, a blue shirt and a felt fedora bowler hat “throw” my bike in the back of a pickup and drive away. They cannot see the driver, but write down the license plate, find my broken lock nearby, and then find me.

7 p.m.: I file a police report, the plate number had expired three years ago (but might have been wrong by one letter or number).

10 p.m.: I started checking Craigslist, having heard that expensive bicycles stolen in Phoenix were often sold on the Tucson listing, and vice versa. Sure enough, a cyclocross race bike has just been listed in Tucson. The post has no picture, no details, and no description. Just a plea that a parent is in need of medication and they are desperate to sell their absent son’s cyclocross bike for rent money. I couldn’t have edited the ad to make it sound more stolen.

12:30 a.m.: I email the seller asking for more information on the bike, they respond (at 2 a.m.) with a plea that I buy it, but do not answer any of my questions about details on the bike. I am about 90% sure its mine.


8 a.m.: I call the seller as an anonymous buyer and finally manage to pry the make model and size out them. It’s a Fuji Cross Pro 58 cm. Its not my bike. I didn’t sleep the night before in anticipation, and am now crushed.

1:30 p.m.: A bike that matches mine (GT Type CX) is posted on the Phoenix Craigslist. They used a stock picture, but they advertised it as having the exact aftermarket wheels I had put on it. The chances that this is not my bike are possibly 1/1000. He is asking $400. A fair used price for mine would be around $1,500. An equivalently customized new bike could have cost almost $3,000.

3 p.m.: I call the seller and arrange to meet at a gas station at 5 p.m. I call the police and explain where I am meeting the seller, and am told to meet an officer a few miles from the gas station.

4:30 p.m.: the officer still hasn’t arrived. I call to confirm that the police are still coming, and to double check that the gas station is in their jurisdiction. I am told that they made a mistake, and cannot actually accompany me across the city line from where the bike was stolen to where it is being sold.

4:40 p.m.: I call the correct police department and explain the situation from scratch with 20 minutes to go. I am told they will meet me nearby within 15 to 30 minutes, but cannot promise that an undercover officer or unmarked car will be available. I try to decide if I am willing to go alone if the police can’t arrive in time.

4:50 p.m.: The seller finally answers the phone after several tries, I explain that I am running late and would like to meet at 5:30. He agrees.

4:55 p.m.: Three marked police cars arrive where I was told to wait, but they seem to have no interest in me. I approach one of the officers, who has no idea what I am talking about.

5 p.m.: I get a call from another officer, who arrives a few minutes later in an unmarked car. We arrange a joint sting operation with the nearby police cars and the gang unit. If they see me get on the bike, this is the signal that its mine and to go in.

5:25 p.m.: The police seemingly vanish into thin air, and I sit on a curb at the gas station to wait.

5:30 p.m.:  A sketchy guy with a long goatee, a blue shirt, and a felt fedora bowler arrives on broken down cruiser bike. He matches the description of the guy who cut my lock perfectly, but he isn’t riding my bike. I try to ignore him, while he looks around and eventually places a phone call.

5:35 p.m.: Another guy arrives on my bike, he’s about six inches shorter than me and looks absolutely ridiculous on it. Both guys shake hands, and after a minute, I wander over. The second guy confirms himself as the seller, I try to keep it together as I look the bike over, and start take it for a test ride. About five police cars race up, and 12 officers descend from all directions. The serial number on the bottom of the bike is still there, and matches the one in the police report.

6 p.m.: My unharmed bike is home; the thief, and the seller (who may also have been the driver) are being interviewed in jail.

Jeff Ackley, on his now-recovered cylocross bike. Photo courtesy of Jeff Ackley

Jeff Ackley, on his now-recovered cyclocross bike. Photo courtesy of Jeff Ackley

A note to those who get their bikes stolen: the thief took down the Craigslist add after I called him the first time, it was visible for less than two hours and I didn’t even get a chance to copy it for posterity.

I’d like to thank to the Mesa Police Department for their help in recovering my bike.

Jeff Ackley is a PhD student at Arizona State University, where he has a fellowship in Urban Ecology through the National Science Foundation. He studies the effects of exotic vegetation, roads, irrigation,  and other urban variables on the numerous species of reptiles which live in Phoenix. Jeff is a Cat 3 racer in the AZcross and Focuscross series. He’s also a tubeless evangelist, despite having a one in four success rate with various tire and wheel combinations.