To All the Bikes I’ve Loved Before: The Highs and Lows (Mostly Lows) of Bike Theft in Chicago

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I stood in front of a full-length mirror at a dress shop under the El tracks, attempting to fashion a bow from weirdly long strips of shiny fabric. Multiple women assured me I’d wear my new olive-green taffeta dress again after my sister’s wedding.

I had left my bike locked to a street sign outside. When I went back out, it was gone. I looked around in disbelief and increasing fury. It was broad daylight. The hammering of nearby construction pounded at a headache forming behind my forehead. With thick, off-road tires, the bike was a spare from an ex to replace the one swiped from my garage earlier that year. He was always there for me. Now I couldn’t give it back.

I reported the incident to the police and sensed there was a .5 percent chance they would find it. I shouldn’t have been so shocked, though. Cyclists here share tales of bike-loss the way soldiers swap war stories.

There is nothing like the thrill of a brand new ride—or the intense letdown when it vanishes. Cycling is kind of like pet ownership. You get attached, despite the odds, and end up committing to a fair amount of frustration along with the fun, in our fair city, anyway. You attempt to circumvent crime only to find it’s the other way around. You can invest in all the bike theft prevention measures but still may end up one day staring at the end of a sawed-off U-lock.

Having gone through lots of bikes, I’ve been through every possible stage of bike-theft grief, as well as periods when I didn’t bike at all. Sometimes we need to let go. I once had an old folding bike that was worth about thirty bucks. I cycled from Evanston to meet a friend in Chicago and locked it to a tree. I returned later beset by cramps that had me doubled over in pain. When the bike was missing, my first thought was, “Thank God I don’t have to bike back.”

Whether it’s a high-end racing bike or something hauled out of someone’s shed, a more normal response is the desire to push the crook off a cliff. Like when my new black $800 Trek—the most I’ve ever invested in a bike—was stolen from the same damn garage as before. There are also slivers of hope. This time my home insurance reimbursed me. Hooray, adulthood!

Not long after the bridesmaid day from hell, I was at my sister’s apartment, my new-to-me but second-hand 1990s Trek locked out in front. During the half-hour visit, the quick-release seat vanished. As I biked home standing up, there was no reaction left but to laugh.

What kind of demented person steals random bike parts, you ask? Mostly drug addicts, apparently. Bikes, and bike parts, are sold on the street for cents on the dollar. Or they end up on Craigslist like so many other vessels of bad karma.

These days I avoid spending cash on bikes. Since I invested in anti-theft locks, I’ve gone three whole years theft free! But I’ve been in the trenches. I will not be surprised to be victimized again, and if so I hope I can roll with the punches. Sometimes you have to wrap yourself in green taffeta for the greater good. Or dust off yet another used bike to get around—and are kind of relieved when it’s still where you left it.

(Photo credit, right: By Kristian Ovaska – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=474762)

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Clare Curley writes about biking, business, being a broad and other stuff that piques her curiosity.

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