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What goes around comes around
20.08.06 by Buffalo Bill

I should never have left my bike unlocked, even in the stairwell of the office. Bike thieves were drawn to the office like sinning bees to a particularly fragrant and expansive flower. This thief had come up 8 flights of stairs, past the entrance to our office and removed my bike, carrying it back down the stairs and away.

locked bikes at Rollapaluza IV pic: Selim

When I came out at the end of my shift, I experienced the awful gut-wrenching pain of realizing that my bike was gone, that some bastard had stolen it. And in the next instant, anger at myself for having been so stupid as to imagine that my bike was safe anywhere unlocked. The year before I had written a long piece for Moving Target about bike thieves and their various tricks: the doctored parking meter, whose head could be removed, and the bike lifted off; the bike that had been stolen in the time that it took for the rider to turn away from it after unlocking to throw a cup in the bin; the free-locked bikes thrown into a waiting van. I had written: “Never ever get lazy about locking your bike”. Byron Bramble, the number one rider on my channel, had no sympathy for me. “Bill, man, you said it: lock it or lose it.” Yeah, I said it.

I kicked the partition wall of the control room so hard that I dented it, and James Greenbury, the managing director, came out to have a look at me. And departed again, satisfied nothing was threatening his operating margin, and that an investment of his precious time was not appropriate at this time. I was inconsolable.

Naturally, the word was put out on the radio. But the bike was gone. Gone. And it was my fault. I got the bus home.

I had another bike to ride, my best bike. And this I locked without fail. And when I was on the street, I kept seeing my bike, catching glimpses of green and black, mirages that resolved into nonedescript gutter bunny bikes.

The pain of missing my bike, the bike that I had re-sprayed, re-specced and re-built, that I had turned from a bog-standard blue Rockhopper urban mountain bike into a bottle-green touring machine, capable of taking me thousands of miles in any direction, the bike that expressed me, was me, that pain receded. My best bike was an expensive race bike. It was fun to ride. I forgot the other bike.

Later that year a courier who had started making messenger bags came round to my house to seek advice. We talked for an hour or so, and as he was leaving, we started to talk about wheels.

“The last pair wheels that I got made up were a bit special,” I said, “road hubs, cross 4 rear, cross 3 front on mountain bike rims.” I looked down at his bike, at his rear wheel, and then his front wheel. “Just like those.” His wheels were not just like the wheels I had had built; they were the wheels that I had had built up. There was no doubt. “In fact, these are my wheels.” There was a silence. I stared at them for a moment, not really understanding how my wheels came to be on his bike. He broke the silence.

“This guy in that bike shop in Gillespie Road sold them to me.” I didn’t know the shop, and I was pretty sure that there wasn’t a bike shop in Gillespie Road. But I let him talk. There were only two explanations for the presence of my wheels in his frame. Either he had stolen my bike himself, or he had bought them. I couldn’t believe that he would be so stupid as to bring my wheels to my house if he had stolen them from my work, but I wasn’t sure if he knew that I worked at Security Despatch. I hoped that he had bought them, even if the story of the purchase that he was telling me was obviously complete bull-shit. I didn’t want to think that he was a thief.

I wasn’t really sure what to do, but I didn’t have a frame suitable for those wheels, so there seemed little point in demanding them back. He gabbled some more nonsense about the non-existent bike shop, invented details (I was sure) about the price, but I could see that he had the same tyres on the wheels that had been on there when the bike was stolen. No bike shop, not even the most mickey mouse hammer and adjustable spanner hack joint would sell a wheel-set complete with tyres and tubes.

I didn’t believe a word he was saying, but I wished him well, and waved away his apologies. He left.

I was still thinking about the wheels, and the bike that they used to be attached to when the phone rang. It was him.

“Bill, you’d better come over, I have got your whole bike here.”

“OK.” I was really stunned now, but the thought of recovering the whole bike made me careless of whatever sordid tale was really behind his acquisition of my bike. I was at his place in a few minutes. He lived in Upper Clapton, and we went into the back of his flat, and there, in various pieces, was my bike. Or, more correctly, there was my frame, missing wheels, a front derailleur and the cotton duck saddle-bag. It had been violated by some vandal in the most crude and stupid way. This idiot had sprayed one half of the bike red. The paint had been sloppily applied in an unfinished attempt to disguise the provenance of the bike. An amateur thief had nicked my bike.

The second story that I was told was more plausible than the first. He had been drinking outside a pub when a dodgy character had offered him my bike for fifty quid. The bike was obviously worth at least 5 times that, and he was sure that the bike belonged to someone he knew. He had enough cash in his pocket, so he bought it, justifying paying a thief to steal with the intention of finding out who the bike really belonged to and returning it. But somehow, once he got the bike home, he had never really got around to making enquiries.

He was trying to build his own bike, and in a squeeze, he put my wheels on his bike. The front derailleur hadn’t fitted, not even after he had bent it beyond repair. The cotton duck saddle bag he had never seen.

The story, a mix of good intentions betrayed by weak will, something I could identify with, rang true. I did not want to believe that he was a thief. We talked about how to resolve the matter. I had given the bike up as lost, so I wasn’t inclined to insist on having the complete bike back. The re-appearance of the bike was Mercury acting to reward a penitent and dutiful adherent. I should accept the gift graciously and show generosity to my fellow messenger in return.

I couldn’t take his wheels and leave him without the means of making a living. We agreed that he could have the wheels as a reward for ‘finding’ the bike, and recompense for the £50 that he had paid out, but that I would take what remained of my bike. I was happy enough to recover the frame and the components. There was some nice stuff on that bike. Even though it was not a bike anymore, lacking as it did, the bicycles.

Around a month later I saw him again. His bike had been stolen. I sympathized. But there was more.

A couple of weeks after the theft he had arrived at ‘The Hole’, the courier stand-by spot at Moorfields, and noticed my wheels, his wheels, in the frame of another rider. The guy had bought them cheap somewhere dodgy. My man told him that he should stop riding those wheels, that they were cursed to be stolen again. But the rider didn’t listen. All he cared about were getting some pukka wheels cheap. And f&ck him, and f&ck me.

I don’t know whether those wheels got stolen again. But I prefer to believe that they did. I like tidy endings.

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