As Web Fuels Bike Thefts, Victims Turn Vigilantes
Sunday, August 26, 2007
By the time he got the call last month, Martin Moulton had given up on his stolen $3,000 bike.
The caller, a friend, had been browsing through bike ads on Craigslist when he spotted Moulton's 2005 Cannondale with its unmistakable, custom-ordered Spiderflex saddle.
"Adam," as the poster identified himself, wrote that he was selling the bike for a friend who had left town. "My friend needs the money, which is why the price is so low," he wrote. "First serious offer gets the bike."
It was going for $1,000. Moulton feared it would go fast.
Dissatisfied with the response he got from D.C. police, Moulton planned a vigilante take-back operation over the next few days that took him to Georgetown, not far from the shop where he bought the bike.
In doing so, he scratched the surface of the region's stolen-bikes underworld, which police and bike store owners say has become increasingly sophisticated as expensive bikes have flooded the market and Internet sites have provided platforms to sell them easily and at high prices.
"It used to be that stolen bikes were more of a crime of opportunity," said Denise D'Amour, co-owner of Capitol Hill Bikes. "People saw a bike that wasn't locked very well, and they would grab the bike and run. With the advent of Craigslist and eBay, it looks like more expensive bikes are being stolen in a more organized way."
D.C. police Lt. Michael Smith said that although the department doesn't keep statistics on the subject, bike theft in the region appears to be on the rise. "It's gone up significantly because there's a market on the street for bicycles," Smith said. "They're killing us."
Although Montgomery County police statistics show little change in the level of bike thefts, Metro Transit Police, who track thefts from Metro stations, reported 25 bike thefts in May and 32 in June -- roughly double the numbers from the same months last year.
Police say most bike thefts go unsolved because many victims do not report the crimes or have unregistered bikes and few promising leads. With the Craigslist lead, Moulton became one of the few people in the region who have a stolen bike story with a happy ending.
The odds of recovering a stolen bike are slim, says Bryan Hance, a self-described computer nerd who created a Web site, http:/
"You steal someone's bike, and God have mercy on you if they ever find you," he said. "It's something so insanely personal. People have a more personal connection to their bikes than their iPod."