Changing days, changing ways

I was involved in the capture of bicycle thief once back when I was a bike courier.

The mob I worked for had a small, grimy lunch room with a bench and table out the back. Hungry couriers would gather in the mornings while we waited for the dispatch work to start, bickering with eachother like a sprawling family of idiot children fighting over chicken bones. This particular morning we sat there slagging eachother off and talking shit when one of the motorbike guys ran in a said he’d just seen some guy take off down the street on one of our bikes.

Stealing a courier’s ride while he and his bike-riding brethren are just inside the door? Homeboy was either very brave or very stupid. This bunch of squabbling bogan rabble was suddenly a unified army. As one we stood from the table. Five seconds later there twenty couriers mobilised in every direction, walkie-talkies blazing. Total rush, no doubt.

Someone called in and said they’d found the guy on King Street, and we converged. I arrived to find a shit-scared skinny dude surrounded by bristling, furious couriers. It was clear the guy was about to take a severe beating. And then the police showed up, and the group, reluctantly, dispersed. I’ve never seen someone so grateful to see the police.

For the most part stealing a bicycle is taking from the least wealthy and most defenceless commuters out there. People riding bikes are already at the bottom of the road user heap. Sure, there’s loads of very visible weekend warriors riding crazy-expensive road bikes, but plenty of commuters only have their plain and simple bicycle, no other option.

Furthermore, having your pushy stolen is a very personally upsetting thing to go through. I’ve lost a bike to a thief, like countless others have. It feels terrible. Stealing a bicycle makes you a piece of shit.

My bicycle courier days are a long way behind me. These days I am a sleepy house cat. I sit in a comfy seat and work away at my computer, and every now and then I look up at whatever horrible weather Melbourne is throwing at us that day, and I purr a happy purr. But my old bike-related rage burns deep, I’m finding, on a slightly different resonance.

I work in a big office block with special bicycle parking in the basement. There’s a lot of bikes going in and out every day, but there’s clearly a lot of other bikes that have, whether intended by their owners or not, come here to die. A good number have clearly not been touched in an age. Covered in thick grimy basement dust, tires flat, cobwebbed wheels, most of them aren’t even locked. Clearly their owners have ridden to work one day and decided fuck it, I’ll take it home another day, and then that’s how it’s stayed.

It is offensive to me that someone thinks about their bike that way. Your bike is a valuable thing: your companion, your tool. To dump it in a basement somewhere and just forget about it is messed up.

I worked at a different place for two years that had a similar set-up. For two years I chained up in the basement next to this beautiful old Gitane steel framed beauty with original Campagnolo 80s groupo and a child seat on the back. It never moved that whole time. Curiosity got to me and I asked the old-timer tech guy who said “Oh yeah, that guy left years ago. He left pictures of his kids on his desk as well”.

That’s the kind of person you’re dealing with: guy who leaves his family behind. And pictures of his kids, too.

And it occurs to me. . . it would be the easiest thing in the world to pump up the tires and ride one home.

I don’t need any more bikes. I currently own more bikes than I need and have no space or desire for more. But there’s this terrific ‘bicycle recycle’ mob who work out of a warehouse not far from where I live. They scour rubbish tips and take in old and beat up bikes that noone wants anymore and they give them love. They put on new tires, new cables, give them a spit polish and then sell them cheap to whoever wants them. They’ve helped out lots of people who probably couldn’t afford a brand new bike, some of whom are replacing stolen rides. They’re giving abandoned bikes a new lease of life. They’re doing good in the world.

I’ll let you know when I’ve figured this one out.

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