Woman spots her stolen bike on front of a Metro bus, gets it back

Beth Gunn (left) with Matt Leber, the bus driver who helped her get her wheels back

Beth Gunn (left) with Matt Leber, the bus driver who helped her get her wheels back

Screen Shot 2013-11-11 at 11.17.38 AM

Screenshot of Craigslist ad for her stolen bike

Beth Gunn returned home from vacation to discover something devastating: Her bike was no longer in the bike parking area of her Queen Anne apartment building where she left it locked up.

“That’s my car, that’s how I get around,” she said over coffee recently. “I don’t have money for a new one.”

Frustrated and now on the verge of being late to work at one of her jobs, she ran to work. When she had the chance, she reported the theft to Seattle Police and emailed Seattle Bike Blog to ask what else she can do to get it back. That’s when she found her ride listed on — yep, you guessed it — Craigslist.

But Beth would not need to set up a fake buy or plead with police to help her catch the person who took her wheels. Instead, a little serendipity and a lot of thief stupidity created a magical moment: Waking down the street near her apartment, she saw her bike headed toward her strapped to the front of a RapidRide D bus.

So she did what she had to do: She stood in front of the bus and told the driver she wasn’t going to move until she had her bike. Luckily, the man behind the wheel is a bike commuter himself who writes a blog about biking and transit. You might know Matt Leber better as VeloBusDriver.

As soon as she started talking to Matt about the bike, a couple people exited the bus through the rear doors. Indeed, when Matt asked the passengers if anyone owned the bike on the front, nobody answered. They waited for a King County Metro supervisor, who gave Beth the OK to take the bike.

Beth, Matt and I got together for coffee recently to talk about what happened and celebrate her reunion with her wheels. She said she felt bad about making everyone on the bus wait, but Matt and I assured her she did the right thing.

Plus how cool is that? I’ve heard of a couple bikes being stolen off the front of buses in other cities (though I can’t recall hearing of it in Seattle), but I’ve never heard of someone recovering their bike that way.

Good work Beth, Matt and King County Metro for making this happen!

Unfortunately, Beth said at least three other bikes are missing from her apartment building’s bike parking. Though her building manager is considering installing more secure bike parking, for now she is hauling her bike up to her apartment for safe keeping.

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43 Responses to Woman spots her stolen bike on front of a Metro bus, gets it back

  1. Roanoke Rogue says:

    Great Beth got her bike back, and kudos to Matt for helping out.

    FYI, a friend had his bike stolen off the front of a Metro bus, but it was years (more than a decade?) ago. Probably rare, but it does happen.

  2. Pingback: Bicycle stolen, bicycle found — in a most unusual way | The Today File | Seattle Times

  3. I. Ponder says:

    This is great, but you only get lucky like this about once in 50 lifetimes. I can’t help but wonder if the bike was locked with a cheap cable lock or to an unsecure rack. That’s the dirty little secret we don’t like to discuss because it implies lack of compassion. That $40 U-lock seems expensive until your bike gets stolen.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      She said she used a good lock. Any lock can be cut, especially when locked in a dark, rarely-traveled place that gives the thief all the time in the world to cut it.

  4. Al Dimond says:

    Not to be one of those people that rains on a parade, but this sort of story brings up all sorts of questions about privilege and appearance. VBD and the Metro operator had to somehow determine whether to trust this person claiming a bike on front of the bus was theirs, apparently in the absence of any established protocol. Would someone that looked different be treated differently? This isn’t about VBD personally, but any bus driver, any person put in a similar position; we know that people have lots of biases, conscious and unconscious, that affect our decisions to trust people or not.

    It’s a race thing, and also an appearance/clothing thing. I don’t know Beth, but in the photo above she appears to be a white woman nicely dressed by the conventions of Seattle yuppeism (spelling invented for the purpose), more likely to be trusted at a glance than most people. I’ve been judged the same way before — in one case, a friend and I were allowed without question into a Chicago bar with a “Members Only” sign that was put up so the operator could refuse anyone entry he thought might cause trouble (I can only guess how he determined this with a glance at us). Some people might not try to stop the bus and ask the question, figuring they’re more likely to get trouble than justice, and I’d put good money that correlates with race and class.

    For situations like this (if this specific situation is common enough for the agency to think about specifically) it might be a good idea to establish an evidence-based procedure rooted in existing property-recovery procedures, and publicize its existence. Otherwise justice will be at the mercy of drivers’ quick judgments of whom to trust and victims’ judgments of whether they’ll be trusted, and therefore subject to lots of bias.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      She had the police report info and photos of her with her bike. Plus, nobody else claimed it. I hear what you’re saying, but I wouldn’t say that was an issue here.

    • theo says:

      Only to some people does it bring up questions of “privilege and appearance”. When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and when you see the world through the lens of racial bias, everything looks like an opportunity to codify fairness. Sorry pal, it can’t be done.

    • makinha says:

      You are saying that if a poor person of color took the same course of action, and the occupants of the bus took off running as soon as it stopped, the bus driver would not listen to the story and return the bike?

      • liz says:

        Besides she can’t be that much of a yuppie if she can’t afford a car.

      • Al Dimond says:

        In a situation where the person in control of the situation has to make a quick judgment on who to trust, it is well studied and documented that there’s probably going to be bias involved. A wise response isn’t to blame anyone personally for bias, but to have a process that allows claims to be handled impartially.

        As I’ve heard more details about this particular story it sounds like a pretty clear case for getting the bike back immediately. She had the police report describing the bike with her, which is really smart on her part — I don’t even have a hard copy of the police report from my bike theft. When I first read the story, I interpreted the people getting off the back when the conversation about the bike started as people getting off the bus because they were close to their destination and didn’t want to sit through the delay, but on a second reading it indeed sounds more like thieves fleeing the scene.

        A lot of bike recovery stories sound a bit too wild-west to me, and initially this one did too; probably some of the other stories I’ve read colored the impression I got from reading it hastily. Sorry for bringing in controversy about it.

      • Quosh says:

        It’s just that white girls are easy targets for the race card whine game, that’s all.

    • Hope says:

      For the record I do know Beth, we both worked at a minimum wage retail employer were we regularly had to deal with the privileged yuppies you’re talking about. Let me just say that Beth is one of the sweetest and most compassionate people I’ve had the pleasure to work with. She is incredibly intelligent and funny. And while I would be constantly complaining about said privileged customers, she was nothing but sweet. If you knew Beth, instead of judging her based of her appearance, then you would know that this is her being the intelligent bad ass that she is to get HER property back. And I’m proud of her for standing up for herself!

      • Gary says:

        Also let’s not overlook the fact that the driver being a bicycle rider himself would be more sympathetic to sorting out a stolen bicycle claim before just driving off to the next stop.

      • Driving off after being informed that there is stolen property on your bus would be unwise. I can’t say a driver wouldn’t do it, call it in from the road, turn the bike in after a supervisor catches up, and file an incident report. But I was pretty sure it wouldn’t take long to get this all sorted on the spot since we were in a central location and the rush hour was just getting started.

        There are many ways to handle this situation. Given the evidence she had on hand and the lack of any other claimants, you’d be hard pressed to not have given her the bike on the spot. She had the headlight that fit the mount on the bike for goodness sake.

        I’m glad it worked out and Beth retrieved her bike quickly.

      • Beth Gunn says:

        Hope, thanks so much for your kind words! They mean a lot coming from a big-hearted, bad ass like yourself!

    • Beth Gunn says:

      Hey Al,

      I appreciate your comment. As I stood in front of the bus I had the thought, “There’s no way in hell this would go well if I weren’t a white woman…and I’m glad I dressed up today.” I was aware that my appearance made the whole situation easier (and I could say the same for situations multiple times a day). As I stood there waiting for the Metro supervisor to arrive at the site, a woman said, “Way to go, girl!” I was glad for her support and I really doubted bystanders would have been so quickly supportive of me were I a non-white male blocking the bus and claiming the bike. I know my privilege made recovering my bike an easier ordeal.

      I was treated with respect by the Metro workers, but protocol was followed. I was told by the driver to wait to take my bike off the bus until the supervisor was present. The driver then asked if anyone on the bus claimed the bike and no one did. From there I showed the supervisor the police report information with my vin number, as well as my bike lights (which fit the attachments on the bike), and I offered to show him the photo of my bike on my computer. Before I took my bike, he took down my information to have on file in case someone disputed my claim on the bike.

      Race and privilege play into every interaction and situation, including this one — it’s harmful not to acknowledge that. I’m grateful that you made sure that the role of race and privilege was not left out of the telling of this story. In this case, I believe that it is because I am a white woman that many bystanders were quickly supportive of me while the Metro workers did their part by following the rules.

      • Chris says:

        Appearances that establish bias aren’t only created by the color of someone’s skin, or their apparent ethnicity. The are also created by the way someone dresses and behaves, and the manner they address other people.

        People who think it’s fashionable to dress like a thug should really consider how they will be perceived in adverse situations based on their appearance, and maybe stop wining about bias so much because of it.

    • Andy Panda says:

      Despite his apology, Mr. Dimond’s post is insipid and scary. Sir: are you aware of your reflex lecture on political correctness? Regardless of the owner’s preparation with a police report, etc., please recall that no one else on the bus claimed the bike. If I had been driving the bus, and subjectively “profiled” the obstructionist claimant as a crack-addict in a protected racial class, without ID, the departure of the couple in the back and the profoundly obvious evidence of Nobody Claiming the Bike, I’d have probably coughed it up. The driver called his supervisor. Shame on you for accusing him of a bias. You have absolutely no basis for that claim, and regardless of your skills at communicating, the knee-jerk compulsion to lecture us smacks of some sad oppressive kind of moral superiority, thoroughly unwarranted and highly offensive. Why did it take a second reading, sir, to see enough truth to apologize? How quick you are to judge the event as the response of a white guy to a white woman. Quick enough to fire off a public lecture. Without a second reading. Just lecture them Now. Nah…none of us needed any of it, and the apology is simpering and grotesquely insufficient.

      • Becky says:

        Al isn’t accusing the driver of bias. His comment is wondering whether there are structural and institutional factors that make things like this easier for white people. Like Beth says above, race and class bias play into ev.ery.thing. There is no shame in talking out loud and in internet forums about what we might do to make things more equitable for people of every race and class and gender.

  5. Gary says:

    I was at a comedy club and the guy on the stage talked about having his bike ‘attempted theft” off the front of a LA bus. He had put a cheap lock on it and the would be thief removed the bike at a bus stop then looked at it, realized he couldn’t ride it off and threw it onto the sidewalk before the owner could get to it. It was funny ’cause the guy stealing the bike made no attempt to run, probably figuring the most he would be charged with is “moving a bike” as he could claim “he thought it was his.”…

    Which made me think that even taking a bungie cord and wraping through the wheel and frame would slow a theif down enough for me to get off the bus and re-arrange a few things… :) vs having to lock it, then mount it to the front of the bus.

    But yeah I’ve thought about the vulunerablity of my bike out there in front.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      That’s not a bad idea: Lock the wheel to the frame before putting it on the front of the bus. Oddly, I never thought to do that. I have a small u-lock, so it would be super easy and wouldn’t clank around much. Might give it a try. Thanks!

      • Josh says:

        A Dutch-style frame-mounted wheel lock is perfect for this sort of casual-theft deterrence. It doesn’t make your bike impossible to steal, just less convenient than the next bike over. Something like this Abus 495. They’re ubiquitous on commuter bikes in Europe, almost impossible to find in U.S. bike shops.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        I bought that exact lock from 20/20 Cycle for my cargo bike. I use it in conjunction with another lock, but I love it. Give me a little extra peace of mind when I leave it locked in a high-theft area, like downtown. Added bonus is that it keeps the bike from rolling when you lock it on a hilly street :-)

      • Gary says:

        Not sure that you have “lock”, just immobilize your bike so it can’t be ridden away without a bit of work. If you have your lock you might as well, but I don’t carry my lock to and from work. (I’ve got two)

      • bill says:

        I set up my front brake to lock the wheel when the brake release is closed. Makes a great parking brake and it is a virtually invisible way to immobilize a bike. Only works with caliper brakes that have a release on the calipers. Another way to apply the brake is to squeeze the brake lever with a toe strap or hefty rubber band. That’s more obvious, but would be unexpected by a thief and might delay him long enough for the owner to apply correction.

  6. Jenny Frankl says:

    SWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I rescued my bike from the front of a bus in 2010 near UW campus – it was a MAGICAL MOMENT and only brought me closer to my bike :). Yep, same thing – just as I was plotting my craigslist recon – I saw it coming towards me on a bus. I totally spazzed out, got the bus driver to stop, got the bike, then found out who it was that put it on the bus and got to unleash some colorful language on him and rough him up a bit. So rare do you get the opportunity to justify hitting someone upside the head, lol. Nice work, chica!

    • Beth Gunn says:

      High five, Jenny! So cool to hear of another recovered bike from a passing bus! That moment you know you really do have your bike back in your possession is pretty magical!

  7. Brian says:

    I had a Schwinn Continental that was stolen around 1973 when I was a student at University of Michigan. Saw someone riding it on campus and stopped them. Get it back. I still have this “classic” in my Capitol Hill basement.

    At times I see decent bikes being ridden by street people in Seattle and wonder if all were acquired legally. Guess I’m unfairly profiling here like a prior writer was suggesting may have occurred with the owner and bus driver.

    • Mondoman says:

      They may pick them up in Ballard. There’s a known involuntarily-donated bicycle collective that hangs out at the Ballard Commons and at NW 54th St between 14th and 15th Ave (across from Safeway) and apparently has some trucks full of bikes and parts.

      • Aaron says:

        Have they been there recently? My friend had her Peugeot stolen a few weeks ago, and I’d heard about them being by the Ballard GoodWill, but when I went to look I didn’t see them.

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  9. Keef says:

    It’s too bad the perp got off the back of the bus. Makes me think, in that rare lucky moment to instead get on the bus, call the police, and have them turn up when the perp tries to take the bike back off the rack. Then at least they get caught instead of running off in this instance and a sooner opportunity to steal another bicycle.

    Glad they retrieved the bike. Good news for the owner.

  10. Adel says:

    Bike owners should scratch their name and phone number underneath the down-tube (between the crank-shaft and head-tube) to help identify it should it become stolen and becomes an issue regarding ownership. Its easy and saved my bike once, years ago in California where bicycle theft is very common.

    A way to make the bike unattractive is to spray- paint your bike in bright-colors. No one wants a personalized bike that can be identified miles away. From the photo, it appears that her bike was a bright-light green easy to identify and probably helped recover her bike.

    • Gary says:

      I can’t quite bring myself to “destruct” the looks of my bike. The closest I get is not cleaning the grime off of it from riding. It’s groady but it’s still functional… Yes I know, adding some duct tape wrap would do wonders to make it look worthless. I figure most of the thieves haven’t a clue to the “real” value of a bicycle but rather any bike that’s easy to steal is just as valuable as any other bike.

      • Aaron says:

        This isn’t really destructing the look of the bike, but making it hard for a stolen bike to be resold. That location near the bottom bracket is where the serial number usually is anyway, and isn’t visible unless you flip the bike over. You could cover the etched number with a clear nail polish or something to protect the frame from rust.

  11. Bryan Hance says:

    Absolutely awesome story :)

    Also, if you have that original Craigslsit ad for her stolen bike cached anywhere I’d like to add it to my database of CL thieves. Drop me an email if you can please. :)

  12. no traffic lights says:

    Thread that U-lock through your back wheel instead of the front if you’re interested in keeping that cassette.

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  14. Beth Gunn says:

    Tom, how fun to have this story written up! Thanks for all the bike advocacy work you do!

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Thanks for sharing your awesome story with me! The story has really gotten around. As of now, it’s been viewed 9,000 times…

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  16. Gary says:

    So my understanding is that there are cameras on these rapid ride buses. Did the cops get a copy of the video? Did our hero bus driver review the video to see if he remembered who loaded the bike? The guy was probably sitting up front where he could keep an eye on “his” bike.

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