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Community unites to buy honest stolen bike buyer an even better ride

Image from the GoFundMe crowdfunding page.
Image from the GoFundMe crowdfunding page.

What started as yet another stolen bike story morphed into a wonderful tale of a guy who simply did the right thing and a community that came together to thank him … and then some.

Yang bought a $500 bike on OfferUp — a free classifieds website based in Bellevue that has become a hotbed for selling stolen bikes. It was a nearly new Kona, which Yang wanted to use as a commuter to get around town.

But the bike he bought actually belonged to Brock Howell, the Policy and Government Affairs Manager at Cascade Bicycle Club who had paid $2,000 for it a few weeks earlier. Howell spotted his bike on OfferUp, but it had already been sold. After pressuring OfferUp staff to contact the likely buyer, Yang got in touch with Howell through his Bike Index listing.

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“He found that it was in fact my bike — the bike that was stolen from me on July 4 and that I had purchased just three weeks prior for my ride on Cascade Bicycle Club‘s Seattle-to-Portland ride,” Howell wrote. “Yang immediately emailed and called me.

“I was just a block away when he called. I walked over to his home, and he gave me the bike right then and there.”

Yang was honest and awesome, but he was also out $500 and didn’t have the commuter bike he was looking for. So Howell decided to reach out to the community at large to see if anyone wanted to help out. He posted the story to a GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising the $500 Yang paid. He also offered to help Yang find a bike more suited for the commuting Yang wanted to do (the Kona was a bit big and designed more for fast riding).

Within hours word had spread, and people had donated $500 to the effort (Howell put in $250 of his own to get things started). But the cash kept coming in. As of press time, $1,235 has been donated.

The first $1,000 will go to get Yang a sweet ride, twice the amount he paid for Howell’s stolen bike.

Any money above $1,000 will go to Bike Index, a website and database run by a couple guys who are passionate about stopping bike theft and reuniting people with their stolen rides (Seattle Bike Blog’s Stolen Bike Listings are powered by Bike Index). Bike Index fills a vital information gap that helps connect directly to theft victims and helps buyers check whether a bike is hot. More and more, police use Bike Index in the field to check on suspicious bikes and to reunite people with their bikes rather than sending those bikes to their departments’ often Byzantine recovered property warehouses.

Basically, Bike Index is a rare lifeline for people hoping to ever see their bikes again. And it works.

But Bike Index doesn’t have an obvious and established source of income yet, though they are working on developing one. So that’s why you should go donate what you can to Brock’s fundraiser right now. Help keep Bike Index going. They are instrumental in so many of the bike recovery stories we report, and they work hard behind the scenes trying to get police to integrate Bike Index into their work to get proactive about stopping bike theft.

In fact, this happens every day in Seattle. Stay tuned this week for a fun story about how King County Sheriff’s officers use Bike Index in downtown Seattle…

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9 responses to “Community unites to buy honest stolen bike buyer an even better ride”

  1. Harrison Davignon

    How amazing. I wish our community was more like that. We should have more security at bike racks to prevent thefts Heavy duty locks definitely reduce theft. It is corsages acts like this that improve our communities dramatically.

  2. Erik

    A lot of a good stuff happened in this article. All said though folks, if you get a new $2,000 bike for $500 on the interwebs, particularly Craigslist of OfferUp, it’s probably stolen.

    1. Joel S

      Some crosschecking with a database of stolen bike serial numbers and a market price sanity check on the part of Craigslist and OfferUp would be nice.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        To be fair, I had no idea how to judge the value of a bike when I first started looking for one. Pretty sure I would have thought that Kona could be a $500 bike. Not many people can tell the difference between a $2K and $500 bike just by looking at it. And $500 is a lot of money!

      2. jay

        Joel seems to be suggesting Craigslist and OfferUp do the checking, not the possibly inexperienced buyer. I’m not sure how practical that could be. Personally, I just assume everything on OfferUp is stolen. But then I live a sheltered life, I had never even heard of Offerup until the comments here: http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2015/05/19/bike-theft-hero-spots-strangers-ride-returns-it-during-victims-costumed-birthday-bike-ride/ (note that in that story the thief didn’t profit, as Tom says, $500 is a lot of money, certainly incentive for a thief to try again, even if he does have to create another fake identity)

        Actually I liked the story on GoFundMe page better, where Yang checked the bike index on his own volition, it’s one thing to do the right thing when nobody knows, perhaps just a wee bit less noble when you get an e-mail (implying some one does know something) informing you that you may be committing a felony by possessing stolen property.

        I’m curious how Brock ” pressur[ed the] OfferUp staff to contact the likely buyer” (but I don’t want to know) Did he “Make [them] and offer [they] can’t refuse”? did they take him seriously? did it put the fear of God into them?
        I don’t see any indication that Nick Huzar even owns a race horse, but even if he does, please leave the animals out of it. On the other hand, if someone removed some of the hard drives from Offerup’s servers (with an axe) and left them at he foot of Huzar’s bed, it would be totally illegal, a bazillion time worse than selling a stolen bicycle (but it would be hilarious)

      3. ODB

        This is definitely a promising model for bike thefts going forward. Think about it. It’s a win-win-win-win-win: (1) thief gets $500, (2) Brock gets his $2,000 bike back for a mere $250, (3) Yang is rewarded with an extra $500 toward a new bike, (4) GoFundMe donors feel good about themselves, (5) Bike Index gets funding. Obviously, the critical question is whether this proof of concept is “scalable.”

  3. Dave

    It would be a really, really nice thing if Craigslist would require serial numbers on bikes, power tools, musical instruments, etc. where applicable.

  4. […] to Bike Index and a whole lot of “bike privilege,” I was able to recover it and then buy a bike for the person who had bought it off of OfferUpNow and …. Unfortunately again, the bike was stolen again on RSVP at the halfway point in Bellingham while I […]

  5. […] (right) delivering a crowdfunded Kona to Yang Fan, who returned Howell’s stolen bike after unknowingly buying it through […]

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