Bicycle Recon Mission Oakland

A story of heartbreak and rejuvenation from Alameda to Fruitvale

Last night I got a tip off from Alameda Peeps about my stolen bike. The message was this:

“I just saw this bike at the corner of Fruitvale and
Eastwood there are 3 or 4 people looking at it”.

Jumped in my black SUV and sped towards Oakland pocket dialing officer Reese from the APD on the way not knowing what to do or how. But my bike was calling in one ear, my wife hollering after me in the other “Be careful”. Concern was audible in her voice miles away, and just like that I was rushing into the night of Oakland to recover my stolen wheels.


A little back story, I had been looking for an electric bike for month

s. Just asking around and talking to people, scouring Craigslist, calling shops, test riding bikes. It just so happened I was talking with my buddy Barry at Changing Gears, a fantastic non-profit in Alameda where I have volunteered. FYI, I spend a lot of time right next door at Alameda Food Bank, so I think the area may have been inadvertently sprayed with some good juju by me. Anyway he says, “We’ve got one in the back.” Turns out it was exactly what I was looking for. The bike came to me, just like that, I had a custom built electric cargo bike, bought and paid for while supporting a cause I believe in.

Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 7.26.51 AM

Barry at Changing Gears

The bike was a bright blue Yuba Mondo almost brand new. Someone had set this thing up right, with a custom stoke monkey electric motor, disc brakes and all the panels and accessories you could want. I got

to ride this bad boy for exactly 2 weeks. Yes I put a ton of miles on it, got to carry my gorgeous bride of frankenstein wife around on the back on Halloween night, weaving through masks of candy stoned locals. I packed a lot of use into those 2 weeks. But exactly 2 weeks after purchasing the bike I had fallen in love with… bam stolen! In broad daylight in front of Kaiser in Alameda, yes it was locked up, but just with a cable lock. I really spent no time considering it would be stolen that brazenly in close quarters and so quickly. I always lock my bikes, even inside the garage. But I let my guard down for a second and my newly acquired prize possession was “puff” history.

It seems like just yesterday. I was with my oldest daughter at Kaiser for less than 1hr. When we came out, it hit me like a slap in the face, just like that my bike vanished. I was distraught, my joy ride was abruptly over. A visceral sadness slowly washed over me as I buried my face in my hands and turned to walk home with my kid. Trying not to cry, not knowing what to do or what example to set, we trudged home in shock. The loss of my bike sent me into a downward spiral I just could not shake. I’m a bike nut, I connect with those machines in a strange way that only bike nuts understand, I might own 20 bikes and any given time, and here’s why:

  • I was a bicycle design director for 5 years
  • Bicycle mechanic at 6 different shops
  • Raced Mtn. bikes and even won a North Tahoe Classic (exactly once)
  • Logged thousands of road bike training miles with a hard core group in LA
  • Used cycling to recover from 3 ACL
  • Piloted a blind Paralympic athlete in training on a tandem bike

Being that I’m an A type personality, pushy, agitated and stubborn, I went immediately on offense and opened a can of proactive whoop ass straight away. Although the prefrontal part of my mind had accepted my bike was gone for good, somewhere deep in the old brain, hope flickered on. It was a huge bike after all, it would not likely be parted out because it was a custom job that didn’t really make sense in pieces. It had to be somewhere lurking nearby. I could almost feel that massive machine’s gravitational pull dragging me towards High St, a distant beacon or bike sonar distress signal calling for help….Yuba was in danger and needed me. But I needed to do my leg work to cover all the bases so I:

  1. Went to the APD and filed a report
  2. Tweeted stolen on Bike index website
  3. Posted on next door
  4. Posted in Alameda Peeps FB group
  5. Printed a flyer with photos and reward
  6. Posted flyers all around the crime scene

Then something strange happened. I began to receive messages in the Alameda Peeps Facebook group, like a distant Voyager emitting barely decipherable sound waves from another solar system. Some were just questions about what happened and how that sucked, was it locked, you’re an idiot, suck it up, I’ve lost 15 bikes, you know RANTS! But in the middle of the scrolling Facebook chatter we honed in on a high target distress signal from the bike gods. Greg was the messenger, it read like this:

“I just saw this bike at the corner of Fruitvale and
Eastwood there are 3 or 4 guys looking at it”

My wife’s highly acute social network senses enabled her to intercept and parse the FB transmission and relay it to half drunk Dad on the couch within seconds. Half drunk dad on the couch sprang into plyometric action, my bike was calling and somehow I knew it was Yuba, it had to be, FB does a lot of things, but it does not lie!


Crazy Stolen Bike Heap

Sliding into my black SUV I pocket dialed officer Reese from APD barely heeding the concerned calls from my wife “be careful, what are you going to dooooo?”. I had no answers, I was in motion and forming a plan. I knew I wasn’t a tough guy and I never pack heat. Also I’ve seen all the Patrick Swayze movies, but never won a fist fight or stood up to a bully. So what was I going to do? I tried to think of someone to call, maybe the Equalizer? With no time to doubt myself I was off speeding into the frigid autumn night dizzy with adrenaline.
After walking back and forth, circling the area and taking pictures, frantically texting officer Reese my instincts took over, I had to move in fast or risk losing her forever. Growing up in LA and getting into trouble, even though I’m a big sissy, I’ve got street smarts for sure. I didn’t know if the area was safe so I did not approach straight away, but I caught a glimpse in a flash of someone raising a tarp and showing an object to someone with a flashlight, then draping the tarp back down with a swoop. That was it! I was nearly certain that was my bike, the stance of it, the way it sat on the center stand, the massive length. Cautiously I slinked in for a closer look, it was YUBA in need of rescue.

My time was running out, trucks were coming and going, they were trying to sell her and nobody was coming to help. I had to rely on my own resourcefulness and ingenuity. If I hesitated my opportunity would be gone, so blood running hot, feet moving across downed chain links fences and through puddles I continued my tactical surveillance. There I saw in my acute peripheral vision an older gentleman moving to enter his crappy automobile on a side street, so I engaged:

“Excuse me, do you live here? I think those guys have my bike, do you know them?” I ventured
“Oh that’s Dave” he muttered “He’s a nice guy, he lives in that truck. Go over and ask him.”
“Will you come with me?” showing my true lack of courage.
“I think they have my bike, it’s right over there”
“It’s ok I’ll wait here, you go” my helper encouraged with a wave of his hand. Then he leaned back confidently against his heapwagon and watched, arms crossed.


Stolen Bike Crime Scene

I had paved the approach for myself and I had someone watching, surely the old homeless guy had my back right? Well to his credit, he stood guard there for me just 20’ away, he was my anonymous wing man giving me the courage to approach the broken down encampment. I went directly towards the elongated tarp covered shape, I caught a glimpse of the blue fork tips and disk brakes. It was a definite match YUBA, I had found her. Now what? I had a million bad ideas, one of which I considered was just grab it and run. Before I could get myself together a woman encountered me from a parked truck cutting off my path to Yuba.

My senses were on super high alert, I had no idea how dangerous the situation could be so I scan for movement, glancing back at old man muscle. A woman in a long jacket walked towards me from 15’ away. As she came closer our faces met and I examined her expression and attire purposefully. Was she on crack? Was she armed? Were there others around? What was the deal here? In about 5 split seconds I could see in her eyes and face a kindness and normalcy so I blasted her with this straight up, no BS, acapella stern voice used to discipline a 13 year old without making her cry:

“Hi look that’s my bike right over there it was stolen yesterday in Alameda. It’s reported stolen and I have the serial number right here. I don’t care how you got it or who you are but I’ll give you $300 right now if you get that back to me right now, otherwise I’m calling the cops and it’s going to be a big shit storm all around here. I don’t want to give you any trouble but I’m not leaving without it.”

And ending with a dead in the eye stare that meant business. She could read the intensity in my face, and got the picture, lets call her Lana. She was a nice person, albeit eeking out a living on the wrong side of the law, fencing bikes and or buying and selling stolen items. I didn’t really give a crap. Realizing I couldn’t leave the scene without Yuba, I called my wife for a cash delivery, paid the woman and gave her a bottle of Rum on my way out of Oakland. She even fished out the missing panniers and my lost helmets from on top of the truck. She definitely didn’t have to do that.


How I lock my bike now

As I lay back down on the couch at home, sighing a huge breath of relief and telling my kids the story with a flabbergasted smile, the phone rings. “Oakland police department do you still need our help?”

The morals of the story are:
Money, honesty and street smarts can unlock doors
Everything comes back to you (the theme song for this story and an ear worm for me for days leading up to this event)
Bikes can cure the world, which brings me to the next chapter of bicycle news. Our trip to bike across Zambia!

If you like this story then donate to the Alameda Food Bank or Changing Gears shop or Bike Zambia.

Until the next 2 wheel adventure,
The Hoff