My sister recently forwarded a nice article entitled The bicycle thieves of Oxbridge to me. It was a light-hearted account of the wide prevalence of bicycle thefts in Oxford and Cambridge. She had also added her own note that I should probably write about the bicycle thieves in Davis. And I thought, why not!
As I have mentioned elsewhere, Davis is a very bicycle-friendly city. Many people use bicycles for commuting and almost everyone owns a bike. Considering that almost everyone already had a bike, you would think that there would be minimal bike-thefts. Unfortunately, it was the exact opposite. Bike thefts were extremely common. If you have lived in Davis for a year or more, you would definitely have had your bike stolen at least once. In fact, having a bike stolen was a sign that you had finally "arrived"!
When I landed in Davis, my senior friends warned me about the bike thefts. They had all arrived a year earlier and all five of them had lost at least one bike each. The stories of how their bikes got stolen were rather simple. One senior had parked her bike in the Amtrak station and gone to the bay area. When she came back two days later, there was no bike to be seen. Another senior had parked it outside the recreation hall. When he came out again after a game of badminton, his bike had disappaeared. And so all the stories went.
On hearing these accounts, like a wise soul, instead of investing in a new bike, I bought an old beat-up Schwinn bike for $20. It was a muddy brown in color with a very comfortable seat and till date, I have not spotted any other bike which has looked like it. I was sure no one would bother stealing an old bike like mine and bought the cheapest lock for locking it up. And then waited to see who in my batch would be the first to have their bike stolen.
It started off with A and D. Both had ridden on their bikes to the Memorial Union building where the food courts were. They parked their bikes outside and went in for lunch. When they came out again, A's bike was still there but D's bike was nowhere to be seen (Note, in all these stories, the bikes in question had been locked. A good bicycle thief does not get deterred by minor inconveniences like locks). D panicked big time and A calmed her dowm. They decided to walk around to make sure that D hadn't mistakenly forgotten where she had parked her bike. They were walking around thus when they spotted another student whizzing by them, riding a very familiar looking bike. It was D's bike!! So A and D both gave chase. When they caught up with the undergrad student, he did not protest and sheepishly admitted to having "borrowed" the bike. After giving the undergrad a lecture on honest living, D got back her bike and the story ended well.
Then came V's turn. He had parked his bike outside his house and the next morning, it was gone! V was pretty upset about having to walk back and forth from school till he could buy another bike. For a week he walked. Then one evening he decided to go to the rec hall to play volleyball. When he reached the rec hall, he was wistfully eyeing all the bikes parked outside when one bike caught his eye. It was his bike! Wow, the thief had actually parked it in front of the rec hall! But then, wait a minute, the bike was still locked with his lock ! And then it all came back to him. The evening on which his bike had supposedly got stolen, he had gone to the rec hall on his bike. On the way back, he got a ride back in friend's car and forgot completely about his bike left behind in the rec hall. Hence his conclusion that his bike had been stolen when he couldn't find it outside his apartment the next morning! V was so relieved that his bike was actually not stolen and happily rode it back home.Unfortunately, a week later, his bike got stolen. This time for real.
Another friend K was riding his third bike when I met him for the first time. For some reason, people always stole only the front wheel of each of his bikes. Since it was as expensive to buy a new wheel as it was to buy a whole secondhand bike, K was sincerely wholly replacing his mutilated bikes. That year saw him get his fourth bike. Someone had stolen his bike's front wheel again.
My favorite bike-theft story is the one involving V and A. V and A had gone to Vacaville, a city near Davis with lots of factory outlet stores. They were both planning to shop for their upcoming India-trips. Since India-shopping always involves buying lots of stuff, they decided to take A's bike on the bus so that they could hang shopping bags from the handlebars instead of carrying them from store to store. This idea worked well for some time. Finally, the inevitable happened. They came out of some store only to see that the bike was gone! A got thoroughly upset and gave V an earful for having come up with the brilliant idea of asking her to get her bike. V, to pacify her, decided to take a dekko around to see if he could spot the bike. He walked around for a bit. Finally he reached a huge dumpster. Parked docilely beside the huge piles of garbage, was A's bike!! A had always complained about the poor quality of her bike. That was the day we realized just how bad it actually was. A thief had dumped it!!
I still remember the day my bike got stolen. It was the afternoon of a Saturday and I was going to the lab to get some work done. It had rained that morning and as I biked to school, I saw a very beautiful rainbow. When I reached my department, I parked my bike, locked it and took another look at the rainbow before entering the building. When I emerged 3 hours later, it was dark and I looked at the rows of bikes on the bike racks. No sign of my bike. A second look still did not yield my bike. After some 15 minutes of walking up and down and not finding my bike, there was no doubt about it. My bike had been stolen :-(. I had finally arrived.