Thursday, December 15, 2005

The bicycle thieves of Davis

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.


spark said...

i recently saw the movie bicycle thief. this seems to be a written modern version of the old story. but the flow of the story is good, describing your friends' tales first and ending with your own sorry state. so ethanavadhu bike ipo? how i wish some cities get real bicyclefriendly here. bangalore had a separate lane in mg road for cyclists. that was due to the efforts of sangliana and like-minded people. here, it's the motorbikes and the cars that get stolen. wonder what the american thieves do with such cheap thefts! on one side, you see flicks with grand larcenies and here you read petty crimes like these, :-?

Saranya Kishore said...

Hey Arch,Wow!! DId these things _really_ happen? Cant believe it!! But realllly funny :)

I used to have a bike in school too, which I could drive only in Summer. Winters are better off walking in the bitter cold. I used to just leave it behind my apt for months on end. Nobody bothered to take it. And it was a good bike too.

Archana said...

Spark - I bought one more bike after that. It used to keep getting flats so often that I simply started walking around or borrowing friends' bikes. Note that the second bike was so awful that it never got stolen!

Saranya, all of them are true stories :-))! Lucky you - I think in Davis bike-stealing was kinda of a local past-time!

Ginkgo said...

the same problem happens here in ASU.

the funny thing is they leave the front wheel alone with the rack that ppl use to lock the cycle to..

obviously..they mix and match..:-)

They still havent worked out a way to remove the lock as such, so the best option is to leave the front wheel along with the lock to the stand..

guess they take 2 cycles at the same time..and use the wheel of one with the other:-)

prasanna said...

OMG, i guess Stillwater was quite safe or may be my bike was too rusted to be stolen.

Archana said...

Ginkgo, that used to happen frequently in Davis too :-))! Ah, so you study in ASU?

Prasanna, Davis used to be unsafe for bikes. Otherwise I think its the safest place I have ever lived in. But still it must be nice to own a bike without worrying about it getting stolen!

Ginkgo said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ginkgo said...

nope...I just stay close to the campus..

Long long ago so long ago..that long ago when there was no bicycle theft, I went to grad skool:-)

Rahul Obla said...

wow.... that's interesting !!. I've never had anything stolen in my 3 year stay here in Texas !!... (touch wood ). Through out my grad school...we didn't lock the apartment!!. My perception sure does change now !

Archana said...

Gingko, gosh, you must be really old then :-D!

Rahul, oh no, looks like I have tainted the fair name of Davis. Its only the *bikes* whose safety is in jeopardy.

Hmm, why am I now getting the feeling that I have portrayed Davis as some kind of gangster's den or sth...LOL!

Ginkgo said...

haha...I was expecting that reply...

Too bad...u r predictable :-P

Btw, when r ya gonna gimme ur Fone no:-)

thennavan said...

"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."

He took the term "recycling" too seriously, I guess :-)