Bike mechanic Gordon Robb says he’s not one to be a vigilante.
But that’s what he became last week, when he and his friend Quentin Matheson repossessed Mr. Matheson’s stolen bike, and left a funny calling card as a prank for the thieves.
Mr. Robb spotted the bike on Bloor Street near Spadina Avenue in Toronto last Wednesday, three days after his friend’s bike was stolen. Through an exchange of pictures the two confirmed it was, in fact, Mr. Matheson’s 13-year-old Raleigh hybrid.
“We knew 100 per cent it was his bike,” said Mr. Robb, 31, who had worked on the bike for more than five years.
He had a spare chain lock, which he placed on the bike overnight. He returned the next day with Mr. Matheson and a group of friends, and cut away the U-lock they found on the bike.
They left a cardboard cut-out of a bicycle with a message attached: “Dear Bike Thief, You rascal! You took my bike earlier this week, but forgot to tell me where you’d leave it! It took a stroke of great luck that my friend, who’s also my bike mechanic, happened to spot it right here! Isn’t that crazy? Anyway, I kinda need my bike so I’m taking it back. Please accept this substitute until you can afford your own.”
“I always have the approach to tackle things with humour,” said Mr. Matheson, who met Mr. Robb through the improv comedy scene in Toronto “You fantasize that [the thief] would be coming back for the bike and it would be nice to leave [him or her] a message.”
Mr. Robb left his Twitter handle in case someone had bought the stolen bike online, although he felt sure it was newly stolen and being stored. It’s a “common strategy” among bicycle thieves, according to Mr. Robb, to lock up a newly-stolen bike outside so that it’s not in actually in their possession if someone spots it.
Still, it was a “minor miracle” that they found his bike, Mr. Matheson said. He had already written it off as a lost cause and he did not notify police of the theft.
“I never bothered trying the police,” Mr. Matheson said. “I thought it was a hopeless case.”
Constable Tony Vella of the Toronto Police Service said registering your bike with police is the best way to ensure it will be returned if it’s recovered. Without a receipt, a serial number, photographic evidence and registration, it can be difficult to get it back.
“We urge citizens to register their bicycles online with Toronto Police Services,” Const. Vella said, adding that in-person registration is also available at any police station, so police can match the serial numbers of any bike they recover. “We need to identify who the rightful owners is.”
According to a 2011 police report, the most recent data available, 3,139 bicycles were reported stolen in the city - an average of more than eight bikes a day.
Last week in British Columbia, 33-year-old Kayla Smith set up a meet with a man selling her recently stolen bike on Craigslist - and when she took it for a test drive, she kept on pedalling.
For Ms. Smith and for Mr. Matheson finding their bikes was in fact, as Mr. Matheson said, “pure luck.”