To Catch a (Bicycle) Thief

A story about having my bicycle stolen in Taipei City last night. It’s a long tale, but the ending is sweet.

Before sunset, I rode my 2014 Giant Anyroad into Taipei City from my home in the suburbs. I was meeting my wife at a McDonald’s at a busy intersection above the Guting MRT Station, so I decided to park in some roadside bike racks next to one of the subway entrances. I knew the cheap cable lock wouldn’t stop a determined thief, but I planned to get a seat at McD’s in the second floor dining area near the window so I could keep an eye on my bike. I locked it up at approximately 6:15.

After hitting up the ATM at a bank next to the McD’s, I ordered a coffee and large fries and found a table upstairs. At first, I couldn’t directly see the bike racks from where I was sitting, so when a table right against the window opened up, I moved my stuff over and sat down. I decided to take a picture of my bike in the racks, so I grabbed my phone, turned on the camera, and zoomed in to where my bike was at. What I saw in the screen of my phone was a guy in board shorts and a red t-shirt handling my bicycle. From a distance, it looked like he might have had a bike parked next to mine, and he was trying to maneuver his bike out of the rack. I lowered the phone and looked at the scene with my naked eyes. He wasn’t moving his bike; he was stealing mine!

In the few seconds since I had noticed him, he had pulled my bike out of the rack and begun wheeling it along the sidewalk. I leapt up from the table and grabbed my backpack and sprinted down the stairs and out onto the sidewalk. As I came out onto the sidewalk, I caught sight of him riding away from me down an alley that intersected the main road just to the left of subway station. At 6:30 P.M., Roosevelt Road was full of traffic, and there would have been no way to safely cross it on foot until the light changed. Time was of the essence if I was going to get my bike back, so I dashed over to one of the YouBike sharing stations about 30 meters away and quickly used my stored value card to release one of the orange three-speed city bikes from its rack.

By this time, the traffic looked slightly less heavy than it had been a few seconds earlier, and the light was beginning to change, so it rode out into the street and started across. I didn’t turn down the alley that I had seen the thief in, instead choosing one about 50 meters to the right. I raced down that alley and out onto the next road, about 150 meters away from and parallel to Roosevelt Road. I looked in both directions, but didn’t see the thief or my bike. I turned around and rode into the alley that thief had used, thinking that maybe he had dumped the bike behind a parked car or in some other way hidden it. This didn’t yield any results, but it did return me to the rack where my bike had been parked, allowing me to confirm that in fact it was my bike the guy had ridden away. Everything had happened so fast, I hadn’t been 100% sure that it was my bike that he took, but now I knew that it was.

Racing back down the alley I had seen the thief use, I started after him again. I was trying to imagine what he would immediately do with the bike and where he might be headed. I was going to be bummed to lose my bike, but I wasn’t going to give it up without a struggle. The last time I had seen the thief, he was heading west, and I figured he might have been heading for an entrance to the riverside bike path that was about a kilometer away next to a bridge. That would allow him to get off the streets and blend into the Saturday evening bike traffic. On the YouBike, with my backpack and helmet in the plastic basket attached to the handlebars, I rode quickly along Heping West Road toward Chongqing South Road and the entrance to the bike trail.

When I got to the intersection at Chongqing Road, about four blocks away, the light was red, so I took the crosswalk across Heping at got onto the sidewalk. Looking south on Chongqing toward the bridge, I saw the thief on my bike, riding in the gutter toward oncoming traffic. My heart leapt. I had already reconciled myself to losing my bike, but now I had the thief in my sights. He wasn’t going to get away. Standing on the pedals of my YouBike, I sprinted after him, who didn’t seem to be riding with any urgency, unaware that he was being followed. As far as he knew, he had gotten away clean from the scene of the crime and was nearly to the relative safety of the bike trail.

As I closed the gap, I considered how to accost the thief, deciding that I would ride right up behind him, grab him by the back of the shirt, and yell loudly right into his face. I had hoped that this would freak him out enough to abandon the bike rather than try to wrestle with me on the side of the road. As planned, I grabbed a handful of his shirt, wrenched him to the left, away from the oncoming traffic, shouted “thief” as loudly as I possibly could right into his face. It had the effect I was hoping for, and he immediately hopped off the bike. I couldn’t hold on to him and both bikes, so released my grip on his shirt, held fast to the bikes, and shouted again, “thief, thief”.

A middle-aged man working at a shop on the side of the road must have seen what had just happened and heard my shouting. As the thief ran down a narrow alley away from me, I began pursuing him, riding the YouBike while ghosting my Anyroad next to me. The thief was getting away, but as I had my bike back, I wasn’t too concerned and continued to follow. Just then, the guy who had heard me shouting rode up next to me on his scooter. I pointed down the alley and shouted “That guy in the red t-shirt stole my bicycle.” With that, the guy raced ahead on his scooter, turned a corner and was out of my sight. I continued down the alley, turned the same corner, and came out onto Xiamen Street. I didn’t immediately see the thief or the guy on the scooter, but in just a few seconds, I spotted them on the sidewalk behind some utility boxes. The scooter rider shouted at me, and I quickly rode up to where they were at and leaned both bicycles against a telephone pole.

The thief was on his knees and looked pretty scared. The guy from the scooter had hold of the thief’s arm and was going through a bag that the thief had over his shoulder. The scooter guy handed me my cable lock, which had been neatly cut, and asked me if it was mine. I took it and said that it was. I hadn’t touched the thief, unsure that he wasn’t armed with a knife or something, but my presence there in close quarters kept him from making a dash for freedom. The scooter guy told me to grab the thief and keep him close while he went up the street to the nearby Xiamen Road police station. I wasn’t sure how far that was, and I couldn’t see it, but I thought if it were possible to keep the thief nearby without actually touching him, I would keep him occupied until the cops showed up. I was shouting at the thief, waving my broken cable lock at him in a threatening manner, and hoping he wouldn’t realize that I wasn’t going to use violence to keep him in place until help arrived. In the space of about 15 seconds, he figured out that his best chance was to run for it. Unfortunately for him, he chose the wrong direction, heading straight toward the half a dozen police officers who were at that moment piling out of the police station

The cops grabbed the thief and got a quick explanation from me as to what was happening. They saw the two bikes leaning against the telephone pole, the cut lock in my hand, and one obviously scared looking bicycle thief. I thanked the guy on the scooter for his help, and walking the two bikes, I followed the police toward their station, which was just thirty meters away. I parked the YouBike outside the station and wheeled my Anyroad inside. The thief was surrounded by the police, and from within his bag, they pulled out a pair bolt cutters, most likely the tool that he had used to cut my cable lock. Soon, he was handcuffed to a metal railing attached to the wall of the station, and I was being questioned about the whole affair by one of the officers. The thief was photographed with my bike, but not before he begged me to have mercy on him. I wasn’t feeling particularly merciful at the time. Seeing as he was most likely a professional thief, and that he had very nearly gotten away with my bike, I decided to follow through and press charges.

By this time, my wife had arrived at McD’s and was wondering what had happened to me. She was sitting at the table where I had abandoned my coffee and fries, and she called me on my cell phone to ask where I was. After hearing a quick version of the story, she came to the station by taxi and helped me read over the crime report written by the policeman who interviewed me. By 8:30, approximately 2 hours after my bike had been stolen, I was outside the police station with my Anyroad and the YouBike. I returned the YouBike to a bikeshare station about one block away on Heping West Road, slid the orange machine into the rack, and placed my stored value card over the sensor. I was charged NTD$45 (USD1.50) for using the bike for two hours, an expense I found perfectly reasonable.

I was in shock, good shock, and I couldn’t believe my good fortune. I had seen the thief take my bike, observed the direction he was heading, predicted where he might be going with it, recovered my bike without injuring myself or the thief, chased the thief with the help of a stranger on a scooter, and cornered him just meters away from a police station.

The moral of the story? Don’t use a cheap lock for a bike you want to keep, and give chase when someone tries to steal it.

Edit: The story doesn’t end here. Five months later, the author has a repeat encounter with the same bicycle thief. Click here to read

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