Content Warning: Drug Use
On October 13, at 5:15 AM, my partner woke me.
“Katie, our bikes were stolen.” Sure enough, two performance Norco mountain bikes were missing from our second story foyer and there was an extension ladder leaning against our balcony. I was shocked.
This is my third encounter with bike theft since moving to Peterborough in 2016. My bicycle misfortunes have happened at an intersection of negligence, brazen thieves and bad luck.
The first time, my lock was cut from the Sadleir House bike rack in 2016. My mom bought that bike on my fifteenth birthday for $700. I fell in love with cycling while riding it. I took great pride in owning a brand that made me eligible for the cycling “in-crowd” and I was sad to see it go.
In a moment of kismet, I was leaving the Peterborough Public Library, in September 2018, and noticed a couple of teenagers walking with my teenage-dream bike. I stopped the boys and said:
“Where did you get that bike?”
In one breath, he mumbled:
“Friend gave it to me.”
The bike was worse for wear. The tires didn’t fit the forks. The seat was torn. It was a bastardization of the bike that I had loved. Much like a worn out toy, it became a mutation of my memories of it.
I told them:
“That’s registered stolen property, you know? I loved that bike. Take care of it.”
My friends were shocked that I was willing to let my bike pass me by. Logistically, I wouldn’t have been able to seize it from them and that would be against my non-confrontational nature. They looked too young to be the actual thieves and I had already replaced that bike with a superior model.
Underneath that was a feeling of guilt. In no way do I come from family money but when I was the same age as those boys, my family was able to buy me a bike. I doubt those boys had that same luxury. I’m not claiming to be some sacrificial Robin Hood-esque hero, but it felt like a fitting outcome. There is cosmic alignment in teenagers riding my teenage bike.
Three weeks after that, in October 2018, my newer bike was stolen from an unlocked shed in my backyard. The thief must have known it was there as they would have had to scale an eight foot fence to get it.
At that point, there was a stranger subletting a room in our house. He was on probation and was making a concerted effort to live within the legal margins. That weekend, his acquaintance was detoxing from opioids on our couch. It was unsettling.
I’ve always wondered if the acquaintance sold it for cash. It was a fragile situation. I don’t want to stigmatize him based solely on his drug use and brushes with crime. But a lot of my leftist ideals folded when confronted with a stranger violently shaking and dry heaving in my living room. My bike went missing within a day of him staying with us. It’s very possible it was a coincidence and he had nothing to do with it. He is innocent till proven guilty, but my pragmatism has left me curious.
I feel no contempt toward my suspect, but I miss that bike. I bought it in Vancouver and rode it to Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia. Ocean to ocean. I fulfilled my biggest dream on that bike and it’s my only lost love.
Its disappearance felt tragic and inevitable. Bike theft is usually a crime of desperation. The unfortunate reality is that with the second highest unemployment rate in the country at 11.2%, circumstances in Peterborough are often desperate.
Bike theft is a zero sum game and I’m suggesting that we consider this crime as a nuanced social phenomenon. Petty theft happens when people have no other options. Bikes are ubiquitous and valuable; they are hard to trace and it’s rarely prosecuted; making bike theft the perfect crime.
Over the past twenty years bikes have become increasingly sophisticated and cycling companies have jumped at the opportunity to monetize that innovation. As bikes get more expensive, theft is further incentivized and chasms within cycling culture deepen.
When I told the salesman on the floor at Wild Rock that our brand name mountain bikes had been stolen, he offered to keep an eye out and politely said:
“We know who should be riding which bikes.”
This was a diplomatic way to say: we know that poor people have no business riding expensive bikes.
Paradoxically, bikes are both a symbol of wealth and hardship. This distinction being: either you ride for pleasure or you ride because you have no other transportation options. The juxtaposition between these circumstances is sobering. For some, cycling serves as a creative outlet that augments their day. While for others, it’s an absolute means to an end. These two circumstances are perfectly opposite. On the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, cycling could be considered as a basic need or an exercise of self actualization. This position is inextricably linked to financial security. Bike culture is a token of the increasing wealth disparity in Peterborough.
These are the aforementioned performance mountain bikes.
Security footage tells us that the perp came to our apartment at 1:24AM with an extension ladder over his shoulder. He climbed the rather precarious ladder and stole the first bike from our foyer and then came back forty five minutes later for the second. Through the security footage, we watched him turn out of the camera’s sight line onto Sherbrooke street. My heart went quiet as we watched over six thousand dollars of aluminum, carbon fibre and rubber vanish into the night.
This bike theft was particularly disconcerting. The criminal was motivated and methodical. For weeks after, I jumped whenever someone knocked on our door. I insisted that my boyfriend announce his identity when he got home from work. I was shaken up.
We spent weeks sleuthing the internet and around the city, hoping to find a trace. We knew better than to expect to find anything. But then we got lucky: against all odds, my partner’s bike surfaced.
This is the first piece in a series of articles I am calling Highway Robbery: An Odyssey of Bikes Stolen in Peterborough. The next pieces in this series will follow my struggle to recover our bikes, the complicity of Peterborough’s institutions and the systems that would abate bike theft in our community.
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