Vicious Cycle: Reporter's Notebook

Categories: Bicycle

Jeremy Werst founded Mpls Bike Love in 2006.
In early November, a young man entered Penn Cycle on Lake Street looking for a cost estimate to transform his bike into a single-speed.

The customer didn't seem to fit his bike.

Mechanics at Penn Cycle had seen this guy before, usually riding around a beat-up Schwinn. Today, he had with him a Salsa La Raza with a custom orange paint job, worth in the neighborhood of $4,000.

"There's no other bike like it," says Anthony Ross, a mechanic at Penn Cycle.

This all raised a big red flag with Ross and fellow mechanic Beau Layman. After the customer left, Layman quickly searched the "Stolen Bikes" section of Mpls Bike Love, an online forum for Twin Cities cyclists. Sure enough, there it was:

Stolen from garage 10/8 overnight, LynLake n'hood.

Salsa La Raza: 58cm, metallic-orange beauty.

Fuji Ace: Daughter's road bike: 24", red.

Thx for keeping an eye out!

Layman tracked down the Bike Love user and got the bicycle's serial number.

When the customer showed up to Penn Cycle again, Ross distracted him while Layman confirmed the serial number matched. Then he called the police.

Police arrested the suspect in the store, and returned the bike to its rightful owner.

Layman and Ross emphasize that they're not vigilantes hunting down bike thieves. But every time someone brings in a ride that looks suspicious -- say, a customer trying to sell a bike worth thousands for a couple hundred -- they check Bike Love to see if it's been reported stolen. So far in 2010, they have returned six stolen bikes.

"Bike Love is really the biggest asset, because it's the only archived place to report it stolen," says Layman.

Jeremy Werst created Mpls Bike Love four years ago. Since then, it has become a vital asset to the Twin Cities cyclist culture. The site currently has more than 4,300 members -- including doctors, students, and more -- who have collectively authored 235,000 posts.

Below is more extended content that didn't make it into the print story:

Hennepin and First avenues

This past April, rumors hit the forum that city officials were working to remove the bike lanes on Hennepin and First avenues in downtown Minneapolis.

Hennepin and First were already a source of controversy in the cycling community. Prior to September 2009, both streets had been one-ways. When the city flipped them into two-way streets, the bike lane on Hennepin was replaced by barely visible signs designating the entire right lane of traffic to bikes, buses, and cars hanging a right turn. Because no one saw the signs, the bike lane might as well have disappeared.

After hearing the alleged plans of cutting the bike lines out completely, Werst decided to use the forum's power to send a message. He sent an e-mail blast to everyone on the site urging them to call their City Councilmembers.

"And within like an hour and a half or two hours I had [City Councilmember] Lisa Goodman calling me on my home phone number and saying 'Hey, who are you and why is my phone ringing off the hook?'" remembers Werst, adding Goodman denied there was ever plans to remove the bike lane.

Werst also planned a "traffic calming ride" a couple months later, where bicyclists would protest what had become a dangerous area of the city for bicyclists by riding up and down Hennepin and First in big groups.

Werst was surprised when about 30 bicyclists answered his call.

For four hours, the group took turns riding two-by-two during rush hour, blocking the entire lane of traffic. Some brought signs reading, "My bike is a traffic calming device."

"We got some cheering, some thumbs up," says Hayley Bonsteel, who wore a tutu on the ride. "And also I think some honking of the negative variety."

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