Hannah and Amanda had their bikes stolen from under their noses. In the immediate aftermath, Hannah wrote this.
I had a bike stolen once before. I don’t know what make or model it was, but my Dad bought me it as a surprise present. It was brand new, and it was a big deal. I never had new bikes, much less cool looking bare metal finish ones. And my Dad bought me it. Did I mention that already? I was at uni, and it became my transport to work, which paid for me to live, which meant I could be at uni. In a life that was pretty hard in quite a few ways, it was a lifeline.
I wasn’t there when it happened. I’d gone to my mum’s for a few days when I got the call from my boyfriend at the time to say that the stairwell door had been propped open for painting and my bike had been taken from where it was locked on the top floor. The neighbour’s wheels had gone too. This call came quite late at night, when I was asleep in bed. I put down the phone, and I had what I realise now was a panic attack. I couldn’t breathe, I cried, and my heart pounded. Life – in a boxroom, with a single bed and a live-in boyfriend who in the fullness of time would reveal himself to be abusive rather than just difficult – just got a bit harder. Eventually, after trying various ways of getting to work, I bought a cheap second hand bike. I hadn’t been riding it too long when I got knocked off at a roundabout, and it would be years before I rode to work again.
That moment of losing that bike and the feeling it engendered has stuck. Knowing that it was gone, probably irrecoverable. The sense of loss – not of material stuff, but of freedom, convenience, mobility, options. More than that: what it meant to me. My bike. My new bike. My brand new bike. My brand new bare metal actually looks cool bike, given to me by my Dad. Whoever took it, whoever owned it next – it would never mean that to them.
Tonight, all that came back to me. It came back to me as I saw two bikes being held onto the side of a getaway car by a man in a balaclava as the car raced up the high street, sparks flying as the car’s wheel met with a bit of bike.
Yeah. You read that right. Shall we rewind?
Maybe we’ll rewind right back, to the end of the regular Tuesday ride. Except that for me, I’ve not been very regular of late, and I’m feeling pretty buzzed at having got out and had fun. As I’m chatting to the various people I haven’t seen for ages, the bar we finish at fills with bikes. Eventually it’s pretty full. I think it’s probably pretty antisocial to pack any more in there, so Amanda and I lock our bikes together outside the bar, leaning against the window, as close to the door as they can get without blocking them. I stand with my beer in the doorway. I’m maybe 120cm away at most. The bikes are locked with two substantial locks – anyone walking past, even equipped with some kind of mega bolt cutter – is going to be chased off in no time.
At no time though did I entertain the possibility of a drive by robbery.
I’m standing watching the bikes as a black estate car pulls up onto the pavement. It pulls up pretty fast, and pretty close, and a few of us watching suck our teeth in a ‘bloody hell, that’s a bit cavalier’ kind of way. There’s an Indian takeaway next door, and as they reverse back, I simultaneously think they’re going to pick up a takeaway and that they’re a good candidate for @YPLAC. I momentarily debate whether to step forward and say something like ‘do you want to watch what you’re doing and be a bit careful’. I’m giving the slightly bug eyed weasel chinned driver a bit of a look when the rear window winds down and a man in a balaclava leans out.
I can tell you now, that there is nothing that screams ‘shit shit shit’ like a man in a balaclava. Reaction times are tested, and we stop being onlookers and start towards the bikes, but the moment balaclava man has his hands on them, the driver is flooring it. We run after them, somehow foolishly hoping that a red light might cause them to stop, but they zoom off up the high street, sparks flying.
Which brings us back to that point where we were a little way back.
Realising I can’t chase them down, but they’re in an estate car with two bikes hanging off the side, and there’s only so far they can get before they’re going to have to stop and deal with the double locks and however it is they’re going to get them into the car, I call the police. My heart jumps as I hear – and see – a police van zooming towards me as I see the bike thieve’s brake lights disappear. It sinks again as the van drives on by, heading elsewhere, and I continue giving details to the police operator. Surely there are cameras! Live feeds! CCTV and number plate trackers! Goddamit, the crime is happening now, right this minute and I can tell you where they went. Catch them!
But no. As I stop running and start answering the administrative details like my name and my address, I realise we’re screwed. The bikes have gone, and there’s going to be all kinds of calls to be made and work admin to be dealt with. One of the bikes – the one I was riding – is a 2020 Juliana. It might be the only one in the country. It’s probably not saleable on the second hand market without attracting huge red flags for at least 12 months. But that is just material goods. Awkward material goods, and a call to the distributor is the next call I make after the police and my boss, but it is a bike without sentimental attachment. Those were my pedals on it though, and I have history with them. Dammit. Dammit dammit dammit, shit.
The bike that really matters though is the one that, on the face of it, is totally replaceable. It’s a Ragley Piglet – a steel hardtail that comes at a very competitive price. But this is Amanda’s Piglet. She bought it as a frame when she really couldn’t afford to, and built it up. It’s her only means of transport, and its significance as a means of independence, freedom and headspace has grown over what has been a tough summer. If she couldn’t afford to buy it before, she certainly can’t afford to lose it now. And insurance? Well, if you’re sofa-surfing post break-up and trying to get your life back on track, you don’t have home insurance. You need a home for that, not a suitcase.
And so I scour the street for businesses that have CCTV – the police won’t do this for me, but if I find CCTV they may look at it. I beat myself up for not reacting sooner, but then think – what if I had?
As we check out the little information we have, we discover that the car is not taxed or MOTd. This is a car that should not be on the road – should not have been on the road since early this year, but yet it still is. This is a car being driven by someone that knows exactly how to get close enough for a passenger to grab some bikes. This is a car that contains a passenger that’s carrying a balaclava so that they can grab bikes without being identifiable. This is a car that’s filled with people who are out to break the law – are breaking the law. They’re comfortable – experienced, professional – enough to scout and take these bikes. What else would they be comfortable doing? Knocking me over with bikes? Running me over with the car? What else might they be carrying in their pockets, other than a balaclava?
Yes, I’m pissed off. I’m pissed off that I’ve been got by a fairly slick operation. A chance ‘oh I’ll just walk off with this unlocked bike and pretend it’s mine’ I could understand. Even a go with some bolt cutters at a bike in a not so well lit corner, I can see the temptation to the desperate. But this. This was robbery. Aggressive driving, planned execution, going equipped. This is not the desperate, taking a chance.
Worse than me being pissed off is Amanda. She’s not pissed off, she’s unhappy. This is being kicked when you’re down, and then getting an infection in your wounds. Amanda doesn’t have a Piglet, but she also doesn’t have transport, a thing that is hers and hers alone, a means of getting here or there whenever she wants. In a tide of things shoving and shunting her around, she’s now lost the means of moving where she wants and when she wants.
And for that, balaclava boy, I hope they catch you.
We’ve since discovered the pictures in the poster below being used to try and sell our bikes. Please get in touch if you have any information which might help us recover them.