Bicycle Thief, or Just Someone With a Replenishing Superfluity of Bikes for Sale?

10:18am | So I'm making preparations for Burning Man, right, and I don't have a bike. I've been meaning to get one anyway, so I'm on the hunt.

I want something cheap — decent quality, but cheap — because a) I have yet to figure out how to make bank with this writing thing, and b) there are SO many bike thefts around town that should I become the next victim, I don't want to feel overly stressed over the loss and replacement.

Before starting my craigslist to search, it occurred to me that I would have no way of knowing whether this or that listed bicycle is stolen. I figure some of them must be. A bloke steals a bike, he's gotta sell the damn thing somehow, right?

Well, call me Eddie Ethico, but I don't want anything to do with stolen property — I don't care how good the deal is; and ignorance of such a thing is not what I call bliss.

While perusing the ads, I came across one with a couple of mountain bikes for sale. $70, ready to ride. "Have other bikes also," the ad said.

Monday I go see the guy, who lifts the door of his near-empty apartment garage to reveal five bicycles. The two in back, he says, are his personal bikes, the ones he rides. The other three are for sale, $70 apiece. He's ridden them all at one time or another, he tells me. "So now you're finally getting around to getting rid of them?" I ask, relatively full of credulity but finding it a little odd that he had held on to not one, not two, but three similar bikes he no longer rode at all.

I test-ride all three, find one in particular I like: a 21-speed Schwinn with smooth gears and a comfy, fat seat. The rear wheel's a little wonky, but he assures me it's just a matter of doing something or other with the spokes (I know next to nothing about bikes). As he watches me ponder, he drops the price to $60. I'm sold, but I don't have the cash on me. (I'd intended to sleep on it, since I couldn't pick up the bike until Wednesday, and I'd been wavering on whether I might rather have a beach cruiser.) Will he take a check? He won't, and sends me off to a nearby liquor store with an ATM.

Is it really my reluctance to pay the $2.50 transaction fee that gives me pause? I don't know, but I return with a fib that the machine wasn't working and promise to come back Wednesday with the cash — which I almost fully intend to do when I say it.

During the interim I call a bike shop to see how much it would be to get a tune-up, replace a wheel. I discuss with my Burnermate a couple of bikes in disrepair a mutual friend says we can have. And then on Wednesday, just for the sake of last-minute comparison, of considering all of my options, I take another gander at craigslist.

An ad for a 20-inch Trek trail bike has just been posted. Is that too small for my 5'8" frame? The 26-inch Schwinn I'd test-ridden seemed fine, but the guy was significantly taller than I am, so maybe a smaller frame might work for me, too? I click on the link.

Before I read a word of text I recognize one of the bikes in the four pictures there. When my glance goes upscreen to the phone number, I'm sure I know it. But of course I double-check: yes, that's the one.

The bike featured in the ad's headline is, beyond question, not one of the three bikes offered for sale on Monday. And because of its unique color, I am just this side of certain it is not one of the two bikes the seller said were his current riding bikes. No, this bike is new to the scene. Six speeds. $60. "Have other bikes also."

Maybe there's an explanation here that doesn't involve illegal activity. But if someone were involved with bicycle theft, isn't this exactly how the back end of whole business might go down?

I didn't buy the bike (any of them). I didn't even let the guy know I had changed my mind. To him I say: Dude, if you're out there and you're an upstanding citizen who really did just happen to hold onto three bikes you weren't riding even though you had two others and then within 48 hours somehow came up with another, smaller-sized bike that you felt like putting up for sale, my sincere apologies for flaking on you, and for suspecting the worst.

But can you blame me?

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