Mountain Biker with Bike on back alley

Life in COTIC Times


From time to time, I have pretty unconventional stories in my life; for the most part, I keep them private and focus on digital art, design or graphic art topics. But after what happened to me, I have the urge to share this story with you.

What seemed to be a jolly good mountain biking day on the trails turned out to be a test of hope and faith.

Friday, Sept 11, 2020. The day ahead was looking fabulous. I had pancakes for breakfast (I love pancakes), coffee, and a nice hang-out with a friend. As I was getting ready to leave the house around 1 pm, I had a gut feeling something wasn’t right; I thought: “I’ll ride carefully; it should be fine.”

I carried on with my day, completely ignoring my instincts (this was my 1st warning). I boarded the 210 Upper Lynn Valley Bus and sat in the middle section by the window with my backpack to my right. I know, wrong move! (I usually stay at the front; I wasn’t on the ball that day).

The bus started its route. At the East Cordova St and Main Street bus stop, a passenger hopped on and told me: “Hey, it’s a nice bike you have.” I replied, thank you. I kept an eye on my Cotic Rocket and carried on checking my phone (indeed, I got distracted, this was my 2nd bad move and warning). Traffic was fluid, and the bus wasn’t busy; only a few people, all seated, no one was standing. Suddenly, at a stoplight, at East Cordova St and Heatley Ave. I must highlight; it was not a Bus Stop! I heard a honk and someone saying: “He’s taking your bike!”

As I looked up, I saw a suspect taking my bike off the bus rack and heading up the street. I instantly bolted towards the door and ran as fast as possible after him, leaving my backpack on the bus with my mountain biking gear, helmet, house keys and wallet. I only had my phone, earphones, and compass card on me.

While running, I only had one thing in mind, getting my bike back! In pursuit of the thief dressed all in black wearing a brown and black backpack (yup, the profile description didn’t help much), my earphones fell off my neck (I thought, great, one more thing lost). I didn’t care and kept sprinting full speed up Heatley Ave, getting as close as 1 meter away from being able to grab his backpack and pulling him down as hard as I could. Literally 1 meter away! Unfortunately, I wasn’t fast enough and couldn’t catch him (guess, who’s training his sprints now). By the way, everything was happening extremely fast, and my adrenaline was at 110%.

He continued going up the street, turning right on East Hastings street, there was about 10 meters distance between us by now, and I was starting to lose speed. Out of desperation, I screamed, “Heeeyyy!!!!” When he heard me, he pedalled faster, turning right on Princess Ave at the Union Gospel, then turning left at the first back alley going towards Jackson Ave (it was then when I realized he didn’t know I was after him initially).

E Cordova St @ Heatley Ave

At the corner of E Hastings and Princess Ave, I saw cops arresting someone; I went towards them and said: “Someone stole my bike! He’s biking up the alley right now!” Both cops looked at me confused, so I continued the chase (I guess I would have been confused if a random guy came up to me out of the blue like that). At Jackson Ave, I saw a lady and asked her if she had seen a guy with a black and white mountain bike? She replied, “Yeah, down the road.” I kept going along Jackson Ave. After a few blocks down, one of the cops caught up driving parallel to me trying to help me out, but I had completely lost track of the suspect.

The cop said: “Go back and meet with my partner.” I went back trying to find his partner, but I couldn’t locate him. I continued to scout the area going towards CRAB Park. I don’t know why I thought the thief might have gone towards the park to hide or take the sea bus. I arrived at the park, looked around, but there was no sign of him at all. I proceeded to head back to E Cordova; on my way; I stumbled upon another cop. I explained the situation, but due to the vague profile description and no leads to his whereabouts, he said the chances of getting my bike back were pretty slim (I certainly didn’t want to hear that). He also said to call the non-emergency line 604.717.3321 and file a report, which I did. By the way, it took me an hour to talk to someone on the non-emergency line.

My adrenaline was wearing out, and I was getting tired. Still a little bit in shock, I decided to try to locate the crime scene. I walked back to E Cordova St and jumped back on the 210 bus. I explained my situation to the bus driver and asked him about my backpack. He said, “I received a notification about a stolen bike, but nothing yet about your stuff.” When getting closer to Heatley Ave, I started to remember the facts. I descended the bus and started to recognize the area; I wasn’t sure exactly what street I got robbed on. Luckily I looked down and saw my earphones on the ground, so yay, I recovered one item and confirmed this was the spot.

Uncertain what to do next, I phoned my bike mechanic, asking him to keep an eye out in case he heard something. Afterwards, I called a friend asking if I could borrow his bike. He said yes, as well mentioned the Stolen Bikes Vancouver Facebook Group. I requested to join immediately. Lastly, I called my friend I had breakfast with, asking her if she could bike around E Hastings with me (like me, she couldn’t believe what happened!). I headed home, walking from Heatley Ave, crossing E Hastings until Downtown thinking maybe I could spot the thief trying to make a quick sale, but nothing.

I got home, changed quickly, created a post with details on my bike to the FB group and went back to the streets with the hope of finding it.

Once I met my friend, we cruised around the Downtown Eastside, which you all know is a very depressing area of town. In a short amount of time, we saw so many bikes, frames and parts all over the place; frankly, it’s shocking to see! Once again, I stumbled upon cops; this time, they were seizing an electric scooter reported as stolen. I shared pictures, the serial number of my bike and proceeded to CRAB Park (don’t ask me why I kept thinking about CRAB park). When we got to the park, I saw three bike couriers; I thought it would be a good idea to talk to them as they bike all over town. We chatted a bit, and I asked them if they could notify me if they happened to see my ride; of course they said yes, also suggesting to check the Strathcona Park Tent City, which I had no idea about. I thanked them and went over there.

Downtown Eastside – E Hastings St. | Photo by @dystopic.blonde
Downtown Eastside back alley
E Hastings St. | Photo by Sean Tilly

“If you had let me know in advance, I could have been better prepared.”

Once at Strathcona park, we were shocked! It’s depressing to see it in such conditions. As well as, angering to see the Strathcona Neighbourhood being affected like this. It looks freaking horrible!

We decided to bike inside the camp. After a few minutes, a lady saw us snooping around and started yelling at us. “Can I help you?!” I said, “Sure, I’m looking for a bike mechanic.” She said, “He’s on the other side.” We headed where she pointed and met Mike, the mechanic. Funny fact, while searching for my bike on Craigslist, I saw a post warning about a bike thief who looked exactly like him. Anyways, I told Mike I wanted to buy a mountain bike; he mentioned, “Yeah, I can assemble a bike if you give me some time. If you had let me know in advance, I could have been better prepared.”

He showed me a few frames and scrambled assorted parts; while we waited, we looked at the tents trying to spot my bike. After seeing many stolen bikes, frames and parts everywhere, I thought my bike was probably chopped by now. With no success, we left the park and headed to Granville street, thinking perhaps we could find it there.

Tent City at Strathcona Park | Photo by City News 1130

Feeling mentally and physically drained, we call it a day. I got home, had dinner and started pondering about all the should’ve, could’ve, would’ve scenarios. Thinking, I should have listened to my instincts; I should have never been distracted; If only I could have run faster, I was so close to catching him! So, yup, I went to bed with a bitter taste in my mouth.

Saturday, Sept 12, 2020 A little bit rested and still not wanting to give up, my friend and I went back on the hunt to DTES. We scouted the back alleys and streets most of the afternoon until late at night with no luck; the only clue I had was this sketchy-looking guy I saw with a Giant dual suspension. Instantly, my hopes went up! I thought there might be a chance my Cotic Rocket was still in one piece.

I approached him and asked: “Hey, I’m looking to buy a mountain bike, where could I buy one like yours?” He hesitantly looked at me and said, “It’s not for sale” and started pedalling away. Out of curiosity, we followed him to Heatley Ave (apparently Heatley Ave seems to be a hotspot), saw him doing a street deal and kept following, losing him going towards West Hastings. It was late, and the night was upon us. We went home, had nachos and a couple of beers to ease out of the situation.

Downtown Eastside – E Hastings St.

Sunday, Sept 13, 2020 With a gloomy day due to the fires and still pretty bummed out, I decided to watch movies most of the day, checking my phone from time to time with hopes of getting a call from the Police.

I have to highlight this was my 4th stolen bike in all the years I have lived in Vancouver. As you can see, I was determined to find my bike, so I did what most of us don’t do or only do as a last resort. I reached out to GOD and said: “God, I know you know where my bike is, please bring it back to me in one piece.” And of course, when you talk out loud to your imaginary friend, there’s no immediate response, but still, I didn’t lose hope.

Monday, Sept 14, 2020 Still, with a knot in my gut and not wanting to carry on, it was time to move on with life. At around 10 am, I checked my phone one last time and BOOM! I saw Carmen’s response to my FB post showing a couple of pictures of a male and my bike hanging out at the Powell Street Return-It Bottle Depot.

Male in possession of stolen property
(Carmen’s photo)
Cotic Rocket stolen mountain bike
(Carmen’s photo)

My heart lifted and I went into a rush mode. I sent Carmen a direct message but got no answer. Simultaneously she was trying to get a hold of me but didn’t know-how to. Finally, we were able to establish communication and figure out the next step.

I’ll make a quick parenthesis to introduce you to the hero of this story: for starters, I can’t express enough my gratitude to her. Carmen, you are a STAR! Your willingness to help the community is truly admirable!

Carmen loves biking and knows how bicycles represent so much more than a way to get around. Over the years, living on the Eastside, she has seen all kinds of bike thefts in the area. Tired of being on the sidelines and always willing to step into action, she was asked by her friend Tasha to join the Stolen Bikes Vancouver group. Because of the high volume of daily stolen bike reports submitted to the group, she usually keeps an eye out for bikes that stand out; luckily for me, my Cotic Rocket fell under her radar.

Okay, you may ask, how did she manage to pull this off? Hang in there; it’s all coming together.

While I was texting with her, I called the bottle depot (don’t ask me why I called the Depot first, I wasn’t thinking straight) and asked the manager if he could see a guy with a black mountain bike dressed all in black, he said no. I immediately called 911, asking if they could dispatch cops right away. The operator needed accurate information from me before sending cops; 20 min had gone by now, time was running, and I was nervously sitting on my couch, looking through the window, thinking what else I could do. I knew this was my chance!

Thankfully, the suspect had two big bags of cans, and Carmen knew he would be there for a little while. Tired of being on hold with the Non-Emergency line and waiting for any response on my end, she went out to search for any cops cruising by E Hastings. After a few minutes, she finally spotted a car cop in the middle lane of a busy traffic afternoon. While waving, trying to get the cop’s attention, she almost got run over by a car. Could you imagine adding more drama to this story?! Geez, I’m so glad she is okay.

When she got a hold of the cops, they were fully cooperative and headed over the Bottle Depot. Meanwhile, I was still talking to the 911 operator; I received a text back from Carmen, letting me know that cops had my bike!

You have no idea how happy I was when I read Carmen’s text!

Oh yeah, you may be wondering. What was she doing in such a dingy area of town?

Well, like for most of us, COVID-19 hasn’t been easy. When the pandemic began, she lost most of her multiple income sources, and that specific day, she thought, jokingly to herself. “Hey, why am I giving away my recycling? I’m going to pay off my mortgage in cans.” (I laughed a lot when I heard this) And it turned out that afternoon her building’s recycling was overflowing, so being an action woman, she took on the task of bringing a bunch of big recycling bags to the Depot, and that my friends, is how she ended up there.

Life, right? Who on earth would have guessed this would have happened? Indeed, God works in mysterious ways.

Tuesday, Sept 15, 2020 I received an email and call from the Vancouver Police. After verifying my identity and bike ownership, they told me to come and pick it up. I went to the Police Station, picked up “La Nena” (that’s my bike’s name) and felt immense peace and relief from having it back. Aside from some scratches on the logo, sharpie marks and my good WTB saddle gone, La Nena was in one piece! Just like I asked.

After inspection, I talked to a police officer about my case. He said they know who the thieves are; and have them on file; unfortunately, it is tough to prosecute them due to the many layers of our bureaucratic law system. That’s why it is so crucial for you to have pictures of your bike, serial numbers of the parts and register it to Project 529 Garage and Bike Index. Even if they recover the bikes, they have to auction them most of the time because they cannot find the owner.

Stolen bikes in Vancouver are not new news; we all know this has been going on for years. But one thing I know is that we are tired of it! How long is the government going to overlook this problem? It seems to be that matters are only looked after when a public figure or social influencer is affected. Do we really need to go there? When is it going to end?! When violence escalates, or something tragic happens? I mean, really Strathcona couple threatened by a man with a chainsaw!

The BC government keeps encouraging Vancouverites to help build a better Bike Network, bike more and be eco-friendly. When the pandemic hit Vancouver approximately a year ago, more people started to rely on their bikes as a medium of transportation. Indeed, we love biking and are grateful for all the work put into the excellent biking network we have in Vancity. But we are missing a key element here. Security!

The days of purchasing $250+ premium locks to keep your bike safe are long gone. No matter what type of lock you have, our bikes are vulnerable everywhere; of course, there’s always a risk when parking your bike on the street. You never know when someone will decide to attempt to rob your bike in broad daylight.

Bike storage stolen Masi | Photo by Scott Robertson
Stolen Bike at UBC Campus | Photo by Jinhua Yip
Pop up Chop Shop in Kitsilano Beach | Photo by Nicole McEwan

What is truly alarming is the increase in bike thefts and Chop Shops’ arising all over the city. And even more concerning the increased two-wheel vehicle theft on private property! Here is an article from the daily hive Vancouver with statistics about it, just to give you an idea.

The bottom line is, thieves don’t care; they will break-in where ever they can and go after anything with wheels, not only targeting regular bicycles, but also electric bikes, scooters, bike strollers for kids and dogs are on the menu too. While searching for my bike, I saw a broad range of scenarios. Break-ins to buildings, houses, garages, and sheds have become the standard. They even dare to steal from second-floor balconies, as seen in some cases in North Vancouver. It’s very infuriating knowing that our property is no longer safe at home. Robbery from pickup trucks or car bike racks is common too, and in an extreme scenario, theft and damage to retail stores can also happen.

Bikes have become a necessity in our lives; they are valuable assets; whether for recreational purposes or as a mode of transportation, we rely on them—they are essential to us.

Frankly, we need more successful initiatives like 529 Garage; by the way, if you haven’t yet registered, do it now. Another great example is the Bait bike setup; I love it! Also, let’s give VPD the good recognition they deserve. Contrary to the negative public response you hear, I believe great police officers are on duty looking after us.

Downtown Eastside – E Hastings St. | Photo by Keith Freeman

I’m calling out to the provincial and federal governments to step up and take action in this matter. I truly hope my story contributes to impacting the governments’ attention and doesn’t become another article or story headline broadcast on the news and forgotten 5 minutes later. Seriously! This growing problem affecting our society must be eradicated and adequately addressed from the roots.

On a happy note, it’s fantastic to have a solid community looking out for each other. Thanks to all your actions and efforts, we can see owners reunited with their vehicles. Of course, we want to see more success stories, but we’d rather not have to deal with this at all.

Interesting Fact; while chatting to a bus driver from the 210 Upper Lynn Valley route a few weeks later, “my little incident” happened, he mentioned to me:

“It’s been two bikes taken off the rack while I’m on my route, you get distracted for a few seconds, and the bike is gone! Another typical trick they use is to load their crappy bike and to offload the nice one when they leave. You can see this happen over and over in multiple cases.”

Honestly, I can’t imagine having to deal with this scenario as part of my day.

I want to close with a humongous thank you to Carmen for going above and beyond and stepping into action! As well, thank you to the Stolen Bikes Vancouver FB Admins for your support. Thank you to my friends who helped me look for my bike, thank you to the unknown honest commuter, bus driver and Translink staff who made possible the recovery of all my belongings. I know, eh? I got all my stuff back, wallet (IDs, credit card, all in there), keys, mountain biking gear and helmet. Everything was in one piece. And of course, thank you, Yahweh, for protecting me no matter where I am or what I’m doing, for giving me hope and reminding me to keep my faith strong at all times. Much LUV!

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
Jeremiah 17:7 KJV

E Hastings Back-alley | Photo by @photomancy

Keep safe & vigilant.
Thank you,

Cover Photo by | @photomancy

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