The Curious Incident of the Captured Klunker

The Curious Incident of the Captured Klunker
A sight to induce a stomach ache.
“The thing about fate, Magnus: even if we can't change the big picture, our choices can alter the details. That's how we rebel against destiny, how we make our mark. What will you choose to do?” ― Rick Riordan

The bikes had arrived two nights before. Two State Klunkers, to be used as the first two in the rental fleet. I built them up quickly, excited and impatient as I am in that mindstate I sometimes enter: finally, we have some action. I rode one of them (the one with the cool olive green frame bag) around town to my meetings over the next two days. As I coasted northbound down the smooth, gentle slope of West towards Peace, I couldn't stop thinking: Man, this is a fun bike to ride. People are going to love this shit. I think we're on to something.

Note: As someone who primarily does road and gravel riding, the slacked-out geometry, big tires, wide BMX-style bars, and beach cruiser DNA lend a truly childlike joyfulness to the ride characteristics of this bike. That's all I will say about that.

Now, I've locked my bike to that same cargo bike rack for basically every single grocery trip I've taken since I moved to Raleigh. Florida is my alma mater, so Publix feels like home turf. Call it brand loyalty or nostalgia, but hey - love that place. For each of those hundred something other trips, I've used that exact bike rack (I've driven to Publix maybe once). Only difference is, on all the other trips I was using my beefy U-lock and rode a deliberately beat-up-looking bike. This time, I was riding a bike that was later described by my friend Anthony as having "some serious curb appeal." I was also using a lock that was, as you can probably guess, neither my U-lock nor up to snuff for this particular application.

I stared at the empty bike rack for a solid 30 seconds with my hand over my mouth. I'd just eaten lunch inside the Publix atrium, just barely out of sight around the corner from the bike rack. It was an eerily similar setup to when another one of my bikes (with a comparably incompetent lock, but significantly more emotional value) was stolen from me at a train station in Denver, before I departed on a 20 hour train ride. Big yikes.

My cousin Jack's words drifted through the back of my mind "with a bike retention track record like yours..."

Accompanying the usual sense of stomachache and violation that comes along with having a bike stolen was a sharp feeling of embarrassment. I'd just "launched" my Instagram presence (but this website had been cooking for some time, real ones know) and I was sure this would come off as a publicity stunt at worst, or just plain confusing at best.

Nick Neptune, a friend of the show (and any bike-related show in Raleigh) was there when it happened. In the adrenaline-fueled haze of that 20 minute span, our interaction seemed like that one dream scene in Harry Potter in the white train station, when Dumbledore spoke some real shit to Harry. It was just the same when Nick ever so calmly recommended to reach out to Jared Harber for some advice. I texted Jared in between posting stories asking people to keep an eye out for the bike. Jared's advice was fairly simple: Go look for it. You've got a 50/50 shot of finding it.

Twenty or so miles around downtown Raleigh was actually a very fun ride, like an alley cat with no specific checkpoints or end time. The freezing rain rolled in, and it was time for me to go home.

I gave a halfhearted attempt the next day, but it was darn windy and Lauren and I ended up just heading to Lake Raleigh for a hike after we bought new helmets at Oak City Cycling. Having a helmet stolen is always a good excuse to buy a new one, if you really think about it.

And that was it for the Klunker.

Until Sunday night, when I opened up my phone and saw that Lou from the aforementioned Oak City had called me TWENTY MINUTES AGO and sent me photos of the bike leaning on the wall next to the elevator, at the very same Publix it was stolen from! She had waited 15 minutes for my oblivious self to pick up the phone, and finally left. Was I about to miss my window of opportunity? Did I just biff this big time? I stared at my phone for a moment then threw on my Vans, no socks, told Lauren to grab the keys. We were out of the house like a CANNON.

I ran into the store while Lauren parked in the garage underneath the store. I didn't see it immediately, and fired off a salvo of texts to update the nearby friendlies of the situation. I also ran into my friend Ross, who got about 15 breathless words of the situation as I siphoned off 10% of my brain capacity to tell him what was going on. The fella at service desk called the manager to the front on the intercom as I sprinted outside to run a lap and check to see if the target was mobile and making a getaway.

Coming up empty, I bolted back inside. Ross was still at the counter holding down the fort (goat) and the manager had supposedly pulled up the camera footage, when none other than Lauren B strides out of the elevator, walking the bike into the store - cool as a cucumber.

We reviewed the security footage with the manager, where we found that this individual rolled up to the downstairs elevators at about 5:19pm, leaned the bike against the wall, took the elevator up to the main floor, entered Publix, and walked out the front door at about 5:25pm. He never went back downstairs. The bike leaned against the wall as probably 50 people walked past it.

I'm relieved that the bike was recovered. I am thankful that Lou gave me the tip, and for Ross helping out at the last minute. Grateful for Nick's calmness, Jared's advice, and Ben for the consolation AirTag. For everyone who reached out, reposted, or even just quietly empathized. Most of all - thankful to Lauren for actually recovering the damn thing.

What happened, though? Why did this individual leave the bike there? I don't know if he stole it, or if he found it somewhere and rode it around for the afternoon, or what. I will probably never know.

But someone who didn't have a bicycle wanted one. I think that's the most important learning here, in addition to the valuable lesson about lock selection. Bicycles are free, easy transportation, and sometimes people just need to get across town.

When faced with challenging situations, I always try to think creatively and "zig," when the anticipated reaction would usually be more of a "zag." I think this is a great example to do the same. I've re-thought my bike lock workflow, bought better locks (and some AirTags) and, just maybe, come up with a whole other business idea to meet a very different need in Raleigh.

Time will tell. For now, the Klunker is back and nobody is hurt. Happy Monday.

In good hands

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