STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald
It was about midnight July 18 when Cari Hicks’ boyfriend took her “light-blue, tealish”-colored mountain bike and set out for a ride.
Near the intersection of Florida Road and East Animas Road, her boyfriend took a spill and broke his front tooth.
“It was basically broke in half,” Hicks said. “It was pretty bad.”
Her boyfriend walked home, and the bike was stolen.
“I loved everything about my bike,” Hicks said. “I’d never seen a bike that color before. It was just the awesomest bike ever. I took it everywhere.”
Hicks has since filed a police report; her boyfriend has gone to Denver to receive a temporary tooth.
Some avid Durango cyclists treasure their bikes, and that’s what makes losing one so hard. The fact that many of these bikes cost $1,000 to $3,000 hurts even more.
“His busted tooth can get fixed,” Hicks said. “Doctors can do that. The bike being stolen – what if I never get it back? Then I don’t have a bike. What am I supposed to do?”
Victims have compared the search for a stolen bike to the search for a lost child. They search the area frantically, scan every bike rack for look-alikes and stare down every bike rider who pedals past.
More than 100 bicycles are reported stolen every year in Durango, said Sgt. Jacob Dunlop, with the Durango Police Department. Only about 20 percent are recovered and returned to their owners, statistics show.
Dozens more are abandoned throughout the city and end up in the department’s lost and found. Most are never claimed, Dunlop said.
Police record a description, the serial number and the location where every bike was found. If the bike already was reported missing, a computer system will match it with the earlier report.
The department is required to keep lost or stolen property for up to 90 days. After that, the person who found it can claim it. Otherwise, it goes to an auction service that picks up the bicycles and distributes them to warehouses across the nation where they can be inventoried and sold online by PropertyRoom.com. A percentage of the proceeds are given back to the city and deposited into the general fund.
The percentage and total amount raised within the last year were not immediately available Thursday.
“It’s sad to see a $3,000 Gary Fisher bike be sent off to auction just because nobody claimed it,” Dunlop said.
Sometimes detective work can reunite a bike with its rightful owner. For example, if a bike has a Mountain Bike Specialists sticker on it, an officer might go to the store on Main Avenue and ask if employees can match the serial number with the customer who purchased it.
“We will try to track down owners,” Dunlop said.
Officers have made arrests for bike theft, but it’s uncommon, said Lt. Ray Shupe, with the Durango Police Department. When it happens, it’s usually because the suspect is caught in the act of committing an unrelated crime and is in possession of a stolen bicycle, he said.
Police have considered using a “bait bike” to lure potential bike thieves and nab them when they try to steal it. The bait bike could be a nice model left unlocked in a location that makes it easy to steal. Police could monitor the bike from afar or equip it with GPS.
“We do have the capability to do something like that,” Shupe said. “I don’t think we’ve ever put a plan like that into action.”
Police said the best way to prevent bike theft is – drum roll, please – to lock it.
But cyclists say even a lock isn’t foolproof, it’s a deterrent.
The best way to protect a bike is to never leave it outside overnight, locked or unlocked, said Ethan Trembley, an employee at Second Avenue Sports.
“Any of these locks can be broken,” he said.
Otherwise, the thicker the chain or cable, the better.
A U-shaped metal lock is a good bet, said Charlie Domas, who works at Mountain Bike Specialists.
“It’s not over the top,” he said, “but it’s strong enough to withstand the strength of bolt cutters.”
Customers occasionally come into the store and share their heartache over a stolen bike, he said.
“They’re definitely really sad, and you can tell that they’re sad,” Domas said. “It’s kind of like losing your child. Durango is just a community that cares about their bikes.”
Trembley said his girlfriend’s bike was stolen off a porch while left unlocked overnight in Durango.
He spotted the bike a few weeks later being ridden on the Animas River Trail by a boy who looked about 14 years old. Trembley said he grabbed the boy by the back of his shirt.
“I said, ‘I’m going to take this. You’re lucky I’m not calling the cops,’” he said.
Sgt. Dunlop said people should call the police rather than confront a possible bike thief. The person may have bought the bike at a garage sale, he said.
“It can get kind of heated,” he said. “I encourage them to contact the police department and notify us that they have located a stolen bike.”
Parker Buccowich reported his bike stolen last month. He later found out it was picked up by someone who held it for safe keeping.
“I started looking at a lot of people riding bikes and seeing if they had a bike that looked like mine,” he said. “I became more observant of people. I was just really bummed out; it wasn’t a good feeling.”
To Cari Hicks, anyone who steals a bike is destined to have bad luck. Even the boyfriend who took her bike without permission paid a price, she said.
“He fell off of it and broke his tooth,” she said. “It’s a big karma thing, right there.”