London Cyclist Diaries: The Heartbreak of a City Cyclist

Raleigh Access

The sad and mangled corpse of my beautiful Raleigh Access. Mournful sigh.

Owning a bike is an emotional investment. There’s no two ways about it. Your bike takes you places. You take pride in it. Sometimes you brag about it to your friends. It helps you to defy traffic by flying past giant metal boxes on wheels sat stationary in gridlock. You glide through the wind, coast in the glory of the sun; sometimes it even makes the 9 mile commute pure pleasure.

So, if you’re a cyclist and you live in a city, you probably also know the heartbreak that I felt in January when I opened the door to my East London flat to find the woeful and pathetic assembly of parts you see above. You could have taken a jagged, rusty dagger, thrust it into my abdomen, twisted hard and repeated and you would come somewhere close to appreciating how I felt. To reappropriate Shylock, the curse never fell upon my nation until that moment. I never felt it until then.

I might as well come out and say it: I loved that bike. We had come home from our week long holiday in Copenhagen, an absolutely brilliant cycling city, last February, having had the healthiest and most exhilarating vacation we’d ever known, cycling through snow, over bridges and rivers, through settlements and hipster hangouts and we came back having been bitten by the bug. We were determined to acquire ourselves wheels upon our return to the metropolis.

My bike before it was stripped.

There it is, in all its marvellous, urban glory. Grieving sigh.

Before Denmark, I hadn’t really cycled in years, but it didn’t take long to fall in love with zipping speedily down urban thoroughfares, drunk with the power that comes with the speed and control of my own muscles, reawakening after sleeping lazily in a near atrophic state for years. I was surprised to notice — actually notice from day to day — becoming physically stronger in partnership with my two-wheeled 6 speed wonder. I went from a 5 and half mile limit to 9 miles in just over 40 minutes rapidly (Oi, serious cyclists! Stop laughing. I was doing well) and with that came such a euphoric sense of accomplishment — all from pushing with my two legs in a cyclical motion.

All right. I know in the end it all comes down to an endorphin rush, but at the time, it was an epiphany. And my bike and I were one. If you are a cyclist or passionate about anything, you know the feeling.

And then it was savaged. My beautiful machine.

No. It wasn’t stolen. I would almost have rather they had done that. At least there is some finitude in a clean theft, some sense of closure. No. Some very talented and very vile scum patiently — but quickly I imagine and with help I imagine — picked my bike clean and left its bare skeleton clothed in nothing but its rear brake calipers still locked to the signpost to which it had been fastened for nearly a year.

Words are difficult at such points. If it’s happened to you, you know that all you see is red. I saw red. Blood and danger and fiercely marching Soviet red. And all I could think was, “Please. Let there be a hell. Let it be good and hot, full of hungry serpents, sizzling vats of oil brewed just for torment, pits of spikes and chains from which you may be fettered while vultures peck at your flesh inducing everlasting pain. Let there be a hell of boundless pain. And drop all bike thieves right down in the bottom of it.”

Dramatic? Perhaps, but if you know the feeling, I think you’ll probably agree, my response is quite a liberal one.

Want to know the kicker? I’ve had two bikes stolen since! One, a Dahon Matrix acquired fairly quickly after the Access, lifted at night, liberated from its quick-release wheel, which the spiteful spawn of Satan left me with.

Wheel Dahon Matrix

A cruel joke? I find myself flailing around for a sense of humor.

The last one, most recently, was a find off gumtree that I counted myself lucky to acquire: A Dahon Dream, a model rare in Britain, built for the domestic Chinese market, but after acquiring a loyalty for Dahon and Raleigh, I know any Dahon is going to be well built. All for £60. That’s right. £60!

Dahon Dream

No Raleigh Access, but after three weeks, I was starting to grow rather fond of it.

Alas. It seems the brotherhood of Hackney Bike Thieves have made me a marked man.

I thought I had finally hit on the perfect security system. I had started packing away my folding bike (I’ve become quite attached to the urban flexibility of folders) in the trunk of my car. So far, so safe.

And then, after three weeks of riding around this lovely little ride, just three weeks, I rode home late one friday, having babysat for a friend, locked away my orange wonder, thought nothing else of it until two days later when I opened the trunk of my car and was met with this:

Empty trunk

I know something valuable is supposed to be here.

I must have started becoming calloused. After being hit for a third time and after 30 seconds of taking in the full impact of the emptiness that lay before me and what happened, I nearly shrugged.

Then the litany of profanity followed. As near as I can figure, some local, morally depraved trolls must have seen me putting my bike in the trunk, picked my lock and neatly plucked the bike out. Bloody hell. At this point, I started to feel bereft of any reason to have an iota of faith in humanity.

I’m not a fan of putting profanity on this blog, but I thought this image I found by a righteous defender of the cycling faithful just warmed the heart.

bike theft fuck you

Yes. That is the bike thief victim’s pain, powerlessness and rage, encapsulated neatly in a wheatpasted flyer. (image taken from alleycat.hk)

And one of the worst aspects of this whole thing is that I leave my home now looking around at people in the street with narrowed eyes thinking, “Which one of you, huh? Which one of you did it?” Was it the youths on the corner or the vegan anarchist volunteers in the cafe downstairs? It really is anyone’s guess.

According to statistics from 2011, there are over 22,000 bike thefts in London reported every year and I live in one of the worst boroughs for it (Hackney, over 1500 thefts annually). I didn’t report my second one and my first one I was told by the police that there wasn’t much point. I suppose it’s supposed to be, “a comfort to those that are wretched to have companions in misery,” but somehow it just makes me want to give up the hobby altogether.

I’m not of course. Criminal vermin won’t scare me off the roads that easily. But I’ve learned some lessons:

  • If you care about it, insure it.
  • If you’ve got a folding bike, do the logical thing and keep it inside.
  • Register your bike with the police. Might not make any difference, but at least you’ve done all you can.

With that in mind, somewhat incredibly, I find myself trawling ebay again, search terms: Dahon/Raleigh folding bike. I don’t foresee the financial grounding until next month, but it’s nice to look. It’ll never be like that Raleigh Access, but I’ll get on my bike and ride.

Raleigh Access

Somehow, I’ll ride again

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12 responses

  1. You’ll get another one Pete, and it’ll probably get stolen as well….But at least you can keep looking forward to your future bicycle purchases for ever and ever…..Get all the colours if the rainbow! See you soon! xoTARANFINN

    1. Might be sooner than you think, Tara. I’ve just acquired a ‘project’ from a friend — a rusty 18 speed Nishiki Bombardier with two punctures and a rusty chain. It is the machine on which I will learn how to restore a bike to its former glory or get very frustrated trying. And it was free! Big jump though. Foldup to a proper trailbike.

  2. You make me feel so lucky, I only had one bike stolen in the past 12 months!

    1. Ah. Sounds like you’ve got a shortage of good bike thieves in your area. Glad my misfortune has caused some glad feelings.

  3. For what it’s worth, I feel your pain. Although I never had my bike stolen, I was paranoid about it. I always locked it up with a chain through both wheels and the frame. My Motobecane was special. I rode it to work before bike lanes were ever conceived of and I put thousands of miles on that bike during summer trips.
    I hope you find an adequate replacement even though I know your bike was special. And if there is a Hell, may the thieves who ripped you off rot there. – Mike

    1. Thanks. I seem to have found myself a project as mentioned above. I don’t want to post too much about it and turn this into the London Bike Geek blog, though perhaps there’s some mileage in that, but it’s currently chained up outside with two d-locks and a nurse’s lock. With two punctures and the seat taken off, do you think that’s deterrent enough?

  4. I’m so sorry that this happened to you! Once is bad enough, but THREE times?! Ugh. Glad you’re getting back on the horse, so to speak, and haven’t let the bad guys win by not letting go of your love for cycling. Your curse was also delicious, and I hope they all do rot in bike thief hell.

    1. Why, thank you. I pride myself on my ability to compose creative curses. Mwahahaha.

  5. My heart sank when I saw the first pic…thought you had been in an accident, but even knowing the barthtards could do that to someones property is just as devastating.

    My baby brother (in his late 30’s 🙂 ) has had the same bad luck with bike ownership as you. They’ve all got stolen, mind you I was kinda glad the last time it happened as I have an irrational fear of cycling on London streets…..as much as I enjoy it and would love to do it every day, I refuse to for as long as I live in the big smoke.

    1. Well, somehow, it’s good to know it’s not just me. Somewhat surprisingly, I really enjoy cycling on London’s roads and, being a veteran of the Romford Road between Stratford and Ilford, I actually think that motorists are less considerate the further out you go into the outlying suburban areas, probably because a lot of them are not cyclists themselves.

      Maybe I should try a ride out in the countryside.

  6. That sucks big time! I feel for you.

    I bought a Tern C7 and i never leave it outside. Just the thought of leaving it outside makes me anxious so i haven’t bought a lock yet (almost 7 months after buying it) so that i just fold it up and take it inside……………….. yes, tesco jobsworth, i am doing my shopping with a bike in my shopping trolley…………you got a problem with that? Do ya?

    1. Thanks. And ooh, Tern. I’ve read about them. I’m jealous. They look like nice bikes! So I don’t blame you for being extra protective of it. Used to take my foldup right into my office at work. Little did I know that the danger lay (literally) right oustide my door.

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