Dear PoPville – Stolen bike found but locked!

“Dear PoPville,

My bike was stolen about a year ago from right outside my office building on K Street (An image of it is attached). At the time, I filed a police report but pretty much expected nothing to come of it. I hadn’t gotten it registered with DC Police and it was relatively cheap (though one of a kind because I built it part by part). Last night, I was walking up 14th Street towards Meridian (where I live) and saw the bike locked to the fence right next to Pan Lourdes bakery. It was locked with another bike with a U lock on the fence that surrounds the rowhouse between the bakery and CC’s liquor store. When I went back later, the bike wasn’t there but my guess is that someone took it inside because I saw someone taking another locked bike inside as I got there.

What are my options here if I go back and see it locked today? Can/should I lock the bike with my own U lock? Should I ask the police to get involved since this is stolen property? Should I leave a note and ask whoever has the bike to give me a call?

Really appreciate your thoughts. Thanks.”

85 Comment

  • Just as likely at this point that the bike has been sold multiple times

  • I’m the person who wrote PoP about this bike. I should that I KNOW for certain the bike is mine. Nothing on it was altered – including the little Knog lights that I had been using. The paintjob, handlebar tape, seat, lights, tires, brakes, everything had been kept the same. The bike was not bought in a store and it’s very very unlikely someone built the same bike in this size.

  • Even if it has been sold, I think the person in possession still has to give it back to you.

    I would lock it with your own U lock, and then call the police. Don’t leave until the police come.

    • ‘Even if it has been sold, I think the person in possession still has to give it back to you.’

      Incorrect. See below.

      • It would be the same if someone came into your house and stole a glass. That criminal may sell the glass to someone else…but you reported the glass stolen and it is still yours. I would presume it would potentially be held by police until ownership could be determined and then returned to the rightful owner regardless of who bought the stolen item. Or regardless of how many times it has been bought and resold.
        It belongs to the original owner

  • @Anon That could be true. Still, has anyone here tried to buy back a stolen bike?

  • You should take your got-damn bike back, that’s what you should do.

  • Where did you get the frame? Do you have the serial number from the bottom bracket on a receipt to show proof of ownership?

    I hope you can get your ride back.

  • Did you report it to the police at the time, and if so, do you have the serial number or a bicycle registry number? If so, call the cops and they might help you retrieve it.

    If you didn’t report it, or if you reported it but there’s no way of IDing it for sure, you’re probably out of luck. I’m sure your bike has been sold at least once, maybe more than once. Your best bet is to wait outside for the person to come unlock the bike, and say “that looks like my bike that was stolen a year. I’m sure you didn’t know it was stolen when you bought it. I’d like to buy it off of you.”

    • “Did you report it to the police at the time, and if so, do you have the serial number or a bicycle registry number?”

      Dude, read the original post before you comment.

  • andy

    The wife and I left our old unused bikes out front of the house for charity pickup a couple weeks ago. All the stuff was gone on the day of pickup. However, walking to the pool the next day, we saw our two bikes chained up at a signpost a block from our house. We were torn between taking back bikes we wanted to give away or leaving them in the hands of someone who was not our charity of choice.

    • you didn’t want the bikes, so does it really matter who is making good use of them?

      • I think it does matter. Andy and his wife wanted the value of the bikes to go to a particular group that they thought was deserving, and instead the bikes were picked up by some neighborhood kids who Andy and his wife may or may not think are deserving of them.

        If you wanted to donate an old car to charity — let’s say it was worth $1,000 — and instead it got stolen, would onlookers say it didn’t matter because you didn’t want the car any more?

  • I got my bike stolen, saw somebody riding it 6 weeks later stopped the low life and took it back. PONY UP, I can’t believe you saw it and left without doing anyhing. Put your own lock around it, wait till someone comes out. Flag down a police man. Who cares if you don’t have paper proof that its yours. You built the damn thing take some pride, stand up for yourself and get it back. I am pretty sure the person riding it knows they didn’t walk into City Bikes and purchase it

    • am I the only who had this tune playing in his head as I read this comment? 🙂

      Good on ya for getting your bike back, no sleep till brookland!

    • I did the same. Bike was stolen in AdMo and I found it in Columbia Heights as I was headed to the Bank 2 months later.

      I followed the guy to his house and confronted him. Got my bike back!

      I personally would have waited around for the person to come out to confront them. Calling the police is a good option too.

  • I would say if you don’t have any concrete proof the bike is yours, the police be able to provide little help.

    I wouldn’t heistate to try to buy the bike back from the current “owner” though.

    Best of luck.

  • The chances of you getting the bike back legally are slim.

    If the bike was stolen by A, and then sold to B, you cannot recover the bike from B, if B purchased the bike for value, without notice of the the bike’s stolen origins.

    It’s called the Bona Fide Purchaser (BFP) rule. Once the stolen item is sold to an independent third party who bought the item in good faith, that independent party owns title to the item.

    If the bike is now owned by a 3rd party, attaching your own bike lock to the bike would constitute the crime of Trespass.

    Some jurisdictions also have laws that if you have received an insurance settlement for the full cost of the stolen item, you are no longer able to recover the item, because you’ve already been compensated.

    • Coongrats on recently studying for and subsequently taking the bar exam.

    • I recall learning that BFP rule doesn’t apply to goods that are simply stolen. Rather it applies to situations where property is acquired in other dubious ways (e.g. a house that was sold to multiple people). A thief who steals an item does not have title to the property, so he cannot pass title to anyone else, no matter how ignorant they are of the circumstances of its prior acquisition. Although the person who unknowingly buys stolen goods won’t be prosecuted, but they don’t have title to the goods, and must give the item back to the owner.

      • Read the relevant portion of the statute again.

        UCC sec. 2-403 (1): A purchaser of goods acquires all title which his transferor had or had power to transfer except that a purchaser of a limited interest acquires rights only to the extent of the interest purchased. A person with voidable title has power to transfer a good title to a good faith purchaser for value. When goods have been delivered under a transaction of purchase the purchaser has such power even though

        (d) the delivery was procured through fraud punishable as larcenous under the criminal law.

        As always, I could be mistaken, but in this case I believe not.

        • S is correct. Mike is wrong. The transferor in this case (regardless of how many transfers there have been)did not have voidABLE title, he or she had NO title (i.e., VOID title). This is not a case where the OP lost his bike due to fraud that is punishible as larcenous. OP’s bike was stolen. He did not convey title. He retains title to this day. OP, call the police. Do not resort to self help.

        • well this doesn’t seem very fair

    • What about works of art? Don’t museums have to give back stolen art now? A hand-built bike could be considered a work of art.

    • Sorry, but there’s no “Tresspass” crime in DC.

      Rather, if the new buyer paid far less than the actual value for the bike form the person who stole it, it would be receivig stolen property, as probable cause exists that the buyer should have known it was probably stolen.

      If the buyer did buy it in good faith (bona fide purchaser), then they’re off the hook. In that case, if the former owner were to lock up the bike to prevent the new owner from using it, then the former owner would be guilty of theft for depriving the new owner use of his property.

      • That said, Mike doesn’t know what he’s talking about in regards to the bona fide purchaser. There’s no title to the bike, so the original owner still has claim to it.

        In other words, if you buy stolen property and the original owner wants it back, he still has a claim to it. In addition, you could be subjec tot charges of receiving stolen property, which is a felony if the value exceeds $250.

  • You think that’s bad? When my bike was stolen, I went all the way to Texas to find it. Imagine my surprise when I found out the Alamo has no basement!

  • @Dan I did file a police report, but I’ll need to dig around for the case or file number. I’ll probably reach out and offer to buy the bike back. I’d like to avoid confrontation if possible and I’d prefer to get this bike back without incident.

    • or maybe if you explain the situation… it’s nice of you to want to buy it back, but really it’s yours, soooo… the person in possession might understand and just give it back to you… now if you want to offer a reward for “finding” the bike, that might be a nice gesture

  • A similar thing happened to a friend of mine…if you have a police report and the serial numbers match, call the cops and they should cut the lock for you and give you your bike back. Good luck!

    • Cops shouldn’t just ‘cut the lock’, because that would be illegal. They have to establish chain of title first.

      Serial numbers establish neither ownership nor chain of title.

      Suppose I see the above bike listed on Craigslist, and I decide to buy it. When I go to pick up the bike, the guy says he is the original owner of the bicycle. Having no reason to doubt his good title, I pay money for the bike and take it home. Title has now passed to me. The original owner now has NO recourse against me whatsoever to recover his bike.

      If, two weeks later, the original owner sees me riding the bicycle, he cannot reclaim it from me. It belongs to me now.

      Be careful that you don’t commit larceny trying to recover ‘your’ bike from a lawful owner.This is the current state of the law.

      • Not so much. The guy who stole the bike does not have title. He can’t pass what he doesn’t have.

        • Mike is wrong. S is correct. A purchaser of stolen property has no title, regardless of how innocent the transaction appeared. OP does not have to establish chain of title or anything else. The bike is his and the police can cut the lock for him. (Assuming they believe him.)

          • You’re right and I was wrong. I’m definitely getting rusty.

            You take a vacation for a year and you forget everything!

          • OMFG, someone on the Internet admitted he was wrong! I never thought I’d see the day… I think Mike wins, just for making Internet history.

  • I’d put my own lock on the thing and include a post-it with a phone number for the lowlife to call me when he finds “his” bike locked up.

    When you get the call go over there with 4-5 big friends and take the bike back.

  • It might not have been a BFP, though. Depending on the details of B’s purchase, they could have been at least on constructive notice of the bike’s status as stolen property, in which case, the OP can recover.

  • don’t listen to Mike and his BS wiki based law reference.

    My bike was stolen 1 year ago. 2 weeks ago i saw it locked up at the Tubman ES soccer field. I flagged down a cop. My wife ran home got the serial number. Cop interviewed the kid. Kid said he bought for $15 from a “crackhead.” Cop told kid riding the bike would put him in violation of the law. Kid was honest and nice so i gave the Kid $12 (all I had in my wallet) and cop said well since you worked it out we will go. But cop gave kid final warning about buying goods he suspected were stolen.

    But congrats to Mike for taking the Wiki Bar Exam.

    • Note that the kid had constructive notice (knew or should have known) it was stolen. The BFP rule does not apply. It only applies when the buyer is a bona fide purchaser, meaning just as innocent as the theft victim. So, despite your snark, Mike is correct. Your example and his do not conflict.

      As a practical matter, give it up and buy a new bike.

    • I am licensed to practice law in the State of Illinois, and the District of Columbia.

      It was simply expedient to post a link to the Wikipedia article on the BFP rule.

    • Of course, buying a bike for $15 from a crackhead would put you on constructive notice that the bike might well be stolen. If you buy ANYthing from a crackhead, you should know that the item is likely stolen.

      Obviously such a person would not be a Bona Fide Purchaser.

      Of course, you don’t have to trust me. Ask any other attorney in town.

  • For what it’s worth, I had my bike stolen recently. The MPD officers who responded to take my statement told me that if I found the bike I could take it, no questions asked. They told me they recently had dealt with a girl whose bike was stolen and she found it locked to a fence a few days later. MPD told her if she could break the lock it was hers.

    I have no clue how legal that is, but those were words straight from MPD to me. I think MPD has bigger problems to deal with than stolen bikes, and will likely not give you a hard time if you take back what’s rightfully yours!

    Oh, and if you somehow ascertain that the person riding it didn’t acquire it properly, please give them a kick in the nuts for all of us who have out shit stolen in this town and don’t have the satisfaction of finding it a year later on the street!

  • Gah just take a pair of bolt cutters and get your friggin bike back. The dbag who bought it for $20 isn’t going to have you charged for larceny. He’s going to go buy another hot $20 bike.

  • I have had things stolen from my house and I was told that buying stolen items is illegal and you don’t have any legal right to the items if they are stolen, no matter how much you paid for them. The pawn shop lady told me this when I went looking for my stuff. She told me to stop because the pawn shops wouldn’t buy my things if they knew they were stolen since all items get entered into a database that pings the cops if it has matching serial numbers since the cops come and take back the things and do not reimburse the pawn shops.

    • Essentially, the pawn shop lady was explaining the Bona Fide Purchaser rule to you. It’s all about the purchaser’s level of knowledge about the item.

      If a pawn shops buys goods they ‘know or should know’ were stolen, the original owner can use a Writ of Replevin to reclaim the goods.

      If you like, you can read the actual text of the Uniform Commercial Code, which the District of Columbia has adopted and which applies to the sale of goods:

      • No no no it is not. Mike, stop. You are wrong. The BFP rule applies only when someone willingly conveys title to someone else but under fraudulent circumstances. If the property was stolen the original owner retains title. End of story. It doesn’t matter how suspicious or innocent subsequent sales looked to the purchaser. Sheesh.

      • “A purchaser of goods acquires ALL TITLE WHICH HIS TRANSFEROR HAD OR HAD POWER TO TRANSFER….” One does not acquire title to an item by stealing it. Thus, a purchaser of stolen goods does not acqure title to the stolen goods.

        “A purchaser with VOIDABLE title has power to transfer a good title to a good faith purchaser for value.” A thief’s title to the stolen item is VOID, not voidable. No BPF is created through sale of stolen goods.

        Read again what Kalia wrote: “I was told that buying stolen items is illegal and you don’t have any legal right to the items if they are stolen, no matter how much you paid for them. The pawn shop lady told me this….”

  • This same thing happened to me after moving back to Columbia Heights a year ago. I filed a Police report but was too naive to have the serial number, nor did I have a picture due to a hard drive crash. Nothing linking me to the bike except my word, police report, and a registration from my prior apartment.

    When I found my bike locked up just a few blocks from my place, I called the 5-O & long story short…they would have cut the lock & returned my ride right away had I been able to produce the report and the serial number (or even a photo of the bike in my possession). Since I only had the report I had to work things out with the guy who was in possession.

    Too many stolen bikes are run through Craigslist & the like to honest buyers, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t legally get your property back with a call to the police and the right information.

  • I’d probably print out this whole thread, put it in a ziploc bag, and attach that bag and my U-lock to the bike that was once mine with a note that says “Let’s talk.”

  • put your own lock on the bike, get the serial number and call a friend and ask them to write the number down so if the cops come you can say, yes I have the serial number at home, I’ll call my friend and have them read it to you… that should satisfy most police.

    I would then call a friend to come and stand by you to say that the bike is yours and that someone just put the lock on the bike while you were away from it (if the police come), then I would break the other lock (car jack / hacksaw / angle grinder)and beat the thief if they challenge you.

  • Same thing happened to my brothers bike around a year ago. We locked over whomevers bike it was with our NYC chain lock , and a note saying this is my bike please call me to discuss. After 1 week and no call we rolled up with bolt cutters and got it back. Sometimes you have to take things into your own hands.

  • You filed a police report and have records of having owned the bike (pictures) and the bike is unique.

    Mike is wrong. If someone buys your bike after it is stolen you are still entitled to it. BFP doesn’t apply because the person who stole it never had the title to sell in the first place.

  • I like the idea from Anon 5:25 pm, and would add that you should find a way to snap a picture of the person if you can, preferably unlocking the bike but whatever. Put your own lock on it, wait them out, call the police when they roll up (have a friend do it from afar or something so they don’t take off). You never know, the person might have a pre-existing record. Who cares about whether they knew it was stolen or not, let the police figure all that out.

  • You could be right and I wrong, but I’m not convinced.


  • OP put my # in your phone and call me next time you see it. Doesn’t matter what kind of lock they used, ill have you riding YOUR bike home in no time – free of incident or charge. My number is 202.288.6035

  • Not to sound like a dick, but I think you are kind of weak for not sticking around and confronting the person.

  • Try tracking the person who now “owns” the bike down. He or she may be a good person and give it back to you.

    A few years ago my husband bought a bike off craigslist. At the time we thought the purchase was totally on the up and up. About 3 days after he bought it he rode his bike to The Irish Times. About an hour later a guy came in and asked around for the owner of the biked locked to the fence. My husband stepped up and said it was his. This guy presented him with a police report, pictures and a serial number for the bike. Evidently he had been walking by and saw his bike that had been stolen the week before. And like the original poster he had built it from parts so it held a lot of sentimental value. The guy wanted it back and was willing to pay to get it back. My husband simply apologized, explained that he had bought it off craigslist and gave it back to him. My husband told him to keep the money since it was his own fault for buying a stolen bike.

  • I’ve been in this situation before. I, simply – once my bike was spotted after 2 months, put my personal lock on it and waited for the new rider to show. He was confused, dazed and crazed. “Who would do that?” I do. It was my S-works frame that I bought direct from Specialized and adore. There was no way for him to walk away with it.

    Even though we didn’t speak the same language. I t was ascertained that he “bought” the bike for 25 on GA ave. In the meantime I reconized that he wan’t the on e who stole it – and offered my Gary Fischer HOO-Kee-NOh(?), so he’d also have a ride.

    I got mine back!

  • when i located a stolen bike years ago, City Bikes loaned me an extension cord and a cutting tool. i plugged in and the sparks were flying when a dude with a huge ring of keys walked up, fumbling around for a key. i looked at him like “right, you have a fit in that bundle somewhere” when he IN FACT DID and unlocked the u-lock.

    he said he had recently bought it and asked if i could reimbusre him. i politely said fuck NO! and left (returned the gear to City Bikes. thanks CB — although i still refuse to shop there).

    but by the time i recovered the bike it had been stripped and reassembled with crap parts — it was truly dangerous to ride and i cast it away.

    but satisfaction was mine that day.

  • It doesn’t matter how many times the stolen bike has been rebought and sold, it belongs to the original owner. He filed a police report, it is on record, it is his bike.

    Put a lock on it, call the police and ride your caddy home.

  • So CC, have you gotten your bike back yet?

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