What Would You Have Done? “He said ‘Bike for sale $20′”

Photo by PoPville flickr user pablo.raw

“Dear PoPville,

I had a strange but significant situation happen to me on this past Saturday morning, and wanted to get your advice or how would you handle something like this. Saturday right outside of McDonald’s restaurant on H Street in N.E. a young man was offering a bike for sale, he was asking $20 this was for a fully loaded top of the line ‘Giant’ brand bicycle. I thought to myself why is he offering it so low and is it stolen? I immediately thought back to the many times I was a victim of bike theft and thought no way was I even going to think about purchasing this ‘steal’ but how would you handle it? Would you have called the cops, who happened to be within two yards away parked in the parking lot or would you not say anything and walk away? What do you do in a situation like this?”

68 Comment

  • “Top of the line” and “Giant” never belong in the same sentence when we’re talking about bicycles, but personally I would have just walked away. Cops probably wouldn’t do much to begin with- unless the owner registered the serial number with MPD, it’d be difficult to prove it stolen.

    • “Top of the line” and “Giant” never belong in the same sentence when we’re talking about bicycles”
      Ugh, really? Congrats, you’re “That Guy” 😡
      A “top of the line” Giant bike can easily sell for $1000+ brand new. That’s not chump change to anyone in my social circle.

      • Yeah, but this person is super-fancy. He only rides bikes that you’ve probably never heard of.

      • Actually, you’re right. I’d forgotten about the strides they’ve made in recent years to get past the deserved reputation they once had of being crappy Wal-Mart bikes that fell apart quickly. I withdraw my original remark, but my original point about the police stands.

        • I’m pretty sure if Tour de France riders can survive on Giant bikes, they’re good enough for you too. Sometimes, legit bike companies license out their name to stores like Wal-Mart…

    • Take your fixy and peddle on out of here.

    • I’m very pleased with my Giant road bike (I doubt I’ll ever need a lighter or more expensive one) just as I was with the Giant hybrid I used to own.

    • They make ~$20,000 bikes you probably couldn’t afford and the Giant/Shimano Team won 4 stages in the 2014 Tour de France, so I don’t think you know what you are talking about.

    • You can buy bicycles at Giant?

  • Pretty simple – call the police. You don’t have to stand there and do it in front of them, just do it. Did you walk over to the police officers who were right there?

    • +1. As “Call Cops” put it: “If nothing else, it might make the guy think twice about hawking stolen goods there again.”

  • Is it legal to buy it then turn it into the cops, forfeiting the $20? If so, I’d probably do that, thereby not risking that if you called the cops over that he would speed away on the bike. Though admittedly, you then likely miss the opportunity to have the guy arrested/fined.

    • It is NOT legal to buy it and then turn it over if you suspect or should know that it is stolen (i.e. man on street offering bike for ridiculously low price).

  • You could buy it from the guy and then attempt to find the original owner via Craigslist, PoP’ville, social media, etc. I’m sure the original owner would gladly pay you back the $20 it cost you.
    I agree, the cops probably wouldn’t do much. No proof that it was stolen.

    • Yeah, no proof it’s stolen… unless of course, the bike was registered.

      • MPD is no longer allowed to stop and ask for proof of bike registration. Directly from the MPD’s website:
        “Can I be stopped by MPD and asked to present my bicycle registration?
        MPD officers are no longer authorized to stop bicyclists for the sole reason of checking for bicycle registration.”

        • Allison

          Ah, key here though is the word “sole.” They can’t just clothesline someone riding down the street and ask them for registration. However, if it’s combined with circumstances that might indicate a stolen bike is being sold, I think we have a different story.

          • I do not see how offering to sell a bike rises to the level of probable cause. And even then, the guy would probably have to offer to sell the property to a cop AND admit that he knew it was stolen in order to make an arrest.
            But this entire conversation is just an academic exercise. The guy was selling right in front of the cops and they did not do anything. MPD doesn’t care about this because it’s an extremely difficult case to prove.

  • I’d probably buy it off him and try to find the owner. Maybe try to get the guy’s photo if you could and felt safe.

    I had my bike stolen a few months ago and I’m pretty sure it was then one of these situations a mere few hours later. Not sure how much that would help, but it sounds better than nothing.

    • Accountering

      Do not do this. One someone buys stolen goods, all they do is give the thief $20, and the motivation to steal another bike.

      • Unless it’s your bike, I doubt there is very much the police can do. Maybe the guy will dump the bike once the police come, or maybe he will just ride away. I’m not sure what I’d do, but I would like to know what the OP did. My guess is he or she just walked on past.

  • Accountering

    You should have called the cops tbh. If the cops approached him, there is a reasonable chance he would have been dumb enough to dump the bike.
    No, do not traffic in stolen goods, and do not create a market for stolen goods.

    • I had a similar situation happen to me. Walk away, call 911. They’ll want location and description. If you can indiscriminately take a photo (be safe) then do so. I walked away but stayed close enough to see in about 15 minutes cops came and questioned the guy. If nothing else it might make the guy think twice about hawking stolen goods there again.

      A few months back I confronted a guy who was acting a bit strange and frequently came to my block and said he was looking for someone who lived on the block. Suspecting he was caging the hood for a break-in and I knew that person didn’t live there, so I said “Let me take a picture and your name address and phone number and I’ll tell her about you next time I see her.” Snapped a couple close photos on my phone and notified the cops. After seeing him in our block about every other day for a month we never saw him again. Cops drove around the neighborhood a few times and never saw him again either.

    • Yes, all these people saying to buy it and find the owner are rewarding the thief who will be on his way to steal the next bike once he gets his $20 for this one.

    • Allison

      Yeah, and if he has a warrant out on him or drugs on him he may ditch the bike and start running as soon as the cops approach.

  • I would have considered buying the bike for $20 then posting on POPville and Craigslist that I had the bike and if the real owner could provide details about the bike, I would return it to them. I would have also tried to take a picture of the person selling it and turn that over to the cops.

  • The cops don’t do anything. You can buy bicycles for 20 or 30 bucks if you go around Pan Am Grocery on 14th street.

    • Recently saw a teen riding one and pulling another in that block. He was having a hard time managing two bikes, but he was clearly in a hurry. His friends were laughing and encouraging him. *sigh*

  • Serious question: what is the point of stealing a bike and then selling it for $20? Why not try to get more than that? Seems like a high risk for not much reward.

  • The cops will not do anything in a case like this, your not the owner, you don’t have the SSN of the stolen bike, no police report… Despite the red flags galore we don’t live in a city where the cops follow up on hunches or obvious guilt. I’ve had stuff stolen and the police have said the guy found with your stolen items said he bought it from a guy on the street so without a confession they can’t do the obvious and arrest they guy and find the owner.

    You could have bought the bike and tried to find the owner who would gladly have paid you the $20 or taken a picture of the guy & bike and posted it online so that the owner could eventually use that if and when the police became involved. Sadly this is a common problem.

  • Guess I am the only one who would have bought the bike and kept it. Seems like some nice Karma for all of the bikes I’ve lost to thieves. Whether you buy it or not, the “market” for stolen bikes won’t change. Bikes are basically as good as cash on the street.

    • Accountering

      Yes, you are likely the only one who would do that. You are basically as good as the thief himself, or perhaps even worse, because you (presumably) are a well-educated person with a good job. Congrats, you are the worst person on POPville today!
      I don’t think you have any clue what Karma is, nor do you have any clue how the “market” for anything works. Congratulations!

      • Sorry but your response still makes you the worse on popville. You come across co descending on almost every post you disagree on.

        • Accountering

          I am fine with that. I have no problem being condescending to someone who would buy a bike they know is stolen to keep it for them self. That is in fact what I was going for.

        • Accountering

          I am going to go a step further, and say I am bit insulted by your post. I certainly do not come across as condescening on every post I disagree with. Not even in the least. Yes, I do have strong opinions (presumably this is Bowser related?) but I manage to have intelligent conversation without belittling people the vast vast majority of the time. Perhaps the generalization and personal attacks hiding behind an Anon is a bit much though, pretty lame on your part.

    • Totally agree. Cash, drugs, sex, and bikes are all forms of currency to certain groups. when you chain up your $1000 bike, you’re basically butting a bike lock on a $20 bill. Think about that.

  • I understand that y’all are trying to be good people, but If someone posted on craigslist that they had bought my stolen bike out of the goodness of their heart and only wanted the $20 that they paid for it, I would assume that they were the person that had stolen my bike. The victim may be grateful that you found their bike, or they may show up with their buddies and a bat to get their bike back. Maybe I just don’t have enough faith in humanity.

    • The kinds of people who have your come to their HOUSE to buy a bicycle that you have to PROVE is your… Are not the kinds of people who steal bikes.

  • I’ll never understand the attachment to bikes. Buy a cheap one. When it breaks or gets stolen, buy another cheap one. Sure if you’re really into biking (100’s of miles a week) or a triathlete, get a nicer one, but keep it inside. You are not entitled to keep your really nice things outside chained to a fence post.

    • Haha what? How ridiculous, who the hell are you to decide who should be allowed to buy a nice bike, and who should have a right to not get their things stolen? I would agree that you should be more cautious with a nice bike, hell I am, but everything else you said is just nonsense.

    • I’ll never understand the attachment to cars, either. Buy a cheap one. When it breaks or gets stolen, buy another cheap one. Sure if you’re really into driving (100′s of miles a week) or a racer, get a nicer one, but keep it inside. You are not entitled to keep your really nice things parked on the street or in your driveway.

      • I’ll never understand the attachment to material things and the extent to which people will go protect not only their things but the things of other people… I wouldn’t think twice about just walking away from the dude trying to run some kind of scam on me (I’m guessing he wasn’t REALLY trying to sell a bike).

      • Haha…awesome.

      • I get that you’re going for snark, but that’s definitely how I approach car ownership. I have an ancient beat-up car which I drive infrequently. Why would I sit $40,000 out on the curb? It’s not smart, given what I know about where I live.

        • The only people who should have a $40K+ car are those who are leasing and get a tax write-off due to it being a business expense. Anyone buying a $40K+ automobile – especially for just tooling around the DMV – is an utter fool.

          • How pure and sensible we are today, casting off material things and donning the cloak of moral superiority over the question of a mid-priced sedan.

      • tonyr

        I assume you’re being facetious, but it kinda makes sense in this case too. I would never drive an expensive car in DC. Between the potential theft and the guaranteed car-eating roadsurfaces it’s just not worth it. Try driving down 7th and left on P like I do every day. I spend a fortune on filling replacements.

  • A friend told me the other night that the day after someone stole his bike, which was locked to a post outside at the time it was taken, he saw an ad for the bike on Craigslist. He knew it was the same bike because it is quite distinctive. This wasn’t an “I found your bike” ad, it was a “bike for sale” ad. He opted against buying it back on principle and didn’t call the police because the bike wasn’t “registered.”
    I would consider buying a distinctive looking bike on the street with the hope of reuniting it with its owner. I think the thieves will be rewarded one way or the other (someone will buy the bike); why not do some good in the process.

    • I probably would have asked to meet the seller, take it for a test ride, and then rode off down the street. No way they would have been able to stop you and they’re definitely not calling the cops.

  • Spend the $20 and buy the bike. Take it away from the scene (back home, to your office, etc) and then call the police and see if it’s reported stolen. Let them know you have it. Also, post on craigslist in the bike section, but withhold some detail (for example, don’t say “DC Flag sticker on frame” or “orange U lock still attached”) and say if someone can ID it, it’s theirs. Most owners would gladly repay you the $20 to get their bike back. If nobody claims it, you have a nice bike you can ride or sell.

  • “I don’t buy stolen goods.”

  • For $20, I think I’d buy it, try to find the owner, and, if not, then donate it to a charity, since there’s a small chance that a random high-end bike would actually fit me precisely.

    Here’s my thinking. The new value was $1,000. The street value was $20, but that’s all its worth to a random purchaser on the street; that’s a big loss to society. If I find the original owner, it’s worth about $750 returned, let’s say, and I’ve created $730 in value. If I donate it, it sells for $300 at a second hand shop where someone selected it for fit, color, purpose, etc. I’ve helped create $280 in value, which otherwise would have been a net loss to society. I’d also make a write off, of say $70 in tax savings, so I’d benefit as well.

    What do you think?

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