Many parents have a stolen bike story in their repertoire. A woman I know tells of the time her son left his bike out overnight on the lawn in Tucson, Ariz., and the bike disappeared. The missing bike showed up weeks later abandoned in an arroyo on the other side of the city. Her son adds that when he got his bike back, it had a better set of tires than when he lost it.
A fellow at work tells of the time back in the 1960s when he and his younger brother rode their bikes to an Albuquerque, N.M., bowling alley. They had bike locks. But instead of putting them on, they left them dangling on their handlebars. When they came out of the bowling alley, his trusty Raleigh and his brother's gleaming Schwinn were gone. It was, he said, his introduction to evil.
Evil is still alive and well. A glance through newspaper files finds stories of bikes being lifted from the front of a store in Mount Airy, from a back yard in Northeast Baltimore and by a ring of thieves operating out of Ocean City. In Denmark, bike thefts were so rampant that officials in Copenhagen recently proposed putting 5,000 free bikes, big bulky numbers with advertising on them, out on the city bike racks for anyone to use.
But telling a kid that theft is an old and pervasive problem doesn't take away the pain he feels when his bike disappears. He misses his bike. Nothing in world seems right until it is returned.
Which gets brings us to the stolen bike story my kids have been telling recently, the tale of how Brian got his bike back.
Brian is 7 years old. He recently moved into our neighborhood and struck up a friendship with several kids, my two sons among them.
Late one afternoon Brian was riding his 20-inch bike on a school playground. Some "big kids nobody knew" grabbed his bike and rode off with it.
Shaken and crying, Brian ran to our house, which was close to the playground. There our sitter and my sons offered Brian consolation and a glass of milk. Phone calls were made. Eventually an adult drove around the neighborhood searching for the culprits and missing bike. Neither turned up.
Like most adults, I gave the bike up as a lamentable loss, but a loss nonetheless. The kids, however, felt differently. They believed they could find Brian's bike. And they started searching.
For the next few days every bike that rolled past my sons and their buddies was suspect. At a distance, every bike looked like Brian's to these pint-sized detectives. Their accusations were so careless and constant that I ignored them.
And so, Sunday afternoon as we drove down the alley and the 11-year-old hollered out from the back seat that he had seen Brian's bike, I sloughed it off as another wishful vision.
My kid insisted on taking a closer look at the bike. It was sitting at the end of our alley, and apparently belonged to a man, a stranger, who was sifting through the trash.
As my wife and I watched from a distance, our 11-year-old ambled down the alley and struck up a conversation with the man. Ten minutes later my son walked back up the alley -- with the bike.
Later my son gave the following account of his conservation with the man picking the trash. The man said that the bike had been given to him by a group of kids. He didn't think the bike belonged to these kids. So if my son was sure this bike belonged to one of my son's buddies, the man was willing to give the bike up. My son examined the bike, announced that it was indeed Brian's, and the fellow told him to take it.
Ten minutes later my son called Brian with news. Brian raced PTC over to our back yard, and when he saw his once-lost wheels, he jumped for joy.
I'm not sure what the moral of this story is. Brian has since scratched his name on his bike and vowed to be more careful on the playground.
I am amazed that the man picking trash was so willing to give up one of his few possessions.
As the bike riding season begins, I usually give my kids "the lecture." That would be the speech in which I tell the kids how a bike gives them new freedoms, like being able to roam the neighborhood. But I tell them how a bike also gives them new responsibilities, like watching out for cars and being sure to put their bikes away at night. I probably won't be able to resist giving my kids the speech. Lecturing is what parents do.
But after the return of Brian's bike, instead of lecturing the kids about bike justice, maybe I'll just listen to what they have to say. They seem to be the experts on the subject.