Police say the bikes are traded for small amounts of drugs.
Within the last week, fashion-photographer Ron Morales and I rolled downtown to see if we could locate a stolen $1900 Raleigh iE e-bike.
I drove down 17th Street and pulled over before it turns into Imperial Avenue.
“Hey big dawg, have you seen this bike right here,” Morales asked a man and woman posted up by a yellow sports bike on the sidewalk.”
John with his Raleigh. It was stolen in Hillcrest together with his Civia Parkway, a $3000 e-bike, on March 29.
“That’s a foldable isn’t it?” the woman asked as she looked into Morales’s phone; “Naw, it’s electric though,” I responded.
“I’m pretty sure you’ll find it if it’s out here,” the man said, “Look down there.”
We drove around the block and saw about 15 bikes, five were dismantled — but none matched the photo of the bike we were looking for; Morales snapped photos with his phone.
The day before, “John” sent me a photo of him and his missing Raleigh bike; it was stolen in Hillcrest together with his Civia Parkway, a $3000 e-bike, on March 29.
John requested anonymity in the story, so I changed his name and covered his face in the photo with the missing bike. “The police recovered the Civia Parkway within 24 hours,” he said, “it was still in great shape. The [Raleigh], I’ve seen being ridden by a presumably homeless guy. Police say the bikes are traded for small amounts of drugs for the most part.”
Ron Morales showing photo of John's bike on his phone around 17th Street
Jay, who lives in one of the buildings by 17th Street and Imperial Avenue, understands what John’s going though; his custom Diamondback was stripped recently because the thief couldn’t cut the chain and round lock, and left his frame behind.
“They are stealing bikes left and right,” Jay said, “it’s a bike theft economy down there on 17th Street.
“I was walking down there at night and I was looking for my bike parts and I see a whole hell of a lot of bike parts up and down there from the corner of Imperial going [north] to K Street. They (the homeless) are sitting around and dismantling the bikes and they got bike frames out there stacked six feet high.”
Jay, a former U.S. Marine, was able to recover the majority of his parts, but couldn’t find his lights and Shimano gear changer-and-chain — valued at about $700.
“I don’t take shit from anybody,” he said, “even though I’m an old man.”
Vee Nguyen rides her bike past Jay’s house on her way to work at Memo’s Barrio Bike Shop in Logan Heights.
“If somebody is who is in a hard spot,” she explained, “they are not going to ask questions and they are gonna be like: 'Oh it’s a bike; it’s cheap; I need it and I’ll take it — thanks.'”
“One night, a guy had a bike on 17th and Imperial and it was 100 percent carbon fiber.”
“A lot of those folks (on 17th Street) have bikes because that’s their main method of transportation. Some of the bikes may be stolen but the thing is, after a bike is stolen it’s probably stolen [again] and passed over a couple of times so it’s really hard to tell [who’s the actual perpetrator].”
“One night, a guy had a bike [on 17th and Imperial] and it was 100 percent carbon fiber,” Jay said. “Do you have any idea what a bike like that cost? The chain was carbon, the changer was carbon — it’s a very expensive racing bike and he only wanted like $1000 for it.”
Carbon fiber bikes can sell new for more than $15,000.
Jay says that he bikes to the San Diego Central Library on Park Avenue, which is about a half mile to the west of his home. Here, he says he sees guys riding on bikes with multiple wheels-and-tires or bike frames hanging off of their handlebars.
On May 1, I spoke to one of the library staff members and he said: “A patron comes in with their bike, parks it where the bike rack is, and when they come out and try to leave, [they say]: “Where’s my bike? It’s gone.” There’s a camera pointed where the bike rack is located and we’ve caught a few incidents of [thieves] cutting cables or removing parts.”
Jays says that the bike-thievery happens past the downtown library. “Right about now at 8:30-9:00 pm, when I go home, that’s when I see them and they’re all coming in from the trolley from other places with their bikes.”
“Folks need to be aware of it and if you’re up in Del Mar or La Jolla or on the beach someplace and your bike's missing — it could be here.”
John said the thief used power tools to break the Abus 6100 locks on both of his bikes.