DI Voices | Steal your life back from bike thieves

By Nathaniel Langley, Senior Columnist

It was broad daylight. A sunny, September Thursday midday. Class ended, and my school week finished — the weekend ride was beginning. I walked down the steps and turned to the populated bike rack.

There were more bikes than usual: A nice sign for someone who relied on a cable lock and camouflage to ward off thieves. I strolled to the center of the rack — again a favorite for concealing my low-security bike. The familiar black and white I’d known for more than a decade was harder to find than usual.

A forage began. It ended mere moments later when, to my pissed surprise, my bike was gone. For the next few weeks, I was gone. The bike thief — unknown to this day — boomeranged my psyche. Would I find my bike chucked to the side of some road — ready to return home? What if I see someone biking with it? What about my laptop? Can I ever again leave my laptop alone at the library?

The weekend ride never arrived. It wouldn’t ever. Once more, I was bikeless on campus. What I became, however, was stronger in my bike’s burglary.

Before senior year, I’d only ever known Champaign-Urbana as a bikeless student. Walks to County Market were 30 minutes. If a friend lived in Urbana, the walk from Champaign wouldn’t be worth it. Living in Champaign, Caffe Paradiso was the only appeal to journey across town.

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With a bike this semester, nevertheless, the C-U bubble swelled. Hammocking at the Arboretum was the perfect end to a day. Rides through Urbana’s brick-adorned roads pedaled my heart. Ventures through the campus’s southern farm fields were sublime.

The breaks screeched following the theft.

It was a late-2000s Nishiki Pueblo. A Christmas gift from my mom back when we lived in the apartment. I was dumbfounded: How did Santa get a bike in a chimney-less apartment? Magic rode alongside from the start.

From Kansas to Illinois, the bike followed. By my mid-teens, the Nishiki was always there. Its wheels greeted trails leading to fresh fun: Beaches, parks, friends’ houses and a stormy stunt to Elgin.

Returning from the Elgin trip to Crystal Lake — the bike’s crowning achievement — it was there. It waited outside while my friend Emmy set her phone in rice.

“Is it turning on?” I asked. She gripped the power button. “No,” replied Emmy with a panicked, blank face. It would never turn on. An old iPod stood in for the broken phone for the next few weeks.

“What happens now?” I asked the campus police officer, plopped by the bike rack. An ambiguous answer was received: If it shows up, it shows up; otherwise, be on the lookout. 

When I told people I used a cable lock — the same one since high school — I sounded foolish.

But a cable lock is designed to protect. It’s not a neon poster blinking “Steal Me!” to passersby. What I was too late to realize was the ease cable locks provide to bike thieves.

I wasn’t completely oblivious. On each visit to the ARC, my heart raced down the ramp unsure if my bike was there. Did a savvy bike thief finally catch wind that some Nishiki doesn’t have a U Lock? Never did I consider the heart of campus, outside a school building, to be my crime scene.

The following weeks were grim. Life took longer. Journeys to the Arboretum weren’t five minutes anymore, they became 20-minute walks. County Market became a Sunday morning slog once again.

Similarly, I was paranoid. Who would steal my bike? The magical ride that flew into my chimney-less apartment over a decade ago. Could no one really see someone steal a bike in broad daylight?

Fear won those following weeks. It wasn’t until a new realization washed over me. I could retreat; sit in my room and wish the bike never left. Or I could get up, make do, and enjoy what my bike rides showed me.

My feet became Emmy’s iPod. Walking stood in for riding. Plus, now there was no added fear of a deficient cable lock — I would have to be stolen to no longer walk (which hopefully never happens).

Bike thieves often win. It’s a smart and easy gig: Peruse for low-protected bikes, then nab a couple of hundred dollars. It’s heartless, but it’s a hustle.

You lose when your bike’s stolen. You’re forced to adjust — find different ways to places you recently discovered.

But in the end, you win. You win a new air to life. One with stronger skin. One ready for the next bike thief.

You grow up. You learn a reliable cable lock can’t save everything; a U Lock is actually worthwhile. A bike burglary pedals you to refocus: Find strength in the fear and shift gears for your next hill.


Nathaniel is a senior in LAS.

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