Pedal power thwarts thieves
Watch it, low-lifes -- city's cyclists have each other's backs
Fri Sep 7 2007
By Geoff Kirbyson
NEVER underestimate the power of Winnipeg's cycling subculture.
Jacques Marcoux was going about his business recently on one of his last days as a summer intern in Investors Group's marketing department when his phone rang.
"We've got your bike back," were the first words he heard.
"I didn't even know it had been stolen in the first place," he said in an interview.
The University of Manitoba student, former competitive cyclist and two-wheel commuter goes everywhere on his modified race bike, complete with mountain bike handlebars and red wheel rims.
That day, he returned from lunch a few minutes late and instead of securing his bike in the basement as he usually did, he locked it up to a rack on Portage Avenue, close to Investors Group's front door and near a bus stop.
The next time the bike was seen, it was being walked down Main Street near James Avenue by a couple of youths, probably 18 or 19 years old. That's when bike courier John Stillwell cycled by. He didn't know Marcoux, but he recognized the bike because he saw its owner regularly cycling the downtown streets.
"I'm buddies with a few of the bike couriers. Because we used to race competitively, we'll nod or wave at each other, compare bikes and chit chat at red lights," Marcoux said.
Stillwell pulled up beside the pair, who asked him if he wanted to buy the bike for $20. (Marcoux shudders at the offer because he says his bike is worth 100 times that.)
The young men said they found it in the bush down by the river and it was now rightfully theirs.
Stillwell told them he knew the bike's owner and if they returned it to him, he might give them a reward. They refused and it didn't take long for things to escalate.
After Stillwell told them he knew they had stolen the bike, the pair threatened to throw it into the rush hour traffic. He tried to block them from doing so when one youth hopped on the bike and took off, and the other tried to push Stillwell into traffic.
Bike couriers habitually keep their U-locks in their back pocket, so when he was under siege, Stillwell reached back and threatened to knock the guy's block off with it. The kid backed off.
He then jumped back on his bike and chased the other youth. Considering he speeds through traffic for a living, it was only a couple of blocks until he had caught up with the thief at a meridian.
"I was screaming at him at this point, 'if you like having teeth, hop off!' He did," Stillwell said.
He then steered Marcoux's bike, while riding his own, to Natural Cycle, the closest cycling shop in the area. He asked the staff there to call around to other bike shops, confident that somebody would know how to contact the owner of the unique 10-speed. When they called Bikes and Beyond, Allan Scott, a friend of Marcoux's picked up the phone, recognized the description and called Marcoux to give him the good news.
Happy to have his bike back -- despite its adventure, it doesn't have a single scratch on it -- Marcoux didn't file a police report.
Stillwell, who has worked for Rene's Courier for the past two years, spends about five hours a day in the saddle pedaling between 40 and 60 kilometres around downtown. (The rest of the time he's riding elevators.)
"I've had bikes stolen and parts of bikes stolen," he said. "It's pretty crazy how hard it is to keep a bike if you lock it up downtown."