Empowering The Bicycle Traveler

Bicycles and Social Objects

Phil equipped

If you have ever had a bicycle stolen you can relate to the flood of emotions and confusion that comes when you discover your bike is gone. First is confusion…”I thought I left it here”…. then disbelief, then rage- at yourself partly, but mostly at the low-life scumbag who felt entitled to your bike. If that person walked up to you and slapped you in the face or punched you in the stomach or spit on you I can’t imagine it would be more surprising.

When my bike was taken several years ago from in front of the local food coop- a.k.a. “the hippie store”- I was mostly mad at myself. I left it unlocked because I only needed one thing in the store and figured I would only be a few minutes. But that was all it took. I’ve always assumed that the thief was waiting that day for the sucker who would be stupid enough to do what I did. I also figured this sub-human was a drug addict who either immediately stripped the bike for sale or fenced it to someone who stripped it and/or took it far away. I never thought I would see it again.

By now, Dear Reader, you are guessing where this is going. And you are right. I saw my bike the other night and I talked to the current owner. I believed him when he told me he recently purchased the bike from a third party (for almost half of what I paid for it new nearly 20 years ago) for a couple of reasons. You need to understand a few things first. While not exactly a collector’s item, the bike and the brand have gained a cult following over the last two decades. They have not been made or sold since 1994. This bike, my bike, has a few distinguishing features which the weasel who took it didn’t even attempt to disguise. I have kept the serial number even though I didn’t check it for a match. Didn’t need to.

Imagine my surprise.....

This is partly a story about branding and how objects, i.e. “social objects” can take on lives of their own.

The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the rea­son two peo­ple are tal­king to each other, as oppo­sed to tal­king to some­body else. Human beings are social ani­mals. We like to socia­lize. But if you think about it, there needs to be a rea­son for it to hap­pen in the first place. That rea­son, that “node” in the social net­work, is what we call the Social Object. -Hugh Macleod

These bicycles have become social objects. They bring people together on the interwebs and in person. Well made enough to be ridden hard, then stolen and re-sold untold times and then to turn up at a meeting of two generations of bicycle geeks gathering to see and listen to the originator of the phenomenon (who was here on a book tour stop), the bikes were too quirky to conform to the mainstream market which was and still is created by advertising money, and they never really sold that well. Originally one of the social gestures of the company was a catalog that had tons of general information about bicycles along with drawings and pictures. The catalog is now shared and re-published many places, such as Sheldon Brown’s site. and they are sold, by themselves, on eBay. Reading Hugh Macleod always makes me re-examine our business ideas with the Bike Touring News store. If we can’t create a social object with lots of social gestures then there is no reason for us to be in business.

The day after finding my bike I called the police. I filed a police report originally and I still have the serial number. Here is what I learned:

-first of all, there is a five year statute of limitations for grand theft so I have no legal recourse, and

-second, since I did claim the stolen bike on my insurance policy and was compensated for it, I no longer had any claim to it at that time.    

I could follow up with the current owner and try to unwind events and maybe possibly even locate the insect who stole it from me. But what would I do then? All sorts of things come to mind, all of them being criminal on my part at this time. And I don’t have the time or the energy to work up that much bitterness anymore. The guy who has the bike would have been too young 10 years ago to have stolen it and anyway, someone who realized what it was is probably not the type of person who would have stolen it. So, I’m just going to let it go and realize that the bike is with somebody who appreciates it. But I can still dream about what I would have done to that s.o.b. had I caught him in the act.


















4 comments… add one
  • Linda Paul May 14, 2012, 7:17 am

    Wow! I have had a bike stolen and I am pretty conscientious about locking things up because of that. But at least the bike that was stolen from me was nothing more than transportation, no iconic bit of history like your Bridgestone. How amazing that must have been to see that bike again.

  • markinlouisville May 15, 2012, 7:12 am

    I have an 1993 X0-2 as a social object. It is a shame that you can not really do anything. That there isn’t any justice in the situation. At least the new owner is happy.

    I often suspect the used bike stores around me are full of stolen bicycles and I wonder sometimes if they are actually propagating the entire situation.

  • Obinja July 21, 2012, 10:14 pm

    Glad you found yer bike. My very first 10 speed which was a Huffy that came from Toys R Us in 1973 was “borrowed” by my crack head neighbor to go to the Deli. He came back but the bike didn’t. I was crushed and he had some lame excuse as to what happened.
    Fast forward to 2012. My current ride is a Kona Lava Dome that was rescued from a dumpster last fall. It was covered with dead, brown grass and cobwebs. I needed a ride for the winter and the guys at the bike shop put $100.00 + dollars in cables, housing, chain and some other parts on it. There are some photos on my blog: freewheelingfem.blogspot.com
    That bike is now my pride and joy. The crank set is bent and I’m too cheap right now to replace it. It has a Brooks B17 and gear for local tours. I lock that sucker up tight and even run the cable through the seat.
    My other touring bike is a Salsa Fargo and is currently residing in London awaiting my fall ride through Europe. That thing has a lock too. I don’t care about the extra weight. I want my trusty steed there when I wake up. it’s too bad people gots t steal stuff.


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