Mevrouw T’s bike was stolen last week.
Pouring rain, a dash into the supermarket, forgetting to fasten the lock, remembering too late, a dash out of the supermarket, a desperate search of the bike racks, questions to bystanders (who naturally saw nothing)…and a long walk home. In the rain.
It wasn’t only the bike she lost, and the just-purchased lunch of Hollandse Nieuwe herring she had in the saddlebag; self-respect and faith in humanity were stolen too. ‘How could I be so stupid?’ was closely followed by ‘How could anyone be so mean?’ and ‘What sort of sick town/society/world do we live in?’
Bicycle theft is falling from its highs in the early 2000s, but is still the most common crime in Amsterdam. I did some research on the figures. Sobering reading.
According to the police and cycling organisation Fietsersbond, between 50,000 and 80,000 bikes involuntarily change owners in the city each year. Nearly one in ten of the city’s estimated 800,000+ bikes. 150-200 a day.
The Amsterdam police website has plenty of advice about how to avoid becoming a victim. A good lock helps (it also helps to remember to use it), as do measures like fixing the bike to a large building with a chain that could moor a battleship.
More complex and expensive precautions, like engraving, insurance, registration of the frame and inserting secret ID chips, we’d probably only take for a really special bike. And ‘Don’t park your gleaming special bike in a row of rattletraps’ is another police suggestion.
As we’ve told our sad tale to friends, we’ve found everybody has a similar story: ‘I stopped at a flower stall and turned my back…’, ‘I didn’t chain the front wheel and they took it…’, ‘I did chain the front wheel and they took the rest of the bike…’ It’s not the first bike we’ve lost either.
Yes, we can replace it. It was some years old, a common model and not worth a lot of money. The thief won’t get much for it at all, which makes the event even more galling.
Because any old bike is not just any old bike. Bikes acquire personalities, and in turn become part of the owner’s personality. Some people (though not us) give their bikes pet names and treat them as friends.
Mevrouw T’s bike had a saddle tailored to her tail end, comfortably adjusted handlebars and water-resistant saddlebags with a fresh herring inside. It had its own feel. A replacement city bike will feel different.
We have a couple of things we’d like to say to the creep who nicked the small Gazelle from outside Dirk van den Broek supermarket on the Sloterkade. We’re sorry about your miserable childhood, unfortunate drug/alcohol/gambling problem, lack of satisfying employment and your psychological disorder, but you’re still a creep.
However, if you have a change of heart and want to return the bike, leave a message in the comments box. No questions asked and I’ll withdraw the ‘creep’ thing. If you don’t have a change of heart – we hope you choke on the herring.
A final thought. Who and where are the 50,000-80,000 people who buy a stolen bike each year? My French-built city bike cost 50 euros in a market in Dusseldorf in 2005. I got it from a guy who got it from this German guy. Am I part of the Axle of Evil?