The Highland Trail 550, Stolen Bikes and Redemption?

Steve Chapman from our Marketing Team recounts the tale of his trip to Scotland to take on the Highland Trail 550, with his colleagues Rob and Ben:

 

At the end of May 2018, myself and two Islabikes colleagues, Rob Burns and Ben Yarnold, embarked on an epic trip in the Scottish Highlands. The plan was to take part in the Highland Trail 550 (HT550), a 550-mile, predominantly off-road route, that moves through the Scottish Highlands taking in over 16,000 metres of vertical ascent. Or as we called it, annual leave.

After months of planning, the day had finally arrived to begin the trip up to Scotland. Rob and Ben arrived at my house early in the morning to much wetter conditions than we’d hoped for. The forecast had promised us proper summer conditions in Scotland, so we remained chipper nonetheless. With the final bit of kit loaded, it was time to wave goodbye to rainy Shropshire and embark on a Scottish adventure.

A few hours after setting off and we were all starting to get a bit peckish. When you know you have a big ride on the horizon, going hungry isn’t an option. With this (very much) in mind we called at Charnock Richard services. Usual stuff. Toilet. Obligatory coffee, snacks. We were away from the van for 20mins, tops.
As Ben and Rob got into the front of the van I went to the side door of the van to get water. As I was rooting through my kit bag Ben turned around and with a panicked tone in his voice said the one thing you don’t want to hear en-route to riding your bikes

“Where are the bikes?”

As I stared blankly into the now empty space the bikes used to inhabit, I had a moment where my brain couldn’t comprehend that the packed van was now empty.
It’s a good question, “where ARE the bikes?”.

As soon as reality had sunk in, we set about being pro-active. We burst out of the van, looking, hoping to see the bikes, maybe we’d catch them being loaded into a van? Ben called the Police, I spoke to the services manager, hoping it was caught on CCTV and Rob went over to the filling station to see if they had cameras. Nothing.

Phone calls to family were made, disbelief was aired. And then, we sat. We sat in the back of the now empty van for a good 10 minutes. Each of us with a million and one thoughts running through our heads. How? What can we do?

After 10 minutes or so we posted to the Islabikes social media accounts, from stories we’d heard in the past speed is of the essence, let’s at least make these bikes “too hot to handle”.

HELP if you can. 3 colleagues en route to Scotland to take part in the Highland 550 have had their van broken in to and…

Posted by Islabikes on Friday, 25 May 2018

After getting the word out there, the mood soon moved from despair to amazement. The sheer amount of contact we received in the hour following the theft was amazing, faith in humanity was well and truly restored!

The kindness we’d been shown soon launched into the stratosphere when Isla (yes, that Isla) got on the phone and said she’d been in touch with Steven Shand (of Shand Cycles) and he had 3 bikes ready and waiting for us. All we had to do was get to Livingstone and they were ours to ride. WOW!

Faith in humanity restored and overflowing.

After this amazing offer was put on the table we had a reality check between the three of us. “OK, we have bikes, but we are still short a lot of kit”. Minutes later Naomi Freireich (24-hour racing extraordinaire) had offered us all the bags and most of the rest of the kit we would need, and she lives just up the road(ish) from Livingstone in Edinburgh. Double Wow!

From this point on things went much smoother, then they didn’t. But that’s another story (read the full trip report here). Once we’d finished the trip the return home delivered an inevitable dose of reality. The bikes and all our kit were still gone.

In the past, I’ve been incredibly lucky when it comes to having bikes stolen, in that it’s never happened to me. What I hadn’t realised is that it’s not the loss of the bike in of itself that’s so gutting. It’s the loss of what it allows you to do. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but riding bikes is how I relieve stress and relax. It sounds cliché but it’s the closest I’ve ever got to how people describe meditation.

Contemplating this short-term bike free future left myself and my colleagues feeling a bit down. But then something amazing happened.

On the 6th of June, less than two weeks since the bikes were stolen, a kind and eagle-eyed customer got in touch via our Facebook account to tell us they had come across a bike on Facebook Marketplace that looked very similar to one of the bikes that was stolen.

As soon as I saw the advert I knew it was my bike. All the bike-packing bags had been taken off it, the GPS and pump had gone, but the bike itself was as I’d last seen it. I couldn’t believe it!

After the initial joy of seeing the bike, which I can only describe as like seeing an old friend again after many years apart, it dawned on me that this could just be a cruel glimpse before it gets sold on, never to be seen again.

My first instinct was to contact the seller, which I did through a friend’s Facebook account. if we could get the seller to agree to sell the bike, at least it wouldn’t be lost, it was an opportunity and if all goes well it could be used as evidence.

I had read conflicting advice online, but the article that stuck in my head was one posted by Cycling UK. This advised to essentially do what I did, but in the Cycling UK article, the author actually went to meet the seller. This wasn’t an option for me as it was too far away, but I (and the Police) would strongly advise against this as the potential for the situation to escalate is pretty high.

As soon as the seller had agreed to the sale and provided me with an address I got in touch with the Police. First with Lancashire Police, where the crime was committed, who then put me in touch with Merseyside Police where the seller was located. After filling them in on the story and sending over proof of purchase, unique identifying features and the sellers address they obtained a warrant and went into the seller’s house the same evening. The seller was in and arrested and my bike was seized by the Police. Upon seizing the bike, they confirmed that it was mine and that the frame number matched. Amazing!

The tension I felt while waiting for a call from the Police to hear whether it was a success or a failure was ridiculous, yet quite exciting. The bike’s still with the Police as it is still technically evidence but knowing it’s with them and not being passed around is a big relief.

Before this happened to us I knew very little about what the Police can and can’t do in recovering stolen property and had often heard that they would do nothing. In my experience this couldn’t be further from the truth, as soon as I proved the bike was mine and pointed out some key features, they did everything that they could to help and they did it quickly.

In this instance I was incredibly lucky, the bike hadn’t been stripped and sold for parts, it was complete and most importantly it was unique and therefore instantly recognisable. Personally, I feel that having the sale agreed in a format that could be used evidentially was critical to the police being able to make an arrest.

In the weeks following this, myself and Ben were able to recover our Garmin’s in pretty much a carbon copy of events described above (albeit a different seller). We’re now hopeful we can recover the remaining two bikes (specs here: Ben & Rob bike spec and photographs here). Riding bikes is amazing and with its growing popularity, it is almost inevitable that at some point we will all be a victim of theft. However, the situation isn’t hopeless, with a bit of luck and support of the amazing community cycling has, it is possible to retrieve stolen items. We just need to keep our eyes peeled like our eagle-eyed customer. When you’re the victim of a theft it’s easy to feel aggrieved and that the world is against you, but the reality is that these are the actions of a very small number of unscrupulous characters.  Society on the whole, especially in the microcosm of the bicycle community, is choc full of great people who are there for each other. Sometimes a story like this can remind us all of this.

 

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