Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Cycling community rallies to return globetrotter's bike

Yoshihiro Shimada on the road with his Riese und Müller Birdy BD1
Most people, when they get their bike stolen, lose a little faith in the human condition. If they replace their bike, it’s often with something cheaper and more expendable than before. Shit happens – you can’t fight it.

But when it happened to Yoshihiro Shimada, a Japanese world traveler who biked into Budapest last week, he went on a crusade. He told people he wasn’t leaving the city until he found the bike.

Before Yoshihiro arrived in Budapest, he had been on the road for five years, riding across the Americas, Africa and Europe. He’d stopped here for a short rest and a look around the city. But during his first night at a hostel in District VII, his bike went missing. He’d parked it in the courtyard a building on Kertesz utca -- in the morning, the only thing remaining was a sheared cable and padlock.

Yoshihiro did not stew. He immediately reported the theft to police, who posted photos and other information about the bike in a national bike registration system. As you can see in the photo above, the bike’s a highly individualized folding rig featuring a unique front suspension and carrying capacity for mountains of bags. It also has emotional value for Yoshihiro. Over 50,000 km of hard road, it’s been his one constant companion. You can imagine how an arduous, solitary venture like his could forge a bond between man and inanimate object (see Tom Hanks and Wilson the volleyball in Castaway).

Yoshihiro also reached out to the local cycling community – and they responded by doing blog post after blog post about his predicament, and running big photos with the bike at the fore. The story appeared in bikemag.hu, the kerekagy blog, criticalmass.hu, the cycling page of mandiner.hu and many others. An activist group calling itself the Budapest Bike Mafia went a step further by collecting nearly a thousand euros to help Yoshihiro buy a replacement. All the support seemed to have emboldened Yoshihiro. In one interview, he was asked if he had a plan B – if he’d thought about giving up and just buying a new bike. Yoshihiro was resolute: he would look until the bike turned up.

Incredibly, over the weekend, it did. A tipster who’d seen the posts told police he'd spotted the bike at the Bakancsos Flea Market in outer Pest, some 15 km due east of Yoshihiro’s Kertesz utca hostel.

XVII District Police were notified, and on-duty officers were dispatched to the market. They IDed the bike, and asked the vendor who was selling it how he’d acquired it. The vendor related a predictably dodgy chain of provenance: he had gotten it from another vendor, and that vender had gotten it at an informal market on Mátyás tér in District VIII from some unknown person. News reports noted two market vendors were being interrogated, but no arrests had been made at press time.

In any case, it’s obviously great news that the bike resurfaced. I must admit I did not predict it would. Big kudos to the cycling community and others for stepping up and helping a stranger in need. And hats off to Yoshihiro for his faith that in Budapest, despite his rather bad first impression, venality would be trumped by kindness.

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