Year: 2013. My pants were tight, my hair was long, and I was in my mid-20s, trying to make my way in life.
After several eons of diligent study and a lot of work in a bike shop while trying to land a job as a writer, I finally got a gig at a bike magazine for an advocacy organization. Things were getting better. In those days, my heart would sometimes whisper to my mind a quiet dream, that perhaps one day I will make a mark in the world. Who do you know? Melbourne is a big city, but I had big dreams.
For one edition of the magazine (which now no longer exists), a colleague wrote an article about her stolen bike, and we needed a featured photo. All of the bike thieves in our stock photo archive looked a little bad, but we had a bike, a camera, a large latch cutter, and a can-do attitude.
So I brought a black hoodie from the house, and one fall morning, I pretended to steal someone’s bike in an alley behind the office. If you stare at Google Street View, you can spot the crime scene – at the back of a ravine between buildings, through a revolving door, chained to an unstoppable sign set in cobblestones that have never seen the sun:
Did you make a masked bike thief? Dear reader, I did not. The hoodie was tacky, and if you look closely, you can see the skinny jeans I was in at the time, along with my hateful work shirt, and some sneakers I borrowed from a friend’s closet because of the irony they weren’t really brogues.
A few quick shots of the shutter on that road next to Chinatown and the dice were cast: We had a photo, and any personal reputation damage is sure to die by the next print deadline.
The internet works in mysterious ways, and within a couple of years, I’ve seen the photo appear randomly on Facebook. At some point shortly after that, it became almost regular – just browsing, and my younger self seemingly at the height of an unforgivable act.
Steady, I started to get the impression that I was on my way to becoming the internet’s favorite vessel for bike thieves to hate.
I won’t pretend to know much about search engine optimization, but everything that happened when that image was saved to a photo library that day was a major lesson. That quick photo of my imaginary bike being stolen remains the first result when you do an image search for “bicycle theft”. As a result, it was steadily allocated elsewhere, sending my ICC career off.
Here I am, a visual metaphor for the 20,000 bike thefts a year in Dublin!:
Here I am, preview image of a how-to video from “Byking Tips with a D-Man” [which, to be clear, is not this CyclingTips, no matter what the title would have you believe]. It’s annoying that this scammer’s video on how to prevent bike theft has viewing stats to die for, watched by an indulgent global audience of 532,000 people:
Here I am, clumsily stretched out and snapped at another photo where I completely ignore the lock and make a racy attack on a path ahead:
By the way, we’re not close to finishing here.
In August 2019, I jumped from continents to North America. I quickly got her back in British Columbia, then two years later veered south of the border and re-appeared at a university in Missouri.
Early this year, I evaded the closure of the Australian border to take my rightful place at the head of a gang of juvenile bike thieves in the Albanian capital, Tirana:
And in Positano, Italy, there was a completely separate gang of four boys I was part of a tour with a patrol of the Italian armed forces. They “became suspicious of the abnormal behavior of the four, who tried to pass unnoticed on the seashore …” and upon searching my gang’s apartment, they found bicycles and “a few grams of hashish” (by the way, a few grams less than there was before I We pretend to be statues on the Corniche):
I have not been rehabilitated. I know this, because a year later I was backing down from my familiar bike-stealing trick and possession of a “salvia hashish” in Lebanon:
Search backwards on the respective image and you will find a rap sheet that is knocking on the world. Two months tour in Slovakia. 14 bikes in Kazakhstan. A shootout in Syria. He is thwarted by a 14-year-old girl in Greece. He was caught red-handed in Bolivia. Page after page of results – 1,440 of them – creating a massive criminal record and the world must have recorded hundreds of bikes, years in prison, and my life experiences.
It’s an armchair ride that I never expected when I came forward for a photo shoot nearly a decade ago. The irony, of course, is that the pictured bike itself was never stolen, but the hurried magazine picture she has By hundreds of people, they commit fake crime over and over again.
In all the years since the photo was taken, I’ve lived in the same city, gotten married, changed job, and had kids. It was mostly safe, mostly stable. But as the internet’s most notorious bike thief, I crossed my mind on the Amalfi Coast, surveyed the grandeur of Canada’s snow-capped mountains, and became the Fagin’s hedgehogs of Tirana.
After all this time and all that I have seen and done, my last plea, your honor, is this: I regret nothing.