Stolen Bike Wheel Brings Police Presence to Flea Market

A security guard walks through Arriba Juntos flea market in April.

Items that shouldn’t be sold at Arriba Juntos Flea Market: food, booze, pornography, and stolen bicycle parts.

But last Sunday morning, bicyclist Kirk Scott said he found his rear wheel, stolen from the 16th Street BART station, at the flea market a block away on Mission Street. He said his wheel was for sale amongst about 20 other wheels, bike lights, seats and seat posts — and at other booths, complete bikes.

Police have walked through the market checking bike parts at least twice since Scott found his wheel. “People were wondering why there was so much heat all of a sudden,” said a security guard. On Saturday, police checked the serial numbers on two bicycles at the flea market, he said. “They came back clean.”

Officer Grace Gatpandan, an SFPD spokesperson, said they have not been able to determine any parts were stolen. Other officers said it is often difficult to prove who a bike belongs to unless owners recorded their serial numbers. Parts — typically lacking forms of identification — are even more challenging to trace.

Vendors said they used to see bike parts being bought and sold at Arriba Juntos’s flea market, but not this weekend. A single bike was parked at the market this Sunday, covered by a blue tarp.

“There are no more bikes out here, because (the police) could shut this whole operation down,” said Pedro Partida, a vendor who said he’s sold merchandise at the flea market for two years, but personally would not buy bike parts to resell. He said he was there last Sunday when Scott recovered his bike wheel from a booth with assistance from two police officers.

Scott, 53, knew where to look for his missing wheel because of a coincidental interaction the Saturday his wheel was stolen. Waiting for the 33 Muni bus outside of the 16th Street BART Station with his one-wheeled bike, he was approached by a stranger.

“A guy said, ‘Hey, I see you don’t have a rear wheel,’“ Scott recalled. “‘Did you know there’s a flea market where you can buy one for $20 or $30?’” The man pointed to Arriba Juntos, and Scott paid a visit the next morning.

Sure enough, Scott said he found his wheel — custom-made 28 years ago for his 1984 Kabuki Bridgestone bike — beneath five or six other wheels at one of the flea market booths.

“I looked through the stack of wheels, and there were some really high end

The bicycle rack inside 16th Street BART station, full in April. A BART police officer said securing a bicycle with only a cable lock "is like not locking the bike at all."

The bicycle rack inside 16th Street BART station, full in April. A BART police officer said securing a bicycle with only a cable lock “is like not locking the bike at all.”

wheels,” he said. “Some worth $500 to $1,000.”

He asked two nearby police officers to help him recover his wheel, he said. When the officers approached, “the guys in the booth fled.”

Arriba Juntos, a community and occupational services organization that hosts the flea market in its parking lot each Saturday and Sunday, declined to comment on the incident.

To some extent, Scott blames himself for the brief loss of his wheel. “I left my back wheel unlocked because I was only going to be gone for a few hours,” he said. He thought it would be safe inside the BART fare gates and under video surveillance.

However, while BART does have a uniformed patrol unit specifically to combat bike theft, using its parking is still at the bicycle owner’s risk.

Although bike-related theft is a low priority for law enforcement, “it’s pretty serious for people whose sole transportation is their bike,” said one BART police officer on patrol near the bike parking at 16th Street station.

Personally, the officer said, he would not leave his own bike unattended at BART unless the station had bicycle lockers. “I’ve never heard of anyone prying one of those open,” he said.

Officer Ken Dam, BART police’s crime analyst, said that reports of bicycle-related theft have been declining at 16th Street station in recent years despite an increase in bicycle parking at the stations. There were nine reported thefts last year, and two so far this year.

Reports from the 24th St. station show 15 reported bike or bike part thefts last year, and three since the beginning of the year.

Many law enforcement officers queried for this story said bicyclists typically fail to document their rides. “Suspects take advantage of that,” Dam wrote in an email. A bicyclist “should keep bicycle receipts, write down their serial number and photograph their bicycle.”

Additionally, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition recommends installing special skewers to make bicycle wheels harder to remove.

Flea markets are common destinations for stolen bikes and parts, said Dam, as well as Craigslist. Other BART and SFPD officers said the flea markets where bike parts tend to turn up are usually further from home, in the East Bay rather than in Arriba Juntos’s parking lot. The Berkeley Flea Market at Ashby BART station and Oakland’s Laney College Flea Market, near Lake Merritt, were notorious to officers.

Dam, who uses statistical analysis to forecast hot spots for bicycle theft, cautioned that if a victim does locate their stolen property, like Scott, they should ask for help from law enforcement to recover it. “We have had past cases where the victims were victimized again by suspects, who physically assaulted the victim, when confronted about the stolen property,” he wrote.

Because Scott had a serial number he could identify, he said he was able to reunite his 12-speed with its rear wheel. After suffering from bicycle theft six times over his past 25 years as a San Francisco resident, he said this is the first time he’s gotten a part back.

“I’m mobile again,” he said. “I’m really grateful for that.”

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One Comment

  1. Like Kirk Scott, I am 1 for 6 — in recovering bikes that have been stolen from me over the years.
    I was able to recover my bike after distributing dozens of color flyers with photos and a description of my bike and a three-week search of flea markets, Craigslist, eBay, and other “hot” spots.

    DO NOT include the serial number on your flyers, but include unique components or markings.

    DO: place a business card inside your seat tube or engrave the bike frame and parts with your CA driver’s license number.

    DO: Use TWO hefty ($60 and up) U-locks or chains to secure both wheels and the frame to an immovable object: NEVER trust any cable lock.

    DO: Keep a close watch on your bike at all times, and NEVER ASSUME that it is safe.

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