Transportation

How This Denverite Tracked Down His Stolen E-Bike

Dave Wolf was enjoying his new e-bike before it was stolen.
Dave Wolf was enjoying his new e-bike before it was stolen. Courtesy of Dave Wolf
In early August, Dave Wolf, a recent convert to e-bikes who lives in the City Park neighborhood, left GoodTurn Cycles a very happy man.

"Yeah, it was great," recalls Wolf, a 64-year-old IT professional who walked out of the shop at 1401 Zuni Street with a Gazelle Ultimate C380+ electric bike that he'd purchased with the help of a $1,200 City of Denver rebate. "It’s amazing how much shorter the distances become on an e-bike. I was having a lot of fun."

With the rebate factored in, Wolf wound up paying $3,967 for the bike, and he spent a little extra on a trailer and some cute goggles for his dog, Caesar. But the expenditure was worth it, he says...until he walked outside of his apartment building on the morning of August 24.

The precious e-bike, which Wolf had secured on a bike rack inside his building's outdoor compound using two locks, was gone. "I was so upset," Wolf says. He was also without his primary means of transportation.

When Wolf decided to go carless in March, he hadn't yet become an e-bike aficionado. "When the temperatures were cooler, getting around on my mountain bike was just fine. But as we got into the depths of summer, even to just go over to my old neighborhood in Park Hill, I would get there and I would be sweaty," Wolf recalls.

As summer progressed, the longtime biker kept feeling sweatier and sweatier as he rode around Denver. Wolf says he'd seen some bad behavior from e-bike riders who weren't paying attention or were going too fast in a bike lane, and he initially wasn't interested in joining their ranks. But his best friend had had an e-bike for three years and really loved it. So he began watching YouTube videos about e-bikes, and looked into the Denver Office of Climate Action, Sustainability and Resiliency program offering e-bike rebates for Denver residents.

Wolf finally applied for one and was okayed for the income-restricted $1,200 rebate. With that guarantee, he tried a few different bikes and fell in love with the Gazelle Ultimate C380+, a Class III e-bike that has a pedal-assist motor that helps the rider reach up to 28 miles per hour. He bought one from GoodTurn Cycles and got the bike a few days later.

In early August, Wolf and Caesar started traveling all around Denver using the e-bike and doggy trailer. They biked on streets and in parks, visiting friends and hitting up brewpubs.

Since Wolf lives on the third floor of a building without an elevator, he decided that he'd leave his bike outside. "It’s heavy," he explains. "I did bring it up twice in the short amount of time that I had it, but man, it is heavy."

He thought it would be safe in what seemed to be a secure area of the compound. "There are locks on the doors on gates entering the compound and metal gates at each end with spikes on the end," Wolf says. He secured the bike using a cafe bike lock as well as a hardened chain lock.

Even so, Wolf woke up at 2 a.m. August 24, feeling paranoid about the bike. "I threw on some shorts and ran outside to check to see if it was okay, and it was fine. I was like, 'David, you’re being silly. It’s completely locked up,'" Wolf recalls.

But a few hours later, the bike was gone.

Wolf filed a police report, then remembered that he had attached an Apple AirTag to his e-bike using adhesive. "I bought one that pretty closely matched the top of the head tube, so I put it on the bottom side of the frame, pretty much in line with where the head tube came through. So it looked like it was part of the bike," Wolf says.

He pulled out his iPhone, and the AirTag showed up near the intersection of Colorado Boulevard and East 13th Avenue. Wolf started walking over to that area and called the Denver Police Department at the same time.

"They said, 'Don’t go in. We have an officer on his way.' But by the time I actually get there, the AirTag had moved from there," Wolf recalls, adding that it had traveled to Holly Street and East Colfax Avenue.

Wolf talked with a police officer over the phone, but neither was able to locate the bike. And the AirTag kept moving.

The DPD's stats on bike thefts don't break them down by e-bikes and other models. In 2019, the DPD received 1,925 bike theft reports. In 2020, that figure jumped to 2,333, before dipping back down to 2,145 in 2021. So far in 2022, the bike-theft rates are down 11.7 percent compared to the average of the three previous years.
click to enlarge
Dave Wolf's dog, Caesar, has accompanied him on his e-bike rides.
Courtesy of Dave Wolf
"When someone is the victim of a bike theft, we always recommend that they report it to DPD as soon as possible. It is also very important to have information, such as the serial number, ready for officers. This will allow for officers to have a better way to recover and return the bike to the owner," says Jay Casillas, a spokesperson for the Denver Police Department. "If the owner happens to locate their bike, we recommend they contact [the DPD] immediately and not to confront the suspect if one is present. Confronting the suspect can be dangerous, because the suspect may be armed."

But Wolf had other ideas.

After failing to locate his bike the morning it was stolen, Wolf borrowed a neighbor's SUV and kept monitoring the AirTag. It pinged right around Colfax and Fairfax Street, so Wolf drove over there, but he didn't see his bike. He stopped for lunch at Pato's Tacos, and as he was taking his last bite, the AirTag pinged again. It was right nearby, at a spot between 13th and 14th avenues on Holly.

Wolf got back in the borrowed SUV and drove to the location.

"There's three people out in the middle of the street with my bike. I could see my bike," Wolf recalls. "I hopped out of the SUV and was like, 'You want to let me have my bike back?' And they were like, 'This is your bike?' And I was like, 'Yes.'"

The three seemed to be engaged in some transaction for the bike, so Wolf told them that the police were on the way. They gave him the bike and then "scurried off," he says. "I’m really lucky that they weren't carrying or anything, but I was pissed and it was mine. ... In retrospect, I’m really lucky that I didn’t get killed."

Still, Wolf's prized e-bike was "really fucked up," he adds. In cutting off the cafe lock, the thief had damaged the frame. Part of the frame had also been filed off, likely to remove the serial number. Other parts of the bike had been damaged, too, and the plastic fenders had been scratched up.

Wolf took the bike back to GoodTurn Cycles, where technicians are fixing it now.

"They said it’ll be another week and a half or so before I get it back," he says. "When I get it back, it’ll be rideable."

By then, he hopes to have found a new place to live, one where he can keep his bike secure; another e-bike was recently stolen from outside the apartment building.

"They’re much more expensive than regular bikes for the same level of bike. We’re going to have to have some way of combating all this theft. We’re going to have to have secure lock-up areas, bike storage, whatever, available to people in apartments and condos," Wolf says. "I would love to see some greater enforcement priority, because it’s clearly a network."

And he has the evidence. When he got his e-bike back, the AirTag was gone. But it keeps pinging as it travels back and forth from the town of Parker to Denver.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.

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