The Lost Kona

Tagged: bike opinion

I found another trashed bike.

This one was by a dumpster on the edge of a mall parking lot - a deviation from my usual back alley finds. It was missing a front wheel and had a tree branch lashed to the rear chainstay. Probably something jury-rigged for towing.

I figured it was most likely that this was used and discarded by some bottle picker or homeless person. That seems to be the usual lifecycle of trashed bikes - opportunistically stolen and then ridden into the dirt and abandoned. It was a rigid framed Kona with 26" wheels. Normally something I wouldn’t bother taking (26" mountain bikes are so plentiful here that I’m simply drowning in parts for them.) But this one caught my eye for a couple reasons. First, it had a couple colourful parts - the anodized pink handlebars were quite pretty, and the seat looked quite high quality. Then I checked the groupset. It was a Shimano XTR. Even if the bike was 20 years old, that’s a very seriously high quality set of parts. A new XTR groupset by itself costs more than any bike I own. It’s high quality enough to be suspicious.

I asked around, took my groceries home, and returned to find it still there. So I decided to wheel it home. I figured this bike was probably stolen. Probably someone’s baby. I’d check bike index and 5 to 9, and see if I could find someone’s posting for it. Surely they’d have the serial number written down for a bike this nice, or they could describe it.

The bike as I found it, dragged onto the sidewalk of the parking lot.
A closeup of the stick lashed to the chainstay.

As a sidenote, I get pretty self-conscious when I take a bike home. I usually just balance it on top of whatever bike I’m riding, and walk it back through the neighbourhood. I imagine people think I’m stealing them. Sometimes people have called out to me from moving vehicles, asking why I need TWO bikes. Sometimes people give me dirty looks, sometimes sympathetic ones. But overall I think not a lot of people care, and I’m being overly paranoid.

I brought this home, dumped it in my backyard (at my new place, this is basically just a fenced in gravel area), and started checking online.

What I found was an image-less listing that described only a “Blue Kona” that was stolen just a couple neighbourhoods away, a month or so ago. I emailed that listing asking them for a more concrete description of the bike. It was a well-loved bike with an XTR groupset. Surely they’d at least be able to tell me some details, like colours or sizing or drivetrain or the vestigal part of a cycling computer attached to the fork.

The XTR groupset. I had to google this to see if it was really as high-end as I thought - I've never actually seen one of these before.

The people who responded were a married couple, and they really couldn’t tell me anything about the bicycle. No serial number, no secondary colours, no drivetrain details, not even whether or not it had suspension. Just the fact that it was blue and a Kona. They mentioned that they remembered the seat being “springy” which it was not, nor did it have a suspension seatpost. Eventually, they asked me for a picture of the bike, and foolishly I gave them one. Of course, their response was “That’s it! That’s exactly our lost bike! My husband and son are both sure of it!”

I was skeptical and paranoid at this point, and wondering if I was enabling some bad-faith actors to use bikeindex to grab free, high-end bike parts. But I had already given the picture and I wasn’t about to doubt their claims. Besides, the risk of me not giving it back to them was that a stolen bike never found its way home. The reward was, I suppose, that I would have yet another bike to tear apart for components. Something I didn’t really need - especially another 26er Mountain Bike.

They thanked me profusely and I gave them my address so they could come pick it up. (Another probably stupid move.) My plan was to hand the bike over, but look the guy in the eyes and ask him to really make sure this was his bike. Because it’s not the kind of bike that you nonchalantly lose and can’t remember. If it wasn’t his bike and they were, I don’t know, running the world’s least efficient grift to get shitty free bikes, that would be on his conscience and not mine.

But, to make a long story short, the guy arrived, a kind older gentleman carrying a thank-you card and a bottle of wine for me. I don’t think he was the prime rider of the bike, in fact I think the bike was a hand-me-down treasure that had been left in the shed until it had been unfortunately stolen. It turns out that not everyone is as obsessed with bikes as me, some people are just honest, kind, normal people who don’t pay close attention to the serial numbers and drivetrain models of their hand-me-down bicycles. Within just a couple minutes of talking to him it was painfully honest that this was absolutely his family’s bike, and I was a paranoid idiot obsessing over nothing.

I ended up apologizing over email that I had this knot of mistrust and suspected them of foul deeds with no good reason. They laughed and brushed it off but I still felt dirty. To be honest, I still do. I assumed the worst in these strangers, projected all sorts of malice on them, and I think that’s embarrassing and foolish of me. I swear next time I’m going to do better.

Wine and a bicycle-themed card.

The story at least has a happy ending. The bike made its improbable way home, and I sent the owners their bike’s serial numbers so they could unambiguously register it, along with some recommendations on where to get a new wheel for cheap. Maybe in the future I’ll actually believe people when they’ve asked for help in finding their lost property, and not let nasty thoughts decay inside my head.