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Bike Hunters

The Crowdsourced Bike Hunt: Finding a Stolen VanMoof Using Twitter and Tenacity

The Crowdsourced Bike Hunt: Finding a Stolen Vanmoof Using Twitter and Tenacity

For Andy Mesa, 2018 was the year everything was starting to fall into place. A web developer by trade, Andy had swapped coding for counters – quitting his job to pursue his passion for board games full-time.

But hosting regular gaming meetups in his native Portland meant lugging a huge bag of board game paraphernalia from one side of town to the other, and tackling a ton of hills en route. Naturally, a VanMoof Electrified was top of his Christmas wishlist.

“I’d dabbled in electric bikes before," Andy explains. "But there were too many drawbacks to make it worthwhile. I bought an off-brand Chinese e-bike a few years back. It was fun but it wasn’t worth the hassle: the battery wouldn’t hold a charge, and the motor wasn’t powerful enough to climb Portland’s inclines – not to mention that it looked hideous.”

Andy had done his homework, and it looked like VanMoof ticked all the boxes. So, when a boardgame expo brought him to Europe, Andy didn’t miss the opportunity to test every bike in the Amsterdam brand store.

“It was only open for one more hour, and I tried every single bike in the store. I just rode all the bikes around the park, and I completely fell in love. After that, I knew I had to have an Electrified S in my life.”

Even so, Andy resolved to think it over a little longer before pulling the trigger. But the universe had other plans – as soon as he left Amsterdam, Andy received an eBay notification alerting him that a heavily discounted Electrified S was now up for grabs in New York.

“It was literally an offer I couldn’t refuse. The only problem was that the seller didn’t know how he was going to ship the bike out to me. But I asked the Brooklyn store, and they were wonderful – they packed it up with all the tools in the box, so when I got home it was waiting for me.”

And so began the Electrified honeymoon period. “The bike was fantastic – it was a serious life upgrade, and perfect for carrying my giant bag of games around town. Portland is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the States, and the Electrified gets a lot of attention everywhere I ride. Even today, someone was like, ‘that’s the coolest bike I’ve ever seen.’”

"Portland is the most bike-friendly city in the States"

But Andy’s joy was short-lived. Less than two weeks after he got it, his Electrified S was snatched from beneath his nose in broad daylight.

“Funnily enough I was on my way to a board game event, taking the tram. I was still babying the bike wherever I took it, but it was early in the morning and I wasn’t paying as much attention as I usually do. I lost sight of the bike for a few moments… and when I looked back it was gone.

“Another passenger said they’d seen someone take it, so I jumped off at the next station and considered my options.”

Naturally, Andy reported the bike stolen in the VanMoof app, and filed a report with the police straight away. “The police were helpful, but understandably couldn’t react straight away. I could either sit around and wait for the police to show up, or I could go looking for the bike – so I did the latter.

“At this stage, I assumed the thief was using the Electrified’s integrated motor to make their getaway, so it was only a matter of time before the battery—and the location tracking—went dead. I didn’t have Peace of Mind, so I figured I had about a day to find it before it disappeared forever.”

Luckily for Andy, reporting your bike as stolen automatically de-activates the motor systems. Still—when dealing with bike thieves—it’s always smart to act as fast as possible. And without VanMoof’s Bike Hunters to rely on, Andy had to look for back up elsewhere.

“My housemate was keen to help out, so we took off in pursuit of the location signal. It was giving strong coordinates along the 205 Multi-Use Path, and I knew there were a few spots where the bike might be. We trekked the whole area, talking to all sorts of nefarious characters and hoping I could connect to the bike’s Bluetooth signal. It was a fun time but we didn’t find anything. By 3 am I called it quits.

Come next morning, and the tracking signal was dead. Andy feared the worst, but a last-ditch effort proved to be the smartest idea of all: sharing the Electrified’s tracking link on Twitter.

“I knew that the more people I had looking for it, the better. I also asked BikePortland, the local cycle advocacy group, to retweet the link – I probably got the most help from that. We have a really great biking community here; everyone wants to help find a stolen bike, especially if you’re a cycling enthusiast. So now I had dozens and dozens of people on constant lookout, which definitely tipped the odds back in my favor.”

“The more people looking for the bike, the better"

“It’s such a bike-friendly city that everyone has had at least one bike stolen, and everyone is very familiar with the scenario and the feelings attached to it. It’s really us against the bike thieves. Even just now, someone posted on the VanMoof Facebook group that their bike was stolen in Amsterdam, and I’ve been following it constantly – you get really invested in that kind of thing.”

Despite the assistance, by New Year’s Day, Andy had a begrudgingly accepted the loss of his VanMoof – “there was no point looking for patterns in the bike’s movements, because the whole town was going crazy.”

Then, just as he was about to give up, a Twitter user got in contact: the bike was on the move, and back on the 205.

“I went back out there, and started offering a reward for any information. As soon as I did, the tracker showed the bike was now in Old Town. A few minutes later, and it had somehow made it to all the way out to Beaverton, which is 10 miles away.”

Now, the Electrified is fast, but it’s not that fast. There was only one way the bike could have made it across town that quickly – it was back on the tram! Andy knew he had to act quickly, this really was his last chance.

“I think a lot of people watching the bike came to the same realization at the same time. I called the police to tell them I was near-certain it was now on the MAX line, and this was going to be the easiest arrest ever. All they had to do was get to the next station and find it”

Just a few minutes later, Andy got the phone call he’d been dreaming of – they’d found his bike.

“It was one of those really ‘yes!’ fist-pump moments. They caught him in Hillsboro, which is close to the end of the line. If we’d reacted maybe 10 minutes later, we probably wouldn’t have caught the guy. The timing was just perfect.

“I took an hour and a half to get over there, but they had the bike and it was still in pretty good condition. The chain lock was gone, but everything else is fixed with anti-theft bolts – that’s something I definitely appreciate about the design, especially now I’ve seen it put to the test.”

So, just when it seemed all was lost, man and bike were reunited. But what of the thief?

“He claims he ‘found’ the bike, which seems a little unlikely given the circumstances,” explains Andy. “ it turns out he was also carrying drugs, so it looks like he’ll be convicted on a felony charge – but I’m really just happy that I got my bike back.

“At the end of the day, it was a team effort"

And so ends one of the most dramatic bike hunts in VanMoof history. Despite his on-the-fly detective skills, Andy is adamant he couldn’t have made it alone: “The Beaverton and Hillsboro police departments were amazing: I called them, and within minutes they were on the way, with a whole team of people ready to make it happen. Their attention and recovery processes, and their follow-up work, was super impressive.

“At the end of the day, it was completely a team effort – if that person on Twitter hadn’t told me the bike was moving, I think it would still be lost. Timing was a huge factor, and everything really fell into place.”

It just goes to show that anyone can be a Bike Hunter. The pros might be packing our custom tech, but anyone with access to a tracking link can play a vital role in returning a stolen VanMoof to its owner. And when a community like Bike Portland comes together, bike thieves really don’t stand a chance – how’s that for riding worry-free?

Want to make sure the Bike Hunters always have your back? Get some Peace of Mind.

Images by Mark Federighi

Peter Gigg

About this author

Peter Gigg is VanMoof's resident Brit. He enjoys writing, running, and remaining in the EU.