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Please Share! Cyclists and Social Media

One morning, a couple of days into having the Box Bike Collective cargo bike, I’m looking at my Facebook newsfeed when I see a picture of an unfamiliar cargo bike with the word STOLEN! printed above it.

To be clear: it wasn’t the bike in my possession.

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I skimmed the text: the stolen bike belonged to a guy who owned the messenger and delivery service Cowgirl Bike Courier in San Jose. The bike was a critical part of his business which made the whole thing seem like an online, full color version of The Bicycle Thief.

The image was shared by two guys I met at a social ride back in October, and at the bottom of the main picture and in both of their messages were the words ‘PLEASE SHARE.’

I smirked. At this point I had maybe three new Silicon Valley friends on Facebook – and two of them had already shared the image. What was I going to do? Tell my New York and Connecticut friends to keep a sharp eye in case the bike would materialize 3,000 miles from where it was taken? Besides, I had long ago become weary of ridiculous and irrelevant shares showing up in my own feed – and I’m sure you are too. Did I want to be like the person going through a divorce that seems to share a generic inspirational message every few minutes? The one who posts a link to a badly written article? The one who makes you say to yourself through clenched teeth yeah, yeah, yeah – you have cute kids but post pics of them fewer than 25,000 times a day, will you?

I shared the image anyway.

Later I noticed my third Silicon Valley Facebook friend shared the image. It was far fewer shares than the video of the wedding filmed by a dog, but word of the stolen bike was getting around.

During the following days I continued reviewing my Box Bike Collective. No news about the stolen bike appeared and I generally didn’t think about it. When I finished my review – crowned with taking the bike through a drive-through of a fast food restaurant –  I got in touch with the creator of the bike to ask him how he wanted me to return it. The original plan was for me to drop it off at Tech Shop San Jose – the maker space I was already familiar with. But the creator of the Box Bike (Facebook Friend #3) said he wanted me to give it to a guy named Cain who was going to borrow it, and the meeting place was to be at a flower shop downtown.

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The next morning I loaded up my folding bike into the Box Bike Collective and headed off to the flower shop. After a few minutes of waiting, Cain appeared and introduced himself. As we chatted I suddenly realized that this was the guy whose cargo bike was stolen – and the bike I had reviewed was being lent to him as a stopgap until his own could be found.

It’s one thing to look at and share a digital image of a stolen bike and another to physically see the face of the person whose bike it was. I wished the new, hopefully temporary owner of the Box Bike well and connected with him online later – making him Silicon Valley Facebook Friend #4.

Over the coming days, I found myself searching my news feed often for word of Cain’s stolen cargo bike. When biking in San Jose, my eyes would dart to any red bicycle frames. Now that I had shaken his hand, I felt more personally invested in him getting the bike back. I also began to wonder if this kind of emotional investment was a sign I was becoming more connected to my new home city.

Then, one morning on my newsfeed, my eyes widened the words ‘WE HAVE OUR FIRST SOLID LEAD’ appeared with a picture of a strange person sitting in a driveway dismantling the stolen bike. The photo was taken by someone who happened across the sight in San Jose but it was unclear where exactly the picture was taken. All of my Silicon Valley friends had shared the image. Me sharing it as well would probably make just as much of a difference as sharing a video of a rat dragging a slice of pizza down a flight of stairs.

I shared the image anyway.

During the day, when I’d come up for air while working, I looked online for more news. There was none, which frustrated me. I don’t watch a lot of TV or read celebrity news, so this was the kind of thing that kept me on the edge of my seat.

Finally, just before going to bed, I logged on Facebook and won’t forget what I saw: Cain, grinning, one fist in the the air in triumph and the other gripping the handlebars of the cargo bike I had borrowed. Inside the cargo box was what looked like a pile of bike parts but I could tell it was his stolen cargo bike. He followed up the lead, staked out the house of the thief for four hours, and got it back. The police had become involved and the miscreant was going to face charges.

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I grinned and looked at the picture – which had over eighty shares – and was happy for this outcome. It made me hope social media could not only be used to find stolen bikes, but continue to make me feel like I was physically closer to my new home city.

It was late at night in Silicon Valley. All my East Coast friends were fast asleep. If I shared the picture, it would be buried in their news feeds by the time they woke up and undoubtedly drowned out by the latest viral video of a cat dressed like a Star Wars character.

I shared the image anyway.

About the author:

Michael K. Norris is the founding editor of DIYBIKING.COM, a site focused on bike builds, travel and activism. In addition to being a freelance writer and researcher, he is a regular volunteer at Good Karma Bikes, a San Jose-based organization that helps the less fortunate acquire and repair bikes. He can be followed on Twitter at @michaelknorris Michael lives and works in San Jose, California.