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Road Rights – Catch A Thief

By November 12, 2012October 23rd, 2021No Comments

Recovering your own stolen bike is legal—but be careful

By Bob Mionske

It was a classic sting operation—and when it was posted on YouTube, Jake Gillum’s bike-recovery videowent viral. The cyclist from Portland, Oregon, had spotted his stolen bike in a Craigslist ad. He arranged a meeting with the seller, then drove to the agreed-upon location with some friends and a video camera. After calling the police, he met the seller and started to talk bikes. But the officers didn’t show, and after stalling as long as he could, Gillum accused the seller of stealing his bike. The man fled, and Gillum followed, recording the chase. When police finally got there, they arrested the suspected felon.

For any cyclist who has ever had a bike stolen, it doesn’t get much better than that moment of triumph. But consider this advice before taking ­justice into your own hands.

Be able to prove it’s yours
Keep records of your bike: receipts, photos,­ serial numbers, and other identifying details. If the bike is stolen and recovered, the police will want to see proof of ownership.

File a ­police report You’ll need it—along with proof of ownership—to file a claim with an insurance company.

Bring reinforcements It’s legal to pretend to be an interested buyer if you suspect that somebody is offering your stolen bike for sale. It’s also legal to confront the seller and allege that the bike belongs to you. However, be aware that the suspected thief might deny that the bike is stolen, run, or ­become aggressive. Follow the law and consider your own safety. Having friends recording­ the encounter can help, but you should also let the police know of your plans ahead of time.

Use force
The “bike thief” you attack may be an innocent third party who doesn’t know the bike was stolen. Or the bike may not be yours. You can defend yourself if you’re attacked, but that might open a legal can of worms. Let the police handle any altercations.

Research and assistance provided by Rick Bernardi, J.D.


This article, Catch a Thief, was originally published on Bicycling on November 12, 2012.

Now read the fine print:
Bob Mionske is a former competitive cyclist who represented the U.S. at the 1988 Olympic games (where he finished fourth in the road race), the 1992 Olympics, as well as winning the 1990 national championship road race.
After retiring from racing in 1993, he coached the Saturn Professional Cycling team for one year before heading off to law school. Mionske’s practice is now split between personal-injury work, representing professional athletes as an agent and other legal issues facing endurance athletes (traffic violations, contract, criminal charges, intellectual property, etc).
Mionske is also the author of Bicycling and the Law, designed to be the primary resource for cyclists to consult when faced with a legal question. It provides readers with the knowledge to avoid many legal problems in the first place, and informs them of their rights, their responsibilities, and what steps they can take if they do encounter a legal problem.
If you have a cycling-related legal question, please send it to Bob will answer as many of these questions privately as he can. He will also select a few questions each week to answer in this column. General bicycle-accident advice can be found at
Important notice:
The information provided in the “Road Rights” column is not legal advice. The information provided on this public web site is provided solely for the general interest of the visitors to this web site. The information contained in the column applies to general principles of American jurisprudence and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in the various jurisdictions and therefore should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. Understand that reading the information contained in this column does not mean you have established an attorney-client relationship with attorney Bob Mionske. Readers of this column should not act upon any information contained in the web site without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.