116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Stolen bicycles don’t often end up back in the hands of their owners, which is why Brian Morelli, from Iowa City, was surprised when he got a call June 13 from someone letting him known they’d found his vintage Miyata Alumicross.
The bike was stolen June 9 from the bike stand outside Morelli’s office on the University of Iowa campus. He usually brings his bike inside the building but left it locked outside that day, given that he was only going to be at work a couple of hours.
Morelli reported the theft to UI police. Officers found security footage of someone taking the bike, but the footage didn’t show the face of the thief clearly enough to identify the person.
Knowing police would have difficulty finding the bike, Morelli took things into his own hands.
He posted an alert on Facebook, noting the “sweet vintage bike” dates to the late 1980s or early 1990s. “It’s the only one like it in Iowa City,” he wrote. “It’s been on a number of bike packing trips and gravel rides.
“I was driving around on my own,” said Morelli, a former Gazette reporter. “I made up a bunch of flyers and started passing them around to bike shops and some other places around town.
He also decided to check with the homeless community under the Gilbert and Benton street bridges, saying he knew the people experiencing homelessness would have connections he didn’t.
He struck up a conversation with a couple of guys under one of the bridges and gave them a description of his bike.
“Then I asked them if they drank beer, and one of the guys that was there, he had a dog … that I was petting, and he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I drink Modelo.’ So, I left and then I came back with a six pack of Modelo, some peach gummy rings and some dog treats and just left them down by the bridge, just putting good karma out there, I guess,” Morelli said.
A few days later, one of the men he’d met called Morelli, saying he thought he’d found the bike. The man sent pictures of the bike to confirm, and Morelli went to pick it up.
“The guy who ended up finding it said someone came riding to the bridge with it, and he said, ‘Hey, I know someone who is looking for that bike,’ and apparently he traded for it. I think he traded some speakers or something for it,” Morelli said. “He asked for a small reward, so I gave him that.”
Immediately after getting his bike back, Morelli said he went to a bike shop to get a new lock for it. He then called the police to let them know he’d found the bike.
“They were so surprised,” Morelli said.
Morelli has owned the bike for about 8 years, and his father in law had it for about 8 years before that. He said he believes the bike is valued at about $1000.
Bike thefts are a common crime on and near the UI campus, especially when the weather warms up, according to the University of Iowa Department of Public Safety.
Alton Poole, community outreach officer, said it’s easiest for the police to track stolen bikes if bike owners register their bikes as soon as they purchase them. Both UI police and Iowa City police have registration programs.
When a bike is found abandoned or confiscated by police, officers run the bike’s serial number through the registration system to see if it’s stolen.
It’s also smart to keep a photo of your bike handy and to have a record of its make, model and serial number, according to Hayley Bruce, who works for the department.
Drew Boss, the lead mechanic at the Iowa City Bike Library said whenever someone rents or buys a bike from the library, he walks them through the benefits of different types of locks and makes sure they know how to use whichever lock they buy before they ride off.
The strongest locks are U-locks, heavy duty steel locks that go through the frame and the front wheel of a bike, according to Boss.
“We also offer what we call our DIY locks, which is just a heavy duty chain we buy from a hardware store, and we wrap them with old inner tubes to make them a little quieter and a little softer. We’ll give those away often, if somebody can barely afford the bike but they really need a lock,” Boss said.
Other tips for avoiding bike thefts include keeping bikes inside whenever possible and investing in items like Apple Air Tags or other tracking devices that can be attached to a bike.
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