The Real-Life Superhero Who Beats the Cops to Bike Thieves
Bike Batman was just an average-seeming guy in Seattle who liked to ride his bicycles. He had no inkling to become a vigilante who would face off against criminals while armed with little more than a smartphone, some spare time, and a pair of brass balls. But sometimes in life, the cape finds you.
A year ago, before the man they call Bike Batman began his work—before he headed out on missions around the Emerald City with a pocketful of cash and the cops on speed dial and a paladin’s sense of wrongs to be righted, before he’d rescued two dozen stolen bikes from the grubby fingers of the city’s thieves, before even anyone referred to him as Bike Batman—he was just an average-seeming guy in Seattle who liked to ride his bicycles.
He rode his bike to work. After work, he rode his bike home again. In the evenings, in his basement, he wrenched on bikes that he fixed up and flipped. Monkeying with bikes helped him burn off stress. The guy had a wife who also liked to ride, a wife who at times would wonder aloud if all that half-finished transportation would be departing the basement soon, honey, so they could finally tackle that remodel.
In short, the guy showed no crime-fighting predilection—certainly no inkling to become a vigilante who would face off against criminals while armed with little more than a smartphone, some spare time, and a pair of brass balls. He didn’t choose to become Bike Batman.
Sometimes in life, though, the cape finds you.
All the action heroes have their origin story. Here is Bike Batman’s: It was May 2015. A Monday or a Tuesday. Our guy, an engineer, was at work. (Never mind where, and don’t worry about his name. He doesn’t want the glory or need the guff.) He was surfing online for a steel bike for his wife to ride on an upcoming trip. And—well, here, let him tell you what happened next:
“So I was looking for a Surly Cross-Check,” he says one recent day at lunch over a pulled-pork sandwich. “And I’d been searching for one on Craigslist forever. And one finally popped up. And it was really, really cheap. And I thought immediately, this is either stolen—it’s super beat-up and all the parts are junk—or the person doesn’t know what they have. It was like 300 bucks. And it would sell for $700—like half-price.
“So I started asking the guy questions about fit, about parts, about whatever. And the guy couldn’t answer anything. So I think, OK, this is probably stolen. And I did a quick Google: ‘Surly.’ ‘Cross-Check.’ ‘Seattle.’ ‘Stolen.’ And a Bike Index ad popped up. And the Bike Index ad had pictures of this bike, and it had a contact number for the owner of this thing.”
Bike Index, if you haven’t heard of it, is the nation’s largest bike registry and a clearinghouse for info on stolen rides. It lists more than 75,000 bikes. When someone loses his bike and turns to the web, if there’s a hit, Bike Index is often one of the first links that pops up.
So our guy—he’s not Batman at this point, remember, still just some joe who likes bikes and who’s in possession of a certain curiosity of mind, the kind of guy who likes to pull on a string to see what’s at the other end—reaches out to the original owner of the Cross-Check.
“I shoot her a text. I say, ‘I may have found your bike for sale. Could you provide some details?’ And she responded with pictures of her police report, pictures of her receipts, all this stuff. Serial number.
“I think she thought I was some weirdo.”
It could’ve ended there. Except it didn’t. That afternoon, our hero pulls on the string a little harder. He decides to pose as a buyer so he can meet the guy who’s selling the stolen bike. He has no idea what to say. No escape route. No nothing. The seller suggests meeting in downtown Seattle. Right by the city jail, as it turns out.
How Not to Lock Your Bike
Locking up your bike and having it be there when you return is a minor miracle. We compiled a list of the 10 most obvious no-nos when securing your two-wheeled steed.
When the seller shows up, it’s not one guy. It’s three guys. “They looked like drug addicts. And, you know, whatever. I talk to people like this all the time. I take after my mom—talk to everybody. My wife hates it. And I start talking to them, looking at the bike. And immediately I’m like, this bike is set up exactly like the lady’s that I’ve been texting. I flip the bike over, check the serial number. The serial number’s the same. OK. At this point, the bike is stolen. I don’t know what to do.
“I said, ‘Just give me a second, guys.’ I dialed 911 on my phone. Conveniently, my phone didn’t dial. So I pretended to talk to the police as I derived a plan.
“And I said, ‘Well, guys, I’m sorry to tell you this, but this is my girlfriend’s bike. And it’s stolen. And I just talked to the police. And the way I see it, you’ve got two options. You can wait here for the police to come and tell them your story and how you came upon the bike, or you can get out of here and just let me throw the bike in my truck.’ One guy immediately ran away. As soon as I said ‘police,’ he was out of there.”
Here it should be said that even though you have met Batman only a few times, at places and times of his choosing, what strikes you most about him is his utter unremarkableness. To the near-stranger, he is beige, nearly without affect, almost boring. Don’t misunderstand: Once you get to know him, you see that he’s smart and funny. But his hands do not wave when he talks. Inflection is not one of his gifts. In this way, he rather reminds you of those other Batmans—Christian Bale, Michael Keaton—who managed to be both charismatic and two-dimensional at the same time.
Bike Batman, of course, is keenly aware of the face he presents to the world and to thieves. “It’s just important to be this energy sink, basically,” he’ll tell you later. “The only reason this has worked for me so far is that I just go in there and just keep an even keel the whole time…As soon as you start getting worked up, that person is going to start getting worked up with you and feed off the energy and vibe that you’re putting out.”
(It probably also doesn’t hurt that our hero is in his thirties, big-shouldered, thick russet beard, Viking-looking. He isn’t the first guy you would choose to fuck with over a hot Litespeed.)
But back to the action, where one thief has fled but a standoff has arisen with the remaining dirtbags across the empty saddle of the stolen bike:
“The other two guys were getting a little amped up. My heart is just in my throat. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just standing there. And I said, ‘Well, guys, I’m not waiting around any longer. Alright, I’m out of here.’ I throw it in my truck, try to race downtown at 5:30 p.m. on a Tuesday, make it about 50 feet—and then stop at a traffic light.”
Not exactly a clean getaway.
Still, he makes it. “I called the lady: ‘Yep, it’s your bike.’ I drove about six blocks and met her downtown, gave it back to her. And she was just so happy.” It didn’t matter, he says, that the bike was all janky and barely worth the trouble.
Right there, our guy could’ve walked away. But his work didn’t feel finished. The seller—probably the coward who ran—had dozens of bikes for sale on Craigslist. So our guy forked over all the woman’s info to the Seattle Police Department. Then he waited for the boom to fall. And he waited. “Seattle PD was going really slow. And I was getting really frustrated watching these bikes go up for sale and coming down.”
He got a little obsessed. Doing his own “hack job investigations,” he found more Bike Index postings about stolen bikes, and then located them for sale on websites. About a week after his first sting, he saw a red Surly Karate Monkey for sale, cheap, on a site called OfferUp. He easily found the owner on Bike Index, a young country boy from Idaho whose ride vanished in the 20 minutes he ran upstairs to see his girlfriend at the University of Washington.
He and the kid set up the buy, then rendezvoused that night with the thieves and followed them to a bleak area south of downtown Seattle where trailers squatted in a circle and shadows moved in the dark bushes. It was the land of stolen bikes. Just tons of them. Again, our guy had no plan. No way to communicate with his new sidekick. “We were idiots,” he recalls. Once they confirmed it was the kid’s bike, “I was like, ‘Hey, why don’t you call the girlfriends and tell them we’re doing alright?’ And I’m wearing a wedding ring. I’m trying to pull it off and put it in my pocket.
‘Okay, the girlfriends.’ And he runs off to call 911.”
The kid must’ve screamed bloody murder, because seven cops descended. Cuffs slapped on perps. Bikes recovered. The police admired their initiative—and told them that their initiative would probably get them shot.
But goddamn it was a rush. “This kid was hosed if he didn’t have someone else. He was like, ‘Fuck this city,’” our guy recalls. “It was so much fun and felt so good to stand up and, you know, not let all these, particularly out-of-town people, get this bad rap for Seattle.” Later, some cops called him Robin Hood. A grateful citizen in the Seattle Times named him the “bike repo man.”
If the alter ego born that dark night must have a name, however, the guy preferred Bike Batman.
Stealing bikes is a crackin’ business. Across the nation, property crime has been falling for years, even precipitously. But bike thefts? Not so much. About 185,000 bikes were stolen in 2014, according to FBI statistics. That number is probably wildly low, because it doesn’t count burglaries in which a bike is taken. And only about one in three property crimes is even reported to police, the feds say.
In Seattle, 1,563 bikes were reported stolen last year, about double the number that were stolen in 2010. In Portland, aka Bike City USA, 2,100 bikes were stolen in 2014, according to a database compiled by the Oregonian. That number has doubled since 2007.
Bryan Hance is the Portland-based co-founder of Bike Index. He started his site out of frustration that thieves can steal a bike in Portland, say, and take it to Seattle, and the theft doesn’t get shared among law enforcement. “They’re totally balkanized. City A’s database does not talk to City B’s,” Hance says. Even college campuses usually don’t talk to the city around them. But if everyone registered their bike on a website and reported it there when stolen, bikes would be unsellable. In theory, anyway.
“Everybody asks, why bikes? And there are a couple factors,” says Hance. “One is that they’re worth a helluva lot more than they used to be. Ten years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find a $2,000 bike unless your were a racer,” he says. “Now, a median price for a commuter is $1,300. The price is better, the components are better.
“Factor number two: Back when gas was $5 a gallon, a lot of people started riding. And they’ve stuck with it. And that puts a lot more bikes on the road.
“Then, a) crystal meth, b) crystal meth, and c) crystal meth.” Oh, and heroin, Hance adds. “And that leads to a lot of shitty, low-level property crime.”
There are more reasons. Take the rise of online commerce sites used to sell the stolen goods. You know Craigslist and eBay. But do you know 5miles? Or Letgo? Or OfferUp or Neerbuy or Saily or VarageSale? These sites are a visual marketplace, showing pictures of an item but often including few words to describe it. They offer the seller anonymity while making it hard for police or others to search the web for keywords. Lost a bike? You could spend hours scrolling through pictures across more than a half-dozen sites trying to track it down. Then do it again the next day. These sites may sell legit merchandise. But they’re also the 21st-century way to fence stolen goods. Think tag sales for tweakers.
In Seattle, the detectives who deal with burglaries are the same ones who get handed bike thefts, says Detective Scotty Bach of the Seattle Police Department’s Major Crimes Task Force. In the inevitable triage that is police work, home burglaries—with its bigger price tags and terrified families—naturally go to the front of the line. Unless there’s a major lead or a big sting, bikes tend to fall by the wayside, says Bach. Every theft matters. But some matter more than others.
And then there’s the marketplace. Bikes wouldn’t get stolen if people didn’t buy stolen bikes. But people do buy stolen bikes. Either buyers are oblivious, or they put blinders on. Buying a cheap bike from someone you meet on an app “sort of gives it the sheen of legitimacy,” says Hance. (It’s not a sketchy deal in a dark alley! It’s e-commerce!) But people don’t ask the right questions. Or don’t want to. Or don’t care.
Finally, let’s give a grudging shout-out to the thieves. Though drug-addled and twitchy-fingered, they’re now damn good at what they do. U-locks scarcely slow them down anymore (angle grinders, modified car jacks, huge bolt cutters, pry bars). Cables? Might as well tie your bike with dental floss, laughs Hance. Some thieves don’t even bother with the locks initially: In Portland, thieves have used angle grinders to saw through bike racks and dealt with the lock later. There have been break-ins at apartment buildings that contain “those cheap, shitty aluminum” vertical bike racks, and the thieves “saw the entire freaking rack off the wall,” making off with 25 bikes at once, Hance says.
(Your smartest move is to take your bike inside. Boss won’t let you? Make your bike harder to steal than the bike parked next to it, says Hance. That means throwing on two locks, minimum. Bike theft is about time and convenience for the thief and making it just enough of a pain that he moves on. As the old joke goes, you don’t have to outrun the lion, you only have to outrun your buddy.)
So, yeah, it’s a jungle out there. Enough to make a city cry out for a hero.
In the 12 months since he began, in May 2014, Batman returned 24 bicycles to their owners—all in his spare time, for free. At first he did it solo. Over time, he met some cops, and he met victims who had friends who were cops, and he sometimes called them to help on his stings. Still more officers reached out to him after the story in the paper.
Getting bikes back to people became a bit of an addiction. “It felt so good, just so good to get people reconnected with this thing that they’ve got all this emotional attachment to,” he says. “And most of these guys don’t have renter’s insurance, or they don’t have an insurance policy on their bike for whatever reason. They’re out $2,000, $3,000 when this thing gets stolen.”
Consider the tale of Maggie Stapleton, one of Batman’s favorite recent stories.
On an unseasonably warm April Friday this year, Stapleton, who’s 29, was grilling outside with friends in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. As the day cooled, everyone went inside. When Stapleton did, she plumb forgot to lock up her bike.
Bicycles have stories. Her Salsa Vaya—steel, traffic-cone orange—was the bike she bought after she first met her boyfriend, a longtime cyclist. Atop her Salsa, Stapleton became a cyclist, and a bike commuter, riding to and from her job in downtown Seattle. She has put thousands of miles on it. This summer, she was training to ride the Ramrod, a glorious, one-day, 150-odd-mile, 10,000-foot crusher that loops Mount Rainier.
But when Stapleton came outside at midnight to ride home, the Vaya—well, you know.
Stapleton went home and posted the loss online wherever she could think of. She tweeted. She contacted bike shops. Nothing. She was bummed. “This bike does have a lot of sentimental value to me, because it’s the first bike that made me fall in love with cycling.”
And this is what’s so interesting about bikes, isn’t it? A bike is just a thing—an ingenious concatenation of gears and wire and leather and steel. Really, we should care for it no more than we care for a toaster, or a BluRay player. Yet we do. Hance thinks he knows why. Bikes carry the freight of memories of experiences we’ve pedaled through while in the saddle. “It’s not that it’s ‘a thousand-dollar bike that I’ve had for five years,’” he says. “It’s ‘the thousand-dollar bike that I rode cross-country with my dad who had cancer,’ or ‘that I bought when I had raging PTSD after Afghanistan.’” Sure, for 60 percent of people, when it’s gone, it’s gone. But the other 40 percent, it’s like they’ve lost a limb, says Hance. “They don’t want it back, they need it back,” he says. “They’re ready to go Rambo to get that bike back.
“That’s where things get real interesting.”
Call Stapleton one of the 60 percent. She was sick about her lost bike, sure. But what could she do? She’d forgotten to lock it up; now it was gone. Lesson learned, she said to herself. Then, on Monday night, she received a phone message. “I think I may have found your bike,” said the voice. She called back. It was Batman. He already was winging to North Seattle to meet the seller. He had been checking the listings one last time before bed when he saw a fishy post; cross-referenced it; and found Stapleton’s post on Bike Index, complete with tell-tale details—a scratch here, mismatched tires.
Stapleton met up with him in a Sam’s Club parking lot. Batman had already called the cops. A plan was hatched: The police would hide nearby as Batman met the thief in the parking lot of a Kidd Valley burger joint. He scrawled the Vaya’s serial number on his hand. If it matched the one on the bike, he’d turn the crank to call in the cavalry.
“What should I do?” Stapleton asked the officer.
“Why don’t you go get some french fries?” the cop replied.
So Stapleton watched through the plate-glass windows of the burger joint, about to lose her mind as the dirtbag produced her beloved bike, and Batman turned the crank, and the flashing lights woop-wooped into view. She went home that night with her Salsa Vaya.
“It does kind of restore my faith in humanity,” she says. “A lot of people do bad things, but someone out of the goodness of their heart reunites people with their stolen bikes?”
Only later did she realize she’d had a brush with Batman, whom she’d read about in the paper just days before.
Others are out there fighting bike crime, too. There’s a woman in San Francisco who’s good at it, Hance says. And bike messengers down there “who are not to be trifled with. God help the person who takes a bike messenger’s bike.” I ask for another. Hance points me to one of the best of the spotters, folks who see the stolen bikes online and contact the owners. A “ninja,” he calls him. The guy has tracked maybe 20 bikes.
The Portlander doesn’t want to give his name or where he works. He doesn’t want to get too involved. He’s got kids, he says. But he explains his methods.
He looks for suspicious bikes during free moments at work, he says, then puts the owners in touch with ads by the shady sellers. He calls himself a middleman. It’s a different kind of crime-fighting, he says, done in front of a computer, at a standing desk. But he also patrols his not-quite-gentrified neighborhood. He keeps an eye out. He started a monthly cleanup. He’s the kind of neighbor you want to have. “Once or twice a day, I’ll see someone what they call ‘ghost riding’ a bike”—riding one, while guiding a second, thousand-dollar bike. And they “don’t look like any kind of rider,” he says, when I ask him why he does this. “I’ve had two bikes stolen from my house,” he says.
Our thirst for justice runs strong. And just as we are creative in our desire to slake that thirst, we are ingenious in the search for vengeance. A corner of YouTube is devoted to the delight of those who have exacted retribution upon jerks who would steal our bikes. To watch these clips is to feel a bit like indulging in pornography. This is wish fulfillment, after all, the next best thing to the satisfaction of being there and punching the guy yourself. There’s the Portland guy on YouTube who sees his stolen bike in a Seattle Craigslist ad, drives three hours north to pose as a would-be buyer, and then hounds the thief on foot through Seattle traffic until police cuff the baddie. There are the videos of “bait bikes” outfitted with seats wired to remote-control stun guns. Grown men, their taints zapped, lift off from two wheels into the branches of tall trees. It’s sadistic stuff.
An aggressive anti-theft group in New Orleans called Stolen Bikes NOLA has begun posting mug shots of frequent offenders. Last year, in a surveillance spearheaded by a 240-pound former bounty hunter from Alabama, the group’s members performed an elaborate tail of a suspected thief known as Track Suit as the man moved through the French Quarter, even as Track Suit donned a wig and hat to avoid detection. (Police finally arrested Track Suit.)
Like the Portlander I spoke with, Batman’s crime-fighting also starts during downtime at work. Take this morning, he tells me while we’re at lunch. There was a ten-minute conference call. But he didn’t really have to participate much, he says. “So the first thing I did was pop up Craigslist and OfferUp on both screens of my computer and just scroll through them passively until I see something that, you know, raises a red flag for me. And then I cross-check Bike Index, or I’ll open up Bike Index and scroll through the recent stolen bikes. So, five minutes, or 30 seconds here and there.” Anyone can do it.
He pulls out his phone. Here’s one now that he’s flagged. It’s a Trek, lime green. With that, my sidekick powers of observation end.
Batman, though, is just getting started.
It’s a modern touring bike, he says. “I would say you could end up buying this for around a thousand bucks from REI. The components look fairly new. They’re asking $250 for it.
“If this is a normal sale, I would expect to see ‘TREK. MODEL. SIZE.’ And just some details,” he says. But look at this listing, he continues—all it says is “Green Trek Bike.” No size. No nothing.
Price, and an inarticulate seller, are only his first clues. He’s just getting warmed up. He’s a detective now, picking up bits of lint, gathering circumstantial evidence, building a case. “The photo is taken in front of a flipped-over shopping cart and a makeshift barbecue, some burnt chairs or something. OK, no big deal, whatever. But then I go to”—here he clicks on the guy’s profile—“this guy’s name, and this guy’s profile is made in May of 2016, and you look at his other sales, and they’re all equally sketchy.”
Next, Batman takes the info and surfs over to Bike Index. He punches in what he knows: “Trek.” “Green.” “Within 100 miles of Seattle.” Several contenders pop up. He starts to weed them out. It helps to know bikes by a glance, their geometry and components. Batman knows bikes.
“Nope. Nope.” None seem to match. It’s a dead end. Just another shifty-looking sale. For now, anyway.
One of the biggest problems in busting up bike sales is that a lot of people simply don’t report their bikes when they get lifted, he says. If a bike is stolen in Seattle that’s worth more than $500, you’ve got to visit a police precinct to file a theft report or wait for an officer to arrive to document the theft. “And if you work like I work, 12 hours a day, all the time—Saturday I’m gone constantly. If somebody was to steal something of mine, and a police officer wasn’t able to say, ‘I will be there in five minutes,’ I just can’t wait around the three hours for ‘I will be there between eight and noon.’ That ain’t gonna work. We live in a busy city.”
I ask Detective Bach what he thought of Batman’s vigilantism. He was blunt. “I thinks there’s some huge risks for what he’s doing,” Bach says. “I would never advise a citizen to meet a suspect on his own. You’re buying these bikes from people who possibly are high on narcotics. You just don’t know.”
A few years ago, Seattle Bike Blog’s Tom Fucoloro was nearly aerated with a screwdriver while helping to retrieve a friend’s stolen bike. Bach also points to an incident north of Seattle in February, in which several people claimed they’d found their stolen construction tools on OfferUp. After being unable to secure a police officer’s help in time, the people met the seller and tried to make a citizens’ arrest of the alleged thief. Instead, the man pulled a pistol. He later was arrested. (To be fair, Batman these days usually calls the cops as he goes to meet the perp, and they formulate a quick plan, so the the police are waiting nearby to descend.)
Still, Bach recommends gathering as much info as you can about the stolen bike and who has it to make the police’s job as easy as possible, and then calling the police so they can intervene or make the buy instead. “If you can get us involved early, that’s great,” Bach says. And then be persistent, he says, until someone with a badge pays attention.
Our Batman is quite familiar with some of the occupational hazards that come with being a bike vigilante. There’s the danger, for one.
Last summer, when Batman was still new at this, he spied a Cervélo P2 for sale, confronted the thief, and took it. (“I’ve got a picture of the victim, he’s standing on my porch with just this gigantic smile on his face, like, ‘Oh my God!’”) Two weeks later, another stolen bike pops up on OfferUp.
Batman got a little careless. Though he had changed his profile and his picture, his texting pattern was similar. He recommended meeting at the same parking garage. He arrived early and saw the same thief, who he later found was wanted for violent crimes. Now the guy was with four friends, who were waiting in the corners of the parking garage. Batman let that bike go and lived to fight another day.
Perhaps it is no surprise that Mrs. Batman does not love these stories. Still, he adds, “She’s supportive. She knows it’s something that’s really important for me, and she has chosen to support me in it. But there are times where, for instance, with Maggie Stapleton’s bicycle, I found that at like 8:30 p.m. or something, I was literally brushing my teeth, looking through the bikes on OfferUp” and went out to bust the guy, he says. “And the whole thing was very rushed. She doesn’t like that. She wants me to contact the police, get a plan together.”
Then there are the hazards of trying to be a zealous do-gooder.
Last summer, Batman was flying high on his success, recovering bikes left and right, feeling cocksure. A Rodriguez coupled tandem came up for sale, dirt cheap. (A note here: Rodriguez Cycles are sweet custom steel rides hand-built in Seattle. A new, fully kitted tandem can go for up to $9,000 today.) The seller is sketchy, jittery, knows nothing about the bike. Batman sets up the buy and calls the police.
They meet. Batman tells the woman the jig is up.
Fuck off, she says. The bike’s mine.
The police arrive. They ream out Batman for profiling someone as a criminal with no proof. The irony wasn’t lost on him. “I had a friend, a bleeding heart liberal teacher, was just talking about what a piece of shit I was,” he says now. “I don’t even think I was aware of what I was doing.” (The unlikely owner apparently got the Rodriguez through an auction of a forgotten storage unit, à la Storage Wars.)
After that, he says, “I seriously considered stopping this foolishness altogether. But I got an email or a text from someone saying, ‘Thank you so much. I just put 60 miles on my bike or whatever, it feels amazing.’ And I thought, I can’t. It just feels too good.”
So he didn’t stop. But now he plays by new rules. If he can’t contact the owner and confirm that a bike is stolen, he won’t contact the cops and get them involved. Sometimes he’ll snap up a really suspicious bike himself and try to find the owner later. It’s all about acting fast, he says. “This is like ambulance chasing. If you’re not the first one there, someone else is gonna swoop in, and then you’re not gonna find the owner.”
And when it all goes right, it is sweet.
Last fall, Batman sees a carbon Cervélo P5—a crazy-expensive tri bike, maybe $9,000 retail—for about $3,000. It’s obviously hot. But Bike Index shows bupkes, and local police have no reports. Batman talks the kid selling it down to $1,700. Tells him he’ll have the cash when he gets back from a business trip in a week.
During the delay, Batman gets on the horn. He calls the Cervélo rep to find out where the bike was sold: Oregon. He calls the Oregon shop. The shop calls the bike’s owner. The owner calls Batman.
“I left for Hawaii three weeks ago,” the owner says. “That bike should be in my house.”
“Well, it’s not,” says Batman.
The next day, when he meets the thief, the fuzz swarms. Turns out two guys with family in the neighborhood knew the cyclist’s schedule and had emptied his house when he headed to the islands. Nobody even knows there’s been a crime until Bike Batman solves it.
Why does Bike Batman do this for us? He has a life, after all. He’s got a wife who wants to sit on the couch with him and watch Game of Thrones. He’s got friends. A busy career. He’s got bikes to ride—four at last count, not to mention the hobby bikes cluttering the basement. Why do this?
Our comic book heroes have always been different from us—in their monomania, in the black-and-white way they see the world. The rest of us accept early to shrug and live with the unfairness of it all. But the heroes we invent and raise up, they don’t shrug. They don’t accept things the way they are. That’s what makes them so appealing and yet also keeps us distant from them. We admire their monomania, and we distrust it. We want to know what’s really in their hearts that makes them not like us.
“Really, it might be 3 percent, let’s say, adrenaline. Some subconscious adrenaline seeking,” Batman says of his motives. (“It’s not like the adrenaline I get from riding a mountain bike or something, or riding really fast,” he wants you to know. “But it’s kind of the nervous energy I get when I’ve got way too much on my plate.”) “And there might be 2 percent of something else. But I would say 95 percent of it is just getting that bike returned.”
Here’s a for-instance, he says: After the recovery of Maggie Stapleton’s bike—the Salsa Vaya, the french fries—he friended her on Instagram. “I was having a really, really busy week the following week, after getting that thing back for her, and I was really not super-enthused with work. And every once in a while I would just open up Instagram and look at a picture of her riding the bike and just think, fuck. Yeah.”
“I know that sounds creepy,” Batman adds. And he laughs at himself. And you laugh with him, because the mask has slipped down, and you see that the guy across from you isn’t Batman anymore, isn’t some abstract concept about the war in man’s breast between Good and Evil. It’s just a big, Viking-looking guy who gets frustrated at work, just like you do, and who right now is wearing a giant grin on his face because he’s found something he really, really likes to do, and that something happens to be helping other people who are in a jam.
No, Bike Batman, that’s not creepy at all. In fact, that’s about the most normal thing in the world.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Bryan Hance is the Chicago-based co-founder of Bike Index. Outside regrets the error.