In the early evening of Saturday, May 25, Corey Sevigny and PJ Hazen, 22, were standing outside a house party for the West Side Invite, an annual, under-the-radar bike race hosted by Portland cycle messengers. They noticed a scraggly man on a fancy Fuji road bike; they put down their beers. In addition to appearing too luxe for the man's economic bracket, the bike was several sizes too small. Sevigny's pal also thought he recognized the man as a suspected thief he'd seen lurking around his old job at Fantasy Adult Video.
Sevigny and Hazen stepped into the man's path and began chanting—or, rather, shouting—"Bike thief! Bike thief!"
The man faltered over questions about his ride's shifters and derailleur. He then fled, abandoning the bike. Sevigny, a 30-year-old soon-to-be graduate student, took the cycle to his apartment in Southeast Portland.
He logged onto www.bikeportland.org, a website widely read by the city's dedicated cyclistas. In the site's section devoted to stolen bikes, he found a post from Karen Vitkay, whose Fuji Newest had recently disappeared from the basement of her Northwest Portland apartment. After testing Vitkay's knowledge of make and model, Sevigny returned the bike to its now-ecstatic owner.
"It was pretty cool feeling sort of like Batman," Sevigny says. "Like, 'Yeah! I got a bad guy!'"
This successful vigilante action is part of a small trend spurred by Jonathan Maus' popular website. Since Maus started compiling the listings last September, 13 pilfered steeds have been returned to their rightful owners. Maus also sends a weekly stolen-bike report to area bike shops and eagle-eyed cycling activists.
After Sevigny's interception, Maus says he's starting to think he should post a disclaimer rejecting any responsibility for how people choose to take the law into their own hands. (Most of the repossessions, he says, have occurred via nonconfrontational methods.)
Sevigny, for his part, says he's not opposed to amping up the two-wheeled superhero approach: "My whole theory on violence is, if you don't want to deal with physical conflict, don't bring it on yourself. If you don't want to get your ass kicked, don't steal bikes."
Portland police say 1,337 bikes were reported stolen last year in Portland. They add, however, that it's illegal to attack people, even while recovering stolen goods.