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Everyone's Pretty Jealous of Seattle's 'Bike Batman'

With bike thefts rampant and often unreported, a lone vigilante might be the savior robbed cyclists need.

Image Peter Dejong/AP Photo
A sea of bikes that people would not want stolen. (Peter Dejong/AP Photo)

In Seattle, a thirty-something engineer has taken to riding around the city in search of bicycle thieves. His goal is noble: to reunite bereft cyclists with their stolen wheels.

He calls himself the Bike Batman, but his tactics are less superhero than supersleuth: The Guardian reports that this man (who, for obvious reasons, prefers to remain anonymous) scours Craigslist and sites like OfferUp.com for “suspicious” bike listings—ones in which “the seller appears to know very little about the bike or has a photo in an odd, unidentifiable location.” Those he cross-references against postings on Bike Index, a site where people can register their bikes and report thefts.

The Bike Batman has been operating his vigilante rescue mission since 2015; to date, he’s repatriated 22 bikes. He told The Guardian that part of his mission is to “uphold the reputation of Seattle as a friendly city.”

Seattle residents are pretty delighted with his efforts. True, 22 bikes barely makes a dent in the city’s rampant thefts (1,561 reported to the police in 2015, according to The Seattle Times). But his message, The Guardian writes, is much needed: someone has cyclists’ backs. The article describes how:

For cyclists mourning a lost bike, a call from the Bike Batman is a very welcome surprise. “It was so cool. My heart was just beating so happily,” said Douglas Brick, a 65-year-old Seattle resident who got his bike back via the Batman last summer. “This guy is the real deal.”

So, naturally, other cities are wondering: Where’s our hero?

One commentor on The Guardian story wrote: “As a New Yorker who’s had 25 bikes stolen, as early as within 3 months of buying, I’d like to see more like him in the city that doesn’t sleep.” He added: “if it’s gone, the police here give up.”

That’s a common complaint. As CityLab has previously reported, police departments often consider incidents of bike theft “a low priority, and fail to pursue thieves, which in turn discourages riders from reporting later incidents.”

Groups like NYC Stolen Bike Crackdown and Stolen Bikes NOLA use social media to try to track down snatched cycles, and Bike Index itself operates in part as a recovery resource in cities throughout the country (they’ve currently registered 68,759 bikes through the site, and have returned 2,982 stolen bikes). But there’s something especially appealing about the Bike Batman’s solo mission. Perhaps it’s that he’s acting on the impulse every cyclist feels in the aftermath of a robbery: to track down the thieves, confront them, and win back what’s yours through the exercise of pure justice tinged with just the right amount of rage.

But that scenario often remains the stuff of fantasy. So people in cities worldwide have taken to Twitter to call out for a Bike Batman of their own. Any takers?

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