Bicycle shops warn of serial tester stealing bikes

Bay Area bicycle sellers are warning about a woman who is taking expensive bicycles out for test-rides, and stealing them. 

It has happened three times in the last few days, and the losses total about $14,000.

"She was wearing a tie-dyed shirt," described Brian Bruckner, pointing to surveillance video in his store, Big Swingin' Cycles, on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco.

Bruckner notes the thief seemed friendly and knowledgeable, and she had a disarming reason for trying out a bike, when she came in on Saturday.

"She mentioned that she was interested in a mountain bike because her boyfriend and his family were really into mountain bikes," said Bruckner, "and she just seemed like a good, credible person."

So out the door the woman went on a $4,600 Yeti mountain bike.

20 minutes later, when she didn't return, the store staff looked more closely at the driver's license and realized it belonged to someone much taller. Then they ran the credit card and it was declined.

Both had been stolen from a car parked at a Whole Foods market just a few blocks away.

"I guess we're going to have to spend some more time examining those ID's," said Bruckner wryly.

He doesn't blame his employees, though. He admits he would have been duped by her too.
"These bikes are a liquid asset that can be sold quickly," explained Bruckner.

"Even if it's for a fraction, $1,000 for a $5,000 bike, it's a lot of money and it's a getaway vehicle as well."

The test-ride a time honored tradition for stores, and Bruckner says only infrequently will a customer be turned down because of some red flag.

Usually it's because the shopper doesn't seem to know much about cycling.  

"It's the guy who immediately goes to the most expensive bike, but doesn't know anything about it," observed Bruckner, "because most people don't do that. It's a very involved purchase, they're parting with a lot of money, and they've already done research ahead of time."

As word spread of Bruckner's theft, Trek Bicycle in Berkeley said they had been fooled too, apparently by the same woman, pedaling away with a $7,000 road bike on Friday.

And Sports Basement in Berkeley shared additional surveillance photos of her, before she made off with a $2,000 Cannondale on Saturday. 

In the pictures, she wear s ball cap and sunglasses. She is described as caucasian, in her late 20's or early 30's.

At Bruckner's three-person shop, a loss of almost $5,000 is keenly felt, and with high deductibles, insurance doesn't help much. Plus there's that sense of violation. 

"Particularly when they look you in the eye and just lie to you," said technician Alex Gibson, "and you're doing your best, trying to help them, get them set up on a nice bike, and they rip you off."   

At Big Swingin' Cycles, it happens only a few times a year, but Bruckner now plans to start running the credit card before handing over a bike,

He's reluctant to distrust new customers but on the other hand, unwilling to be taken for a ride again.