Your abandoned beater is still an upgrade from my old Trek
June 16, 2010 6:18 AM   Subscribe

Why are there all these abandoned bikes and bike locks? Do people forget where they parked?

I started biking to work a month or so ago, and I've become more attuned to the bikes around me (especially you, you sexy little vintage British three-speed). But I'm perplexed by all the derelict bikes and abandoned bike locks I see everywhere. NOTE: I am NOT talking about ghost bikes.

At the Whole Foods, it's an 80s racing bike, rusted and falling apart from having sat there for as long as I can remember. Outside my building, an old Trek. Everywhere I look, there are bike locks of all descriptions.

Why is this? Even if the bike's a beater, I would think that getting another beater (and a new lock) would be an expense someone would just as soon avoid. Also, even if you assume that someone somehow forgot where they parked their bike, what's the explanation for the locks? Their owners must have unlocked the bike, put the lock back and then locked it to the bike rack. Why?
posted by Admiral Haddock to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (41 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I left one of those. Took the bus home that night because I was tired, didn't get around to that part of town again for a while and when I did the tire had been stomped and the chain was rusty. I'd only paid a handful of dollars for the thing at a garage sale so I just walked away.
In retrospect it was a mistake as I didn't find another cheap one and had to buy something a bit pricier to replace it - but I've kept the replacement.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 6:24 AM on June 16, 2010

I've seen people leave locks because they park their bike in the same place every day and don't want to carry their lock with them. At home they just bring the bike inside, so no need for a lock. The next day they go back to the same place and there is the lock waiting for them.
posted by ephemerista at 6:25 AM on June 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Bike locks: after that whole thing where kryptonites could get opened with a ballpoint pen, I assumed that the locks were left behind by people who stole the bikes they belonged to. Would you bother to retrieve a lock that was obviously not going to protect your next bike?
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 6:27 AM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've seen people leave locks because they park their bike in the same place every day and don't want to carry their lock with them. At home they just bring the bike inside, so no need for a lock. The next day they go back to the same place and there is the lock waiting for them.

Seconded. Also, if a lock has been cracked and your bike has been stolen, you often can't get the lock undone anymore, so you have to leave it behind.

No idea about the derelict bike thing, it mystefies me too. Even beater bikes are worth something, seems odd to leave them to rust.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:28 AM on June 16, 2010

At certain busy points in my city (Groningen, NL), they actually clean out unattended bikes every once in a while. Well, actually, I think they only really do that around the Central Station. A bike parked longer than 12 days will be taken to a depot. For a €25,- fine you can collect your bike.

All uncollected bikes that have been taken to this depot are sold to the general public every month, prices also starting at €25. Frame numbers are checked with the police beforehand, but this basically means all the old crappy bikes are practically circulating among the student population.
posted by Harry at 6:33 AM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

On the bikes themselves, I think it has to do with the same reason that college students throw out perfectly good furniture every year on move-out day. Some people treat everything they own as disposable. My old apartment complex had probably a dozen outside in various locations which were just sitting there on flat tires with rusting chains, because their owners had moved away and figured it was easier to just leave the bike.
posted by gracedissolved at 6:34 AM on June 16, 2010

I gained a bit of internet fame several years ago (thanks largely to a blue-screened website) for a photo collection of abandoned bikes. From the comments on the photos it would seem that bikes are abandoned mostly for the reason L'Estrange Fruit mentioned -people leave their bike somewhere and find it damaged when they return. Other stated reasons were lost keys or the bike was crappy enough that it wasn't worth the bother of taking when its owner moved, or the bike owner no longer rode the bike and couldn't be bothered removing it.

There's also a perception bias. Abandoned bikes make up a tiny percentage of all bikes, but there's almost no reason to remove an abandoned bike (they're not much of a nuisance and it is difficult to establish ownership) so it appears like there's way more abandoned bikes than usable ones on the street.
posted by plastic_animals at 6:41 AM on June 16, 2010

You get a cheapo bike for £10 or free from a friend, use it for a while, then someone steals the wheels and seat or kicks the wheels in. Easier/cheaper just to leave it there and get another cheapo/free bike than buy replacement parts, and why bother carting the old wreck to the dump?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:42 AM on June 16, 2010

People sometimes lose the keys to their bike locks. One of my pals, who has at least half a dozen bikes at any given moment, has left at least two locked up outside bars.
posted by box at 6:43 AM on June 16, 2010

My son took his bike to college and never rode it. It quietly rusted, locked to the bike stand outside his dorm, only to be clipped and taken at the end of the semester by some used-bike-repair entrepreneur in East Lansing. I imagine she makes a fortune every fall!
posted by kidelo at 6:44 AM on June 16, 2010

I abandoned a very nice bike when I moved one time. I was no longer able to ride it, no one I knew wanted it, and taking it with me and storing it would have been a hassle. I figured that if I left it where it was sooner or later someone would take it if they wanted it badly enough. Bikes are just hard enough to transport and store in the US that if you don't use them regularly they become more of a nuisance than a tool. At least for me that was the case.
posted by vincele at 6:58 AM on June 16, 2010

Whenever I see what appears to be a chained up, rusted out bike hulk, I usually assume that it's actually a decent bike that's been intentionally made to look like shit to keep people from wanting to steal it.

Also, if I came out to find that someone had popped my chain or smashed up my spokes, I'd probably scream at the sky and angrily stomp away form the scene. I can't promise I would return to retrieve the poor busted thing because having someone fuck with your bike is a really nasty personal violation for me. (someone cut my tire a few weeks ago while I was shopping, but I was only a couple of blocks form home, so I angrily wheeled my lil broken buddy home).
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:17 AM on June 16, 2010

This question is twofold. One deals with the difficult-to-fathom food-chain-like mechanics of activities and interests of bike lock suppliers, the suppliers of shears or other devices that open these locks (most of the time the same people as the first group), bike lock shear wielders and/or pickers of bike locks, key losers, and the frustrated public that leaves whole, picked, and clipped locks behind all over the place.

The second part deals with giving your bike back to the Universe, which can happen according to three distinct routes:
1) the Universe decides for you, by sending someone past your bike who wants it and has the skill to take it.
2) you forget where you left it and that's that, then.
3) your boyfriend has made your cranky old bike fit once again, by clearing out all the bearings, re-applying all the fat, adjusting all the breaks and reducing all the loose play. While turning around the frame he noticed a creepy amount of rusty water running out of the pipes and advised you that while the thing runs smoothly again and all that, it soon may not be safe for use any more. At which point you attach your bike to a rack out of your usual path but close to the railway station and walk away.
posted by Namlit at 7:17 AM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Even if the bike's a beater, I would think that getting another beater (and a new lock) would be an expense someone would just as soon avoid.

Before it's vandalised/stolen/rusted: I'll have to walk/bus back to where I left my bike and pick it up - when I've got a few hours free. And I've got a spare bike anyway, so there's no rush.
After it's vandalised/stolen/rusted: Well, now there's no point. I'll leave it as a warning to others/implicit complaint to the bike rack's owner.
When moving house: Well, I don't have a bike rack for my car anyway and I'm too busy to get the bike and go to the effort of selling it.
When there's a problem with it: Well, even after I walked it home, I'd sill have to re-true the spokes/replace the worn sprocket/replace the stretched chain/replace the dented wheel rim/fix the jammed derailleur/whatever and I don't have the experience/time/spare parts/right tools.
posted by Mike1024 at 7:28 AM on June 16, 2010

People pass away too. But I doubt that's what's with the majority of abandoned bikes. Related: a lot of people just store their beater bikes on racks outside. You move, you stop using it, you forget it, whatever.

I don't understand people in this thread consciously abandoning their bikes by locking them to a rack, though. Why not just leave it unlocked somewhere? Maybe I'm reading this wrong but intentionally taking up space on a rack just so you can be rid of a bike seems like... well, and egregious dick move.
posted by johnnybeggs at 7:30 AM on June 16, 2010

Response by poster: OK, so this is interesting stuff--but I have a few follow up questions:

The consensus seems to be that abandoning the bike is a conscious decision, either because the bike is damaged from exposure or abuse by the time the owner returns, or because the owner is moving away and transporting or storing the bike is expensive or a hassle. There also seems to be an expectation, as voiced by Vincele, that someone else who wants the bike will take it.

First, do you abandoners not see this as "littering"? I ain't starting anything (honest!), but I know we have a lot of civic-minded people here, and a lot of bikers here, and I'm sure somewhere in that Venn diagram there are people who would not, say, throw a gum wrapper out on the street, but who might leave their bike to the vultures. This seems contradictory to me, but perhaps the difference is that the bike is perceived as having some value, and the wrapper is not--just as one might not view leaving a book on a bus for the next rider as littering, but one would a half-empty can of soda. Thoughts?

Second, if you abandoned the bike, did you leave a sign on it, or, if you still had the key, did you unlock it? It seems strange to require the next user, essentially, to steal your abandoned bike to put it to good use. See Unsane's comment in this previous abandoned bike thread for an anecdote about someone who retrieved an abandoned bike and was later convicted of stealing it. Also, that thread includes some interesting information about the deleterious effects of exposure--and if you leave your bike locked up with the expectation that someone will steal it eventually, it seems like bad news for its bits and pieces.

Third, with respect to the locks, won't being left in the elements weaken the lock? And isn't this also "littering" (or, at least, unsightly, given that there is at least an expectation of returning for the lock)?

Thanks for your insights!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:53 AM on June 16, 2010

First, do you abandoners not see this as "littering"?

You don't see the the ones that aren't abandoned recklessly, so it's impossible to judge how many people do it.
posted by smackfu at 8:08 AM on June 16, 2010

I've seen discussion on bike forums hinting that these bikes might be stolen, then abandoned. So the thief takes it from one place, rides away, locks it somewhere else, and then doesn't return. Original owner has no clue where it went, and the thief has no incentive to return.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 8:10 AM on June 16, 2010

Old locks with no bikes could also be the last traces of beater bikes that have been cut off by sawing through the frame. I have a friend who is a beginning frame builder, and I know he retrieves abandoned bikes from the local university to practice welding on the tubes. That's probably not the main reason people cut them loose, but I imagine it's not uncommon for there to be more value in all the stuff attached to the frame than in the frame itself.
posted by contraption at 8:17 AM on June 16, 2010

Oh, I've abandoned a bike once. It wasn't anything expensive, and I'd had it for several years by then, but I still liked it.

What happened was, someone decided to helpfully discard a large couch directly in front of where I left my bike parked. This was in a tiny, dead-end alleyway kind of situation, so what actually happened was that the couch hopelessly wedged my bike in between two brick walls and the fence it was locked to.

I was moving from the building rather suddenly. I tried liberating the bike on my own, but the angle of everything made it impossible. I wasn't even sure if I could have moved that couch with help -- I have no idea how the people managed to wedge it in between those brick walls in the first place, or why they thought it would be grand to trap a helpless bike behind it. Assholes.

Anyway, I left it in the midst of moving chaos, figuring I'd get back there someday. That was 3.5 years ago. Maybe I should go see if it's still there. It would be rusted all to shit with our weather, though.
posted by Ouisch at 8:31 AM on June 16, 2010

I've abandoned two bikes in my life, both were left unlocked, both had suffered big mechanical failures and were unrideable, and in both cases I guess I hoped somebody might be able to use the frame or wheels or something; plus I wouldn't know what to do with a busted bike, should I just toss it in a dumspter? If I did that someone would fish it out only to find they can't ride it. Next time I have an old bike to get rid of I'll look for a community bike shop that takes donations.
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:36 AM on June 16, 2010

I'm sure somewhere in that Venn diagram there are people who would not, say, throw a gum wrapper out on the street, but who might leave their bike to the vultures. This seems contradictory to me, but perhaps the difference is that the bike is perceived as having some value, and the wrapper is not

Well, people rarely have trouser pockets big enough to stuff a rusting bike frame in so they can bin it later. (Disclaimer: I have not and would not abandon a bike).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:48 AM on June 16, 2010

To my shame, I've abandoned three bikes over the past ten years or so. I don't like to reflect much on it, because, yeah, it is littering, really. If not littering, then, at the very least it's neglectful of the possibility of recycling them. The circumstances on each of the three occasions were exactly the same: moving cities (or indeed, countries), the usual moving-panic at the last minute, lots of other things were more important (like shipping crates, my own travel arrangements), being too busy to prepare properly, and the bike was always the last thing on the list: "oh, I'll sort that out, for sure, get it to someone who wants it, but first I've just got to sort out all these other things...", and the day comes and you're just trying to make the train or the bus or the plane or whatever, and I never got round to it. All three bikes were the same (and the same kind as I always buy): desperate, broken down, tenth-hand, rust-covered, barely functioning things that are an absolute necessity if you live in a city where bike theft is endemic. I ought to have left them locked. I really ought to have done that much. Sorry bikes, all three of you: you were great fun to ride, you loveable heaps of rust and squeak. And sorry to whoever it was who, months later, had to clean up my shit. Just sorry.
posted by hydatius at 9:01 AM on June 16, 2010

ahem..."left them unlocked..."
posted by hydatius at 9:04 AM on June 16, 2010

What goes through the mind of a flagrant bike-abandoner? Well, I was poor and stressed about a move that had to be done dirt cheap. I had dragged that bike halfway around the world and back in the US I never rode it as often as I had before. I guess it crossed my mind leave it unlocked, but then the apartment management might have tried to track down who it belonged to (it was that kind of place). I could have taken it to the Graduate College to give it away, but I couldn't find the combination for the lock. I also knew my complex periodically removed abandoned bikes.

I felt bad 'cause I had been through a lot with that bike. I wish it could have gone down another way, but sometimes that's just the way it goes.
posted by vincele at 9:09 AM on June 16, 2010

Response by poster: Even more interesting stuff! I had no idea one could or would cut a frame, for any purpose--but I'm just a simple caveman, and know nothing of the modern world.

I think I agree with Smackfu (if I read his comment correctly)--there may be a plethora of bike abandoners who leave their bike unlocked and the bike is immediately whisked away by a grateful new rider; it's just the ones that are left to rot that we see. Still, it strikes me as odd that someone would do that without either wanting to get something for it, but I'm miserly. And again, it seems odd to leave your junk permanently attached to something. It strikes me as like leaving your dirty mattress chained to a lamp post. If it's junk, junk it--why affix it to the sidewalk?

The fact that the bikes might be stolen occurred to me, too, but it seems strange to leave it locked up--it's one thing to ditch the bike you stole; it's another to ditch the bike you stole when still attached to the lock you presumably bought (I guess the lock could be shoplifted, or unlocked with the Kryptonite bic pen trick).

Ends, I agree, my pockets are too small for bikes--but I think that if I wanted to abandon a bike, I'd leave it unlocked, or leave it by / in the garbage. That's probably not how you're supposed to dispose of a bike, but I'm sure someone would take it away. I've done the same thing with a working 27-inch TV--technically, I should have taken it to an electronics recycler, but I left it on the street (with a note saying that it worked) and it was gone within 20 minutes. And that thing was HEAVY, and someone still absconded with it immediately.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:17 AM on June 16, 2010

I think the bike locks by themselves on the racks can be explained by people not wanting to carry around a 5 pound metal object over and over to the same bike rack. It is easier to just leave the lock on the rack than it is to take it home and back every trip. I think a lot of these locks can be explained by commuters that know they are going to use the same rack often enough to just attach a lock to it, and forget about it until the next time they use the rack. I think this makes a lot more sense than someone stealing a bike by cutting through the frame, as the frame is frequently the most valuable part of the bicycle.
posted by clearly at 10:00 AM on June 16, 2010

I wouldn't know what to do with a busted bike, should I just toss it in a dumspter?

Abandoning unlocked is okay, but if you put it in the dumpster, it is a pretty clear sign that you really, really, really don't want the bike anymore. I got this bike out of a dumpster. (And this one from the city dump. And this one from a trash heap on the curb on garbage night.) I still have, and regularly ride, the first two.

I would never "liberate" an abandoned bike that was still locked up though. The lock clearly states that someone doesn't want me to take it. If they change their mind, they can unlock it. If it's still locked, I can only assume they haven't changed their mind.
posted by Doohickie at 10:19 AM on June 16, 2010

The bike I rode to work this morning was abandoned in a friend's basement. She lives in a huge apartment complex where there are at least a hundred bikes in the shared storage space. Every year the landlords tag all the bikes, warn the tenants, and then a month later cut the locks of any that still have the tag. They leave a huge pile of bikes in the boiler room. I fished one out and rebuilt it. It's the nicest bike I've ever had.

I wish my landlords would take the same approach. I have to untangle my bike from the too-crowded rack every day, but I've been there four years and there are bikes that have never been moved. They once warned off an upcoming cull but never followed through.

I abandoned two bikes when I was a student in Madison. Both had been abandoned when I got them. The first was a department store piece of shit left on my front porch by a previous tenant. I cut through the cable lock strand by strand with a pair or wire cutters. My roommate borrowed it, locked it up on State Street and then lost his keys. Eventually the city cleared it away, the lock was the bigger loss. The second was a crappy BMX that the same roommate pulled out of the trash. Near our place there was a bike rack by the railroad tracks that had no reason to be there--there was nothing else around. When I got tired of trying to fix the bike I left it on the rack tied up with a piece of string. I liked to imagine it being found by some kid who laughed "What an idiot!" when he freed it from the rack, only to be sorely disappointed when he tried to ride away on the wobbly wheels.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:22 AM on June 16, 2010

I live in Austin and we have UT here, a huge university and around that university many, many bikes abandoned. I remember once walking on campus and being appalled at a really nice Giant -- which was clearly a brand new bike when it was locked -- sitting there going to rot, the tires gone soft, the chain beginning it's rust, oxidation beginning all over the bike. A horror show, to me, I love Giant bikes, love bikes in general.

It's just college kids and Mom and Dad spending money without a thought, without a care -- I heard a kid Sunday saying he'd left a laptop computer somewhere in some move or other, he didn't even know where, it was no big deal to him. Amazing, to me.

I don't 'get' the bikes stomped to nothing when they're locked somewhere but that happens here also, and some of them really nice bikes. Appalling.

I'd never leave my bike anywhere, and if it came to a time where I couldn't take the bike with me on a move or something I'd at the very least give it to someone who would appreciate it, and care for it, probably I'd give it to Andy, my bike mechanic, one of the nicest guys in town, I'd give it to him and ask him to pass it on to someone deserving who was maybe short on money and/or had recently had their bike stolen.*

*25 years ago I had an absolutely beautiful Raleigh twelve-speed stolen, almost brand new, I was really cash-poor, that bike was a huge deal to me, for me, I watched for that bike for years, even today I'd break the nose of the son of a bitch who took it if I found him...
posted by dancestoblue at 11:24 AM on June 16, 2010

Still, it strikes me as odd that someone would do that without either wanting to get something for it, but I'm miserly.

I will tell you about one of my bikes, which might help you to understand.

So I've got this bike stored in my shed. I brought it for $30, and rode it several miles a day for 4 years - always in the top gear.

I was never changing gear so when the front dérailleur cable got damaged I just removed the front dérailleur and shoved the chain on the sprocket I was using. I could still ride it, though.

I was practising jumping up kerbs and I misjudged a jump and hit a kerb at high speed. Both the rims got dented, so if you actuate the brakes, once per revolution the bike jerks to a halt. The spoke tension is out of adjustment too, so the wheels rub against the brake blocks once per revolution, even when you're not braking. I don't have a tool to adjust spoke tensions. I could tolerate that, though, so I could still ride it.

The rear dérailleur is clogged with mud and road salt, and won't change gears. I didn't change gears, though, so I could still ride it.

I was going up hills in top gear so I spent a lot of time standing on the peddles. Over the course of a few years, the chain got stretched, and the stretched chain produced a lot of wear on the sprockets. I got a tool to remove the chain, and replaced the chain, but I didn't have the time or knowledge to replace the sprockets. I could still ride it.

The crankshaft wobbles more than it used to. I gather I could take it apart and fix it - but I don't have a tool that can remove the cranks. I can still ride it though.

The bearings are shot in one of the pedals. I tried to replace the pedals, put my 15mm spanner on them, and it wouldn't turn. I put a metal bar on for leverage, me and a friend put all our weight on the end of the bar, and we managed to... break the spanner. I could still ride it, though.

One day I loaned it to a friend. Going up a hill he changed gear, sent the chain past the largest sprocket, and got the chain jammed between the large sprocket and the wheel. He was standing on the pedals at the time, and the tension on the chain pulled the rear dérailleur up into that mess, and snapped the two small plastic wheels.

It was at this point that I switched to using my other bicycle (which had, several years later still has, none of the problems of the old one).

I'm an honest person and I don't want to rip anyone off, so I cannot in good conscience accept money for this bicycle.

It would require more than $30 in spare parts to return this bike to the condition it was in when I purchased it for $30, so it is not economical to repair it and sell it; I can't imagine anybody who accepts free bikes to repair would want it because the frame is basically the only undamaged part.

In summary: The reason people might not attempt to get money for their abandoned beater bikes is because they may think no-one would give them money for them.
posted by Mike1024 at 11:30 AM on June 16, 2010

It's just college kids and Mom and Dad spending money without a thought, without a care -- I heard a kid Sunday saying he'd left a laptop computer somewhere in some move or other, he didn't even know where, it was no big deal to him. Amazing, to me.

For what it's worth, a kind of related thing is that I used to work at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, and at the end of every festival there are tons of perfectly good tents left in the woods, usable camp chairs left near the dumpsters, all that kind of stuff. If it rains on the last day of the festival, there is a bonanza of tents, damp sleeping bags, all manner of things that women just walk away from. The festival has a ton of tents and sleeping bags that are used by crew in various places around the land (the security crew, for instance, has sleep tents for the overnight shifts), and all of these were freebies left by campers. In many cases, it looked like women had just abandoned hundreds of dollars worth of gear rather than tear it down and schlep it to the front gate.

The festival also owns cars that were abandoned in the parking lot when they wouldn't start after sitting for a week. Not newer cars, true, but cars that just needed a jump-start or minor repair to be drivable.
posted by not that girl at 12:26 PM on June 16, 2010

I have wondered the same question many times! The conclusion I came to was that clearly the bike was worth something to the owner when they locked it to the rack. Now, N years later, it either:

1. Is still worth something to the owner, who is positive they'll get around to riding it tomorrow/when the weather gets better/next month/next year.

Note: This is the same category as exercise machines with clothes piled atop them. Except outside, in public.

2. Is no longer worth anything to the owner, therefore dealing with it would represent a significant loss of time and/or money.

There's the time to dig up the key, go down there, unlock it, and then what? Get a friend with a truck to take you to the dump? Walk it to a dumpster? Can you even put a bike in the dumpster? Haul it to the thrift store? Who's going to want a rusty old blecchy bike, anyway?

Obviously someone needs to start a towing service for abandoned bicycles!
posted by ErikaB at 12:37 PM on June 16, 2010

College students abandoning their bikes certainly play a part -- the bike project* I volunteer at gets a large drop-off every year from one of the local universities.

In a lot of places bikes left locked up somewhere for any length of time will get stripped of parts pretty quickly (often in stages) -- less than a week in some case . A lot of them seem to start by having their front wheel stolen making it hard to get home and I imagine that by the time some owners get back enough has been stolen they they are no longer functional and the end up with stripped frames that the city government** then comes round and dumps liquid nitrogen on the lock, or chops through the frame, before removing.

* While we are on the subject, we will take anything, and I imagine a lot of others will too. Sometimes the only bits we can reuse are the small parts like barrel adjusters, but even that's useful, and scrap metal has a value.
** this is a fairly common practice.

posted by tallus at 1:00 PM on June 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I will tell you about a bike that I abandoned:

I bought the bike when I lived on the first floor of a larger apartment. I rode it a lot - to work every day plus for most errands and social outings, and kept it inside through the winter, and everything was fine.

Then we moved to a much smaller apartment on the second floor. Hauling the bike upstairs sucked, but even if I did, there was nowhere to store it inside the apartment or the building. So I locked it to the bike rack outside the building. It weathered the Chicago winter, and on the first nice day of the following spring, I took it to the bike shop for a tune up and a lecture about leaving my bike outside all winter. Then I rode it some, although not as much as I used to because I had a different job with a location and wardrobe requirements that would make riding a bike impractical, plus the public transportation options were much better than at our old place.

Winter came again and the bike stayed outside. Our new apartment was also on a very busy street, and that winter, three people died in vehicle-on-bike accidents within a half-mile radius of us. I fully intended to take the bike in for a tune-up and lecture on the first nice day, but as nice days came and went, I found reasons to take public transit instead of bothering with the bike. Soon it became too hot to engage in much outdoor physical exertion, so I decided I would take the bike to the shop once it cooled down. Fall came, and before I could manage to find the time to take the bike to the shop, winter had descended.

At this point, I realized that I had lost my urban bike riding nerve, in large part due to the spate of bike rider deaths in our immediate vicinity. By the end of that winter, I figured the bike was probably ruined by so many months exposed to the elements without maintenance, and that basically destroyed any remaining motivation I had to have the bike serviced.

We're moving soon and if I can find the keys to the lock, I plan to unlock it and leave it for anyone who might want it.
posted by jennyb at 1:14 PM on June 16, 2010

Admiral Haddock, are you in Boston? I somehow think you're from Boston, but I could be completely mistaken. If this Whole Foods happens to be the Cambridge St location (by MGH), my husband knows the story behind nearly every bike there, he worked there for over a year and biked from North Station- most aren't actually abandoned, but stored there by employees - they move once in awhile, but almost always go back to the exact place they were before.

Same with a beater bike outside Viva Burrito on Staniford St. As we were walking to North Station I commented that the beater had been there for *years* - and he said no, it's an employee of the burrito place who makes it look crappy so it doesn't get stolen. He's talked to the guy about the bike before. So perhaps there are less abandoned bikes than imagined, it's just that they only move when you don't see them and come back to the same place.
posted by kpht at 1:56 PM on June 16, 2010

I've seen discussion on bike forums hinting that these bikes might be stolen, then abandoned.

This happened to my boyfriend's bike. Someone stole it (he has security video footage to prove it), went joyriding on it and got a puncture so left it locked up in the middle of town (in a not very nice area) with a different cheap lock. He found it walking back to work a few days later, got some bolt cutters that evening and went back and re-stole it so he could get a trade in discount on his new bike. But I imagine most people wouldn't find their bike or wouldn't be prepared to run around stealing it back (particularly in a not great area) so it would just rust.

I'm sure this only accounts for some bikes but it's definitely real.
posted by shelleycat at 2:07 PM on June 16, 2010

Response by poster: kpht--that is indeed the whole foods--there's a silvery blue racing/touring bike (I don't know the difference) outside the CVS (a little closer to the Au Bon Pain side of the CVS entrance than the WF side) that has been there for two years (and really there for two years; the chain is rusted off, the frame is rusting, the tires are off the wheels, etc.). If your husband knows the scoop, that would totally make my day!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:35 PM on June 16, 2010

Some people treat everything they own as disposable.

This is definitely the case with what I shall gently call the "ghetto bike". I get the impression that certain groups of urban adolescents have never had a secure place where they can lock up an expensive bike in the first place, let alone the opportunity to own one to lock up. The ghetto bike is usually busted in some way and has already had its share of "owners". The ghetto bike is tossed carelessly on the front stoop and allowed to rust and fall victim to all manner of rider abuse. The ghetto bike is something of a low-rent bike sharing program: the next person to need it will take the nearest available. The ghetto bike is not sized or colored or in any way aesthetically considered. It is basic, utilitarian transportation. The rare new ghetto bike -- a banana seat bike, say, or more recently the motorcycle style -- only reflects on the bravado of the current owner in stealing it. The ghetto bike is respected about as much as the safety of the ghetto bike riders who ride it ghetto style, with one person standing on the rear hub. The ghetto bike may be a tiny pink princess bike with a white basket ridden by a lanky 25-year-old adult male until he gets tired of the fact that the cheap plastic pedals have deteriorated to just metal axles and throws it disgustedly to the ground ten feet in back of a guy mowing his lawn (to wit, me). In fact, the more inappropriate the match between bike and rider, the better, in the manner of the prison pants that do not fit or the ball cap with price tag attached, as it then culturally screams "stolen". The ghetto bike, in other words, has absolutely no sentimentality or cultural baggage associated with it. It is two wheels that temporarily making getting somewhere go faster.

Sad to say, the ghetto bike is pretty much the norm in my neighborhood.
posted by dhartung at 11:18 PM on June 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

He can't remember without a picture, and neither can I, but it sounds *so* familiar (and I used to eat dinner with him there a couple times a week while he was on lunch break). I remember one with a really beat up Brooks saddle, but I think it was more of a tan color. Any chance of getting a cell phone pic next time you're there? He moved to another store closer to our house and I no longer work in the area, so we haven't been back there in months.

Also completely random, but Andy Ference of the Boston Bruins locks up his hot-ass dutch bike there when shopping at times.
posted by kpht at 7:35 AM on June 17, 2010

Just an anecdote, when I was in college, there was a bike locked in exactly the same out of the way spot all the time. Towards the end of my first year, an acquaintance who had long ago concluded it was abandoned decided to take some parts off of it. Within a day or two it was stripped to the frame.

I learned later that the bike was not, in fact, abandoned, it belonged to a student who, while he didn't ride it home every day, locked it in the exact same spot all the time.

This happened to be a newish bike, but I also had friends who intentionally rode crappy looking bikes to reduce the chance of having them stolen.

Anyway, put the two together. Some "abandoned bikes" probably aren't abandoned.
posted by Good Brain at 12:18 PM on June 17, 2010

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