If you spend a lot of time in midtown, chances are you’ve seen Paul Mitchell pedaling that gigantic cargo bike of his, a happy little girl perched in the front seat.
The bike was a Father’s Day present for the political consultant in 2013. A green Larry vs Harry Bullitt cargo bike, it’s one of only a handful of its kind on the city’s streets.
Turns out, its distinct appearance helped get the bike back into Mitchell’s hands.
This is a rare story of a reunion between a cyclist and his beloved ride. On Christmas night, someone stole the bike from behind Mitchell’s home. A fellow cargo bike enthusiast spotted the Bullitt over in West Sacramento on Friday and the cops had it 10 minutes later. It’s a little unclear how the bike ended up across the river – Mitchell was told that the resident of the home where it was found claims she was only borrowing the Bullitt and that no one was arrested.
Mitchell has been here before, when his road bike was stolen a few years ago. While that bike was a big loss for a guy who’s a competitive cyclist, losing the Bullitt – even for a few days – seemed to affect him more.
“This was more than a bike,” Mitchell said last week, before the bike was recovered. “It was a vehicle for me and Seneca to bond.”
Seneca is Mitchell’s 6-year-old daughter. She likes to sing and tell stories while riding in the cargo seat of her dad’s bike. Young kids everywhere are attached to digital devices, but that seat is an iPad-free zone.
The pair rides to the Midtown Farmers Market on the bike. They ride to Seneca’s school. On Father’s Day 2014, they rode to Beals Point for an overnight camping trip.
“We talk about how kids don’t exercise enough, how they don’t have enough quiet time, how they don’t spend enough time in nature,” Mitchell said. “This covered all three.”
Mitchell’s family was sleeping the night of Christmas when, about 1 a.m. on the 26th, his father in-law heard men talking outside. Then he heard tires screeching. The next morning, Mitchell found his severed bike lock on the ground. The Bullitt was gone.
“You just get that chill,” he said.
It’s an experience shared by many in the central city, where city leaders want to foster a bike-friendly culture. Bicycle theft became such a headache by 2013 that Councilman Steve Hansen and the Police Department launched a website – rideon.sacpd.org – where bike owners can register their bikes, helping cops recover stolen rides. The cops also have a “bait bike” program that helps them snag thieves by embedding GPS devices into bikes placed at hot spots for theft.
In 2015 alone, the police arrested 57 people suspected of ripping off bait bikes in midtown and downtown, according to Sgt. Bryce Heinlein. The program has been so fruitful, police plan to expand it to other parts of the city.
“We take this very seriously because that’s not just someone’s property, it could be their livelihood, it could be how they get to work,” Heinlein said.
A lot of people were looking for the Bullitt. News of the theft spread quickly on Facebook last week. Bike shop owners from as far away as Portland sent messages of support. Mitchell said he was prepared to buy another Bullitt if his didn’t turn up. He said he owed that to Seneca.
“I’m going to continue to treat this like something that Seneca and I cherish together,” Mitchell said. “I’m not going to change who I am; I’m not going to change what we do.”