Homeless in Vancouver: Where's a bike thief when we need one?

I came out of McDonald’s yesterday morning to find that another homeless binner had locked his bicycle to my bicycle.

I saw the fellow when he did it but figured he was just locking his bike to the same pole my bike was locked to —it’s easy to lock two bikes to one pole, one on each side.

Cyclists do it all the time with the pole by this McDonald's. This bike binner used to do the same—months and months ago. But not on this day.

He had gotten a coffee in McDonalds but then wandered off. I checked in the alley and the immediate area; he was nowhere to be seen.

I could have waited for him. I certainly couldn’t break the U-lock.

Anything else I might do to free my bike would irreparably damage his bike, and though he was an idiot, he was an idiot who needed a bike to collect bottles, and haul his trailer full of his earthly possessions—I didn’t want to damage the bike.

The police were never an option; they don’t care about stuff like this, and they don’t have the equipment for dealing with a bike lock.

Either the fellow with the key showed up or I would have to find someone with a circular grinder; I didn’t believe anything else would do.

I had no money for a locksmith so that left either someone from the City of Vancouver engineering department, or the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Service. Fortunately there was a fire hall just on the other side of the alley on West 10th Avenue.

I explained my situation in detail to two of the firefighters on shift at Fire Hall No. 4. They agreed to come and have a look. They brought with them the longest, biggest pair of bolt cutters I had ever seen.

After I proved to their satisfaction that I was the owner of my bike, they had a go with the cutters.

Bolt cutters use the leverage of the long arms together with special compound hinges to take the force you apply on the handles and multiply it many times at the point of cutting contact; the longer the arms, the more force they can apply.

Big though they were, they could only cut the vinyl shrink-wrap; they couldn’t so much as scratch the shackle of the U-lock.

The firefighters tried twice and gave up. Bolt cutters can make short work of the most imposing-looking padlocks, but U-locks have much thicker shackles. U-locks can damage bolt cutters, not the other way around.

Bringing out the big guns—still not enough gun

Taking off the kid gloves. The famous Jaws of Life!
Stanley Q. Woodvine

Before the firefighters left, they had me give them a description of the binner who had the key; if they saw him they’d have a word. They went back to their fire hall more than a little disappointed the bolt cutters hadn’t worked.

That left me waiting for the guy with the key to his own lock and considering the more extreme option.

There’s a reason we routinely see U-locks sitting on the sidewalk still locked around a pole—it’s easier, in a pinch, to cut the bike frame or the wheel to get the bike off the lock than the other way around.

But then the firefighters were back—they hadn’t forsaken me. And they brought something special. I was amazed to see that they had a gas-powered air compressor and a set of the Jaws of Life!

I had never seen these before. But darned if they didn’t look just like super, heavy-duty, pneumatic-powered bolt cutters!

And they did no better than the hand-powered bolt cutters, but you could hear the pitch of the compressor going up with the effort, and there were blinking lights. On each of the three attempts, a female warning voice coolly announced the point of failure.

Not cutting it. The Jaws of Life aren’t cut out for U-locks.
Stanley Q. Woodvine

Both firefighters were nonplussed to say the least. They both thought the Jaws would work.

“I’ve lifted a bus with these!” one them said, slightly annoyed.

I didn’t twig to that comment at the time; the Jaws work in both directions—as cutters and spreaders.

None of us thought to try the spreader option to break the lock—at least I didn’t. The two firefighters may have considered and dismissed it based on experience.

Anyway. It was awesome that they went to the trouble—really engaged and went out of their way to help. They were great.

The thing is they’re firefighters. They know about putting themselves in harm’s way to help people and save lives—they train and drill constantly to be ready and able to do that. They don’t know about breaking U-locks or stealing bikes.

For all I know an experienced bike thief might have looked over that U-lock, shook her head sadly, made that little clucking noise of regret, and tapped the lock three times in just the right place with a piece of licorice (not just any kind either), and the lock would have fallen open like magic. But, for better or worse, we didn’t have a bike thief handy.

We didn’t have a grinder handy either. If the firefighters had one it wasn’t portable, and there were no plug-ins close enough.

The firefighters explained that it wouldn’t help to run a fire truck from the hall up the lane because the trucks didn’t have electrical generators you could plug things into.

Back to square one. The three of us considered the frame option and I said I’d just wait for the doofus binner to show up.

Luckily for all concerned, after both firefighters left to go back up the lane to their fire hall, they almost immediately came back with the binner in tow. (Where they found him I do not know.)

The binner looked a bit dazed and “sketchy”. He said something about how he thought I had a key. But he unlocked my bike from his. I thanked the firefighters, and was on my way.

The brain on cocaine is mainly just a pain!

Way over a year ago—nearly two—I was friendly with this fellow. And on two separate occasions he did give me one of  his bike lock keys, owing to the fact that I didn’t lose things the way he did.

Problem was he’d lose the keys and the locks. Today’s lock wasn’t one I’d ever had a key to.

More to the point, we weren’t friends anymore by a long shot. After I helped and encouraged him to start his own blog, he got all weird about me starting my blog.

He started telling people I was an agent of the Freemasons and that I wanted his—now several—blogs to all fail. Once upon a time he accused me of remotely controlling his laptop.

It was a lot of paranoid nonsense that I ignored and continue to ignore. Truth is I don’t care about what he blogs—he’s a long-time cocaine, and crystal meth addict and that’s largely what his post are about—his life as a drug addict. Doesn’t interest me.

What does and did interest me is helping another homeless person to be able to speak for themselves on the Net, no matter how incoherent that speech may be. 

Cocaine is only a brilliant drug if you’re a drug dealer. Otherwise it’s guaranteed to induce drug psychosis and make a regular user a paranoid schizophrenic. Crystal meth, which is made in bathtubs to less than exacting standards, is even worse.

“Paranoid schizophrenic” is this fellow in a nutshell. He thinks cocaine makes him special and unique, when in fact it’s slowly stripping him of his special individuality—and his health and his intelligence—turning him into a thoroughly standard, off-the-shelf drug addict.

Sounds sad, but he thinks he’s found the key to enlightenment. I think that’s another key he’s lost.

Comments (7) Add New Comment
One of the better "installments"
This was quite interesting.

Kudos to the firefighters - above *and* beyond the call.
Rating: +6
Dave Ball
Merry Christmas Stanley. Interesting article.
Rating: -7
Looks like a bus stop post! Guess that's what you get for obstructing the bus stop!
Rating: -3
Orville Wright
What brand of lock is this pray tell? It's the one I want to own and use. Is it Kryptonite perhaps?
Rating: -8
Stanley Q Woodvine
@ Me
It's not a bus stop. The VPD specifically vetted my use of the pole and transit has never complained. Lots of other people lock bikes to that pole also. It's the only one where I can watch the trailer -- people to try to take my bottles and stuff.

@ Orville
Just an unlabelled generic. The hardened steel shackles of all U-locks are at least proof against two things: hacksaws and bolt cutters. The latter implement is hot damn against cable locks.

Yes the firefighters were amazing. They just can't help being heroes.

That said, I regretted wasting their time.
Rating: +2
I don't understand
Some idiot locked his bike to your bike and then firefighters had to spend a bunch of time and energy trying to remedy the situation. What am I supposed to take from this story? Firefighters have a lot of spare time?
Rating: -6
Firefighters, like Pilots, have jobs that are 95% mindless and boring, 5% absolutely terrifying. Recusing stranded kitties in trees and helping the local populace in times of need such as this are all in a days work. And I'm sure they enjoyed the challenge of this aside.
Rating: +6
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