(James Foote, left, and Samuel Asuma, right, after Foote notified Asuma that he'd found the bike Asuma reported stolen.)
As a downtown Minneapolis waiter, James Foote prides himself on his memory. He knows which of his regulars like their coffee unleaded, and who prefers cream and sugar.
That memory has also come in handy as well for some Twin Cities cyclists lamenting their stolen steeds.
Just ask Samuel Asuma, who contacted the Star Tribune in praise of Foote. The Coon Rapids 21-year-old has his $1,400 touring bike back thanks to Foote. He’d owned it for only a few days before it was stolen Saturday night while he was in First Avenue.
“I was ecstatic,” Asuma said.
He’d tried to stash the bike in an out-of-the-way location near the nightclub after discovering he’d left his bike lock at a friend’s place. “I was going to check on it periodically,” but he got wrapped up in the show inside.
Big mistake. But two days later, while Foote was out in his Stevens Square neighborhood walking the dog less than a mile away, he spotted a Surly Long-Haul Trucker tucked between two buildings.
“It looked like the kind of area where if someone was going to ditch a bike, they’d ditch a bike,” he said. That wasn’t the only reason for suspicion. “Anybody that owns a bike like that is not going to stash it outside without a lock.”
Asuma posted his loss that day on the stolen bike forum of mplsbikelove.com Less than four hours later, Foote was prowling the same forum and saw by the detailed description of components posted that the bike could only be Asuma’s. He contacted the rightful owner by text and voicemail.
The more astounding thing is that Foote has recovered multiple bikes for owners – he estimates seven or eight -- by using a combination of intuition and memory for detail.
He’s found bikes listed on craigslist that matched ones reported in bike forums as stolen. He’s confronted people trying to unload bikes with their U-locks still on them after they were lifted up over parking sign or broken loose from a wooden railing.
His classic story dates to 2012. A neighbor who used his expensive carbon fiber bike for AIDS/HIV fundraising rides had his bike ripped off while he was in the downtown Target store for five minutes. Foote posted a description. A day or two later, someone reported seeing someone in flip-flops riding a bike of that description that was clearly too big for the rider.
His big break came when someone called several days later to say his co-worker was riding a bike of the same description. Foote and others gathered to intercept him, when he rode up to work with the bike, U-lock still attached. He said he’d paid $80 for it.
“He knew better. He knew that it wasn’t his. Unfortunately, he was out $80 for buying a $3,000 bike,” Foote said. The man yielded the bike.
Foote’s long memory came in handy in another theft. He read a posted report of the theft of a baby blue Columbia tandem from a car bike rack. A year or more later, he was passing a house that someone was moving out of and spotted the bike, distinct enough to be memorable. The man told him a friend had stashed it in the basement. Foote reunited the tandem with the grateful couple that owned it.
Foote’s instincts have even drawn official police commendation. Back in 2011, he’d seen a posted crime alert about a chronic offender wanted for stealing four bikes from a garage. Maybe a week later, he spotted a man acting suspiciously. He pulled out his phone, checked the alert, confirmed a match was likely, and called police. When the man rode away on a bike, Foote tailed him, guiding police to apprehend him.
Foote’s affinity for restoring bikes to their owners comes naturally. “I’m very passionate about biking. It’s my No. 1 hobby. Most of my friends bike,” the Wisconsin native said. He owns four bikes—a single speed, a road bike, a mountain bike and a fat tire model.
His tips for recovering a bike? Start protecting it before you lose it. File the serial number with police. Take a photo of the bike. Then if it’s stolen, post the description on mplsbikelove.com or the Twin Cities stolen bikes site on Facebook. Be as specific as possible about the bike’s components and any customization.
Asuma’s description, for example, listed the specific rack, pedals and lights by manufacturer. That’s why he has his bike back, ready to ride once he’s saved up for that long-distance pedal to Washington state he’s planning.