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.
His memory also has helped some cyclists who've had their bikes stolen.
Just ask Samuel Asuma.
The Coon Rapids 21-year-old got his $1,400 touring bike back thanks to Foote. Asuma bought the bike this past spring and had owned it only a few days when it was stolen while he was at First Avenue.
After realizing he'd forgotten his bike lock, Asuma tried to hide his bike in an out-of-the-way location near the downtown nightclub.
Two days later, while Foote was out walking his dog in his Minneapolis neighborhood, 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," Foote 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."
Foote went online to a local forum for bike losses, mplsbikelove.com, where he came across a detailed description of the Surly Long-Haul he'd just seen. He contacted Asuma, who was ecstatic.
This wasn't the first bike Foote had reunited with its owner. He has found seven or eight stolen bikes, using a combination of intuition and memory for detail.
He has found bikes listed on Craigslist that matched ones reported in bike forums as stolen. He has confronted people trying to unload bikes with their U-locks still on them.
In 2011, he saw a crime alert about a chronic offender wanted for stealing four bikes from a garage. A week later, he spotted a man acting suspiciously. He pulled out his phone, checked the alert, confirmed a match and called police. When the man rode away on a bike, Foote tailed him, guiding police to the thief. Foote earned an official police commendation.
Another time, he read a report about a baby blue Columbia tandem being stolen. It took him a year to find it, but one day he was passing a house that someone was moving out of and spotted the bike. The homeowner told Foote that a friend had stashed it in the basement. Foote reunited the tandem with the grateful couple who owned it.
He even has intercepted a man riding a racing bike stolen from one of Foote's neighbors.
Foote comes by his affinity for finding stolen bikes naturally. The Wisconsin native owns four bikes — a single-speed, a road bike, a mountain bike and a fat-tire model.
"I'm very passionate about biking," he said.
Despite his demonstrated skill, Foote doesn't recommend that people rely on him to get their bikes back. Instead, he urges cyclists to protect their bikes by filing the serial number with police. He also said it's a wise idea to take a photo of your bike. If it's ever stolen, post a photo — along with a detailed description of the bike — on mplsbikelove.com or one of the Twin Cities stolen bikes site on Facebook.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438