Mike Pavlik is the undercover detective you want on the case if somebody swipes your bicycle.
He's part of a Facebook group called Twin Cities Stolen Bikes composed of a small army of volunteers whose mission is to find stolen bikes and get them back to their owners. Over the past five years, Pavlik has personally recovered more than 100 bikes.
"The smiles never get old," he said Wednesday.
In a December recovery operation in downtown Minneapolis, Pavlik and a few friends from the group nabbed more than just a set of wheels. The "seller" turned out to be a felon wanted on a probation violation. For their efforts, Pavlik and his buddies were honored by the Minneapolis Police Department with a Chief's Award on Wednesday afternoon during a ceremony at the First Precinct station downtown.
"Many rely on a bicycle for commuting and for work," said Minneapolis police officer Garrett Parten. "The efforts of these individuals is greatly appreciated by MPD and the bicycling community of Minneapolis."
Pavlik's bike chasing adventures began just after he returned to cycling after a crash in 2015 and joined the Facebook group as a "reminder to lock my own bike up." The next year, he recovered a friend's bike. Then in 2017, he learned somebody absconded with a bike that belonged to a woman who worked at the May Day Cafe on Bloomington Avenue. Pavlik was determined to find it for her, and he did.
"When I rode up to her, she was crying," Pavlik said. "The reaction is almost the same every time. It was amazing. She bought me lunch."
He went on to recover 32 bikes that year and the passion never waned. A bike he recovered Tuesday marked his 130th, he said.
"That's 130 [people] who don't like me that much," he joked of the thwarted thieves.
And 130 people who love him.
Pavlik, a former National Guard member, didn't divulge his sleuthing secrets. Pavlik is self-taught, he said, but admitted he picked up a valuable skill when he worked as a bartender at the old Nankin Cafe on Hennepin Avenue.
"Working in bars, I'm a good [talker]," he said. "I put people at ease, inspect the bike and verify the serial number until they offer a test ride."
Once on the wheels, "I just don't come back," he said.
Bike thefts in Minneapolis hit a five-year high in 2019. So far this year there have been 386 reports of stolen bikes, according to city data.
Sometimes situations, like the operation in December, get a bit hairy. Pavlik made an offer on a bike that was listed for sale by a man known to traffic in stolen bikes. The bike, valued at $2,399, had been stolen in a burglary in south Minneapolis, according to police.
Pavlik arranged a meeting and brought two friends from the Facebook group with him. Pavilk was familiar with the man and knew he had a felony warrant for a firearm theft. During the handoff, "I said his full name and date of birth, and he freaked," Pavlik said. "We called 911 and said we are holding this guy, come and get him."
Officers arrived, found the serial number on the bicycle matched with the serial number listed in the burglary report. The bike was returned to its owner and the suspect was arrested and booked into jail, Parten said.
If your wheels go missing there is one thing to increase the odds of getting it back, Pavlik said: Record the serial number.
Bike recovery, he said, is a "weird hobby and it's not recommended for everybody. We are out there to make people happy."
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768