Broken, forgotten and weather worn, bikes are abandoned as students graduate, purchase new ones or deem broken ones not worth fixing. If not for Transportation and Parking Services (TAPS) these once-coveted velocipedes would crowd parking areas, their carcasses slowly picked clean by looters. “We are picking up abandoned bikes constantly, it’s a year round process,” said TAPS Bicycle Program Coordinator David Takemoto-Weerts. “We pick up around 1,000 bikes a year.” TAPS surveys campus and removes abandoned bikes as they crop up — but instead of scrapping them, they put them back into the local community through their bi-annual auction. Tucked away from the ever-shifting elements inside the ground level of the ARC parking structure, the vault where the impounded bikes are held is opened the morning of the auction. A small bleacher and stage goes up and prospective buyers register and are allowed to examine the bikes, which range in all forms of disrepair, with some rolling on their own right while others limp up the ramp to the auctioneer. Once the viewing period closes, the bidding wars begin. “We get a whole range of people looking to buy. Some are students looking for a cheap bike [and] I usually get a few people who run bike shops in the Sacramento area that sell used bikes,” Takemoto-Weerts said. “The average price is between $40 and $50 —but it depends entirely on how much people bid.” In this spring’s auction, the first bike presented was a Peugeot sporting what appeared to be very broken brakes. It sold for $220 after an unprecedented escalation of bidding. Later, a lonely frame sold for over $100. These were the exceptional cases, however, as most bikes sold for much less. “They go for as cheap as two dollars, and you might get a bike for two dollars [where] the only thing good on it is a seat. But a good seat will cost you around $20 anywhere else, so that’s a deal.” Seeing the hidden values in a derelict bike is a talent held by experienced bidders, who were in no short supply at last Saturday’s auction. More than once, a concerned murmur swept the crowd as over and over, a bidder relentlessly outbid everyone else on a lot that didn’t seem like much. For most students casually shopping, such as first-year biochemistry major Ina Lagat and first-year environmental science major Dana Yu, the process is more straightforward: the goal is to find nearly whole bikes. “We both already have bikes but are looking [to upgrade to] road bikes,” Lagat said. Potential bidders are allowed to touch, examine and otherwise test bikes during the viewing period and record the ones they deem easy enough to fix. For Lagat and Yu, broken chains and popped tires were not deterrents, although both were content with walking away with nothing. “I saw three bikes that I wanted to bid on, but it’s okay if I don’t get them; I already have a bike,” Yu said. “I’m just so surprised at how many road bikes there are — they are in high demand.” And if a bidding war was to form between the two of them, Lagat yielded. “She can have it if it comes down to that!” Other students come into the auction with more determination. “I’m looking for a bike that’s functional, or nearly so. I check to see if it works, or if it doesn’t, if it has issues that are easily fixed,” said fourth-year biological sciences major Sina Azadi. “I’ll ride a functional girl’s bike. I don’t care if it has flowers on it, I can rock anything. It’s less likely to be stolen if it looks like that.” Azadi was certain that he didn’t want to go above his $50 price point, but realized that the spirit of bidding could get the best of him. “I can get caught up, sometimes my ego gets in the way. I also may end up paying too much, because I’m still waking up,” Azadi said. Along with the community benefit associated with recycling used bikes, TAPS receives monetary incentive to continue auctioning. “The revenue from the bike auctions is a major source of funding for our bicycle program, which is entirely self sufficient,” Takemoto-Weerts said. For those worried that a bolt-cutter happy employee will be targeting their seemingly-abandoned bike next, comfort is found in TAPS’ purposefully slow process of getting a bike up onto the auctioneer’s block. “We make a concerted effort to contact the owners of the bikes that are registered, to see if they had misplaced their bike, or if it was stolen and now we’ve found it, or if they lost the key to their lock and they don’t know about our free lock cutting service,” Takemoto-Weerts said. First, the abandoned bikes are checked for obvious signs of disrepair and age, then they are marked with a notice signifying that the bike has been identified as abandoned. “[In determining if a bike is abandoned] typically, if a bike sits there unused long enough, the tires lose air, rust forms, if it hasn’t rained a lot, dust collects on them. With bike parking locations near trees, leaves will blow into the parking area and get stuck in the wheels. We also look for things like missing parts [due to theft],” Takemoto-Weerts said. After a number of days, the abandoned bike’s lock is cut and it is impounded. This point, however, signifies only the beginnings of the attempts to find the owner and return the bike. “If the bike is registered, I send an email to the owner and a postcard to the address they registered as their home address, in case they had graduated or left the school. We also try to identify any stolen bikes that we pick up. For every bike we impound, we write a description of the bike, its license number and serial number, and we send that information to the police department,” Takemoto-Weerts said. From there, the information is run through the statewide database of stolen bikes. “If a cop in Chula Vista pulls over some lowlife riding without a light, and they run the number and the bike is stolen, it gets recovered. A few days before the auction, I send that list again to the police department for the bikes that are to be sold and they run them a second time — just in case the owner reports their bike stolen after we impound it,” Takemoto-Weerts said. HANNAH KRAMER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Anna de Benedictis.