by Kasha Javadi
Does this situation sound familiar to you?
You are walking around at Vrijthof and suddenly a skinny man on a bike appears. Wearing an old, dirty hoodie and smelling not so alluring he immediately asks you: “You want this bike? Come on, I give you good price. 30 € !”
You refuse, but he does not care. He just leaves and asks the next person.
Even if he didn’t ask you yet, you probably have seen him before.
Everyone knows this local celebrity. The John Dillinger of Maastricht.
Since we don’t know his real name, let’s call him Mr. X.
What does he do? He steals and sells bikes.
His workplace? Vrijthof, the market and sometimes even the central station.
His working hours? 24/7.
He is good at his profession. One of the best. And he makes a living from it.
In order to interview Mr.X, I first had to find him. I decided to use a very classical method, a bait. I waited until it got dark and then placed my bike unlocked at one of the bicycle racks close to McDonald’s at Vrijthof. After a little while he finally showed up. Inconspicuously, he walked around the rack, detected my bike and grabbed it. I ran to him as fast as I could. When I told him that I wasn’t angry and explained him that I would like to interview him, he first looked really confused but then couldn’t stop laughing.
“Me, me ? You want to interview me?”
“Yes, it would be my pleasure. I have so many questions
about your job and how you justify it.”
“Ok, but what will you give me for the interview?
“Well, what do you want?”
“I want to keep your bike.” (He smiles.)
And after a short talk, he agreed on giving me the interview for a little sum.
He seems to be a proper businessman.
“We are very interested in finding out about your life as a bike thief.
How profitable is it? How dangerous is it?
And how do your morals allow you to steal bikes from all those poor people,
who worked hard to afford them?”
“It is a very profitable business. I find three bikes a day, when I am lucky even four or five. And I can sell them each for around 30 Euros. I don’t invest anything. There are no special skills required to steal a bike. And the demand is there. Everyone in Maastricht needs a bike. So I will always have potential customers. Of course there is a certain risk of getting caught, but until now I always managed to steal bikes without getting arrested by the police. And I never go on holiday. This is a 24 hour business.”
“How does the usual path from stealing a bike to finding a customer and selling it look like?”
“I usually show up at the Vrijthof or market around midday. This is the best time. People are busy or at work. And their bikes are on their own. There is always this one stupid person who forgets to lock the bike or was just too chintzy to buy a good, constant lock. And I will find this bike. As soon as I spot one, I’ll try to take it and vanish from the scenery as fast as I can. It usually just takes me a few seconds. Depending on where I found the bike, I go to another location to sell it, because there is always the threat that the actual owner sees me and calls the police. When I steal from the Vrijthof, I sell it at the main station. When I steal it from the main station, I would probably sell it at the market. And so on. On average it just takes me two hours to steal and sell the bike. I never store bikes. I steal one and ride it until I find someone who buys it from me. Sometimes I even have to ask more than 200 people until I finally find a customer.”
“Did it already happen to you, that you asked a person if he or she wants to buy a bike and it turns out that the person is the owner?”
“Yes of course, I had that a few times recently. But then I always apologize and give it back to them. I am not such a bad person as you think I am!”
“But how do you justify stealing then?”
“You know, there is a certain unwritten law. A kind of codex, which I use for my work. Every time one of you forgets to lock your bikes, it’s your own fault, because you have to take care of your belongings just as I take care of my belongings. When you don’t lock your bike, it’s like the universe is telling me: This is your chance, take it. The people from whom I steal bikes probably did bad things in their past, and here comes their punishment. Everyone will get a penalty from the universe, just as I will one day for stealing all the bikes. You people say that I don’t have a sense of morality. But actually, my philosophy is more logical than your way of thinking. The society says that I am a bad person. However, the fact that you guys actually buy the bikes from me shows that your so-called ethics are just illusive. You call me bad for stealing a bike, but then you don’t have a problem with buying a stolen bike to save money.
And yes, now and then there comes the time when I run into the owner of the bike. But then I always give it back. Not because I’m scared. It’s part of my codex. It’s like the universe is telling me that this person deserves another chance.”
“Interesting theory, but for how long will you continue like this?”
“My whole life. Until the universe shows me another path.”
I thanked him for giving me this interview and we separated. One hour later I saw him at the Vrijthof riding a pink bike.
My final piece of advice for you: Lock up your bikes! This guy is a professional.