Free the Covent Garden One!

My bike and I, in happier times

There’s a hostage situation going on as I write this, right in the centre of London. It hasn’t made the news (yet) so you won’t have heard of it. But it’s only a matter of time – surely – until someone realises the gravity of the situation.

My bike is currently being held prisoner against its will (OK, make that against my will). Someone has locked their bike to mine, and seemingly thrown away the key.

It’s been there since Thursday evening. I cycled to Covent Garden for my regular flamenco class – the first one back after Christmas – and locked my bike in my usual place. This was just before 8.30 in the evening. By the time I returned, at about 10pm, a silver grey Giant bike had been locked both to the stand and to my bike. My trusty steed, imprisoned.

Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to look at your own bike and not be able to ride off on it? To have it in right there in front of you – to be able to touch it but be completely unable to move it? One of the joys of cycling is the freedom of being able to go where I want, when I want, without being restricted by timetables or traffic. To suddenly lose that, to have your bike locked up with someone else’s lock, to be grounded: that hurts, that does.

I have no idea why the other bike owner locked their bike to mine. My first instinct was to assume that they planned to steal my bike. As I’ve said previously, this is a trick I’ve come across before. Bike thief spots a likely looking bike, locks another bike to it – and then returns later on, when no-one else is around, to liberate the bike. So, as I stood there on Thursday evening, I thought I was saying goodbye to my bike: my wonderful, trusty bike. For nearly five years it’s carried me round the streets the London. How dare anyone think they can just steal it?

It turns out they didn’t. Or at least not yet, anyway. It’s still there, as is the other bike. Which leads me to two possible conclusions. Firstly, that if it was a thief then they’re a spectacularly incompetent thief. Secondly, they didn’t mean to lock their bike to mine – which makes them a bit of an idiot, really.

It also means I have no idea when I’m likely to get my bike back. Who leaves their bike overnight in Covent Garden on a Thursday night – and then doesn’t go back to get it the next day? Or the day after that? My best guess is that they’d been to the pub and were too pissed to cycle home. But why they haven’t gone to get their bike back – suggestions, anyone?

In an ideal world, the other bike owner will be freeing my bike, if not as I write this, then certainly in the near future. But if not, what then? My mind – adept at finding the worst-case scenario in any given situation – is already imagining the weeks stretching ahead with my bike still locked up in Covent Garden. How do I get it back? What can I do? I’ve already ruled out contacting the police. As a general rule, they’re not interested even when a bike has actually been stolen. If I could get them involved now there’s nothing they could do. No crime has been committed – my bike is still there.

I could always try taking matters into my own hands, as has been suggested by more than one person. I don’t think I’d make a very competent bike thief, though. I don’t possess bolt cutters, nor do I know where I could get hold of them (and, I have to confess, I don’t really know what they look like either). The lock currently holding my bike in place is pretty heavy duty, so I don’t know if bolt cutters would be strong enough. Chances are, if I tried to find out I’d probably get arrested.

So basically, as far as I can tell, there’s nothing I can do but simply wait for the other person to move their bike. I’ve already been to check on my bike three times since Thursday – the first three visits of what may be many, if it turns out I have to be in this for the long haul. I’m thinking of getting some placards made and starting a protest, demanding the liberation of my bike…anyone want to join me?

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