A few days ago a young man went into a Novato bike shop and told the proprietors he was in the market for a new bike. He said a woman had run over his bike with her car, and she was going to cover the cost of his new bike.
He asked a bunch of questions, acted somewhat jittery, then decided he wanted to test ride the most expensive bike in the shop — one that cost $2,800.
"We got kind of suspicious," said Lorrie Ross, who co-owns the shop in the Nave Center with her husband, Curt.
Lorrie Ross asked for come collateral, as is routine, and the young man turned over his cell phone as he hopped on the saddle.
Right about that time, the security guard who monitors the shopping center happened to walk by, and Lorrie Ross was pleased about the timing. She knew the guard would take mental notes about this man as he went for a spin, just like she was doing.
They both noted that he was Hispanic, in his mid-20s, about 5-foot-9 with a slight build, with a black baseball cap covering his bald head.
The test ride went fine at first. The young man rode back and forth in front of the store, then went a little bit further away, around the south side of toward the back of the .
Ross and the guard, named Jim, started to think the ride was taking a bit longer than normal. Then Jim blurted out, "There he is!" and pointed to the far north end of the shopping center parking lot, near the entrance to the post office — several hundred yards from the bike shop.
The dude was making a full-speed getaway.
Ross alerted her husband, and Curt grabbed another bike in the shop and started pumping the pedals. Jim dashed for his car, yelling to Curt that he was going to head up South Novato Boulevard toward Diablo Avenue.
Halfway across the parking lot, Curt saw the thief heading toward Center Road on the expensive bike. Curt, who is in his 60s and rides every day, mustered up his inner Lance Armstrong and tried to turn his legs into a circular blur just like the Roadrunner from the old cartoons.
It was working. By the time he got near , he was about 100 yards behind the two-wheeled hijacker.
Suddenly a guy on a small motorbike pulled alongside Curt and asked if he wanted help — a question Curt didn't really need to answer. The motorbiker, a loyal Classcycle customer, gunned it on his gerbil-fed putt-putter and pursued the heister up Center Road.
"It was a pretty low-speed chase," said Curt, killing the drama of this story a bit. "I bet (the motorbiker) had to go wide open on the throttle to hit 30 (mph)."
Curt followed the ambitious motorbiker, who closed on the heister as they passed the Center Place apartments. As Curt got within about 30 yards of the thief, the Scootering Samaritan swung in front and blocked bad guy's path.
The young man, no doubt petrified by the motorbike's thunderous growl, dropped the bike right in front of the at Center and Diablo and darted away on foot.
Meanwhile, Jim the security guy pulled up after having driven up South Novato Boulevard and turned on Diablo toward the 7-Eleven. As he pulled up, Curt was starting to ride back to the bike shop while carrying the other bike over one shoulder.
The motorbiker — the Vespa Vigilante — took off.
"We can't remember his name, but he's in the shop all the time," Lorrie Ross said. "We hope he'll stop by because we want to do something for him. You don't have to do stuff like that for people, but he did. You don't know if the (bike stealer) had a gun or a knife on him. We felt really thankful to this guy for risking himself for our sake."
Curt said he and Lorrie were fortunate to get the help just in time.
"Another 10 seconds and the guy was probably gone," he said. "The guy on the motorbike saved my butt."
How about a guy in his 60s nearly catching a guy in his 20s in a dead sprint?
"I was gaining on him, reeling him in," Curt said. "... I do not feel like any kind of hero. There were no heroics involved on my part. The circumstances just worked out."
If the thief had pulled it off, it would've been a big loss for a small shop.
"The more I thought about the $2,800, the more motivated I was and the faster I pedaled," Curt said. "But even if I had caught him on my own, I might have been in too much oxygen debt to do anything about it."
checked the area but did not locate the suspect, who is wanted for grand theft. The Rosses turned over the suspect's cell phone and the investigation is continuing.