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Legend of the Unstealable Stolen Bike

An unstealable stolen bike. Apparently not. A social media posse moves fast to track a pair of lowdown varmints that horse-thieved a TT bike. By now you’d think they’d have learned that not all priceless, unique, or spectacular bikes are worth stealing.

For a couple of hot summer days in the shimmering heat of July 2015 Victory Motorcycles lost track of one of the factory race bikes. The company had shipped the bikes across the world to the Isle of Man to participate in the Zero TT, the electric class at the infamous event. Victory brought them back stateside but and now one was gone. An unlikely turn of events to say the least. The unusual bikes were significant to the recent history of Victory Motorcycles and parent company Polaris and were most certainly worth holding on to. One reason, beyond simply the success the bikes had in the TT,  was the electric race bikes may have foreshadowed the direction Victory would have taken in the future— an electric one and a sporty one and when also acknowledging the Project 156 bike Victory built in cooperation with Roland Sands to compete at Pikes Peak, Colorado. For a brief moment it seemed the sport or electric segments might loom large in Victory’s future. Perhaps they should have.

But back to the big problem. The missing racebike was the #3 machine ridden by Lee Johnston, upon which the Irishman reached the podium. Victory celebrated the achievement and so did Brammo Engineering, a smaller the company bought by and collaborating with Victory to build the electric racer.  

The company celebration was why the #3 bike was in Talent, Oregon, the home office for Brammo Engineering where it was proudly displayed in the lobby. On display, that is until it was stolen. There must have been a moment when the first staffer walked into the lobby that fateful  morning, turned on the lights and considered that perhaps something was different: “Oh right, there use to be a very expensive race bike/prototype parked there in the corner.” No doubt, that moment of realization was immediately followed by a sinking feeling and some quick phone calls of an urgent nature: “You know that bike with the big #3 on it..?”

Victory Motorcycles then PR man, Robert Pandya was tasked with finding the missing race bike and immediately sent out a flurry of emails requesting that news of the theft be Tweeted, Facebooked, Tumblr’d and all those other forms of social media. Echoing the rustling days of the Old West and the infamous wanted posters, Victory’s press release hurled this charged: “few things are dirtier than a motorcycle thief.” Victory brass was convinced a widely cast net of social media connected riders would unearth the bike should the thief decide to take the machine out for a quick and silent joy ride. Even without going so far as to use the word “varmint”, the PR team felt assured that a regional posse of riders would be key in getting the bike back to its rightful, and hopefully a little more secure, place of honour.

All’s well that ends well and only a couple of days later the stolen bike was recovered. It had suffered body damage and the rear wheel was removed but overall it could be returned to its former state of post-race glory and perhaps displayed an little more securely. Perhaps a lock of some kind? 

Two people were arrested and while neither admitted to actually stealing the bike from Brammo HQ, they did confess they planned to dismantle the machine and sell the parts. Which was really about all they could do. Anyone who has watched a too many movies knows that stolen vehicles usually end up in one of three places: (1) a s chop shop located in an industrial area of New Jersey; (2) in shipping containers bound for Asia; (3) in the hands of savvy fencers in smoking jackets, the pockets of which contain small pearl-handle pistols. 

None of these options are commonly found in the small mountain towns of western Oregon. Pandya had the right idea about getting social media involved. Had the purloining individuals spray bombed the race bike with a coat of primer and taken it to the local Polaris shop with the hope of a trade on a Razor side-by-side ,someone would have noticed there was a muffler or two missing – let alone a v-twin engine. That there are less than a handful of these prototype bikes in existence meant the odds were slim a similar machine with a 175-hp electric motor the size of a can of paint would show up innocently at a small town dealer within 500 miles – or just about anywhere. With such limited options available the stolen bike it isn’t surprising that the hot machine never left the city limits of Talent.

Other Possibly Unstealable Bikes?

All this has to make one wonder about other motorcycles are probably off limits simply because they are too unique or too unusual like, for example, a prototype electric racebike? While studies on the most stolen types of motorcycle are few and far between, the National Insurance Crime Bureau does state the mostly commonly stolen brand of motorcycle in the US is Honda. So it appears that commonplace is not the solution to not having your bike stolen. 

In Canada, if one was to draw a parallel to automobiles, the most commonly stolen vehicle in Canada (in fact taking seven of the top 10 spots for year and model) were Ford Super Duty pickups. Thieves generally don’t target unique vehicles but instead go after the  commonly seen ones—the Hondas (with the exception perhaps of the $184,000 RC213V-S or perhaps a Rune) and the pickup trucks. What would a motorcycle rustler do with a Dodge Tomahawk? Only nine of the Viper V10-powered, billet aluminum Tomahawks were  built back in 2003 when the non-street-legal concept bike appeared—with dramatic misunderstandings of what a motorcycle is truly all about.

How about one of the Orange County Choppers machines? The most infamous Canadian example being the “Ornge” bike that showcased an attached stretcher system presumably conceived to stylishly remove patrons of Friday the 13th who had succumbed to either heat or beverage. The days are now long gone when every bike that rolled out of the OCC machine works was gold and water cooler talk but a bright orange chopper with an open primary, an Old School wide rear tire and a huge “layflat” sidecar has substantial kitsch value—but only on the legitimate market. 

Ultimately the ‘Ornge’ bike sold for $30,000 at auction, substantially less than the bike cost when it was first commissioned by a publicly funded air ambulance company, and perhaps more than the bits and pieces would have garnered. 

And then there is the Tron replica Light Cycle which only a few running models were built. Picture that thing stowed stowed in a cube van outside Comic-Con in San Diego while a shady huckster, with a flap of his too-big overcoat, casually whispering to every costume clad attendee: “Psst, you wanna buy a Light Cycle?” The odds of surreptitiously unloading the “motorcycle”  would be slim. Even if the fanboy buyer curtailed his riding to the far northern reaches of Manitoba eventually someone would say, “Didn’t I see that thing in a movie?” The same would go for the few BatCycles built over the years.

Ultimately, Victory was lucky in the happy ending even though the $250,000 bike would have been difficult to move in the blackmarket. (Who really needs a spare 175-hp electric motor for their weedwacker?) According to that same National Insurance Crime Bureau study, 39 per cent of motorcycles stolen in the US are never recovered. But the study does offer some insight that Brammo or Victory or, really, any of us might heed as advice going forward future: more motorcycles are stolen in the heat of a July day than in December.

Go figure. Brammo should have put an extra lock on the door that July night to protect an unstealable bike that was stolen.

Canadian Biker Issue #315


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