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riding Bmore since 1988
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Last fall, Mark Roberg of Southfield, Michigan bought a used Schwinn Moab on e-Bay. The seller represented himself as a college student at Montana State University. College students are notorious for selling things such as bikes, their roommate's CD collections or even their own plasma to raise funds for essentials like rent and beer, so Roberg simply thought the price was a steal. His intuition turned out to be correct. "I'm a bit of a fanatic when it comes to bikes," said Roberg. "So when I got the bike, I put it on the stand and started cleaning it. I was using mineral spirits to get some markings off the bottom bracket shell." That's when Roberg noticed that the bottom bracket shell had been painted over. "Whoever painted it did a pretty good job matching the color, but it makes you wonder." That's when he discovered that the serial numbers had been etched off with a grinder.

To Roberg it seemed clear that he had a stolen bike on his hands. But what to do about it wasn't so clear. "You can't sell it," said the thirty-year old Roberg. "That's bad karma. So you're kind of stuck. If this was a local thing," he said, "maybe I could have dropped it off at the police, but they'd just sell it at their spring auction." Mark wanted to see if he could find the original owner, which wasn't so easy considering he's in Michigan and the bike was shipped from Montana. So Roberg, a.k.a. "TrailBurner," posted for advice on mtbreview's "Passion," along with the message board for the Michigan Mountain Bike Association (MMBA). He wanted to know if there was anything he could do to get the bike back to the original owner. While many respondents were sympathetic, most thought that there was not much he could do. One person, however, suggested that Mark try contacting the police from where the bike was shipped.

So Roberg contacted the campus police department at Montana State University and asked them to look into their records to see if anyone had reported a stolen Schwinn Moab like the one he had just purchased. The officer at the other end of the line seemed a little skeptical, but two hours later, he called back. Sure enough, a Montana State University student, Alex Estes, had reported that her bike was stolen in August of 2002. The description of the bike, right down to scratches and "even the type of bar ends" matched the one that Roberg had, so he sent pictures and details to the University police. They showed the pictures to Estes, who identified the bike as hers. "There was a ninety-nine percent chance that this was her bike," said Roberg. "At that point, I had to ask myself: would I return the bike and lose the money?" He didn't even pause. "Yes."

So Roberg boxed up the bike and sent it back.

"She wanted to give me a reward," said Mark." But she's just a poor college kid. She paid for the shipping."

When asked how she felt when she learned that her stolen bike had been found and would soon be on its way back, Estes responded, "I didn't believe it. I think it's amazing that there really are people that would do something like that out there, and I'm grateful that I got to encounter one."

Roberg, who works at an architectural design firm by day and is a student at a rabbinical school at night, sounds a little humbled by Estes' remark. "I just wanted to do the right thing," he said. "There's a verse in Ecclesiastes that says, 'Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days,' and I really believe that; that if you do something good, you will find good in return."

As it turns out, Roberg's bread did indeed come floating back after many days. When he posted a follow-up message on returning the stolen bike, his friends on the MMBA message board started a parts collection and built up a replacement bike, which they presented to him in a ceremony during their annual meeting. "A Michigan guy named Mike Moss really took over on this, coordinating, getting everything together and building up the bike, and I was just blown away by people's reaction," said Roberg.

"At first, we wanted to take up a collection," said Moss. "But Mark didn't want money. So I figured, everybody's got extra parts lying around, and we started collecting those. He actually ended up with a pretty good ride, a Schwinn Homegrown with a decent mix of XT and LX." It was Moss who built up the bike with the help of some loaner tools from KLM Bike and Fitness in Rochester, Michigan.

"I think we all felt grateful to Mark for giving us the opportunity to be part of something bigger than our daily life," said MMBA President Dan Harrison. "The reason they built a bike for Mark was because it was the right thing to do. Mark set it all in motion by doing the right thing himself. What impressed me was the speed and spontaneity of the process. Everybody has extra bike parts lying around. All it took was the Internet to catalyze the reaction. And the image of getting a shiny new bike is an old, old icon in our society, so it triggered a lot of emotions."

"By the way," adds Harrison, "the leftover parts will go to a project called Backstreet Bikes, where volunteers build bikes for needy kids from donated parts. That's the nature of karma—it never really goes away, it just moves on and touches other lives, like ripples in a pond."
 
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