Lost and Found: A Bike Friday Story

Rod Oram's lost Pocket Rocket for sale in Alabama.

Rod Oram’s lost Pocket Rocket for sale in Alabama.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bike Friday owner Rod Oram wrote this summary of the interesting story of his lost and found Pocket Rocket.

By Rod Oram

My wonderful Bike Friday, source of some great cycling adventures around the world over the past seven years, was lost/stolen from the United baggage system at Los Angeles airport last December when Lynn and I were en route from Auckland to Little Rock, Arkansas.

United was utterly hopeless and highly infuriating through my two weeks of persistent calls to them. They never found the bike; and applying for compensation was incredibly tedious. They demanded, for example, the original receipts for the bike. Handily, I got a copy from Bike Friday, the Oregon company that custom-­built the bike for me in 2008.

My claim was for $4,500 for the bike plus $1,000 for all my cold weather riding gear, lights and tools in the suitcase with it. Eventually in late March United paid $2,200 and my travel insurer paid the rest.

One Tuesday morning I was at my desk and the phone rang.

“Hi, Rod! This is Peter from Bike Friday. Do you still have your Pocket Rocket?”

“Very sadly, no,” I said.

“Well, Rod, it’s in Scottsboro, Alabama now,” Peter said.

“…and it’s on sale at the Unclaimed Baggage Centre for $499. A guy named Mark was visiting from his home in Washington, D.C. and he and his family went shopping at the center. He saw this real nice Pocket Rocket and he said to himself, ‘What’s a nice bike like that doing in a place like this?”

“Mark bought a Pocket Llama from Bike Friday in 2002 so he’s real keen on our bikes. So he noted the serial number and sent it and a photo to us…so that’s how we know it’s your bike and where it is.”

I was still slightly stunned when a few minutes later, Peter forwarded to me Mark’s email with the photo of my bike. It looked in pretty good condition except the long handle bar stem, which separates from the fork when the bike is partially disassembled and folded into its travel suitcase, was missing. Also, the plate on the downtube reading “This Bike Friday was custom­-built for Rod Oram” had been pried off.

I called the Baggage Center in Alabama and a woman sounded fairly helpful but not utterly convinced by my story. So I sent her Mark’s email and photo.

I didn’t hear back from her for a day. So I emailed her again, this time with the entire paperwork on my United claim, including the receipt for the bike. She replied saying she was working on it.

Jeez, I thought, how hard it is to pull the bike from the display and at least tell me that much. Or were they worried they would lose revenue if they had to give it back to me?

After a while, I was worried the bike might be sold if it was still on the floor. I needed external help.

I looked up the local paper of this distinguished little town, population 15,000…it was The Daily Sentinel A reporter named Wes answered my call. I explained I was a journalist from New Zealand and I had a bit of a story for him about a lost-­and-­found-bike from halfway around the world.

I said, please could you go and buy it for me I’ll send you my credit card details, or send you the money on PayPal, with a photo of the bike…then we can discuss afterward how to get it home.

He didn’t sound particularly interested but I persevered. I sent him the string of emails from Peter and Mark plus the photo. I added a few gushy word about how much the bike meant to me. I’ve ridden in here in New Zealand in Australia, the UK, Italy and China…in the US I’ve ridden it to the top of the highest paved road in North America, Mount Evans in Colorado (which, by the way, is 600m meters higher than Mount Cook), and I rode it around the circumference of Singapore in a day, etc., etc.

Rod Oram and his Rocket atop Mount Evans in Colorado.

Rod Oram and his Rocket atop Mount Evans in Colorado.


Two hours later, I got an email from Caleb L. Manning, vice president of Scott Group International, which turns out to own the Baggage Center. It’s a nicely integrated business. It writes software for airport baggage handling systems. The worse its software is, the more stuff they have to sell at the Center!

He was all gushy Southern charm, saying he couldn’t do enough for me to get the bike back to me … to which he added:

“Lastly, we fielded a call from Wes Mayberry at The Daily Sentinel here in Scottsboro, where our store is located. I hope that you would agree to reach back out to Mr. Mayberry and confirm with him that the wheels are spinning for a happy ending to this story, and that you did not even have to buy it back. We would appreciate that greatly!”

He said it was going to be awfully complicated to get the bike back to me in New Zealand. He’d work on it with United. Jeez, I thought, how hard is it t put a bike on a plane?

In reply, I suggested they ship the bike tBike Friday in Oregon for a replacement stem plus a new Samsonite suitcase for it to travel in. Then Bike Friday can ship it to a friend of mine in Chicago because I’ll be there for work in late September.

A senior person at United was now in on the email traffic, apologising profusely and expressing effusively how thrilled she and all her colleagues were that they are about to reunite me with my bike.

United agreed to pay for the shipping to Oregon and then to Chicago, and did not ask for a refund.

I haven’t had so much fun in a long time!

It’s almost as much fun as riding my Bike Friday in a wonderful part of the world!

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