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Cycling enthusiasts use Facebook, intuition to recover stolen $5,000 bike

An Oldsmar man’s stolen $5,000 bicycle was returned after Tommy Davidson bought it from the thief for $221.
Published Nov. 30, 2014

Mike Braylark didn't even know his bicycle was missing.

While the triathlete ate Thanksgiving dinner with his family, though, chatter about his $5,000 customized Cannondale hummed on Facebook.

Fellow triathlete Tommy Davidson started it.

Heading to his own holiday dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak House on West Shore Boulevard in Tampa, Davidson saw a man in ordinary street clothes astride the pricey carbon-fiber bike and just knew.

"Strange feeling it was stolen," Davidson shared with the St. Pete Cycling Facebook group page, along with a photo.

Responses flowed in by the dozen. Everyone agreed.

Davidson started feeling guilty that he hadn't tried to get the bicycle back. He soon had his chance to make amends.

"He showed up at Ruth's Chris," Davidson said of the man, who has yet to be identified. "He came in to get a glass of water."

Sensing his opportunity, Davidson approached the man and, during conversation, told him the expensive wheels wouldn't survive a ride to Sulphur Springs, where the man was heading. He offered him a ride home after dinner.

An hour later, the man seemed to have taken off. After taking a second look, though, Davidson spotted him at the Starbucks across the street.

So Davidson loaded the bike, with the man, into his truck and headed off.

While driving, he got a call from Mike Weimar, manager of the Flying Fish Bikes shop in Westchase. Weimar, enjoying his own Thanksgiving, just happened to be perusing Facebook, saw the post, recognized the Cannondale and knew the owner.

"A year ago, he had that bike rebuilt from scratch . . . including repainting it," Weimar said. "That was what tipped me off."

Davidson and Weimar agreed to meet at the Tampa Greyhound Track on N Nebraska Avenue, to give the store manager a closer look.

Weimar positively identified the bicycle and called Braylark. Davidson offered the man $221 for the bike, for a friend.

Listening to Weimar's message, Braylark was stunned.

"As far as I knew, my bike was in my garage," said Braylark, who competed in his first Iron Man weeks earlier. "Thoughts started to spin in my head. Did I leave my garage open? . . . I had to go home and check."

He headed back to his Oldsmar apartment, where he confirmed that his bike was in fact missing. He figured someone took it while he washed his car earlier.

So Braylark called the police and waited.

Not long after, his phone rang again. Davidson had brokered a deal for the bicycle and, after dropping off the man who had been riding it, was returning it.

"I'm still trying to wrap my mind around it," said Braylark, who has repaid Davidson. "The events were so unreal. You couldn't have made that up."

He was thrilled to have his bicycle back but disappointed that no arrests had been made.

Davidson also expressed surprise at the "crazy" turn of events. He credited the close-knit cycling community.

"It literally transpired in four hours, from seeing someone on the side of the road to having the bicycle back in the owner's house," he said. "Apparently, that's the power of Facebook."

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com.

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