A man posing as a shopper stole a high-end road bike from a Costa Mesa store during a test ride, authorities said.
“I’ve been in the industry a long time and I’ve dealt with people trying to steal bikes,” said Anthony Karambellas, general manager of the Cyclist, who was attending to the man Tuesday.
The man, dressed in a “brand-new pair of Nikes, nice athletic wear and nice sunglasses,” walked into the shop at 1785 Newport Blvd. and said, “I’m just shopping around for a new road bike; I’ve never been in your store,” Karambellas said.
Karambellas talked to him about bike racing and showed him the models the store carries.
When they got to the shop’s one BH Ultralight Evo Disc, the man was knowledgeable about the little-known Spanish brand, valued at about $5,000.
“He didn’t have any questions about specifications,” Karambellas said. “He knew the drive train, knew the brand, knew the technology. He was a high-end bike rider.”
Or so Karambellas thought. He now questions the entire interaction, he said.
The man asked if he could take the bike for a spin, Karambellas said.
As is store policy, Karambellas asked the man to leave his driver’s license as collateral.
“The ID said he was relatively older than he appeared to be,” said Karambellas, who figured the man was in his early 40s.
The man on the ID is 55.
“I took a double take,” Karambellas said. “I thought, ‘You don’t really look that old.’ ”
But he decided the man resembled the person in the photo enough, so he accompanied him to the parking lot, where the man rode back and forth in front of the store, stopping to make comments and even asking if he could return later with his own pedals and test them on the bike, Karambellas said.
Then the man rode to the end of the parking lot and suddenly turned and sped down West 18th Street, said Karambellas, who knew then it wasn’t a test ride.
Karambellas ran into the store, grabbed an electric bicycle the shop rents out and rode after the man, but quickly realized he wasn’t going to track him down.
The theft was a big hit to the family-owned store at a time when outdoor-oriented shops are feeling strained after a “weird winter” marked by wet, cold weather, Karambellas said.
The man’s behavior was “well-rehearsed, definitely a professional, which is what scares me the most,” Karambellas said. “He was calculated. He knew everything.”
The Cyclist outfits and maintains bikes for several law enforcement agencies, including the Costa Mesa Police Department, which responded to a report of the incident shortly before 2 p.m.
Police confirmed the driver’s license was real but didn’t belong to the thief, police said Thursday. The investigation is continuing.
Karambellas said the Cyclist will have to rethink how it approaches test rides, potentially using GPS tracking devices on its more valuable inventory, collecting a security deposit or restricting test rides on certain products to its smaller gated parking lot.