Alleged Bike Thief Nabbed
Police believe they've landed a big one in bike fancier James Clayton
In September 2007, when the East Travis Heights home of Matt Gordon was burglarized – along with some electronics, several pairs of Oakley sunglasses, and three expensive mountain bikes – a very rare heart-rate-monitor wristwatch was swiped. A few months later during a bicycle training ride, Gordon spotted the watch on the wrist of his friend, 42-year-old James Clayton, a local bicycle racing scenester and purported trainer. Gordon knew his watch wasn't for sale in the U.S. and that only 10 were made. So when he noticed a unique seat clamp identical to the one from his stolen bike on the cycle Clayton was riding, Gordon knew something was up. After months of research, he and fellow competitive cyclist (and Clayton friend) Val Hargrove, who had nearly $16,000 worth of bikes and equipment stolen from his home, presented Austin Police with a bounty of evidence implicating Clayton, including online listings for parts from Hargrove's stolen bikes that led back to Clayton. Last Tuesday, Austin Police arrested Clayton on bike theft charges, and he was later found to be in possession of an estimated $60,000 worth of high-end road and mountain bikes and parts that police say link him to other burglaries. He's now in the Travis County Jail, charged with three counts of burglary and one of theft and faces three out-of-state felony theft warrants, with more local charges expected.
Clayton has long been a fixture in the spandex-clad world of local bicycle racing. He was featured on KOOP Radio twice discussing his harrowing tale of competing as a pro mountain-bike racer, suffering a massive heart attack which left him in a medically induced coma, recovering and returning to riding, and starting a coaching business in Austin. He apparently used that story (which many have called into question), his enthusiasm for riding, and his proficiency as a bike mechanic to befriend local racers and then burglarize them, according to police documents. He also has a criminal history dating back to 1991 in California and Arizona, where he's still wanted on three bike theft charges. When APD last week searched his garage apartment in the 5400 block of Woodrow Avenue and a rented storage locker on Burnet Road, they literally uncovered a bicycle chop shop, not to mention a backpack containing bolt-cutters in his SUV.
APD Detective Scott Askew said Clayton appeared to be working alone but that an unusually large number of cases are leading back to him. Despite a surge in reports of bike thefts among local cyclists in online forums, Askew says he hasn't seen a marked rise in thefts overall. "It's always been bad," he said. But according to APD data, 1,575 bikes were reported stolen in 2008, 178 more than last year and 427 more than 2006. About 3% of those bikes were recovered, and an average of 17 people a year were charged or arrested in conjunction with bike thefts. Kryptonite, makers of industry-leading bike locks, releases an annual list of the worst U.S. cities for bike theft and last year ranked Austin No. 10. "I highly encourage folks to record their bike's serial number," Askew said. "It gives you the greatest chance of getting your stuff back." APD Detective Clay Cobb said that pawn-shop computers are monitored for serial numbers of bikes reported stolen. He recommends photographing your bike and said engraving your driver's license number in multiple places can help police nab thieves soon after the act, before theft reports are filed. If a suspicious person is spotted with a fancy bicycle and that person cannot produce a license that matches the engraved number, police may detain that person and eventually recover the bike.