It seems like an impossible story until you actually see the bike. Featuring a paint job that's a deep red with bits of rust and chrome, it was built in the '60s and looks exactly like something out of that bygone era with its long bike seat and a wide, U-shaped handlebar that makes it perfect for cruising. The original seat has since been replaced with a flower-pattern — modern but respectful of the bike's hippie heritage. There is no mistaking this bike. And that's something the bike's two owners can both agree on.
The following is a heartbreaking story of love found, love lost, and love reunited. This is the story of two girls and their bike.
In 2008, Kelsey Zimmerman was preparing to leave for her freshman year at the College of Charleston. "I was smart," she says. "I knew I needed a bike around here."
Fortunately, there was one gathering dust in her grandmother's garage. Once in Charleston, she registered the bike with the college. But since it was too old to have a serial number on it, the campus police welded Kelsey's birthday to the frame.
By the fall of 2009, she'd moved into a house on St. Philip Street with some friends. All three locked their bikes to the rungs on the front porch. But just as the semester was about to begin, they awoke one morning to find someone had removed the rungs and stolen all three bikes.
Her friends saw no need to file a police report. Their bikes were the kind students buy at the beginning of the school year to last them through two semesters. But for Kelsey, her bike was different. It had sentimental value. She quickly contacted the police with a hope that it might turn up since it was registered and, well, so unique. "I never got a call, so I forgot about it," she says.
In need of a new ride, Kelsey bought a cheap bike that has since all but fallen apart. "It's missing a pedal. It's a mess," she says.
But last month she stumbled upon her grandmother's bicycle fastened to a bike rack on St. Philip Street. Realizing the very slim possibility that it might not be hers, Kelsey knew the bike had a tattoo of sorts — her birth date welded onto the frame. She found it. Without a doubt, it was her bike.
She called campus security and was reasonably sure there wouldn't be a problem getting it back, since it still had its College of Charleston registration sticker.
Hannah Reynolds was stepping out of class when she got the call from campus security. She began apologizing right away for leaving the bike overnight. Although she is an avid cyclist, Hannah rarely rode the bike on campus since she lives in one of CofC's historic homes. As it happened, she'd gone out with friends and left the bike locked on the rack at the CVS. So, she just assumed she was getting the call to come get her bike, only to learn that her bike wasn't hers. "I didn't even know how to respond," she says.
Two weeks after Kelsey's bike was stolen in 2009, Hannah was in the market for a ride. "I have a nice bike at home, and I didn't want to bring it because I was worried it would get stolen," she says. She opened the door to a local pawn shop. Three bikes were in front of her. Kelsey's bike was in the middle. "It was just sitting there, and it was perfect," she says. She sat on it, and the two just fit. She paid $64 and rode it home.
Recognizing she had an antique in need of a little TLC, Hannah took it to a local bike shop. They rubbed off some of the rust and adjusted the handlebars. She added a basket to the front. The shop owner even asked if he could buy it from her when she was done with it. Over the nearly year and a half that she had the bike, Hannah spent about $150 on repairs. "I've never had a car," Hannah says. "That bike has taken me to and from every place I needed to go."
Flash forward to the first meeting of the bike's two owners.
Worried that a fight might break out, the campus security officer stayed with Kelsey while she waited for Hannah to arrive. But the two were more mystified than angry. Hannah had no doubt Kelsey was telling the truth. "If that was your bike, you'd know," she says.
The police gave the bike to Hannah for the time being while they reviewed receipts, police reports, and the dueling college registrations. They called Hannah the next day and asked her to meet them at the pawn shop. She was given the $64 she paid for the bike. Back home, the police arrived to take the bike, and although it wasn't hers, Hannah still cringed when the officer clumsily tossed it into the bed of his truck.
Later that afternoon, Kelsey picked it up at a downtown police substation. For the time being, it shares a bike lock with the torn up ride that replaced it.
After giving the bike up, Hannah hitched a ride from the officer over to her grandparents' house. Just as Kelsey had done before her, Hannah started rummaging through her grandparents' storage space and found her mom's old bike, a 30-year-old men's cross trainer. She doesn't have the money for a new bike. For now, this one will do.