The cyclist in the skinny jeans stood out from the squad.

Christian Browne was attractive and charismatic, 6-foot-4 with a web of tattoos blanketing his toned muscles. On his fixed-gear Fuji, cobbled together with used parts, he was one of the fastest cyclists in all of Raleigh. During weeknight group rides, he would sail to the front of the pack. He owned several “King of the Mountain” titles on Strava, the GPS-based app that tracks competitive athletes, and he bragged about them, too.

He also seemed a gentle sort. A 28-year-old auto mechanic, he was quick to look under the hoods of other riders’ cars for no charge.

“He was seemingly a really nice dude,” remembers cyclist Garret Thompson. “When I broke my leg, he came to my house and brought me food.”

So nice, actually, that Thompson didn’t think much about the mysterious ankle monitor Browne always wore.

“We talked about the bracelet,” he says. “I asked him what it was for, and he said, ‘Ah, just some bullshit.’”

But these days, Browne’s reputation is as punctured as a flat tire, and that ankle monitor—the result, at the time, of an earlier indictment on burglary and larceny charges—makes perfect sense. In December, Browne pleaded guilty to three reduced counts of possession of stolen property after cops caught him selling high-end bikes lifted from their owners’ garages. The man once hailed for his speed on the open road was locked up.

During his six-month stint at Craven Correctional Institution in eastern North Carolina, many local cyclists accused Browne of selling their bikes in cities as distant as Houston and Atlanta, linking him to a rash of bike burglaries throughout the city and speculating that he had stolen more than $100,000 worth of bikes. He denies that and even renounces his guilty plea, asserting that he accepted a deal only because he expected probation, not prison.

Those who once biked with Browne don’t believe him anymore. When he tried to re-join the cycling community after being released in June, he found that he’d been blacklisted.

“A lot of people say there’s a mark on his head,” says Mac Cady, the owner of Raleigh’s Café de los Muertos. Browne often participated in the coffee shop’s Tuesday night social ride. Now he’s persona non grata. “He’s acting as if he wasn’t guilty of things, when everyone knows he was.”

Still, Browne wants to ride again, to reclaim those King of the Mountain titles. But he knows he will be shunned as soon as he arrives on that fixed-gear Fuji, no matter his protests of innocence.

“I feel like the most hated person in Raleigh,” he says.


On Oct. 22, 2013, Jim Lucas rose from bed at 4 a.m. His wife and children were still asleep, but he was ready to begin the workday.

On the way to his first-floor office in his Raleigh home, the 44-year-old real estate appraiser noticed his garage door was partially open. When he investigated, he found that his camping equipment, golf clubs and weight set were undisturbed. But someone had removed three bikes—a Trek Madone, a Specialized Roubaix and his son’s Fuji Absolute, totaling more than $15,000—from their racks.

The burglar had broken a garage window and disconnected the automatic door opener, allowing him to sneak away in silence. To Lucas, it seemed like the thief knew exactly what he was after. An avid cyclist who rides 3,500 miles each year, Lucas was in love with the Roubaix, a softer ride that fit his lengthy arm span.

“I knew every inch of her,” he says. “I spent more time cleaning that bike than washing my car.”

But the prosecutor wasn’t optimistic about Lucas getting his bike back.

“He told me there are three and a half million bikes stolen each year in the United States,” recalls Lucas. “I told him, ‘These aren’t Huffys lying around in front of a house. This was not a theft of opportunity. I was targeted.’”

That feeling was spreading among area cyclists. In recent weeks there had been a series of break-ins around town in which expensive dream bikes were lifted under the cloak of night. Days before Lucas’ bikes were stolen, in fact, two midnight burglaries occurred under notably similar circumstances.

In one case, the burglar broke into a garage and took a BH RX Team Cyclocross, a Cannondale and a Turner Flux, collectively valued at $21,000. In the other, the thief left a garage with a Seven Cycle, an Intense Cycle and two titanium wheels still in the bag, worth $17,000.

“Specific items were targeted,” remembers that victim, Brian Westbrook. “Whoever committed this crime knew enough to target wheel sets. He knew enough about cycling to know how to disassemble a bike from a trainer.”

The burglaries suggested that a serial cycle thief was on the loose. On Stolen Bikes Raleigh, a Facebook page created by a local cycling shop, victims began posting details about their stolen rides, reporting abandoned bikes and offering information on dubious sellers. Tips poured in.

Raleigh’s biking community had a crisis—and, it seemed, a serious criminal—on its hands.


Christian Browne bends his tall frame over an iced coffee in a Hillsborough Street cafe. Browne has thick hair and a trim goatee. He sports skinny jeans, a brightly checked shirt and no apparent ankle monitor. His 21-year-old girlfriend, who asked not to be named, sits next to him, stroking his arm.

Born in Queens, Browne moved to Garner as a child and attended Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School, where he was a track-and-field star. He received a scholarship to Campbell University, he says, and studied physical education until he realized that books weren’t for him. Before going to prison, Browne was the head mechanic and inspector at a Crown Express auto shop in Raleigh. In his spare time, he offered personal training services.

But his passion was biking. Every day last year, after clocking out of the shop, he wheeled his way to one of the city’s group rides. The 10-mile treks, sponsored by various bars and cafes, are open to experienced and casual riders alike. In the summertime, the rides attract about 40 people each, but the number dips down during the colder months, when only the die-hards show up. Browne was a die-hard.

“Monday through Friday, rain, freezing cold, whatever the weather, I was there,” he says.

The other riders ribbed him for his bike.

“It was a janky fixed-gear with the wrong parts,” recalls Thompson, “made out of a road bike that should never be turned into a fixed-gear.”

They teased him about his skinny jeans, too, which seemed to restrict his movement. Perhaps, they speculate now, he wore them to cover up his ankle monitor.

Outside of cycling, Browne had a second love: buying and reselling cars, bikes and auto parts. He’s a member of online car-swapping groups, and a recent Facebook photo shows him posing in front of a hot rod. Browne acknowledges that his transactions have not always been local, offering that the economy in D.C. is better, but declining to say precisely where, and for how long, he’s flipped cars and bikes.

“Flipping,” Browne concedes, “has been my bread and butter.”

Emiliano Brock de Corona, who works at All-Star Bike Shop in Raleigh, remembers as much: “Christian was always trying to sell bike parts for cheap. He would have known everyone in the area with nice bikes.”

Because Browne was an established member of the cycling community, he was often one of the first to learn about stolen bikes. Sometimes he’d write sympathy posts on the Stolen Bikes Raleigh Facebook group in support of victims.

“He would comment all the time and say things like, ‘That sucks,’ or, ‘I’ll keep an eye out,’” says Thompson.

Even now, Browne seems in the know about stolen rides.

“There’s a huge problem in Raleigh with bike thefts,” he acknowledges.

Last November, Raleigh police officer J.D. Boyd logged onto his Facebook account and accessed Stolen Bikes Raleigh. Boyd had become the city’s de facto chief bike detective, interacting frequently with members of the cycling community.

Because most officers don’t know the difference between a Walmart bike and a $5,000 Trek Superfly, the finer details of a bike—the year, make, model, serial number, group set and frame size—don’t often end up in police reports. A victim of bike theft himself, Boyd encouraged citizens to post tips and leads.

“I’m working this recent rash of bike thefts pretty hard right now,” Boyd wrote. “I’ve got several leads that I’m following and some other behind the scenes stuff … . I want to catch these guys as bad as anyone.”

By late 2014, Browne was already on law enforcement’s radar. He’d been indicted for three counts of first-degree larceny and burglary and spent two months in the Wake County Jail. After posting bond, he had to wear an ankle monitor while awaiting trial. When he re-joined the group rides after his release, none of the riders knew about his pending charges.

This would have been the police’s second chance to convict Browne.

In the spring of 2011, an area man named Steve Baker awoke to discover several high-end bikes missing from his garage. He filed a police report, but detectives never came to his house.

Baker did his own detective work. He began searching Craigslist postings across the Southeast, eventually discovering one of his bikes in Charlotte. Another popped up in Northern Virginia. Pieces from yet another bike appeared on eBay. Baker contacted the eBay seller and traced the source with the help of a private detective.

The source was Christian Browne.

Two months after Baker was burglarized, a thief broke into a home in a West Raleigh cul de sac through a garage window and left with three bikes, including a hand-painted Italian Colnago CT1.

“It was absolutely gorgeous,” says the victim, who asked that he only be identified by his first name, Greg. The CT1 belonged to his wife.

Not long after the burglary, Greg got an email from Baker, who’d discovered the CT1 through a Craigslist posting near Houston. Greg called the Raleigh police, whose detectives at last teamed with their Houston counterparts. Two undercover detectives with the Fort Bend Sheriff’s Office contacted the Craigslist seller.

At the time, Browne was living in Katy, Texas, with a former girlfriend who had enrolled at the University of Texas. Browne met the detectives in a shopping center parking lot. He brought the CT1. They arrested him and sent photographs to Greg, who verified that it was his wife’s bike.

Browne’s girlfriend provided the information for another sale. Detectives determined the bike belonged to a Cary software developer named Jim Schneider. Someone had stolen four bikes from his garage. He’d filed a police report, but investigators didn’t make much of an effort to solve the crime, Schneider says.

The cases were put on the docket together. Browne pleaded not guilty to both charges, saying he bought the bikes at pawnshops and flea markets. Greg was not available to attend the trial, so his wife flew to Texas. Because he was listed as the official victim of the crime, and though the bike belonged to his wife, the judge threw the case out. Schneider’s case ended with a hung jury.

“I was disgusted,” says Loretta Owen, the Fort Bend prosecutor. “I knew [Browne] was dirty. He had a pretty organized deal going.”

Schneider was frustrated, too.

“He’s buying all this stuff at a flea market—really?” he says. “We couldn’t really get into the twisted aspect of it. It made me really bitter at the legal system.”

Two years later, though, the Raleigh cops discovered that, a few hours after Jim Lucas reported his bikes missing, a man posted one of them on Craigslist. Again, it was Browne. Questioned by police, Browne again insisted he’d bought it at a flea market. But there hadn’t been enough time, the police reasoned. A detective presented Lucas with a photo of a bike posted to Craigslist’s Washington, D.C., page.

“Is this your bike?” he asked.

Lucas didn’t recognize the seat or stem, but something else caught his eye.

“That’s the scratch from when I fell off on Avent Ferry Road!” said Lucas, pointing to a mark near the top tube. He pointed to another mark. “And that’s the scratch from when I dropped it off my car rack.”

It was his beloved Roubaix. Brian Westbrook’s bikes turned up in Northern Virginia and Houston Craigslist postings, too. Raleigh police traced Browne’s phone number to an unregistered account and noted his online aliases. Two buyers identified him in a lineup.

“Some parts to the bikes had been interchanged with other parts, likely as a way to disguise them,” says Wake County assistant district attorney Travis Wiggs. “He did do a fairly good job of trying to cover his tracks.”


In December, Browne pleaded guilty to three reduced charges of felony possession of stolen property. He was sentenced to eight to 19 months in prison.

The police had linked Browne to three stolen bikes, but through online sleuthing, Baker says he can connect him to at least 30. He accuses him of using aliases to sell the bikes in Orlando, Houston, Charlotte, Virginia and Washington, D.C. A series of Craigslist postings and email threads between Baker and a person he believes was Browne, all under aliases, suggest the stolen bikes totaled more than $100,000.

While Browne was in prison, Raleigh bikers worked to strip him of his King of the Mountain titles on Strava. They plotted out a strategy, says Thompson, and took them one by one. It was personal: They couldn’t believe they’d been hoodwinked by one of their own. They began to suspect that Browne targeted specific bikes by riding with certain groups and then tailing members home.

“He’s lost all respect,” says Thompson.

“People felt really betrayed,” adds Brock de Corona.

Browne was released from prison in June after working some of his sentence off by washing dishes. He continued to deny the charges, and he is unwavering in his contention that he never broke into anyone’s home.

“This can happen to anyone,” says Browne. “If you’ve ever bought a bike without a bill of sale, this could happen to you.”

Wiggs, the Wake prosecutor, concedes, “It’s hard to definitively say he was the person who broke into the garages.”

Nevertheless, despite his claims of innocence, Browne’s efforts to break back into the biking scene have failed. When he showed up at a Café de los Muertos social ride, the manager told him he wasn’t welcome. Later, he attended a group ride at Tasty Beverage Company. One of the riders, Larz Robison, got in his face.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” said Robison. “You don’t belong here.”

“I didn’t do anything!” protested Browne.

The next week, Tasty’s owner was on hand in case Browne came again. He didn’t.

“It’s messed up to say you’re part of a community, steal from it and expect to be welcomed back into it,” says Robison. “Stealing bikes is one of the worst things you can do.”

Some cyclists even suggest he’s stolen bikes since his return, which he denies. He says a local cyclist recently sent him a Facebook message, saying, “We better not see you. Watch your back.”

“People are now treating him as if he stole every stolen bike in Raleigh,” says Bridgette Peed, Browne’s roommate until he went to prison. “They’re making judgments about things they don’t know about. Leave the guy alone.”

These days, Browne’s Strava activity shows he’s replaced his daily cycling routine with running. He spends his days at the gym and working on cars in his driveway. He is, at least, now back in the buying-and-selling game. He recently posted a car for sale on Craigslist.

“Everyone who has their opinion of me is gonna have that opinion,” Browne says. “I can’t make people feel differently. I’m sorry to anyone who got hurt by anything I did. I didn’t mean to play a part in anything that ended up in someone having their bike taken from them.

“I never did anything but give in any way to that group, but they were quick to turn their back on me. No one would ever listen to what I had to say about it.”

Last month, perhaps as one last attempt at cycling grace, Browne posted a message on NC Fixed Gear Mafia, a Facebook group for local bikers.

“prob riding today if anyone wants to join lol,” he wrote.

No one replied.

This article appeared in print with the headline “Steal is real”