Oak Park resident Carlos Doolin has seen a lot of bikes over the 17 years he’s been a bike mechanic, most of them at Oak Park Cyclery on Chicago Avenue. But the one bike he never expected to see again was the mountain bike he custom-built for his girlfriend from high-end parts.

The same one later stolen from behind the restaurant where she worked.

“It was basically a Trek 4500 with all sorts of custom parts,” said Doolin. “We used it to tow my son’s trailer to the zoo and other places.”

Last April, his girlfriend locked the bike with a cable lock in a fenced-in area behind a restaurant in North Riverside where she works. When she returned, the cable had been cut and the bike stolen. The thief, who apparently knew a good bike, left two lesser unlocked bikes alone.

“It was the most comfortable bike I’d ridden in a while, because it was custom-built,” said his girlfriend. Doolin arranged to get Ruth another bike, and that was that.

If Doolin hadn’t become sidetracked by health problems that forced him to take the year off, he’d never have been in a position to reclaim the bike. Last spring a nerve disorder left his foot totally numb. He convalesced at home while taking care of his ill mother.

In March, feeling better but with work slow at his old job, Doolin took a job at Dan’s Bike Shop on the Berwyn side of the 6700 block of Roosevelt Road.

On April 9, he was in the shop on his day off, working on his own bike in the main office. He started walking over to the equipment room to get a needed part but stopped dead in his tracks as he passed colleague Ben Lowry, who was working on another bike on the lift between the office and the equipment storeroom.

“I didn’t make it halfway past the bike,” Doolin recalled. “I looked over, and said ‘Hey, that’s my bike.'”

“He didn’t miss a beat,” Lowry concurred.

“I recovered my own bike,” Doolin said with a laugh.

He called Berwyn police and showed them the receipt and serial number, proving his ownership. The police then called the unsuspecting other owner who told investigators he’d bought the bike at a pawn shop – a stone’s throw from the restaurant where it was taken.

“They stole the bike and took it across the parking lot and sold it to a pawn shop,” said Doolin. “It still had the trailer hitch on it, and the custom headlight I installed” – along with the pricey shifters and derailers and bike seat.

The bike’s new owner was very understanding. “He’s really a nice guy,” Doolin said of the unsuspecting buyer. “He was really polite about it.”

He hopes the pawn shop is just as accommodating. “He’s apparently dealing with the pawn shop about this,” Doolin noted. “Hopefully they take care of him.”

Standing in Dan’s Bike Shop the other day with Ruth and his son, 5-year-old Nathaniel, Doolin exhibited a craftman’s pride as he displayed the bike he built.

“These are high-end shifters,” Doolin said, grasping the devices at the end of the low-rise handlebars he installed for Ruth. “They’re the type you’d find on a $1,500 bike.”

Ruth said she’s happy to have her bike back and wiser for the experience. She’ll no longer lock the bike to anything but a pole or bike rack. She used the cable lock in order to secure it to a tree.

“It was the one time I didn’t use the U-lock,” she said, referring to the case-hardened steel bar with attached bar that’s largely impervious to being cut, unlike cables. She’s waiting for the restaurant to install a pole to which a bike can be U-locked. She’s taking no more chances.

“In the meantime, it’s in my basement,” she said.