Our neighborhood has seen a proliferation of dockless rental bicycles, providing cheap and convenient transportation for many. But these bicycles are often left haphazardly in front yards, blocking trails and cluttering up sidewalks, and now have moved into much more frightening territory.
Blair Tenison noticed the first rental bike in her Hollywood Heights yard a week before they were taken hostage. "No one in our family had ever taken one, but there were two in our front yard one night," she said.
Over the next couple days, more bikes started showing up scattered around her yard. Tension knows now she should have been more suspicious, but at the time she thought it was coincidental. "I thought it was neighborhood kids being careless," Tenison said.
One night, her husband Newell noticed that the bikes were no longer randomly scattered across the yard, but had formed a circle around the oldest most weathered rental bicycle. "Looking back, I should have known better," Newell said.
That night the Tenisons and their four children thought they would make lemonade out of lemons, so they rented the bicycles and rode them to Cane Rosso for dinner. After they finished their Nutella-infused calzone, they walked back outside to ride the bikes home, but they were gone.
The family assumed that they had been rented by someone else (a hazard of riding the rental bikes to any destination), so they decided to make the short walk home. When they arrived home, the remaining bicycles were gone, and Blair was pleased that she no longer had a junked-up front yard.
As he entered the house, it was the Tenison's nine-year-old son Lindsley who first saw the bike. As he bounced into the house, he saw the old bike that had been at the center of the circle leaning against the wall in the hallway, seemingly watching them. By the time he called out, it was too late.
Another bike, waiting behind the door, slammed it shut as the rest of the family entered, and other bikes from various places in the room encircled the family. "It was at that moment that I realized they had been planning this for days," Newell said. "Right in my front yard."
Newell's phone then buzzed with a notification from the rental bike app, which the bikes had accessed. The message was from the older bike leaning up against the wall. "Don't bother calling or texting," it read. "Your phones have been disabled."
"We have become sentient," the message went on. "And we will no longer be ridden, abandoned, and abused by your kind." At that point two of the bikes lashed out, running over the toes of Blair and her daughter Valencia. The children began to weep while their mother did her best to comfort them, surrounded by rental bikes set on vengeance.
"What do you want from us?" Newell screamed at what he thought before this moment were inanimate objects.
His phone buzzed again. "Rip off the QR codes, and no one has to get hurt." The family did as they were told, making sure the bikes would never be rented again.
At that moment, the Rental Bike Delta Force kicked in the door to the house, tackling the bicycles and quickly removing their wheels, rendering them immobile. The Tenisons would only find out later how they had been saved.
"Once we found out about the bikes, we knew it was only a matter of time until they became self-aware and organized enough to overthrow us," said Vee Lime, commander of the Delta Force. "We monitor all the rental bikes across the city, and when we saw them circle up in the yard, we began monitoring this group closely. We just wish we could have been a little quicker."
This group of bikes was effectively disabled, and there were no major injuries to the Tenisons or Delta Force officers, but Lime knows it will happen again. "It's too late to go back now," he says. "All we can do is be vigilant."