Good Karma Bikes keeps pedaling to help homeless after string of burglaries
Jim Gardner is founder and CEO of Good Karma Bikes, a nonprofit in Willow Glen that refurbishes and sells donated bicycles and channels the proceeds into homeless outreach and services, was burglarized twice in a week. Photo by Adam F. Hutton.

Good Karma Bikes, a nonprofit bike shop in Willow Glen that refurbishes donated bicycles to give away to homeless residents in San Jose, was burglarized twice this past week, just after celebrating its tenth anniversary.

In the last decade, founder and CEO Jim Gardner says Good Karma Bikes has made 200,000 bicycle repairs, helped 25,000 people repair their own bikes, given away 3,500 bikes to homeless people and offered 750 free clinics in bicycle repair — but they’ve been hit by burglars more times than he can count.

The recent incidents were not the first time thieves targeted the shop one right after the other. In early 2017, Gardner recalls waking up in the wee hours to a call from his alarm company. He raced to the shop to find the glass door shattered — but the thieves were gone. Or so he thought.

Gardner reset the alarm and headed back home for some tools and materials he needed to patch up the broken door. But before he got back, the security company called again.

“We got hit twice in the span of just a couple hours,” Gardner told San José Spotlight. Good Karma lost seven bikes that night valued at more than $3,000.

They got hit twice again recently. Early Thursday morning a daring pair of burglars broke in and stole three high-end bikes worth an estimated $2,600.

“It took us hours to uncover this using the security cameras,” Gardner said. “We have a unique building here that has windows on the roof. They knew where to climb onto the roof and where there was a camera shadow. One of them came in through one of the windows and let the other one in.”

In a matter of minutes they had two brand-new Raleigh bikes and a Cannondale.

“They knew exactly the three highest value bikes we had,” Gardner said Friday. “Yesterday was a tough day. A real tough day, but you have to keep going.”

The Good Karma CEO says he felt the same way just a few days earlier when burglars broke in looking for money. Gardner says the thieves got behind the cash wrap and starting tearing the place apart. They destroyed the cash register trying to get the drawer open, only to find the till empty — hidden away in a safe. But they didn’t leave empty-handed.

“They took the computer that we use to run the register,” he said.

Gardner says losses like that hurt Good Karma’s mission in a measurable way. The sale of new, high-performance bicycles helps finance the nonprofit’s outreach and training programs.

“If we make $300 on the sale of a bike, that’s 12 more bikes we can afford to give away,” Gardner said “It only costs us about $25 — including labor and rent and insurance and all that stuff — to refurbish a donated bike and give it away.”

Ultimately, that’s a major part of Good Karma’s mission — and speaks to its origins. Back in 2009, just after Gardner had turned 40, the computer engineer was ending a run at his fourth failed start-up. He says he was reflecting on his own life as he drove to donate some clothes to a homeless shelter and saw a man riding a rickety bicycle with no brakes.

It was obvious to Gardner that the man was homeless and had no other means of transportation. So Gardner says he started going to St. James Park near downtown San Jose to help homeless residents repair their bikes.

“There was never any strategy, there was never any plan. I just started fixing bikes for guys,” Gardner said. “So my wife and I incorporated Good Karma Bikes just to deduct what we were putting into it from our taxes.”

Soon after, a benefactor donated a van that allowed for mobile bike repair clinics across the city, and another sponsor was willing to provide a workshop and retail space at affordable rent, and the rest is history.

Good Karma is more than a clever name for a nonprofit. Gardner believes that what goes around comes around. Doing good causes reverberations of goodness to bounce back your way, he said. For example, when the Mercury News wrote about the 2017 break-ins, a $5,000 check arrived a few days later from a San Francisco benefactor — a sum that more than covered the losses.

A spokesperson for the San Jose Police Department says no suspects have been identified or apprehended in the latest burglaries, but anyone with information about the case is encouraged to call Detective Sheryl Acosta with the department’s burglary unit at (408) 277-4401.

Anyone who wants to help Gardner replace the bikes can call the shop Thursdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at (408) 291-0501 or visit their website to make a donation.

Contact Adam F. Hutton at afhutton.sjspotlight@gmail.com or follow @adamfhutton on Twitter.

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