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.