A bike shop's stolen sculpture was returned to the business Thursday morning, the owner said.

The thousand-pound sculpture that also serves as a bike rack was stolen on the day the new business opened in Tucson.

On Thursday, a man called the shop and said he had taken the metal sculpture, thinking it was being thrown away. A short time later the man showed up in a pickup truck with the sculpture in the back of the vehicle.

The return brought a quick end to the case, which began April 15.

Josh Lipton, president of Bike Shop Hub (bikeshophub.com online), relocated his online business from Flagstaff to Tucson couple of weeks ago. No sooner had he and staffers unloaded the custom metal sculpture bike rack, than someone — likely several someones — helped themselves to it.

The distinctive metal sculpture valued at $8,500 took eight people to unload when it arrived at the business on April 15. They left the sculpture outside the warehouse on North Flowing Wells Road for three hours while they finished moving into their new 4,000-square-foot space. They planned to lock up the bike rack before leaving for the night, Lipton said. Sometime between 5 and 5:45 p.m., the rack disappeared.

Lipton filed a police report, but speculated that if he ever saw the rack again, it likely would be in pieces, chopped up and sold for scrap. Earlier on the day the rack was stolen, Lipton found several men digging through the warehouse Dumpster looking for scrap metal, he said.

"It would be hard for someone to think it was junk," Lipton said of the utilitarian sculpture made up of large, stylized bicycle parts - tire rim, spokes, sprocket, chain, gears.

There's still a chance Lipton could get his sculpture back, if it is sold to a scrap metal dealer and the dealer properly reports the purchase online, said Sgt. Mike Jennings, a Tucson Police Department supervisor for the Organized Theft Task Force.

Businesses such as pawn shops and scrap metal dealers are required by law to report their transactions to law enforcement. The system only works, though, if businesses accurately report their transactions. The job of the task force is to inspect local businesses to make sure they are in compliance with reporting requirements, Jennings said.

Copper is the metal most prized by thieves, followed by aluminum, brass, bronze and other non-ferrous metals - those which do not contain appreciable amounts of iron.

In other words, "non-ferrous metal is something a magnet won't stick to," Jennings said.

Shady scrap metal buyers are as big a problem for legitimate metal dealers as they are for victims of theft who have to replace stolen beer kegs, brass water valves, manhole covers and wiring.

"We get calls from scrap metal dealers all the time and they tell us, 'There's something suspicious here,' " Jennings said. "The problem with scrap metal, a lot of it is not very distinct. It's hard to trace a lot of that stuff."

As for Lipton, despite the theft, he's still happy about the move.

"Tucson seems like a good fit. It's a great cycling place," he said.

Lipton's online retail business - which employs seven people - expands continually to fill specialty niches for cyclists - cargo trailers, bike bags, GPS systems, lights.

Given his recent experience, Lipton may want to focus his next niche on bike rack security systems.

Bike Shop Hub

Bike Shop Hub, 2801 N. Flowing Wells Road, is an online retail business specializing in niche cycling products. The company recently relocated to Tucson from Flagstaff.

Just one day after arriving in Tucson earlier this month, the warehouse staff was already packing and shipping orders.

In the future, owners anticipate having a front office for walk-in orders, but there are no plans for a showroom or brick-and-mortar retail space.

For more information, go to bikeshophub.com or call 620-9110.

Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at kmatas@azstarnet.com or at 573-4191.