I've been lucky enough to recover 3 bikes in 3 separate incidents, and get the perps processed by the cops each time. Wanted to share my experiences in the hope that it'll help someone out.
1. File a police report. Otherwise you have no police report to reference to get your stuff from the cops, can't prove that a crime took place, and there's nothing to tie the perp to.
Be extra ridiculously detailed when listing what was stolen in the burglary report.
You want the thieves in the system. Even if you're able to recover your bike, you don't want to hand the thieves the gift of getting away with it clean.
2. Stay batshit crazy vigilant looking for your stuff. You're pissed, use that. Check every damn post on Craigslist, search homeless camps, whatever it takes. Your stuff is out there and the thieves will need to expose it to sell it.
Keep in mind when searching ads that this is a crack head or an idiot posting, you're not going to find your bike professionally listed. I found my last bike by recognizing my custom wheel stickers in a Craigslist ad for parts.
3. When you make phone contact, just focus on telling the thief you want to give them money. Call them on a Friday and tell them you just got paid. A story and all that isn't necessary. Just $$$. One crack head I talked to on the phone was so high he was totally incoherent, but he understood money.
4. When you meet the creep:
On your way to the meeting call the cops, give them the location and tell and them you need a squad car now. Meet at the most public busy and safe place you can think of, and somewhere that will work for the cops too. I used the entrance to a grocery store.
Bring friends, lots of them, but have them hang back out of sight.
Relax. It's no big deal to meet the thief. It's not a movie, you're not going to beat anybody up. Besides, that fucker is scared, he likely just wants some easy drug money.
When you meet the perp, make sure at some point you let them know that it's your stuff, prove it to them. From that point forward they are aware that they are in possession of stolen goods and are committing a felony. There's 2 things they can be arrested for: Theft, which is really hard to prove. And possession of stolen goods, which they will always deny. Once you enlighten them about the stuff being hot you've got them nailed.
5. Arrest the asshole. The cops took 15 minutes to show each time I met thieves. Make the meeting last till the cops show, it's not hard to stall. When the police show, give them the police report number, tell the cops the perp knew he was in possession of stolen goods.
Remember, if you do nothing you're adding to the problem, just passing it down the line to the next guy.