Bike theft is a perennial problem – and a pandemic-induced cycling boom inevitably means more targets for thieves.

However, last year there was a 16.3% drop in cycle theft, according to police data from Opal (the serious organised crime unit), partly because more people and their cycles were at home. Across the transport network theft dropped by 60%. Perversely, the main exception seems to be thefts from key workers such as hospital staff.

As restrictions lift, thefts are expected to rise, and police are trying to be ready when that happens, with a new national cycle crime partnership bringing together the UK’s major police forces.

“The government’s approach is to get more people cycling and walking, because obviously there’s benefits to the environment,” says Supt Mark Cleland, UK police national lead for cycle crime, who is leading the partnership.

This, he says, means “less cars on the road, it’s an environmentally friendly form of travel, it tackles health and fitness and obesity”.

“If somebody gets their bike stolen, the data suggests that they’re less likely to buy a bike again and actually that they might give up cycling. We want people to be active and look after the environment, so if crime is a blocker to that then we need to do something about it.

“My view on it is: if we tackle cycle crime then we’re saving lives and protecting the world.”

The police partnership includes the Metropolitan police, Thames Valley, Greater Manchester, West Midlands, Police Scotland and Northern Ireland. As well as targeting thieves, they are trying to better identify stolen goods in online marketplaces. They are also working with the construction industry to improve cycle storage, as well as tackling valuable e-bike and e-scooter theft.

A national cycle crime prevention campaign, working with a behavioural insight team, will “nudge” people to protect their bikes from theft – promoting things such as better locking techniques and cycle marking. Cleland feels the usual messaging is “probably becoming a little bit invisible, because it’s obviously not having the desired impact”.

According to the latest crime survey data for England and Wales about 290,000 cycles were stolen in 2017, though only about one in three thefts are reported to police, either because owners do not expect the police to do anything or because the bike is not considered valuable enough to bother.

Only about 5% of stolen bikes are returned to their owners, and almost a quarter of those who have a bike stolen stop cycling altogether, while 66% cycle less often.

Theft prevention is slowly improving. The BikeRegister cycle database reached its millionth registration in January. Customers or police can put a tamperproof sticker or stencil on a cycle – or use its frame number – record the details on BikeRegister’s database, then update the register if it’s stolen for police and prospective buyers to check.

While BikeRegister provides every UK police force with free kits, supplies are limited. What’s more, with 2m bikes sold in the UK each year, only a few thousand of which are then registered, there is a long way to go.

James Brown, BikeRegister’s managing director, says: “We still have conversations with people who say, ‘Well, this is the fifth bike I’ve had stolen.’ It really drives home: you’re not unlucky if you get your bike stolen, especially in London.”

There are good news stories, though. “There was a person who didn’t even know their bike was stolen, we called them to say it had been found, and they said, ‘It’s downstairs’, only to go out and find it wasn’t there,” he said.

Brown says bikes have turned up in America, Europe, India and Africa. One customer got their bike back after a decade.

At the start of the year France’s government made it mandatory to register new cycles at point of sale, something that would help tackle the problem but create extra work for cycle shops, not to mention legislators and police. Brown feels it’s in retailers’ interests to offer cycle marking, because people often will go secondhand once their new bike has gone, or stop cycling, which means less parts and servicing custom for shops.

However, Cleland wants to try the voluntary route first, and is working with manufacturers and retailers to improve registration of new cycles – as well as with the Home Office to better identify stolen goods across online marketplaces – not just cycles. Local councils are increasingly recognising the importance of security, Cleland says, and including decent cycle parking in funding bids.

Sites such as Gumtree and eBay are the main outlet for stolen cycles, and periodically come under fire for not doing more to stop thieves. While some sites let prospective buyers check if a motor vehicle is stolen, this is not yet done for cycles. Cleland says until cycle registration reaches a critical mass not much will change.

At present, police recommend victims of theft check online sites themselves – they know their bikes better than anyone – and then alert police.

How to stop your bike being stolen

Register your bike

There is little hope of getting a stolen bike back without it. Happily, it’s an easy process. You can register your bike free using your frame number, or pay for the stencil kit. Frame numbers are not always unique so it’s worth thinking about investing.

Lock your bike right

Use two good locks, preferably different makes to make it harder for thieves. Sold Secure ratings tell you how good a lock is; go for gold or above if you can afford it. Cable locks are OK if you’re nipping into a shop for five minutes but perhaps not for a dark street in the city centre.

Lock your bikes at home, too – don’t assume it’s safe because it’s in a garage or shed.

Leave your bike somewhere well lit, busy and ideally within sight of CCTV. If somewhere feels dodgy, lock it somewhere else.

Lock both wheels and the frame – don’t just lock the front wheel through the fork.

Think about insuring your bike

But be careful – many policies don’t cover incidents away from the home, or accidental damage, and may have a single item or bicycle limit as low as £500, meaning more than 50% of UK cyclists may have no or little cover. Insurance may be particularly valuable for costlier e-bikes.

On the subject of e-bikes, you may want to consider a GPS tracker. Then you can use an app to check your bike is still where you left it, even when you can’t see it for yourself.

Don’t buy stolen

Be wary of online marketplaces – this is where more than half of stolen bikes are sold. Adverts with little detail about the cycle, stock images and generic spec apparently lifted from another website should raise red flags. If someone is selling their own bike there will usually be some detail, like how much they’ve used it, what for and perhaps why they’re selling it. While there are plenty of legit sellers, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

When meeting sellers, check the cycle registration mark, and check ownership on bikeregister.com or immobilise.com. Sellers who have had the bike from new should have a receipt.

What to do if your bike is stolen

If you’ve registered it on BikeRegister, then the first thing to do is to update that.

If your cycle is stolen, police may recommend you look for it online. This actually makes sense: you know your bike better than anyone and will be able to spot unique features.

The London Cycling Campaign recommends the sites Bikeshd and Find That Bike, which provide pictures of all bikes listed for sale on auction and resale websites.

Bike related social networks such as Stolen Bikes UK, Stolen Ride and London Fixed Gear and Single Speed Forum can also be useful, providing awareness and hundreds of eyes looking out for your bike as they ride through the city. This may work especially well if your bike is very distinctive.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *