It is heart-breaking going back to where you left your bike, only to find that it has been stolen. Not only do you feel stranded, but you are left thinking about what you could have done differently to prevent it from happening. Even if you have insurance, you may not have complied with the policy conditions or have a large excess applicable for theft of bicycles away from your home.
Hopefully, this article will help guide you if you are a victim of bike theft, or better yet help you to prevent it from happening altogether.
How many bicycles are stolen in London each year?
The probability of getting your bike stolen in London is higher than if you live in a quiet town or village. However, that is no reason to not get out on your bike.
According to the London Datastore, the year 2020 marked the highest number of (declared) stolen bikes in the capital, since 2010: over 23,800 in the whole year, that’s about 3 bikes per hour.
Bike thefts during the pandemic
Bike thefts during the pandemic have increased in London. While official police reports may not do it justice (due to how many bike thefts go unreported) in September 2020, the capital saw a 50% increase in the number of bikes stolen on London streets, compared to September 2019.
As people were advised to avoid using the tube and other forms of transport, TFL reported an average increase of 20% of the number of journeys made by bicycle (increasing to 200% on some routes). No doubt the increased prevalence of bicycles on the streets led to a rise in the number of bikes stolen in London, in addition to the streets being quieter and the negative economic impact that the pandemic has had on many people’s lives.
Which London boroughs are most affected by bike thefts?
According to the Mets crime statistics the Borough of Hackney accounted for 10% of all bike thefts. Closely followed by Tower Hamlets and Southwark, which accounted for 9% and 8% respectively.
The Boroughs with the lowest recorded bike thefts include Harrow, Bromley, Havering and Bexley.
How many bikes get recovered?
There are mixed reports about how many stolen bikes are recovered in the capital.
Unfortunately, bicycle theft is considered a low-level crime, so it is not a top priority for the MET. However, that does not mean that police turn a blind eye to bicycle theft, far from it.
There were many good news stories in 2020 when the police arrested organised criminals stealing and selling bikes for profit across the city, here are a couple of examples:
- More than one hundred ‘stolen’ bikes recovered in East London
- City of London Police clampdown on cycle theft
The biggest challenge the MET have is trying to get a stolen bike back to its rightful owner. If the bike has not been registered on a database such as the police approved Bikeregister.com, they have to rely on social media (or you reporting your bike as stolen) to try to get your bike back to you.
It is reported that as many as 6 in 10 victims of bike theft never recover their once beloved bicycle.
Why are so many bikes stolen?
Bicycle theft is not a victimless crime. However, it is a relatively easy way to make some money without putting in too much effort. Bicycles and e-bikes can be worth thousands of pounds and even at a discounted rate, thieves stand to profit handsomely by offloading a stolen bike onto another unsuspecting victim.
It is not only expensive-looking bikes that are attractive to bike thieves in London. Bike thieves are opportunists. They are looking for an easy and relatively low-risk way of making a few quid.
How do thieves steal bikes?
Before looking into what to do if your bike is stolen and how to prevent it altogether, here is some information about bike thieves, that may help make you think twice about what you thought was a safe place to leave your beautiful bicycle.
Which locations are most targeted?
Counterintuitively, CCTV and increased footfall do not put off bike thieves. Humans have a terrible habit of following the crowd so that the more people around… the less attention we pay to things going on around us.
An ex bicycle thief gave a rare insight into how they worked in this revealing interview.
Londoners suffer so many bicycle thefts because of the misconception that there is safety in numbers. By putting your bike on an overcrowded bike rack on a busy street, surely you do not need to use an expensive lock, because what is the likelihood of a bike thief targeting such a crowded area? This lackadaisical approach gives bike thieves the opportunity they need.
What tools and techniques are used to steal a bicycle?
This depends on the type of lock you have. No matter what the retailer says, any bike lock on the market can be unlocked or broken by a determined thief. However, bear in mind they are looking for an easy life and the more challenging you make it or, the longer it will take, the less likely they will choose your bike for their next loot.
Common tools include wire and bolt cutters (one reason you should never rely solely on a chain to lock up your bike). They can be easily secreted within a large coat or backpack. Some thieves even use a lockpicking kit, it may take a little longer, but it is silent, and it just looks like they are unlocking the bike.
What do thieves do after stealing your bike?
They get to work selling it. The internet has made it a lot easier for bike thieves to get rid of their loot. Sites such as Gumtree, Facebook Marketplace and eBay are common sites used, as they are free to post, and the seller can remain relatively anonymous.
Some thieves will go as far as to change the bike’s aesthetic and sand down any serial numbers, or markings that are there to help identify the bike. Rarely will bike thieves steal a bike to sell on for parts, as it is too time-consuming and often more profitable to sell the whole bike.
What to do if your bike gets stolen?
A whopping 25% of cyclists have been victims of bike theft in their lifetime (that is not to say that they were all reported to the police).
If your bike gets stolen, stay calm and follow these steps:
① Report the theft to the police – As soon as possible, call 101 or visit your local police station. Provide a detailed description of your bicycle and when and where it was stolen.
② Contact your insurer to instigate a claim – if you have specific bike insurance or contents insurance (with cover for contents away from your home), check the policy conditions and follow the claims notification process. You will need a crime reference number, so make sure you do this step after you have reported it to the police. Try to be proactive and notify them of the incident within 24 hours.
③ Notify bike registration companies – Even if you did not register your bike on these databases before it was stolen, you need to do it now. Sites such as Bikeregister have a ‘bike checker’ service for customers to check if a bike for sale online has been registered as stolen.
④ Use social media and notify the cycling community – Post on your personal Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with a photo of your bike and details of when and where it went missing. Make use of London based communities such as @StolenRide.
⑤ Search & monitor online – Be vigilant online and set up google notifications for any new listings on second-hand marketplaces that match the description of your bike. In London, Bikeshd collates all the recent listings from Gumtree, eBay and Preloved. If you think you have found your bike, do not attempt to approach the seller, get the police involved.
How and where to report a missing bike?
Report a missing bike to the police in the first instance, by calling 101 or report it online. As it is not an emergency, avoid calling 999. If you have the time, visit your local police station.
Ideally, you should be able to provide them with:
• The frame number
• Type of bike
• A photo
• Details of where and when it was stolen
Also, make use of the online cycling community and the great websites that have been set up to help reunite victims of bike theft with their bikes.
How do the police find stolen bikes?
It is no secret that London’s police force is stretched. They do not have the time or resources to scour the streets or the internet, searching for every stolen bike. If there is CCTV in the area, they may check to see if the thieves’ face was caught on camera.
After the initial search, the police have to rely heavily on the cycling community to help notify them when a stolen bike is found or advertised for sale. With this intel, they can take swift action. Every now and again, they may catch a thief in the act, but generally, the police are on the back foot, another reason you should focus on prevention rather than recovering your bike once stolen.
Will insurance cover my stolen bike?
If you have home contents insurance check your policy documents. You may have cover for bicycles away from your home, while left unattended. There is likely to be a limit (such as £500) and conditions that stipulate measures you must take while your bicycle is left unattended.
Bike specific insurance is the most comprehensive protection you can buy for your bicycle. Not only do they have specialist claims handlers, but the policies usually include other extras that can be useful as a regular cyclist. Such as lower excesses, cover for accidental damage, indemnity to cover the cost to hire a bike while you wait for a replacement or Public Liability insurance while you are cycling.
If you do not have any insurance coverage, you will be left to pay the full price of your bike and accessories, which can add up quickly. For the nominal monthly cost, it is worth getting insurance cover, especially if you have an e-bike or expensive road bike worth over £500.
Things to keep in mind when buying a second-hand bike online
If it seems to good to be true, it probably is. Although you are likely looking to get a second-hand bike to save a few quid, you should still be mindful that if a nice relatively new bike comes up at less than half the price when new, something is not right.
Check out the seller’s profile and make a judgement to see if it seems like a legitimate seller looking to get rid of their bicycle that they no longer use. Generally, if it is their own bike, they will be able to provide proof of purchase.
You should also look out for detailed descriptions accompanied by real photos of the bike (i.e. not stock photos they could find online). Bike thieves are not likely to invest the time writing up a detailed description when looking for a quick sale.
Ask the seller for the serial or frame number. This will allow you to check sites such as Bikeregister to see if it has been reported stolen. If the seller has nothing to hide, there would be no reason not to share all the information you need to make an informed decision.
How do you know if you’re buying a stolen bike?
There is no way to be sure that you are not buying a stolen bike online unless of course, it has come upon Bikeregister as having been reported stolen.
Here are some warning flags to look out for:
- Price is very cheap compared to other listed
- Only stock photos used
- Minimal description
- No seller bio
What happens if you unknowingly buy a stolen bike?
If you unknowingly purchase a bike in good faith, unaware that it was stolen, you should not get in trouble. However, you are expected to return the bike to the police. Unfortunately, it is down to you to obtain a refund from the seller. This is highly unlikely to be successful, as there is little to no incentive for the seller to admit that they sold you a stolen bike and provide a refund.
The police will ask you to provide contact information and details of when and where you purchased the bicycle, but even the police are unlikely to find them. Your last resort is to take the seller to court to obtain a refund. Unfortunately, this is very time consuming and rarely successful if you do not know the sellers’ true identity.
Best way to prevent bike theft
All is not lost; there are some steps you can take to help ensure that you are not the next victim of bike theft.
What bike locks to use?
You need to invest in at least two good high-quality locks, as you need to be able to lock both wheels and your bike’s frame to an immovable object.
Look out for bike locks with a Sold Secure Gold logo. This means that they have been independently tested by the Master Locksmiths Association and provide a higher level of resistance to a would-be thief.
D-locks are the most secure design of bike lock, as they make it difficult for a thief to use bolt cutters. There are plenty of innovative bike locks coming to the market all the time. You can even get bike locks with anti-theft alarms, signalling those around it that your bike is being tampered with.
What is the best way to lock up a bike?
Lock your bike to an immovable object. You should double lock it and ensure that your locks secure your frame and both wheels (take any removable accessories with you). See how to correctly lock your bike on Stolenride.co.uk.
When using D-locks, try to ensure that they are tight and cannot be moved around. Even the most robust D-locks can be cut through, but if you do not allow any wriggle room for leverage, it will be challenging to cut through.
No matter what Sold Secure grading your lock has anyone with enough time and determination will be able to break it. Using at least two secure locks, you are increasing the amount of time it would take a would-be thief to free your bike, encouraging them to accept defeat and move on.
How to temporarily secure your bike without a lock?
Firstly, try to avoid leaving your bike unattended without it being securely locked up. If you need to temporarily leave it unattended, then leave it somewhere that you can keep eyes on it at all times. Use your helmet as a braking system and wrap the strap around the rear wheel and frame (i.e. stopping anyone from being able just to roll the bike away). You could also leave it in the highest gear possible so that if anyone does try to ride it away, they will struggle to build up any momentum.
However, again you should avoid leaving your bike unattended without securely locking it. You are making it too easy for an opportunistic criminal to just ride off into the sunset. In addition to losing your bike, you are unlikely to be covered by any insurance policy, if you have not securely locked it up.
Where to park your bike?
Lock your bike at recognised secure cycle parking facilities. Ideally, you want it is to be well lit and covered by CCTV.
Ideally, you should not be leaving your bike outside overnight. However, sometimes you have no other option. If there are no covered cycle parking solutions in your area, just make sure that your bike has at least two quality locks securing it to a cycle stand or other immovable object.
Register and insure your bike
As soon as you get a new bike, note the frame number (usually found under the bottom bracket, between your pedals), make, model, and colour. Sign up and register your bike at Bikeregister. There is a good reason that this site has popped up throughout this article. It is the most complete database of bicycles in the UK, the site is super user friendly, and it is endorsed and used by the nations police forces.
Next, you need to decide whether you want to self insure or pay the nominal monthly or annual premium to insure your bike. If you already have contents insurance, it is worth checking out the scope of cover and conditions that apply for cover for bicycle theft away from your home, before purchasing stand-alone bike insurance.
There are plenty of specialist bike insurers out there, all offering something different. Take your time to research and decide whether the scope of cover or a cheap premium is right for you. Do not forget to check all the policy conditions, to ensure that your bike locks meet the security standards stated in your policy documents.
The fear of having your bike stolen should not put you off from cycling in London. However, you need to be aware of the potential risks before investing in a new bike or leaving your bike loosely locked up with a light chain or wire lock. Another way to ensure peace of mind is by investing in a GPS tracker device to go in the seat post or attach somewhere to your bike. Give the evidence over to the police, rather than trying to recover your bicycle yourself.
To help prevent your bike being stolen register it, lock it and love it. Do not give would-be thieves the opportunity they are looking for to make off on your beloved bicycle.
Have you got any more advice for fellow London cyclists to help prevent their bikes being stolen? Have you come across any other online communities trying to help victims of bicycle theft get reunited with their bike?