Home
How does a professional bike thief operate, and how can you protect your bike from being stolen?

Why do people steal bikes, and how can you stop them? The Metropolitan Police has released this interview with a professional bike thief that provides some useful insights into how thieves operate and how you can deter them.

The force point out that there's a lot of variation in the way thieves operate. Some target sheds, others communal hallways and some bikes which are locked in the street. Some are more ‘professional’ and cautious than others, but what is clear is the lengths some offenders will go to, to steal a bike.

Why steal bikes as opposed to other types of crimes?

I’ve always been comfortable with bikes, I can strip them down and put them back together really easily. You can take them places where you can’t take a car and stay of the beaten track so they’re easy to move around. I like the thrill of stealing them and I can make a lot of money. One week I made £7,500. What did you do with all that money? Blew it, bookies, weed, drunk for England, meals out.

Cash (CC BY-NC 2.0 eltpics:Flickr)

Cash (CC BY-NC 2.0 eltpics:Flickr)

Cash (CC BY-NC 2.0 eltpics:Flickr)

On any given day, what would make you think ‘I need to go out and steal’?

I did it all the time, it’s what I did for a job. I’d go out every night for hours and hours. I’d go out during the day and do the spotting but all the stealing was done at night. Often I had orders, I knew loads of people, I was known as the ‘bike man’ and people would introduce me to someone who wanted a bike. The rest of it went on Gumtree.

How much planning did you do before you went out?

I’d often get the orders over the weekend and then go out during the week. I’d know where I wanted to hit and I’d do an area for a few days, Barnes for example, I caned it, but then you know the police will get themselves organised so I’d move on before that happened and go somewhere else.

Bike Thief I Hate You (CC licensed image by SR Crawford:Flickr)

Bike Thief I Hate You (CC licensed image by SR Crawford:Flickr)

Bike Thief I Hate You (CC licensed image by SR Crawford:Flickr)​

Was it ever to demand? Were you asked to steal specific bikes?

I’d only steal decent stuff that I could get a return on. I’d rather go home empty handed than take rubbish. I sold a lot to foreign people, Poles for example, they all wanted bikes and I sold a lot to them.

Was it ever just taking an opportunity?

Not usually, I’d like to be careful. Go out in the dark, stay out of sight, I’d go nowhere that was covered by CCTV. I’d know pretty much where all the cameras were. I got caught by CCTV once at a school, but that was stupid and I didn’t make the mistake again.

How would you select an area/street?

I did mainly sheds. I’d have a bike out of the garden if people were stupid enough to leave it there, but mainly I was looking for sheds and I’d garden hop from one to the other. If there was a rear alleyway that would be useful because it kept me out of sight but it was also good to move the bikes that way.

Master Lock Street Cuffs.jpg

Master Lock Street Cuffs.jpg

What would make something an attractive target? What type of bike are you looking for?

The better the bike the better the return, so if I could get a really expensive model I’d take it, but I’d take anything that I could sell on and I was stealing lots.

What would put you off? Is there anything else that would make you change your plans?

Seeing the police at the start of the night, if it looked like they were around the area as opposed to driving through. Also seeing magpies. If I saw one I’d carry on thieving, if I saw two I’d go home. Funny little superstition.

It would take a lot otherwise, I could break into any shed pretty much if I had a screwdriver and sometimes bolt cutters. The only thing that would stop me would be an alarm on the shed. If an alarm went off I’d jump the fence and run and get as many streets away as possible before the police turned up.

Dogs were no problem, I’m not frightened of dogs, they were more frightened of me. I’d get down on the ground roll around and play and they were fine. I had one that actually whined when I stopped playing and jumped back over the fence.

Would you always operate/steal in the same way?

Sheds were my thing and I could almost always get in. I’d undo the screws, so the best thing you could do would be to use those screws that you can only tighten, you can’t undo. They’re really frustrating.

I could pretty much cut any bolt off and I’d look for quality. A quality padlock meant something interesting inside, but if you’re going to have a padlock you should make it a big thick one. I’ve taken the hinges off quite a lot but the other thing was, if all else failed, I’d lie on my back and force the roof off with my feet. They’re only nailed on, then I’d put it back on afterwards.

Related reading: Buyer's guide — The best bike locks

How do you do it?

Often then I’d lay them up, hide them somewhere nearby and go back the following morning. Sometimes I’d hide them in the same garden. If I had a few to collect I might go back with a mate and a car, otherwise I’d ride them back or maybe get a train.

If the bike had a good lock on it that I couldn’t get off there and then I’d use the angle grinder when I got home. Wire locks aren’t worth bothering with, there’s not a wire lock I can’t crop. D locks are the thing you should have but most people don’t lock bikes in the shed. Why do people spend hundreds, even thousands on a bike and then buy a lock from Poundland? There are some locks that are so poor you can open them with your bare hands. I took one that was padlocked to a lamppost just by wrenching the bike away. The lock just fell off.

What would you do if you were disturbed, for example by police or an owner?

Hide, get myself into a hiding place, a bush or something and lie as still as I could. I could hear my own heart beating but usually I wasn’t found.

Protector 13mm chain

Protector 13mm chain

How would you get to the area you were working in?

Cycle, walk, bus, train, any way really.

How quickly would you want to get rid of the property after the theft? Did you ever take it home?

My rule was never spend the day with a bike. The stuff for Gumtree would be at my house for a while but if it was an order I’d ring the people in the morning and tell them to get round the house, collect the bike and pay. I’d been out all night, the least they could do was come to me to collect.

How would you get rid of it?

It was all done at the house. I’d never take the bikes anywhere to do the deal.

Do you know what happened to them after you got rid of them?

They were to use, they’re being ridden around now. But people are stupid they never record the details of the bike anywhere. I’ve been stopped on stolen bikes and there’s no record of them anywhere so you go on your way.

A lot of bikes go on to Gumtree particularly in the summer, that’s when most are shifted. You know the police are looking at these sites but there’s so much stuff on there they can’t keep up with it.

abus-granit-xplus-lock-1

abus-granit-xplus-lock-1

What’s your best advice to anyone who owns a bike?

Invest in a decent lock, get a D lock or anything that costs. The more expensive the lock the better it is going to be.

Make it hard. There’s a triangle of metal just behind the saddle column, and that’s made like it is for the purpose of locking your bike securely, but people don’t know that. Put your lock through there and you should be able to get it through your back wheel.

Stolen bike wheel.JPG

Stolen bike wheel.JPG

Take your quick release front wheel off and lock it to the back one. People sometimes put the lock through the front wheel. That’s fine, I’ll have the rest of the bike and get myself another front wheel. You should never lock it below the handlebars. An Allen Key will get the handlebar column off.

Related reading: road.cc's Bike Locking Bible

25 comments

Avatar
shutuplegz [53 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

Pet magpie it is then .......!

Avatar
Alex Mills [13 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I think we'll have to start offering 2 free Magpies with every policy now!

Avatar
epcp20 [17 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

what's the 'triangle of metal just behind the saddle column' he's referring to?

Avatar
bike_food [179 posts] 2 years ago
1 like
Quote:

what's the 'triangle of metal just behind the saddle column' he's referring to?

I assumed he meant area between seat tube, chainstays and seatstays.

Avatar
shutuplegz [53 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
epcp20 wrote:

what's the 'triangle of metal just behind the saddle column' he's referring to?

Maybe a tongue-in-cheek reference to 'the frame' based on the number of people who don't actually put the lock through it?!

Avatar
therealsmallboy [169 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I think he means the section on GT triple-triangle design and the like.

Avatar
Simmo72 [672 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I assume at the end of the interview his testicles were beaten with a d lock, stop the lowlife from breeding.

Avatar
Paul_C [523 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

invest in a good ground anchor for locking your bike to in the shed or garage... oh, and install it in the concrete floor or brick walls and don't forget to hammer the little ball bearings into the anchor bolt heads to stop them being easily removed.

Avatar
CygnusX1 [632 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
epcp20 wrote:

what's the 'triangle of metal just behind the saddle column' he's referring to?

Seat tube + seat stays + chain stays?
or between the seat stays above the rear brake lever mount?

Avatar
DrRocks [22 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Buy a bike on Gumtree and you might as well be stealing it yourself. If we stopped buying bikes from private sellers online then it would remove a large segment of the market for stolen bikes reducing the incentive to steal them in the first place.

Avatar
barkingfishes [28 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

It would be nice to stick a few D-locks around this gits neck and chuck him in the nearest canal.

Avatar
hsiaolc [367 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
DrRocks wrote:

Buy a bike on Gumtree and you might as well be stealing it yourself. If we stopped buying bikes from private sellers online then it would remove a large segment of the market for stolen bikes reducing the incentive to steal them in the first place.

That's not going to happen. Best to keep your bike anchored to the ground and with heavy chain. At the same time invest in a Rottweiler and have him guard your bikes.

Avatar
Scoob_84 [435 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Funny how these little toads justify their actions by blaming the owner of the bike for not having top of the range security equipment.

Avatar
nowasps [519 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
epcp20 wrote:

what's the 'triangle of metal just behind the saddle column' he's referring to?

I think he means locking the wheel through the rear triangle. That way you have to cut throughthe wheel and tyre (or lock) to get the frame away.

Although that's hardly what it was designed for...

Avatar
Bill H [59 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

On the rare occasions I have to leave my bike out of sight I try to lock it next to a fancier bike. Always use two locks too, d lock and a chain with its own padlock.

Avatar
Spiny [63 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Yeah that's exactly what I've done Simmo72. Motorbike chain through the frames & a big padlock.

Handy having a locksmith brother who gave me the same tip.

Avatar
vonhelmet [847 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
Scoob_84 wrote:

Funny how these little toads justify their actions by blaming the owner of the bike for not having top of the range security equipment.

Has he said that? He's just said he's going to nick bikes and people make his life easy by buying crap locks. He's not used it as justification.

Avatar
KiwiMike [1323 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

A few years back I picked up a Colnago from the local recycling centre for £10. No front wheel or saddle, and it had been really well-used. Checked the serial numbers on the various databases, not marked as nicked.

Stripped it completely, cleaned up all the bits, and made about £300 on eBay.

If I were criminally-minded, I'd nick top-end bikes and flog the bits. Very few if any serial numbers, top dollar paid by eBayers. Why sell a £5k bike for maybe £1k to some bloke down the pub, when you could get two or three times that for all the bits? And no chance the serial number will incriminate you.

Of course crims know all this. My point being, the toughest lock in the world won't mean squat if they are willing to hacksaw or just snap your frame to get the bike away with all the fruit attached. And most of that fruit is an allen key away too. Always amazes me to see D-A bikes locked to buggery around the frame/wheels, but there's £1k worth of carbon stem/bars/Di2 shifters held down by nowt but a visible 5mm bolt.

Avatar
Bmblbzzz [169 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
DrRocks wrote:

Buy a bike on Gumtree and you might as well be stealing it yourself. If we stopped buying bikes from private sellers online then it would remove a large segment of the market for stolen bikes reducing the incentive to steal them in the first place.

Bit harsh. I've certainly sold bikes, totally legitimately (my son's that he'd grown out of) on Gumtree. But it's true you do see a fair number of bikes there that are obviously nicked. Not just high-end bikes, all sorts. Mind you, the same is true of local classifieds and doubtless ebay too.

Avatar
WPM [4 posts] 2 years ago
2 likes

I thought that locking using the seat tube was a no no as it allows leverage - i.e. using the frame to break the lock like this : https://youtu.be/NDOk3cnUKdY?t=40s

Instead, I believe it's better to lock it through the rear wheel, inside the chainstay, seatstay, seat tube triangle. You can't force the lock (trying destroys the wheel), but you also can't get the wheel out of the triangle due to the lock.

http://www.sheldonbrown.com/lock-strategy.html

Avatar
dunnoh [214 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Its really quite simple. The reason bikes are stolen is because people are buying them. People buy these cheap bikes and dodgy sites pretending they are above board and they have a bargain. If people had to buy these bikes with a receipt, a photo of the seller and proof that the serial numbers were OK then the market wouldn't exist

Avatar
Leeroy_Silk [161 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

I've read another interview with a bike thief who specifically targeted high end carbon bikes. The guy had no issues hack sawing through a frame then selling the groupset only. He'd often make more for the groupset than the complete bike.
You can have the worlds best locks but they're only as strong as the weakest part, if that just so happens to be the frame it still might be stolen.

Avatar
Mungecrundle [866 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

2 pronged approach:

1. Lock it up properly.
2. Devalue the components by means of permanent marking, datatagging, smart water or other security marking.

Avatar
NOC40 [37 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

or we could try to force gumtree, ebay etc to have frame numbers compulsory on adverts. if it doesn't match when you buy it you'll know it's stolen. we do this for cars, why not bikes, cameras etc?

Avatar
Beefy [381 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
NOC40 wrote:

or we could try to force gumtree, ebay etc to have frame numbers compulsory on adverts. if it doesn't match when you buy it you'll know it's stolen. we do this for cars, why not bikes, cameras etc?

The robbing bastard pointed out that most people don't record the frame number. If it was put in the advert I suspect it would carry no real value as the number wouldnt be matched as stolen. May be compulsory rear number platesis the answer?

Joke!!!