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Laptop bag left as security turns out to contain books

Police in Stevenage are appealing for information about the theft of a Trek time trial bike taken by a thief who masqueraded as a potential buyer.

The owner had advertised the bike on a couple of second-hand sites, so when a man turned up at his house on February 8 claiming to be interested in buying it, it all seemed on the level.

In his ads, the owner said he had spent £6,200 on the 2011 Trek Project One Speed Concept bike and only raced it “a couple of times.” He said he was selling it because “I have a new addition to the family and I can't see myself doing any triathlons anytime soon.”

The offender asked to test the bike and gave the victim a laptop bag, which the victim assumed had a laptop inside. The offender then cycled off down Letchmore Road in the direction of Walkern Road. He didn’t return and after a short while the victim checked the bag, which he found contained books.

The offender is described as a man of ‘Mediterranean’ appearance, in his late 20s to early 30s who was around 6ft 1/2in tall with short dark hair and stubble. He was wearing a grey beanie hat, rectangular narrow glasses, a long grey tweed over coat and brown corduroy trousers.

Investigating officer PC David Vince, said: “I would appeal to anyone who believes they have seen this bike for sale or who has been offered it for sale to contact me with information.

“I would also appeal to people in the local area to call in if they saw a man on this bike around the time of the incident. It is believed the offender may have been in the company of another person in a van and that the bike may have been loaded into a van. If you saw this or anything suspicious please call.

“Finally, if you have had a bike for sale and been approached by a man matching this description or in similar circumstances, please ring get in touch with the information.”

Anyone with information should contact PC Vince via the Herts police non-emergency number 101 quoting crime reference number E1/14/944. Alternatively call Crimestoppers, the independent charity, anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Edit: Bedfordshire police investigating similar crime

Thanks to Dave Van MusicMaster on Facebook for drawing our attention to a very similar crime in Bedforshire last month.

A man from Marston Moretaine had advertised a carbon fibre Cube bike for sale on Gumtree site and was contacted by a prospective buyer who made an appointment to view the bike on Wednesday, January 8, according to the police report.

When the buyer turned up on Wednesday evening at about 8.20pm, he was very knowledgeable about racing bikes and seemed credible and trustworthy. However, he asked to test the bike out in the cul de sac where the seller lives and then when the seller’s back was turned to shut his van door, the thief simply hopped on the bike and rode off at speed.

In this case, the thief also left a laptop bag as 'security'. That bag also turned out to just contain books, and had been recently bought from an Oxfam shop.

Safe selling

When you want to sell a bike, it’s easy to be too trusting. Even bike shops sometimes fall prey to convincing conmen who leave dodgy ‘security’ while they go for test rides.

Here are our tips for safe selling:

  • Don’t put your address in the ad or tell it to a possible buyer. Letting someone know where you live, and therefore where there’s an expensive bike, could mean a 2am visit from a man with a crowbar and bolt croppers.
  • Ask lots of relevant details, like how tall they are. Someone claiming to be 6ft but interested in a 51cm women-specific bike for himself is unlikely to be genuine.
  • Get their full name and phone number. If they’re hesitant about giving that information, that’s another reason to be wary.
  • Arrange to meet possible buyers on public, neutral ground. Partly for the same reasons as the first point, and also so that the situation is too public for them to mug you for the bike.
  • If they want a test ride get solid security. There have been instances of thieves leaving bike shops with car keys that have turned out to be bogus. Ask for photo ID such as a driving licence or passport, or go for a ride with your potential buyer. Or get the asking price of the bike in cash.

What have we missed? Tell us in the comments below.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.