Police figures reveal bike crime down in Tower Hamlets, but is problem simply moving elsewhere?

For years, one of the first pieces of advice given to any cyclist who has their bike stolen in London has been “Get yourself down to Brick Lane sharpish and look for it there.” Now, however, a police clampdown on sales of stolen bikes there appears to be deterring thieves from using the market as a place to dispose of hot property.

According to the Evening Standard, there have been consistent falls in recent months in the number of bikes being stolen in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, where the market is located, from 179 in August to 151 in September, 133 in October and 103 during November.

That figure from August represented a whopping 61% rise on the same month in 2009, however, suggesting that there is a lot of work still to be done in reducing levels of bike theft.

In all, 23,178 bikes were stolen in London as a whole last year, and the Metropolitan Police, its efforts spearheaded by the Police Cycle Task Force launched earlier this year, is hoping for a 3% reduction in that figure during 2010.

Referring to Brick Lane, Inspector Graham Horwood of the Police Cycle Task Force said: “The number of people offering stolen bikes for sale has gone down dramatically.”

However, perils remain for cyclists who hot-foot it down to the market in the hopes of being reunited with their pride and joy, with Gary Aspey, who operates a bike repair stall there, telling the Standard of a woman who confronted a “trader” whom she accused of having stolen her bike being knifed in the stomach.

Another legitimate cycle trader on the market, Derek Clifford, who together with Keith Slaughter runs Superbike commented: “It's a good market but over the course of the years it's been given a bad name. Now there are police here every week.”

Although the problem may be diminishing at Brick Lane, there are concerns that the trade is simply moving elsewhere, with the Standard reporting that stolen bikes are now commonly found on sale at the Columbia Road and Broadway markets in neighbouring Hackney.

Here, the mobility of the thieves and those who sell the bikes is potentially the most difficult issue for the police to combat. A bike stolen in the East End can find its way to Brick Lane or other markets within minutes, often being sold quickly on a street corner for a fraction of their true value to those who aren't bothered in asking too many questions about its provenance.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.