Reported bicycle theft in London has increased by a third during the past five years, with 26,000 stolen in the last 12 months, according to figures obtained by the BBC. However, arrests relating to bicycle theft and recovery rates have both fallen, and cycle campaigners say that with most incidents going unreported, the scale of the problem is much greater than the figures suggest.
According to the results of a Freedom of Information Act request made by BBC London, only 1,000 bikes – around 4 per cent of those reported stolen last year – were returned to their owners, the second year in a row that there had been a fall in the number of bikes recovered. Meanwhile, arrests fell by 10 per cent on the previous year.
The latest figures mark a reversal of a previous trend which had seen the number of bikes reported stolen to the Metropolitan Police fall from 23,245 in the 12 months to May 2010 fall to 22,536 in the year from June 2010 to May 2011.
Earlier this year, a London man was jailed for two years for selling stolen bicycles online following an operation involving the Metropolitan Police’s Cycle Task Force, set up in 2010, but that appears to be a rare victory in the fight against the thieves.
One cyclist told the BBC that he had twice had bicycles stolen from Liverpool Street station, but police did not seem interested even when he contacted them to say that he had seen one of the bike on sale on a website.
“It seems like they're resigned to the fact that bikes are going to get stolen," said the cyclist, Rob Patterson.
"I effectively did some detective work for them, and I was cast-iron sure I'd caught them a bike thief. They just weren't interested. It makes me really angry to be honest."
The BBC did not report which police force was involved in that particular case. If, as it appears, the thefts took place on station premises, they would be dealt with by British Transport Police, while the surrounding area is the responsibility of City of London Police.
London Cycling Campaign’s Mike Cavenett said that more needed to be done to combat bike theft. "Only about one in four bikes in London is reported stolen,” he explained. “That means there could be around 100,000 bikes stolen every year, which is clearly a huge problem.
"The government's spending a lot of money encouraging people to ride their bike and when their bike is stolen about two-thirds of them don't get back on a bike."
Sergeant Paul Davey of the Metropolitan Police’s Cycle Task Force said that bike owners had a responsibility to help police by ensuring their bicycles were security marked.
"If everyone had their bike registered and we had a contact detail which is linked to a security marking which is linked to the frame number on a bike - they're both unique - we could get bikes back to people all the time,” he explained.
"We could raise that [recovery rate] number from 4% up to 100%."
road.cc's bike locking Dos and Don'ts
Do lock your bike to a secure, immovable object - ideally one designed for the purpose
Do make sure the frame and both wheels are inside your lock, or use two locks, or locking wheel skewers on the front wheel
Do use a lock, and use it properly even if you are leaving your bike unattended for even a moment
Do remove lights and anything else that isn't securely fixed to your bike when you are locking it up
Do lock your bike when you get it home, especially if you keep it in a shed or garage
Do buy the best lock or locks that you can afford
Don't leave your bike unlocked and unattended even if you are just nipping in to a shop
Don't lock your bike up in a secluded location where a thief has time to work on your lock undisturbed
Don't lock your bike to trees or fences that can be easily cut through, or posts or signs that it can be easily lifted over
Don't leave space in your shackle - that gives space for evil bike stealing tools to do their worst or leave your lock lying flat on the ground for the same reason
Don't forget your lock
We're strong believers in always filling your shackle but we're always looking for new ways to help beat bike thieves so if you've got any bike security tips you'd like to share with the crowd let's hear them!
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.