London bike theft up by a third in last 5 years... but number of recoveries and arrests is down

LCC says figures obtained by BBC under FOI request understate scale of problem + our Dos and Donts for keeping your bike safe

by Simon_MacMichael   August 15, 2012  

Wheel from stolen bike © Simon MacMichael.JPG

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!

21 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

Bizarrely I got a phone call at the exact time that this article was published from the police to say they have retrieved my bike that was stolen two years ago!

My tips: educate yourself on how to PROPERLY lock your bike, it's not as straight forward as most people think. Learn from my mistake.

Secondly, make sure you check your bike serial number (it's on the frame underneath between the pedals usually. Keep it safe so you can tell the police what your serial number is if your bike gets knicked. If I didn't do that I wouldn't have this wonderful news today!

Big up the Met!

posted by alanicon [1 posts]
15th August 2012 - 14:42

5 Likes

Do buy a Brompton so you can take it with you wherever you go. : )

posted by horizontal dropout [148 posts]
15th August 2012 - 17:03

6 Likes

More bikes, more theft, police not interested. Sounds pretty normal to me.

iDavid's picture

posted by iDavid [47 posts]
15th August 2012 - 19:39

4 Likes

Well the police certainly didn't seem to give a toss when I last had a bicycle stolen, so no change there then. What the story doesn't point out is that if you have a rusty old clunker, it is far less likely to be nicked by an opportunist thief. I keep my good bikes with me. The older ones can be left here and there in town.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2197 posts]
15th August 2012 - 19:59

4 Likes

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.

Does he have a crystal ball cos i would love to know how he works out only 1 in 4 are reported stolen, does everyone who loses their bike report it to him and not the Police ?????

Also as a serving cop we know that a lot of people report their bike "stolen" and are only interested in a crime number for insurance purposes. Has the bike actually been stolen - only the person reporting will know. Rightly or wrongly thats society at the mo

If you must break the law, do it to seize power: in all other cases observe it. Gaius Julius Caesar.

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [2722 posts]
15th August 2012 - 20:29

4 Likes

Get a Datatag as suggested by mickdan or a Bike Shepherd tag what I have which sounds fairly similar

http://road.cc/content/forum/59391-help-get-your-bikes-back-after-being-...

posted by Marauder [239 posts]
15th August 2012 - 20:46

3 Likes

"Do make sure the frame and both wheels are inside your lock, or use two locks, or locking wheel skewers on the front wheel"

It is *essential* to always use two locks in London. Often this will mean the difference between the bike thief going for an easier bike to steal rather than your one. One lock can easily be smashed off or levered. Two is more problematic.

I use two good quality D locks to lock my bike up when I leave it for more than 2 hours outside my gym. So far, I have not had any problems and that area (Islington) is a known problem area for bike thieves.

Some people recommend using two different types of locks ie a d lock and a cable lock, so that the thief may need different tools to cut through each lock. Personally, I like strong D locks though and so far, everything OK.

posted by Tom Amos [242 posts]
16th August 2012 - 8:52

3 Likes

stumps wrote:
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.

Does he have a crystal ball cos i would love to know how he works out only 1 in 4 are reported stolen, does everyone who loses their bike report it to him and not the Police ?????

Also as a serving cop we know that a lot of people report their bike "stolen" and are only interested in a crime number for insurance purposes. Has the bike actually been stolen - only the person reporting will know. Rightly or wrongly thats society at the mo

Beautiful misdirection there turning the whole thing completely around.

Maybe its really that no bikes are ever stolen and everyone is on an insurance scam and trying to hookwink poor old plod? You must feel so used?

Are you sure that its not a case of the met being far too busy with selling PNC data to reporters and private investigators to give a shit about a stolen bicycle?

Plus you must be so busy with all those young black men to stop and search?

zanf's picture

posted by zanf [494 posts]
16th August 2012 - 10:01

6 Likes

I'm Steve at Pragmasis. We manufacture security products for bikes and would always encourage people to avoid relying on a cable lock for anything valuable, as they are so easy to cut. Even the armoured ones, in our experience, are nothing like as good as a decent chain and often heavier.

Datatag and other tags are useful but a lot of police stations don't even have H&S-approved ultraviolet lights, let alone the special Datatag etc scanners to retrieve an id from these things. Tracking products can also be a deterrent, but none of those things are reliable at preventing the theft. They are useful as extra deterrents, but it's much better, in our opinion, to put more reliance on a good chain & lock _and_ a good D-lock, with _both_ of them going through the frame _and_ a wheel _and_ something solid, so the thief has to defeat multiple things of different types to steal your bike.

If you've got a valuable bike, be wary of thieves cutting the frame to release a chain/D-lock, as that can be an easy way for them to steal a lot of expensive components. Putting a chain or D-lock through the main triangle of the frame _and_ through the rear wheel means they will have to make several cuts and potentially through the wheel and the tyre to get the bike even with a trashed frame. Tyres with beads are difficult to cut, so this makes it all very unappealing to the thief, and if you also have an independent lock on the front wheel that is also through the frame and around something solid, the thief is looking at a lot of work to get virtually nothing.

Following the LCC tips above as well and having a well thought out security strategy is much more likely to help you keep your bike and also to reduce the chance of a thief attempting a theft, so you are also less likely to come back to a damaged bike.

I hope that helps.

Stephen Briggs
Engineering Director, Pragmasis Ltd
http://www.SecurityForBikes.com 01827 286267

posted by Pragma [6 posts]
16th August 2012 - 10:21

4 Likes

stumps wrote:
Does he have a crystal ball cos i would love to know how he works out only 1 in 4 are reported stolen, does everyone who loses their bike report it to him and not the Police ?????

Often statements like this (not sure in this specific case) are mainly based on comparison of data from Crime Survey for England & Wales (previously the British Crime Survey and which asks random sample about their experience as victim of crime) with the numbers of reported crimes published by the police.

So if say the equivalent of 400,000 people say they have had a bike nicked in the last year but the police figures show 100,000 reported, there's your answer.

Lots of people aren't insured, and many who are won't bother to claim for a bike being stolen if the value isn't much more than the excess. There's also evidence people won't bother reporting it to police in the first place because they don't think it will be taken seriously.

Another issue is that if a bike is stolen as part of a burglary or mugging etc, I think the police stats record it under that specific crime rather than as a stolen bike?

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8048 posts]
16th August 2012 - 10:38

3 Likes

More people are cycling in London. This means that not only is the demand for bikes rising but the opportunities for thieves to both steal and get a decent return are increasing.

Unfortunately the Met Police Cycle Task Force, formed in 2010 is woefully under resourced. Add to this the problem that the local police haven't got a scooby on how to deal with bicycle theft or recovery. I know this from experience.

Having had a bike stolen and reported it to local police, I then saw my bike on eBay. The local police took days to respond by which time the bike had been sold and gone. They were also hampered by eBay's crime department - evidently one person for the entire European continent, which have a 40 day request response.

I contacted the cycle task force myself and
as it turned out, they were already investigating the seller for similar crimes.

My bike has still disappeared, but at least one more charge is getting brought against the seller and there is a chance I may receive some form of compensation.

posted by markyjl [8 posts]
16th August 2012 - 10:44

2 Likes

I've got one of your 13mm Protector chains that secures my bike at home, I have something a little lighter to carry around though Smile
You are right, the Datatag is only a deterrent, you still need to lock the bike up properly.

posted by mickdann [45 posts]
16th August 2012 - 12:09

5 Likes

As for bike security tips, in addition to decent locks/chains/d-rings also get a Datatag.
The big green sticker is likely to deter thieves and if it does get stolen there's more chance of you getting it back and the thieves getting caught.

posted by mickdann [45 posts]
16th August 2012 - 12:14

3 Likes

A bit harsh I think zanf; yes there are some Police officers out there who are a disgrace to the uniform (and I can give examples). But the vast majority are doing what can be a s**t job as well as it can be done. Cynicism sets in after a few years in the job; as we say, they (the Police) cover my arse and I cover theirs! But remember these bikes get stolen because there is a ready market for them; if you saw a really nice bike at a really nice price, the seller wants cash and to meet you in a layby....would you ask questions?

posted by SideBurn [799 posts]
16th August 2012 - 14:59

7 Likes

SideBurn wrote:
A bit harsh I think zanf; yes there are some Police officers out there who are a disgrace to the uniform (and I can give examples). But the vast majority are doing what can be a s**t job as well as it can be done.

My own personal experience is that most cops are not interested. They may have best intentions when they join up to serve but that is soon worked out of them.

My most recent experience was that I was deliberately rear ended by a minicab. The officers that turned up were not interested in anything other than collecting and swapping our details before being on their merry way.

SideBurn wrote:
Cynicism sets in after a few years in the job; as we say, they (the Police) cover my arse and I cover theirs!

Which is why a lot of people have no love for you (collectively). You (again collectively) stonewall when you fuck up and obfuscate the truth, even outright lie in some cases and yet expect unswerving compliance from the public.

SideBurn wrote:
But remember these bikes get stolen because there is a ready market for them; if you saw a really nice bike at a really nice price, the seller wants cash and to meet you in a layby....would you ask questions?

Again, your perspective is to instantly criminalise everyone. Do you think everyone is a criminal that you havent caught yet or something?

Maybe you need to start hanging around with a better crowd or get out into the sun every once in a while?

zanf's picture

posted by zanf [494 posts]
16th August 2012 - 16:17

4 Likes

Yeah Zanf. Your comment was a bit harsh and personally I reckon that your final paragraph in your 10.01 post was bang out of order.

I think many are only interested in the crime number as they want the whole thing sorted quickly and not have to wait on the results of an investigation this is compounded by many divisions not having a specific dept focused solely on bike crime.

I know if my pride and joy was nicked I don't know if I actually would want it back as who knows what condition it would come back in Sad

My advice is much the same as Pragma -
*2 d-locks, both through the frame and a wheel each to something unmoveable
*make the keyhole difficult to access (a pain yes, but you want to be as cussed as possible to prospective thief)
*Take a note of the frame #
*Make an identification mark unique to your bike
*Park in a very public place
*Use your hack for the commute (the only clean part of mine is the drive chain and cables!)
*the posh bike secured to a floor/wall bolt with a heavy duty chain

I've actually had to stop and give folk some advice on securing their bike in the past. Let's not give these wee clypes the opportunity to nick our wheels.

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1051 posts]
16th August 2012 - 17:54

2 Likes

Simon McMichael - sorry being tongue in cheek, i appreciate there are numerous ways to report your bike and not all of them involve the Police Big Grin

Zanff -

I have never read such utter drivel in all my life. Your comments are inflammatory, racist, repulsive and down right rude and its obvious you do not have a clue what your talking about. In my opinion the language you use is not called for on this site and i believe not wanted.

I have served with Northumbria Police for over 25 years and during that time i have been called numerous things but never ever a racist.

Notice its the Met the article is about and not Northumbria so before you go shouting your abusive mouth off i suggest you think about what your going to say.

If you must break the law, do it to seize power: in all other cases observe it. Gaius Julius Caesar.

stumps's picture

posted by stumps [2722 posts]
16th August 2012 - 21:18

3 Likes

stumps wrote:
Zanff

Just the one f. Its written underneath every post I make.

stumps wrote:
I have never read such utter drivel in all my life. Your comments are inflammatory, racist, repulsive and down right rude and its obvious you do not have a clue what your talking about. In my opinion the language you use is not called for on this site and i believe not wanted.

Coming from you that means absolutely nothing.

You implied that the vast majority of people who have their bikes stolen are running insurance scams and would buy stolen goods.

stumps wrote:
Your comments are inflammatory

Only because they hit a nerve with you.

stumps wrote:
racist

Nowhere have I made a racist comment and to accuse me of doing so shows your true colours: you're a retarded idiot

stumps wrote:
repulsive and down right rude and its obvious you do not have a clue what your talking about.

blah blah blah.

stumps wrote:
I have served with Northumbria Police for over 25 years and during that time i have been called numerous things but never ever a racist.

Just because you have never been called out as one, does not mean that you are not one. You work for an organisation that is institutionally racist and you yourself have made baseless allegations that criminalise a large amount of people. That is called prejudice and is a very dangerous way to live your life, especially when you are entrusted to a position of enforcing the law.

stumps wrote:
Notice its the Met the article is about and not Northumbria so before you go shouting your abusive mouth off i suggest you think about what your going to say.

Again, blah blah blah. The butthurt is so strong with you.

You start off by accusing the guy from LCC of not knowing what he's talking about and making up figures, you move swiftly on to accusing people of running insurance scams then suggest that people would easily trade in stolen goods and when you get called out you cry like a little baby.

You're obviously a very broken person. I pity you.

zanf's picture

posted by zanf [494 posts]
18th August 2012 - 15:43

4 Likes

giff77 wrote:
Yeah Zanf. Your comment was a bit harsh and personally I reckon that your final paragraph in your 10.01 post was bang out of order.

It may well be harsh but it is the truth.

giff77 wrote:
I think many are only interested in the crime number as they want the whole thing sorted quickly and not have to wait on the results of an investigation this is compounded by many divisions not having a specific dept focused solely on bike crime.

You know why they might only be interested in the crime number? Because they have absolutely no faith in the police being remotely interested in doing the slightest thing about it so they are just resigned to claiming it off their insurance, if they have any. Those that dont will certainly no report it because whats the point? Plod wont lift a finger and they are only wasting their own time reporting it to an organisation that frankly does not care in the slightest.

zanf's picture

posted by zanf [494 posts]
18th August 2012 - 15:48

4 Likes

As I said zanf they want the whole thing sorted quickly. People generally want life to be as simple and as uncomplicated as possible. And if this means having a crime reference only then that's all they ask for. Me personally, it would depend on what bike determined my reporting to the police and also the value of the bike would determine making a claim.

In regards to you other comments on this thread I suggest a wee trip down to your local tesco's for some salt....

giff77's picture

posted by giff77 [1051 posts]
18th August 2012 - 17:58

3 Likes

Angry City of London police, they're all too happy to to wait around on a road which is designated as a pavement because on some other day there's a market there, and then hand out a fine to me for a honest mistake (there were two ****ing vans parked next to the pavement on this 'pavement'). They don't give a s**t about cyclists. B****y time-wasters. Angry

posted by kie7077 [453 posts]
7th November 2012 - 21:45

4 Likes