Thieves in Carmarthenshire have been using GPS ride-recording apps like Strava to seek-out and steal expensive bikes, Dyfed-Powys police have indicated.
DC Ciaran Ryan of Llanelli CID said that many of the cyclists whose bikes had recently been stolen had in fact been using social ride-sharing websites and apps like Strava to map their rides.
Following reports last week that bike thefts were on the rise in the area, and the description from Llanelli CID that this behaviour was “not normal”, police have issued a statement advising cyclists to treat online security as seriously as locking their bikes up.
DC Ryan said that apps like Strava could lead thieves straight to the door of owners of expensive bicycles.
"Some GPS data is shared publicly on these sites and is so accurate it pinpoints the exact house where their rides have begun and ended,” DC Ryan said.
"This information, along with the facility to post a description and photos of bicycles owned, give a potential thief all the information they need to steal the bike.”
DC Ryan went on to suggest steps that riders could take to try and obscure the storage location of expensive bikes.
He said: "we are encouraging users of these apps and websites to check their privacy settings to ensure their home address is hidden, and to consider not recording their ride until several streets away from their home address.”
On a related note, DC Ryan also advised prospective buyers of bikes, especially those in the area, to check the authenticity of any seller and ask for receipts of purchase or related documentation if possible to ensure that the bikes on sale are genuine.
Strava’s privacy options allow users to choose to only share the information about their rides with other riders that they are connected to.
Expensive bikes have always been a target for thieves, and, if you're not careful apps like Strava can help thieves identify where to find them. In the past year we have reported on similar warnings from police in Manchester and Bristol regarding posting ride data online that includes your start and end point if you're riding from home.
Fortunately, Strava makes it very easy for you to protect your privacy, and even has a Privacy Zone option that automatically does a similar job to the tactic of turning your ride-recording app on once you're a few streets away from home that DC Ryan suggested.
If you don’t know whether your rides are being made public, or you want to know how to protect the privacy of your ride routes, here’s a whistle-stop tour of Strava’s privacy controls:
Accessing privacy settings in Strava is easy, especially from the browser version of the app.
Head over to www.strava.com and after logging in to your account click on your profile picture in the top right corner of the page. This will give you access a drop-down menu which houses your My Profile link.
That link will take you through to a profile page featuring the basic information you gave Strava upon sigining up. The Privacy link on the left-hand menu will take you through to the page that will give you control over who can see your ride information.
Here you have two options. If you click ‘Enhanced Privacy Mode’ you’ll open a menu where you can turn on Strava’s recommended privacy settings. These settings will hide your information, including your full name, from anyone - on Strava or not - who you are not connected with.
Alternatively, if you still want to remain accessible to the Strava community, but want to protect your home address, you can create a privacy zone.
Simply pop your postcode into the ‘Create Privacy Zone’ box, and Strava will hide any activity that you make with a 500m-1km radius. Beware that if one of your beloved segments lies within that area, you will be removed from the leaderboard.
Finally, if you're still worried about the safety of your bike because of the information that's available online, here are some of our own pointers for you:
road.cc’s online security tips
We’re all for online communities here at road.cc – after all, we are one and the interaction between our own users is one of the things that makes the site what it is – but as the story above shows, there may be people watching who have intentions that go beyond taking exception with your opinion of helmets or Rapha and who’ll give you more than the odd flame to worry about. Here’s some pointers to keeping safe online, with an emphasis on bike security.
If you mainly post online under a pseudonym and never mention your real name in connection with that, you’re already a step ahead. If not, there are a few things you can do to make yourself more secure, both when it comes to your bike and generally.
- Since Facebook accounts tend to be under users’ real names, it’s not difficult for thieves to link that and other information to publicly available address information, so you may want to review your privacy settings to have control over who can see your profile (yes, we know Facebook keeps changing them, but try and keep on top).
- Be very careful about posting images online. We all like to post pictures of our new toys online, but a bit of common sense is needed. A photo of your brand new bike with your house clearly identifiable behind it could attract unwanted attention. You may wish to disable GPS information used by some photo sharing sites.
- The same goes for information you share on sites that track your rides and make the information public. Strava has a feature that enables you to hide the start and finish point of your ride, particularly useful if that happens to be your home. Use it.
- Don’t go into detail online about the specific type of security you have, whether in relation to your bike or your home generally; you’re giving the thieves a chance to prepare by making sure they have the right tools for the job. Likewise talking online about going away for a while, on holiday perhaps, can flag up an unoccupied house to the thieves .
- Even if you don’t post on social media under your real name, be wary about how much information you make public. The less you reveal, the less others know about who you are and where you live. Keep it vague – town or district, fine, the street you live on, think twice.
- It's not just Facebook and Twitter, either that you need to be careful about - as the story above shows, even club websites can be trawled by the crooks for information. Site admins may want to consider a private area of the site where members can chat.
- This isn’t specifically online-related, but we know that cyclists are sometimes followed home, the thieves returning later once they know where you live. If, close to your house, there’s somewhere you can go on your bike that someone watching you in a car can’t, go there. Try and vary your route if you can. Or ride a little way past your house then loop back.
Elliot joined team road.cc bright eyed, bushy tailed, and straight out of university.
Raised in front of cathode ray tube screens bearing the images of Miguel Indurain and Lance Armstrong, Elliot's always had cycling in his veins.
His balance was found on a Y-framed mountain bike around South London suburbs in the 90s, while his first taste of freedom came when he claimed his father's Giant hybrid as his own at age 16.
When Elliot's not writing for road.cc about two-wheeled sustainable transportation, he's focussing on business sustainability and the challenges facing our planet in the years to come.