Figures released by British Transport Police (BTP) covering every station in Great Britain give a detailed picture of where bikes are stolen on railway premises, with towns and cities in the south-east a prime target.
A response by BTP to a Freedom of Information request made in October last year by a national and regional newspaper group, a copy of which the force provided to road.cc, shows the number of bikes reported stolen at each station for the years 2011-14 plus the first 10 months of 2015.
Here are the 20 stations with the most bike thefts for the period as a whole.
Other than Manchester Piccadilly, the two London terminals and Coventry, all the stations listed are popular with commuters travelling into the capital, most having a journey time of between 30 minutes and an hour and a half from towns and cities in the south-east.
They are therefore locations where bikes are likely to be left all day long, meaning thieves can carry out their work at quieter times of the day.
Cambridge saw the highest number of reported thefts of bikes from railway premises during 2011-14, followed by Reading and St Albans City.
With the figures broken down by year, it’s possible to work out where the number of reported bike thefts is falling, and where it is increasing.
First, we took the monthly figures for 2015 for all stations on the network and adjusted them to give an estimate of what the total for that year at each station would be.
Then, looking at stations where at least 15 bikes were reported stolen on average each year from 2011-14, we identified those with the biggest percentage drops in reported bike theft for each year.
Here are the top 20. In terms of the total number of thefts, Cambridge saw the biggest fall, followed by Chelmsford, then Reading. The greatest percentage decline, however, was at Worthing.
To show the stations with the biggest increases in reported bike theft, we analysed those where at least 15 bicycles were reported stolen in the first 10 months of 2015. While there is a wider geographical spread, stations on commuter routes into London again dominate.
In both cases, certain caveats apply.
We decided that basing our calculations on 2015 annual estimates against the average for the preceding four years was preferable to simply calculating increases or decreases last year against 2014.
But figures can fluctuate wildly from year to year for a number of local factors such as prolific bike thieves being put behind bars, or switching their activities elsewhere, as well as the impact of local initiatives by BTP and partner forces.
Improvements made to cycle parking facilities also make certain stations less attractive targets to criminals; the introduction of a 1,000 space CyclePoint at Chelmsford in 2013, for example, resulted in a sharp drop in the number of bikes stolen there in 2014, although it rose again last year.
The BTP statistics, meanwhile, also need to be looked at in the context of other crime data for the area around the station.
In Cambridge, for example, where the mixed-use CB1 development is being built next to the station, there is currently no cycle parking on railway property itself, although there are thousands of dedicated parking spaces nearby, some in secure facilities.
The city has the by far the highest modal share for cycling of anywhere in the UK and demand for cycle parking by rail passengers well outstrips supply, leading some to leave their bikes wherever - and however - they can.
A search on the national Police.uk crime map website for Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s City South policing team shows 12 bicycles were reported stolen in the immediate vicinity of the city’s train station in November 2015 alone.
Those thefts won’t be included in the BTP statistics, but they do underline the potential pitfalls of looking at one set of data in isolation on this issue.
Moreover, with some stations not providing enough cycle parking spaces to meet demand, it's possible thieves are seeking out bikes parked nearby, away from CCTV and leaving them less exposed to efforts to reduce railway-related crime.
BTP’s own crime maps and statistics website provides data relating to bicycle theft by individual station; find the name of your station on the A-Z list , then click on “Station crime” followed by “More crime types” and finally “Bicycle theft.”
A spokesman for BTP told road.cc: “We’ve been working really hard to reduce cycle thefts across the country and our dedicated bike crime campaign, Op Wiggins, has resulted in a steady fall in the number of bikes stolen in recent years.
“In 2014, 704 fewer people had their bikes stolen than in 2011, thanks to specialist teams of officers who are focused on preventing this type of crime, as well as plain clothes and high-profile operations to catch thieves in the act.
“Cyclists are also becoming more aware of the need to invest in good quality, heavy duty locks which make a thief’s life more difficult and can dramatically reduce the chances of a bike being stolen.
“However,” he added, “we are not complacent and we will continue to hold events at stations, such as cycle surgeries where cyclists can get a free gold standard lock and complimentary bike marking, in a bid to drive thefts down even further.”
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.