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Insurer's PR stunt misfires as thieves leave unlocked bikes alone

Are cyclists better off splashing out on decent lock than taking out insurance policy?

Staff at a PR firm have been left scratching their heads after a planned stunt for Britain’s biggest insurance company, intended to highlight the importance of taking out bike insurance, went wrong as bicycles left unlocked at bike crime hotspots in London failed to attract the attention of thieves.

The PR company, working for insurer Aviva, left the bicycles at what had been identified as the five biggest bike theft hotspots in the city, but one bike, left unlocked outside Euston station, was still there two days later.

Another, reported by the Guardian to be a standard bike worth between £200 and £300, was left outside offices in Central London and locked incorrectly in order to tempt thieves, but also failed to attract attention and was retrieved after two days.

It was in the crime-infested streets of Fulham that the experiment scored its biggest successes. One bike, left unlocked outside a house, was taken after five hours, while another, again left without a lock, this time outside a convenience store, disappeared within 20 minutes.

The PR company involved, Red Consultancy, said: "This experiment was not intended to be scientific," adding that it was designed to draw attention to the high prevalence of bike theft, especially in August as summer cyclists take to the streets.

The company added that 540,000 bicycles were stolen in the UK last year, a 22% rise on the preceding 12 months, and highlighted the creation of a dedicated police taskforce in London to combat bike theft.

Of course, to anyone who has had a bike stolen, especially of they've locked it up, it seems incredible  that a bike could be left unlocked outside a high-profile location like Euston Station for 48 hours and not be stolen, but for whatever reason - last-minute getaways to Spain to escape the rain, or fears that it was a police sting - the thieves failed to take the bait.

Indeed, according to the Guardian, one unintended consequence of the study was to highlight that you might be better off investing in a decent lock rather to prevent your bike being stolen in the first place rather than an insurance policy that pays out if it is.

The newspaper said that in a control study carried out ahead of the experiment, which saw bicycles attached to immovable objects with D-locks correctly deployed, none of the bikes was stolen. In the experiment itself, however, the bikes stolen had were either unlocked, or were locked incorrectly.

A spokesman for Aviva said: "Obviously bike insurance will cover you for any theft or damage, but much better not to go through the hassle of dealing with the loss of your transport in the first place. And remember insurers do expect your cycle to be properly secured – and that means locked to a fixed immoveable object – unlike the poor security measures used in our experiment."

As far as the bikes involved in the experiment are concerned, those that weren’t stolen were given to charity, while none of the others have been recovered, nor have any thieves been caught.


Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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