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“It makes you feel powerless” – victims in UK's bike theft capital share their frustrations

Cambridge residents are being urged to register their bicycles in a bid to beat the thieves

Bike theft victims in Cambridge, where more bikes are stolen per head of population than any other city in the UK, have been sharing their frustrations with road.cc, with one highlighting that repeated break-ins at bike storage facilities where she lives have left people feeling “powerless” and another saying that after their bikes were stolen, neither she nor her partner cycle to the city’s railway stations.

Some 4,000 bicycles are reported stolen in Cambridge in a typical year, with many more thefts going unreported, and local cycle campaign group Camcycle estimates that theft of bicycles – the most reported crime in the city – costs residents more than £1.5 million.

Now, Camcycle is urging cyclists in Cambridge and surrounding areas to log details of their bikes, including the serial number, on BikeRegister to increase the chances of being reunited with them shout they be stolen, in a campaign called Save Our Cycles run in partnership with Cambridge City Council, Cambridgeshire Constabulary and other local organisations.

The campaign group is using social media to highlight the importance of registering bikes to help police trace the owner should it be recovered, as well as providing tips on correct locking techniques to deter thieves, and is also working with employers, universities, schools and local bike shops to help get the message across.

Camcycle’s Executive Director, Roxanne De Beaux, said of the campaign: “After many frustrating years campaigning for action on cycle theft I can say that I am now seeing the most positive action yet.

“Camcycle is pleased to be collaborating with stakeholders including the police, city and county councillors and officers, Greater Anglia, Cambridge University, Anglia Ruskin University and the business community (via Cambridge Ahead) on a number of initiatives aimed at tackling cycle theft across enforcement, infrastructure and education.

“Now that action is being taken, it is important that each individual also takes steps to “log it and lock it” and keep their cycles safe. We hope to see a massive increase in the number of cycles registered as the public gets on board with the Save our Cycles campaign,” she added.

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Inspector Ed McNeill of Cambridgeshire Police commented: “Cambridgeshire Police are working with partners to reduce cycle theft, working on improving infrastructure, increasing opportunities to arrest cycle thieves and those that knowingly sell on stolen goods.

“One of the biggest blockers to the prosecution of offenders is not being able to positively identify a bike as being stolen. We’re grateful for Camcycle’s efforts with the Save our Cycles campaign as we expect that increased registrations of bike frame numbers will allow us to apprehend more offenders.”

Many bike theft victims in the city have expressed frustration and disappointment over their experience with the police after reporting that their bicycle has been stolen.

Here’s the experience of one cyclist responding to a post by road.cc editor Jack Sexty on the Stolen Bikes in Cambridge Facebook group, who said she had been left frustrated and disappointed by the reaction of police after her bike was stolen, adding that neither she nor her partner now ride their bikes to the city’s train stations – both known cycle theft hotspots.

I had my bike stolen from Cambridge station about 18 months ago. At the time (33 years old and lived in Cambridge for around 18 months), I had no idea it was common. I called the police in tears not knowing where to turn, they created an incident but said I needed to get the CCTV footage myself.

I went to the train station that said in order to request it I had to submit bank details to verify my identity.

I went through all of that and then went to check with the police multiple times and they closed the case. I have no idea if they got the footage, reviewed the footage, cared.

If they aren’t going to do something about it, I would have rather had that transparently shared with me at the start rather than any kind of false hope.

My partner then had his bike stolen from Cambridge North train station six months later (we parked it there overnight since mine had been stolen from city centre station).

We now refuse to bike to either station either walking or taxi’ing, and I do not swim in the city centre as I don’t want to leave my commuter where it’ll just be immediately pinched even if locked.

A number of people responding to the post also highlighted that secure cycle storage in new developments in the city is often anything but – with such facilities regularly targeted by thieves, in some cases on more than one occasion. Here’s what one resident had to say about the development she lives in:

I live in a modern development that's been broken into repeatedly. There have been two break-ins, two months apart, this year alone. 

Each time, the thieves steal multiple bikes from multiple bike stores. We've had doors broken to gain access, cycle racks dismantled ... yet the police never do more than hand out crime numbers.

When I called them to report the theft of my bike, the call handler said, "They're going to have to do something about that place. It's becoming a regular thing." So they are aware of the issue, they just seem reluctant to do anything about it. 

As a result of the thefts we started a residents' WhatsApp group, which has helped with solidarity and logging crime (we have a spreadsheet for neighbourhood incidents). We've also managed to thwart multiple attempts to tape over the electromagnets on the communal garage door to prevent it from closing, but unfortunately the thefts continue. 

It makes you feel powerless, just waiting for the next time, and it's very VERY frustrating ... not to mention expensive. 

There seems to be a lack of interest in joining the dots between these thefts, county lines drug trafficking and cuts to social services. But until they do, Cambridge is likely to continue to be the bike theft capital of the UK.

PS By miracle, I got my bike back when the new "owner" took it to my regular bike shop and the staff recognised it ... but it was no thanks to the police. 

One bike theft victim told us he had experience of “lack of police help” after his “very expensive” bike was stolen from a bike shed at the large Tesco supermarket on Newmarket Road at 8pm one evening, with the thieves presumably using an angle grinder to cut his lock; another highlighted photos “showing a couple of bike thieves openly carrying a set of boltcutters while they scope out the bike racks outside Tesco, adding, “nothing was done.”

Yet another victim of the thieves said that her electric bike had been stolen recently from a secure parking unit. Sharing a photo, she said, “This morning we saw this bike shed was cut open [in the] next building from us. We don’t know how many bikes were stolen, but we spoke to one of the residents, his bike was stolen.”

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Omar Terywall, who set up the Stolen Bikes in Cambridge Facebook Group, has given his backing to Camcycle’s Save Our Bikes campaign.

“I’m pleased to say that we have managed to retrieve a large number of bikes since setting up the Facebook page,” he said. 

“However, there would be more success stories if people were just aware of their serial/frame numbers – and had them registered on Bike Register.

“We have had an overwhelming number of instances where we, or the victims, have identified stolen bikes by distinctive markings or features – but have failed to recover them because we didn’t have sufficient evidence for the police to act.

“In each case, sellers claim they have purchased the bikes innocently after checking Bike Register. Despite the victims being able to point out all distinctive features, the sellers have refused to hand the bike back because the owner didn’t have it registered and/or couldn’t provide hard evidence ie confirm the serial/frame number.

“There is no lock that a determined bike thief can’t break,” he added. “Registering their bike’s frame/serial number on bikeregister.com is, in my opinion, the most important thing that any bike owner could do.”

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.

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