Cycling in London is in its ascendancy. Transport for London reckons that during the period from 2000 to 2012, the number of daily journeys made by bicycle in Greater London doubled to 580,000. With tube fares rising above the rate of inflation and the increasing popularity of cycling as a sport – in no small way down to the success of athletes like Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins and Victoria Pendleton – it's set to become even more popular.
However, research from an insurance company published last year shows that one in five cyclists is a victim of bike theft, and although most expect to own their bikes for ten years, in fact they only get to keep them for two years before they are taken.
So, how do you avoid becoming a victim? Follow our tips below to ensure that when you return to your bike, it’s still there.
Lock it up. Properly.
We often walk around and see random wheels locked to bike stands on their own. Is this because people carry wheels around and feel the need to secure them when they go in to shops? No. It’s because the now former owner of the bike only locked the wheel to the post, not the frame, and someone has released the wheel to take the most valuable part of the machine.
If you’re locking your bike up, make sure that the frame is locked, rather than just the wheels.
Please release me
The population of abandoned bikes in London is relatively large. We've even seen them outside police stations. One reason for this is that opportunistic thieves spot wheels (in particular, quick release wheels) that are not secured and decide to whip them off. Probably to go on the frame they've already nicked elsewhere. As the bike remains in situ, gradually more and more components are stripped from the bike, finally leaving just a chained up frame.
If you’re locking your bike up, try and have a cable-lock or cable-loop go through the wheels so they’re not a target. If you do have your wheels, handle bars or seat nicked, try and retrieve your pride and joy as soon as you can so that other bits of your bike are not a further target for thieves with Allen keys.
Use two types of lock
Would-be thieves will often use one of two methods to break your lock; bolt cutters to snip through cable locks or car jacks to break open D-locks. Crooks tend not to carry both types of tool with them – as 1): they’re heavy and 2): they give the police an opportunity to arrest them for the offence of ‘going equipped’. Using a combination of cable-locks and D-locks limits your scope for becoming a victim.
Thieves sometimes also us sledgehammers or drills to break locks. You can make it much harder for them to do this however by making sure your lock does not touch the floor.
Location, location, location
Choose your spot carefully. First of all, make sure that whatever you’re locking your bike to is solid and attached to terra-firma. If it can be easily removed, so can your bike. Secondly, if you’re locking your bike to a lamppost, make sure that it’s not one that your lock (and bike) can be easily lifted up, over and off.
Also, don’t think that because you lock your bike up in an area that is busy, you’ll be safer. Thieves can actually use the fact that an area is busy as camouflage for their activities — sometimes the best way not be seen is to do it in plain sight. Some bike owners advocate locking your bike up places where it will be noticeable if someone is up to mischief, such as off the ground on a lamppost/railings, on the road side of pavement railings or on a roundabout. Wherever you choose to lock it, make sure it’s safe to do so and that it’s not prohibited.
Finally, thieves are notoriously camera-shy, so if you can find an area covered by CCTV, you’re more likely to be peddling home rather than fumbling around for your Oyster card.
Mind the gap
If you have a D-lock, try and get as much of your bike/wheels/cable-lock into the space in the middle as possible. As described above, thieves use car jacks to bust the lock open, but filling the gap will make this 100 times harder to do so.
We all love pound shops. You can find some cracking bargains in there. We wouldn’t buy a bike lock from there to secure a Pinarello carbon-framed bike though.
Cheap locks are a false economy. It will cost much more to replace your bike than to invest in the first place, not to mention be a massive pain in the arse. Experts say you should spend the equivalent of around 10% of the value of your bike on a lock. So if you have a £1,000 bike, you should be prepared to spend £100 on locks to make sure it remains your bike.
Choose your neighbours
This point really sticks in our throat, but reflects the reality of the situation. If the bike next to yours is easier to steal, then the likelihood is that their ride will be taken – rather than yours. Choose neighbours that are less-well secured and you’re more likely to find your wheels still there when you return.
Leave your mark
One of the worst possible scenarios is having your pride and joy nicked, it being recovered and the cops having no idea who to return it to.
The Metropolitan Police regularly hold free bike marking sessions. Should your bike be stolen then recovered, the police can look up who it belongs to and will soon be inviting you to pick it up. They also apply a little badge, visible on the frame, which acts as a deterrent — no self-respecting crim would ever want to be caught red-handed with someone else’s property. Also, take photos of your bike, this can help prove that a bike is yours, should it be recovered.
For details of bike marking sessions, visit The Met's website.
Bike thieves know a good bike from a crap bike, but usually only based on the branding on the frame. Some people have taken to decorating their good bike to make it look like a crap one, thus confusing our light-fingered friends and making the bike less likely to be pinched. Methods we’ve seen have included garish home-made spray jobs, gaffer tape and even tin foil.
Despite the supposed benefits of this, something seems perverse about spending the equivalent of Luxembourg’s GDP on beautiful machine only to ruin the aesthetics of it in the name of security. We’ll leave the decision up to you.
Don’t buy nicked bikes
The final point is perhaps the most important one. If nobody bought nicked bikes, then there wouldn’t be a market for this sort of thievery.
It might be tempting to see that road bike you’ve wanted, on-sale in a market in east London at half the price it’s actually worth, but don’t be lured in. If the cops find the ride you’ve bought is stolen, you’ll have to hand it over and will get no compensation in return. More so, you’re encouraging precisely the little toe-rags that this article you’re reading has been trying to help you foil.
For advice on ensuring the bike you’re buying is not stolen, read these tips on buying a second-hand bike.
Do you have any tips to avoid becoming just another cycle theft statistic? Add them below.