Bike Thefts are Soaring in London. But What Can We Do as a Community?

A record number of bicycles were stolen in the capital last year, costing an estimated £200 million. As COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, combined with an increase in bicycle use, we have seen a significant spike in bike theft. But will 2021 be any different?

I researched why the theft numbers are growing and what we can possibly do as a community to tackle the problem.

Bike thefts during the pandemic

Bike thefts during the pandemic have significantly increased in London. While official police reports may not give a full picture (due to how many bike thefts go unreported), in September 2020, the capital saw a 50% increase in the number of bikes stolen on London streets, compared to September 2019.

As people were advised to avoid using the tube and other forms of transport, TFL reported an average increase of 20% of the number of journeys made by bicycle (increasing to 200% on some routes).

No doubt the increased prevalence of bicycles on the streets led to a rise in the number of bikes stolen in London, in addition to the streets being quieter and the negative economic impact that the pandemic has had on many people’s lives.

Why are so many bikes stolen?

Bicycle theft is not a victimless crime. However, it is a relatively easy way to make some money without putting in too much effort.

Bicycles and e-bikes can be worth thousands of pounds and even at a discounted rate, thieves stand to profit handsomely by offloading a stolen bike onto another unsuspecting victim.

It is not only expensive-looking bikes that are attractive to bike thieves in London. They are looking for an easy and relatively low-risk way of making an income.

Targeted bike thefts vs opportunists

I always thought bike thieves are opportunists. I imagined someone carrying power tools and looking for easily accessible bicycles at night time. However, recent data shows another picture.

There is a significant increase in robberies where bicycles or bike accessories were stolen. Most of these robberies were targeting isolated parts of the capital such as canals or cut-throughs. Reports suggest that robberies often involved gangs of youths waiting for possible victims to ride by and usually involved violence. Victims often report being pushed off their bikes.

Another interesting aspect is the rising numbers of food delivery bikes being stolen. Due to the pandemic, we have seen increased numbers of food delivery orders. Combining the effects of small businesses closing down and unemployment rising, there is a new wave of food delivery bike riders attracting the attention of bike thieves. New riders with less experience on the streets mean less risk for gangs. Check out a recent video below about Deliveroo bike being stolen in Reading.

What can we do as a community?

In my honest opinion, there is no universal solution to tackle such a complex problem. However, I firmly believe that a series of coordinated group actions would make a significant impact on the number of bikes stolen in London.

First, I will show you my five-step action plan to fully prepare.

  1. Purchasing a used bike: There are a number of community-based bicycle register sites on the web. You can check Police can match stolen bikes with their registered owner by using these sites. Before purchasing a used bike, always check if the bike is marked. Marks vary from simple ID numbers to QR codes. If the bike is marked, search the most popular sites to see if the bike you are about to purchase is stolen or not. This careful approach will certainly make it way more difficult for thieves to sell off stolen bikes, whilst also making sure you won’t end up buying one.
  2. Mark (and register) your bike: If your favourite bicycle hasn’t been marked yet, it is a good time to make it happen. Marking (and registering) your bike means you could be reunited with your bike in the event of it being stolen. Some bike shops are offering professional marking service in London or you can also do it by yourself using security marking kits purchased from the bike register site. Make a note of your bike’s register number. Also, bear in mind that marking alone does not help make your bicycle a hard target to thieves.
  3. Secure your bike: First of all, no lock is theft-proof. But the right combination of locks can make it extremely difficult for thieves. I’m not going to explain all the pros and cons of each bike lock, instead, I share what works for me. Use two high-quality D-locks and make sure to take any removable gadgets from your bike with you. You can also think about gravity bolts and nuts so your wheels can only be removed when the bike is turned upside down (which is not possible when locked). Make sure you are locking up the right way — your frame and wheels must be tightly secured to a heavy object. No need to overthink, just be very diligent every single time.
  4. Insure your bike: This step is very easy to overlook but could come in handy. Choose a trusted insurer and make sure you are fully protected, especially if you have a high-value bicycle.
  5. Make your bike as unique as possible: Consider giving your bike a unique paint job or adding distinctive elements to it. This could not only turn out a fun project but can also make the thieves life harder. Bikes with highly personalised parts are much easier to identify when stolen plus it can also put thieves off — unique bikes are harder to sell therefore most thieves just wouldn’t bother. Try to make the most out of this project and create the dream DIY job for your bike.

After carefully preparing your bike and adding up layers of security there is one more thing to add: the power of the cycling community.

The cycling community came together on numerous occasions in the past and showed unity when it was most needed. I believe that this unity is the key to tackle bike thieves. Just take a look at the embedded video above.

I urge every bicycle user in London to look after each other to prevent such crimes — a little help goes a long way.

Share your knowledge and promote solutions that work. If you see a bike secured in the wrong way, kindly suggest to the owner a better option and explain why.

And if you see anything suspicious, remember, you don’t need to get involved physically but must report it immediately. Just because it’s not your bike, we are all in this together.

Imagine if most cyclists would follow the above steps and work together as a group. Call me an idealist, but I would like this to happen so badly. We all deserve a safer space after all.

You can visit our site for more information about bicycle shops in London. You can also ask bicycle shops for a quote to do your quick security marking.

I hope you find this article helpful. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Bike shop enthusiast. Check out my project at bikeshops.london

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