Here’s a conversation I overheard recently: “It’s a Dawes Geneva” she announced proudly to her friend at the school gates. There was no doubt that it was a fine looking cycle. “It’s fully-loaded too with a wicker basket, panniers and a tail rack. What? Oh! About £700.” she added in response to her friend’s quizzical look.
The more sportier amongst us might start thinking about a new carbon-framed road bike with maybe a Shimano 105 group set (or Campagnolo if you’re of the Italian persuasion) for the long summer rides ahead – north of £1,500 will get you one of those beauties.
So bikes are not cheap – at least not the ones we all seem to be aspiring to these days – and with their growing popularity as part of our fitness and green-living regimes, that means there’s a strong ‘after-market’ for stolen cycles. And it’s not just opportunistic thieves that you need to guard against: it’s common now for organised gangs to target areas and use vans to transport the stolen bikes.
In 2009, cycle theft in central London alone rose by 75% in just four months as a result of organised crime. In the British Crime Survey 2009/10 it was estimated that 485,913 bikes were stolen in England and Wales. It’s big business.
A more interesting statistic from a recent UK Home Office survey is that two out of every three bikes are stolen in or around the cyclist’s home! That’s an amazing 66%, or 320,000, of all bike thefts that happened outside the owner’s door. The Home Office also reckons that only 8% of stolen bikes get returned to their owners.
So how can you keep your bike secure?
We’ve asked our team (all keen cyclists!) and other respected cycling resources for our top 5 tips on keeping your pride and joy safe from sticky fingers.
1. Get a good cycle-lock and use it properly
OK this may seem obvious but bikes can often be seen parked-up with no lock or not locked to something immovable such as a purpose-built cycle stand, railing or tall lamppost.
If you can, always lock your bike in a busy street and to a bike rack. Try not to lock it immediately outside of a place like a cinema that makes it obvious that you’re away for a while and for how long.
Not all locks are equal either. Buy the best you can afford and make sure it’s a braided cable with lots of thin wire strands which are harder to cut. Preferably go for a hardened-steel shackle lock, also known as ‘D’ or ‘U’ locks, as these are the most secure (but heavy).
There is a ‘Sold Secure rating’ system in the UK for bicycle locks. This ranks a lock by gold, silver and bronze based on its security test-results. Some insurers make it a condition of cover that you were using a lock with a sold secure rating at the time of any theft so check your policy if you have one. There is an online database where you can search for approved cycle locks that have been tested to these standards.
2. Use more than one bike lock
Besides attempting to cut through a bike lock, another favoured technique is to smash the lock with a hammer. Thieves are known to make this easier by squirting freezing fluid (that plumbers and electricians use) into the key hole to make it brittle. The more locks you have, the more time the thieves will need to get them off and the greater their risk of getting caught; they’re more likely to move on to a ‘softer’ target.
Personally, I use two D-locks, one around the back wheel and frame and one between the frame and then a railing or bike stand. For good measure I also add a braided cable which is threaded between the front and back wheels!
3. Remove detachable items from your bike
Most bikes these days have quick release saddles. If you take your saddle with you it makes your bike less attractive to thieves: somebody riding a bike without a saddle looks out of place and suspicious – two things thieves don’t want – it’s also tiring riding standing up! A thief looking to get a quick sale down at the pub or on eBay is now faced with getting a saddle if they want to pass it off as a genuine sale. More work than they probably bargained for (and they don’t like to work!)
If you’re very security-conscious, or have a very expensive bike, you can also take your front wheel with you. Though if you’re considering doing this, you’re probably not the sort of person that would leave their bike unattended anyway!
4. Get a bike shed for home cycle-security
If a thief can’t see it, they’re less likely to discover it and steal it. To make sure you’re not one of the 66% of victims of theft that gets their bike nicked outside their house, invest in a bike shed.
Bike sheds provide ideal cycle storage and besides keeping your cycle protected form the elements they improve security. Bike sheds are usually available in either wood or galvanised steel though less secure nylon polyester ones can also be bought. Make sure that any bicycle storage you’re considering will fit all your family’s bikes and that there’s easy access to get them in and out.
5. Trace your bike if it gets stolen
If the worst happens and your bike gets stolen, there is a chance that it will get recovered by the police. If it does, and it’s not marked in some way, it will languish in a store room somewhere before being offloaded or dumped. Don’t let that happen to you!
To improve the odds of getting your bike back, keep a note of the frame number and also have the frame marked in some way. Etching your postcode onto the frame is one option and can also act as a deterrent but it obviously spoils its looks somewhat. A less invasive option is to mark your postcode with a pen that has UV-sensitive ink. Police tend to scan stolen goods with UV light to help them identify their original owners and reunite them with their items.
If you like high-tech gadgets, there is a novel way of tracking stolen bikes using smartphones. One such service is strava. Basically it’s an online service where you can register your bike and its serial number which goes into their global database. You can then tag your bike with a tamper-resistant, weatherproof barcode that uniquely identifies your bike.
Now the clever bit. If your bike gets stolen, you log this fact on their website (after informing the Police of course). Now anybody with their free smartphone application can scan a bike’s barcode tag if they see one. If the bike is stolen this will alert the smartphone user, Bike Revolution and ultimately the owner of its location. Whether this type of system will be successful clearly depends on the uptake of the tagging, the smartphone application and users’ willingness to be ‘bike detectives’.
A final thought
Though no security method will be 100% effective in keeping your bike safe, it’s much the same as house security: the harder and less attractive you can make it for the thief, the more likely they are to move onto another easier target.
Do you have any favourite tips on cycle security you’d like to share with us? Submit a comment below and let us know.