Five things we learned from an interview with an ex-bike thief

David Woodfield By David Woodfield

More than 300,000 bikes are stolen in the UK every year, that’s 34 bicycles every hour. Sadly, bikes are easy targets for thieves; they’re often worth a lot of money, they’re easy to transport and most locks can be picked or cut quickly.

And criminals are always finding new ways to make theft easier, we recently wrote about the latest scam targeting cyclists in London.

There are ways to minimise opportunities for theft (bikes secured with chains or cables account for 73% of thefts!), but bikes are always going to be at risk. Bicycle insurance can give you peace of mind that you’re covered even if the worst does happen.

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We’ve also negotiated exclusive discounts for our members with Bikmo+ and Yellow Jersey.

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Cycling Weekly recently interviewed a former bike thief to find out some of the tricks of the trade. Here are the five things that stood out to us.

1. Thieves target bikes in the centre of London (and presumably other towns) because people get complacent

The reformed con says that people tend to let their guard down in the centre of town - the locks are worse or not secured properly.

Perhaps cyclists get complacent because they think their bike will be safer in a bustling environment, or maybe they’re in a rush and don’t spend time securing their ride. Either way, the message is that you should never overlook security, wherever you are.

2. CCTV and witnesses don’t concern thieves

So, bikes in the centre of town are easier targets, but don’t think that being near CCTV or busy streets will put thieves off.

Crooks often wear motorcycle helmets when they’re taking bikes, so they’re not worried about being filmed. And the former thief says that bystanders are often too shocked to do anything in the seconds it takes to steal a bike: “No one really knew what was going on, almost I imagine like you have to question yourself like, did I really just see that?”

3. Stolen bikes are kept on the street – even in front of police stations

Once the bike has been nicked it is usually ridden to another location and locked up in a public place, even outside police stations. It’s unlikely the cyclist is going to find it and it means no stolen goods are kept on the con’s property.

However, new technology could help. A firm has started crowdfunding for a GPS device called Sherlock. It can be hidden inside a bike and will send you a text if your bike is moved after it’s been locked up. You can buy the device through its crowdfunding page here.

4. It takes 10 seconds to steal a locked bike

Criminals have tools to pick locks and even when they’re using hefty bolt cutters it can take just 10 seconds to liberate a bike.

Thieves drive up to the bike on the back of a motorbike, jump off to cut the lock and cycle away on the bike. It can happen so fast members of the public are too surprised to do anything about it.

And it shows how a bike can be taken even if you’ve left it outside a shop for a minute.

5. Having D-locks at certain angles can help prevent theft

The former thief says, “don’t be fooled by Kryptonite locks, they’re not as tough as made out to be” and he advises against D-locks with tubular locks.

Decent D-locks for the front and back wheels are a good start but it turns out the angle of the lock can also be a deterrent: “If your lock can be moved about that means the thief’s bolt cutters can get around them, at the right angle they won’t. Stiff D-locks are hard to snip because you need the right angle on the cutters to get the force to close them.”

Unfortunately, it sounds like if a thief really wants your bike, they’ll find a way to take it, but the more you do to make it difficult for them or add time onto a theft the more likely they are to skip past it in search of a softer target.

If your bike is pinched in London it’s worth adding it to Stolen Ride, which uses social media to share news of bike thefts among the cycling community.

Find out more about our cycling insurance special offers to see how your bike can be protected.

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