Advice on protecting your bike, from a former thief

With added attention to cycling in the community every year, the threat of bike theft seems to rise in a similar fashion. But what are thieves on the look-out for? You may be forgiven for thinking bike theft doesn’t occur on a grand scale, but the truth is that bike thieves often target pricier assets and avoid the less valuable ones, even those with poor security.

Grand theft cycle
Take the 2014 Tour de Haut Var, for example. One of the major events in the cycling calendar, one of the teams were left baffled when they found 16 of their 19 bikes were stolen from the back of their van overnight, along with vital equipment and accessories. It seemed the remaining three were left simply because they wouldn’t fit in the thieves’ getaway vehicle. This theft alone cost tens of thousands of pounds.

In the 2015 Vuelta a España, thieves stole a single bike on this occasion. Unfortunately for the owner, it was worth more than €12,000, and unfortunately for the thieves, they didn’t know much about bikes. The pricey bike was found in a second-hand store on sale at a bargain €120 having been sold to the shop by the thieves.

Most startlingly, perhaps, is when thieves targeted Team Wiggins at the Velothon in July 2017. They managed to escape with 4 bikes and equipment which amounted to around £60,000. It’s clear from these examples that thieves are willing to take high risks to steal high-value bikes. Locks, security trackers and CCTV may help your anxiety if you own an expensive bike, but it’s not guaranteed to deter a bike thief the way you may think.

A convicted bike thief revealed all in an interview recently, exposing his operation in full. He gave insight into his opportunistic outlook from the moment he and his associate approached a target bike. The pillion passenger would jump off, take out bolt cutters, cut the lock, replace the bolt cutters, and ride off in a matter of seconds. He’d do this 10 or more times per weekend, operating as soon as the sun started to set. He’d only target bikes worth more than £200, he said, and never worried about CCTV as he always wore a motorcycle helmet. The speed and ruthlessness of bike theft may be disconcerting for those owning expensive bikes, but the bike thief did give tips on how best to secure your bike.

Use a good lock
There are many locks and chains on offer, but the ex-thief advised against using chains, describing how easy it is to bolt-cut the chain. A D-lock has been hailed as the best item of security for cyclists. Their small frame means thieves can only cut the lock at certain angles and could add vital seconds to their attempted theft. Simply using several locks may well extend this, though naturally the more locks you have, the heavier your backpack. You should always store it to an immovable object that cannot be cut. After all, a lock is only as good as the object it’s locked to.

Store it in plain sight
Where you store your bike often dictates whether or not your bike is stolen. If you don’t have a garage, shed, or outhouse, finding places to store it can be worrying. This ex-thief said storing your bike in a secure area such as a car park often meant that he could take his time when breaking locks and was unlikely to be spotted by the public. Storing it with a good lock in a very busy, well-lit place is about as good a place, according to the ex-thief.

Make marks?
Whilst marking your bike often seems worthwhile—since your bike will stand out and will be easy to recognise—it’s not always the case. Thieves are quick to shave off, file, or paint over markings. The ex-thief interviewed said getting your bike sprayed with a special invisible water-base is a solid solution. The liquid acts as the bike’s DNA, only visible under UV lights.

Other things you can do
Joining one of the many online schemes can be advantageous as they often have databases linking bikes to owners. Your local police may run such a scheme. Neighbourhood Watch is also strongly recommended and can benefit general crime in your area. Thieves are less likely to spend time attempting to steal knowing they could be being watched. Insurance firms always encourage you to take photos as soon as you get the bike and after any modifications are made. This can help speed up recovery and allows you to quickly post on social media should a theft occur.

According to a report, bike owners have on average 23 months with their bike until it is stolen. Whilst high-quality locks, alarms, CCTV and community and police schemes may deter a theft, a thief will find a way of stealing a bike if he/she is desperate enough, regardless of risk to their safety or welfare. A simple but effective solution is to have appropriate cover in place in the event of a theft. Insuring your bike can sometimes run alongside your Home Contents Insurance. If it’s a particularly valuable bike, it may need a bespoke policy. Speak with our team at Powell Commercial on 01244 345 076 to find out more and get a quote.