A former bicycle thief reveals exactly how London bikes are stolen and then distributed around the country for sale

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Interview by Richard Cantle, founder of Stolen Ride – London (stolenride.co.uk)

A former bicycle thief has revealed the tricks of the trade in an interview, which clearly and shockingly shows the extent that thieves will go to in order to steal a bike.

He talks about the motivations behind the theft, the tools used to crack locks and how the bikes were moved around and sold for a significant sum. He also gives tips on how to prevent your bike from being stolen.

Some of what he reveals will change your opinion on bike security.

So, you are an ex-bike thief from London? When and why did you begin stealing bikes?
I started stealing push-bikes when I was 16. Motivation was money, bikes are quick and easy money. There were two of us who stole pedal bikes and high-performance motorbikes.

Did you target specific types of bicycles and locations in London? What was the thought process?
High-value bikes were the main targets like Carrera racers, no-logo fixie bikes, Boardman racers and Ridgeback bikes. These were the popular quick sale bikes that were called golds (because of the payback to time value of them).

Bike locations, there is a thing what we would call London rings or hotspots, where bike security seemed to be less of a problem. The more central you got the worse the locks, where people let their guard down more. Going out of London, locks would get better and locations fewer, so the time and effort put in would not be worth it. Borough of Islington, Hackney, West End and the central mile were our hunting grounds. The more CCTV and people the better. People are like sheep, they feel safe and pay less attention when they’re together.

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At first it was a hit and miss game. Grab the bike and go kind of thing, but as time moved on and we worked out there was money to be made, we stepped up our approach. For example, if it wouldn’t sell for more than £200, it wouldn’t be taken.

How did you steal the bikes? What tools and techniques did you use?
At first it was with basic wire cutters and the average bolt cutters you could buy in somewhere like Homebase. As time went on the tools upgraded to a pair of bolt cutters a friend bought in America for us on his holidays. These were 42-inch high toughened, foldable bolt cutters, which would fit into a rucksack and would cut through any D-bar, or any chain.

Don’t be fooled by Kryptonite locks, they’re not as tough as made out to be. Also D-bars with tubular locks, never use them, they’re the most easy to pick with a little tool. It’s small and discreet, no noise and it looks like you are just unlocking your bike. With the bolt cutters we would go out on high performance motorbikes, two men on a bike.

The pillion would carry the cutters. When we found a bike the pillion would jump off, snip the chain in seconds. ‘Boltys’ back in the bag, the driver would take the bag and drive off whilst the pillion, who is now on the push bike, would cycle off. We would do this up to five times a night, every weekend.

Bolt Cutters 1

Foldable bolt cutters used to slice through locks. Shown next to domestic vacuum cleaner for scale

How and who did you sell the stolen bikes to?
Main place at first was Gumtree But the longer you sell, the more people and contacts you would make. At the peak of it we had links all over London – north, south, west and east, Southend-on-Sea, Colchester, Hull and Leicester. The further the bike had to go, the more would be sold in packages. A contact in Southend would pay a lesser price for 10 in one go and would pick up in a van once a month. Bikes were never sold for parts; it’s not worth it – too much time and effort.

How quickly could you sell a bike on and how much would you get on average for each bike?
A bike could be sold in a matter of minutes at the peak of it, to one of many known regular contacts. Longest was around a day. Bikes were never kept at home, they were always locked back up on the street. Somewhere, even outside police stations locked up. If the police ever raided your house then no goods would ever be found.

Was stealing and selling bikes full-time for you? How many bikes would you steal each month?
No, I worked as a full time forklift driver, but the money was barely enough to pay bills and rent. You can’t live on today’s minimum wage.

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The prices work out at half the retail value of the bike in the shop. So a £1000 bike would be sold for £500, to a person on Gumtree, or if it was to a regular link then £400. We would work Thursday, Friday and Saturdays as soon as it was dark. Police are extra busy dealing with drunks at these times. We would get on average 10 bikes a weekend.

Did you ever steal to a specific request or demand? Did you watch certain cyclists and bikes for a period before the theft?
No, that makes it long; we would literally go out on the motorbike into central and just pick bikes up anywhere. Front of tube stations, bike racks, metal fences, underground car parks, bike parks, etc.

From the moment you pull up, to the moment the bike is cut and bolt cutters are back on the motorbike would be 10 seconds at the most, so no one really knew what was going on, almost I imagine like you have to question yourself like, did I really just see that?

No one ever confronted us or said – what are you doing?

Were you ever put off stealing certain bikes? Was it due to location or security measures?
CCTV was not a put off. We had helmets on so we couldn’t be identified (well, we thought so at least). Location didn’t matter, we were young and reckless, and we didn’t care about security or people. If it went wrong, just get back on bike and go.

Did the owner of the bike ever cross your mind? Did you feel guilty?
Yes all the time, I’m not going to say I was a cold, heartless guy. The victim crossed my mind a lot, but it’s a dog-eat-dog world when I was in that position. I did feel sorry for the victim and how they felt, but money makes you do things you shouldn’t be doing.

How can you live in a world and try to teach kids the right way of life when they’re surrounded by rich, lawless thugs and poor, normal people who work and stick by the law, but can’t afford clothes on their back because of the cost of living. It’s like cost of living was and is still going up, but wages are going down? No one can give an answer for that.

Tubular lock pick

Tubular lock pick

Why did you decide to stop stealing bikes? Was it something specific that made you stop?
I got greedy and got caught – money goes to your head eventually. We were chased by police and a helicopter one time after a move went wrong. We were at a set of lights and several cop cars pulled up, we managed to duck and leave the motorbike, but the helicopter was already above.

We were sentenced to 18 months in young offenders at the age of 20. I spent my 21st, Christmas and New Year in jail and I’m not going to lie, that was heart-breaking to not be with family, the kids or even just at home during these times of the year.

I learned that my family is more important than having designer clothes on your back or expensive trainers, or loads of money. It all hit me the minute that judge said them words and I saw my mum, my misses of three years break down in court. My mum was a strong woman and that was the first time I saw her cry out of pure love, she wasn’t mad, she wasn’t angry, she understood that times were hard.

I let them down and I knew my mum was crying because she felt like she hadn’t done a good enough job of raising me. My old man never once stepped foot in court and that’s for the same reason of him feeling ashamed. And that is the worst feeling to know that I let the man I look up to down. I felt ashamed.


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How would you prevent your own bike becoming stolen? What are your top tips?
Never use a chain, they’re too easy to snip. Use a small D-lock on front and back wheels. 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.

What can the police and authorities do, in your opinion, to help cyclists protect their bikes? Who has a responsibility to help?
Police I feel can’t really do anything these days, unless they catch you physically cutting a chain. Too many human rights.

Bike serial numbers can be so easily shaved off, filed and painted over. Serial numbers need to somehow be made more tamper proof and a bike register needs to be put in place, a bit like cars I think. Only way I see is to get your bike sprayed with a special smart water device which is invisible and is basically like a DNA code on your bike and can only be seen under UV lights.

Trackers, yes, they were a worry, but that is why we kept them on the street, if they were found the police would simply just take it back. Secure parking is the worst for putting your bike in. So quiet you can spend time in a secure parking lot without causing suspicion.

Is there anything else you would like to share?
Just trying to give a little back to society, I took so much; it’s the least I can do. I’m sorry to the people whose bikes we took, but times were hard back then and unless you been there yourself, I don’t think that you would understand, but I am truly sorry.

  • Tamhlacht

    Until there’s a bike register, as the thief says, and until the cops start cracking down hard on people who buy stolen bikes, this is going to be a problem.
    Buying a stolen bike is sometimes seen as payback for having your own bike stolen; however, if you do so, remember that you’re giving your kids the example that basically you’re a thief too. When your kid comes back with a cop holding him by the scruff after he buys a stolen item on the street, all he’ll say to you is “But you did it too!”

  • T3k

    london did a sting several years ago which proved quite effective.

  • Alex Ferguson

    The only real way for us to combat this is to stop buying obviously stolen bikes.

  • chris

    retro MTB’s look pretty cool with a makeover and are worth next to nowt. Just stick a Pound shop lock on it and they’ll never go near it.

  • chris

    hence why upbringing is important. Imagine raising your child well and they ignore all the value and do this! i think many of the old values just don’t cut through the material must have obsession these days

  • James GBC

    Guy is talking BS. Bike shops pay around 50% of the retail price(includes the shop selling building and servicing the bike) why would they pay that for a stolen second hand bike. Also few people lock up high end bikes out of sight maybe if your having a coffee outside and police would have a hard time proving he was a serial bike thief off the street. I guess he was done housebreaking that becomes DNA tracing even stealing a car they don’t do that often. Cheap GPS trackers are now available from China just pop in a sim card and its done leave your name and phone number on a card inside the seat tube. Take photos of any small scratches on the frame. Police have to prove in court it is a stolen bike. Somebody came in my shop one day with a Pace was so rare my mechanic knew straight away who’s bike it was. Guy did not even have a pump for it. Took us 30mins to blow the tyre up waiting for the police to come.

  • CanAmSteve

    Hey – I’m no expert, but this doesn’t ring very true to me. First, maybe a journalist would like to try snipping a lock or chain with a set of bolt cutters? Any idea what a set of 42″ bolt cutters weighs? (25 lb) Stand up and measure 42″ OK, fold that in half – not exactly portable in a backpack. This is not “a few seconds” work. First, you absolutely have to brace one arm of the cutters on the ground and – depending on the chain or lock bar – literally jump on it. That means positioning a really heavy set of cutters just so, on a target that is hanging in the air – and remember you can’t damage the target. Bullsh*t, I say. Check the chain-cutting videos on YouTube. Then imagine you’re doing it on the street, in a hurry.

    I had an ABUS chainlock with a buggered lock. I had the keys but no way would it open. So, I tried to cut the lock off (so I could still use the chain) with my 36″ bolt cutters, resting on a concrete floor. Result? Best I could do (I’m 190 lb) was make a shiny mark on the chain – and that’s a mid-weight 10mm link! I had to spend over a minute with an angle grinder to cut the link, then do it again as I had to cut both sides.

    And who uses those old Bic-pen-pickable circular locks? Then, my info of the “stolen stuff” market is that no way do you get 50% of the retail value of what you steal – not even gold. Google it for research. 10% is more like it – unless you sell direct to the muppet. And that’s very time-consuming (and risky). I suppose maybe it happened once – that a bike was stolen and sold on for 50% of value, but 10% more likely. Of course, like gambling, the one “win” fuels the desire for more “game”.

  • slifin

    I don’t think it’s right to under estimate the power house that is billions of pounds, thousands of psychologists strong, the advertising industry

    If you are mindlessly taking your goals from society at large you’ll think that designer clothes are important too

    That doesn’t make the actions “right” but don’t disregard the struggle either, these things don’t exist in a vacuum

    Everyone acts in ways that make sense to them, if you don’t understand or see the influencing factors then passing judgement is misguided

  • spicelab

    As Parker51 noted, I’m far more curious about the nature of the black market and how it functions. There are an order of magnitude more questions about the back end I would have thought.

  • joe

    My comment was more about your suggestion for a bait bike thing. What rubbish. You must live in cuckoo land. And like Dan said you show your imbecility clear as day.

  • Waz

    Commute on a 30 quid rusty wreck of a bike with ‘I’m a vegan’ stickers on it and get a tetanus jab

  • Waz

    Apologise for 9/11 immediately!

  • jamhat

    Bike thieves are not as likely to try to steal a bike that is ugly or undesirable for quick resale. You can make a decent bike not attract attention to itself – remove frame labels, including on your derailleur, mismatched your fenders, scratch the paint or spray paint a few random places, cover the names on your tires and rims. Hey, at least you will have your bike to ride home on.

  • Parker51

    I know that it’s a naive question, somewhat akin to “Who is snorting all of this cocaine that is being smuggled?” or even “Who is responding to all of these Nigerian 419 scams?” but the article is a little thin on who are the end customers paying substantial money for bicycles that makes stealing profitable and worth the risk of getting caught. The fences have to sell to someone. Do the eventual buyers know that the bikes are stolen? Are they engaging in willful blindness about deals that are too good to be true? Are there so many unstolen used bikes on the market, and at comparable prices, that the stolen ones are lost in the noise? Is fighting human nature on the desire to buy merchandise that one could reasonably know to be stolen out of a misguided or willfully blind desire to save money akin to trying to hold back the tide with a broom?

  • Timothy53

    So, what TO do? He told us lots of thing to not do. Don’t park in secure parking, don’t park in places where there are cameras. don’t count on you serial number, don’t use Kryptonite or D-locks or chains.

    A few tips on good locks to use, good place to park … those would have been useful. Oh! Yes UV paint to mork my bike. As if all police have UV lights on the look out for my bike.

    Sorry, BuzzFeed … I mean Cycling Weekly … you are just another click bait site. Your headline should read: “Bike thief reveals tricks of the trade in this shockingly candid interview: You won’t believe what he thinks of your Kryptonite lock!!”

  • Fish

    if someone wants your bike they will do what ever it takes, no matter how large the chain or expense on the lock. It certainly deters most thieves anyway.

  • Brahmi

    Times were tough…yeah probably toughest on the people who use a bike as their primary transport and can’t afford to replace it.

  • Er… Greed? He admits that “I got greedy and got caught”

  • Michael

    There are plenty of bikes between the price of a Carrera and a Colnago used by commuters.

    But “carrera racer” is synonymous with cheap isn’t it? The guy talks about selling £1000 bikes for £500 on gumtree.

    Albeit the fact he says “racer” suggests he hasn’t stolen a bike since the 80s.

    Point being we know real high-end bikes do get targeted and stolen. From people’s houses in some cases. i.e this guy’s particular niche is not really informing anyone who doesn’t park their Halfords bike in central london of anything thieves do or don’t do.

    The premise of the article “Some of what he reveals will change your opinion on bike security” is false.

    It’d be like deciding that you won’t get graffiti on your brick wall because Banksy did an interview and said he only paints on plastered walls.

  • TheLastAngel

    Career criminals should at least sit in prison as long as their criminal career lasted. Fuck criminals.

  • rshimizu12

    One downsides of commuting is that you have to carry a heavy lock to lock your bike securely. If you really want to protect your bike carry a boron chain. You need some big bolt cutters to cut the chain.

  • 2ndeffort

    Would anybody leave their Colnago C60 with Bora wheels locked on a bike rack with a chain? The bikes mentioned might not be the highest end bikes, but they might be the highest end bikes left chained up around London.

  • Ben Stewart

    um theres loads of these things out there already, bikehawk etc

  • Funwithflags

    I don’t see anything very shocking about this article, I mean everyone knows thieves use bolt cutters. For me the risk is simply locking my bike up in a public place. If a thief really wants your bike, no matter the lock you have, a thief will steal your bike. Here in Portland, they will cut through the steel bike racks to get your bike.

  • kylet

    Oh, yes. Quite cheap too. Amazon keeps trying to sell me lock-picking tools, perhaps it’s all the crime thrillers I buy?

  • Simon Dedman

    A mobile phone with a GPS chip (all of them) is already this. IDK why it would be hard for someone to design a basic android kit that was SIM + GPS, and then you can just use phone tracker apps…

  • Michael

    They said they targeted “high value” bikes like Carrera and Ridgeback. I think the guy was either soft in the head or playing the journalist for a fool.

  • Michael

    You forgot to blame him for Pearl harbour and the death of Mary queen of Scots

  • Rick

    married for 3 years. made enough on min wage to pay the rent and the bills but claims he “couldn’t live on” that? Having all the bills paid including rent (and there’s always some bills like “cable” and such that are entertainment) means “living on”. But as he says, it was all for designer clothes and expensive shoes.

  • Dan

    Making a connection from his post to the Taliban and subjugating women? And you’re the one questioning someone else’s rationality lol.

  • Walter Crunch

    The bloodlust is strong with you. You are irrational and desire Taliban law. You probably also want women to be subject to men. The purpose of a civilized society is to allow people to repay their debt and to make a change in their life.

  • joe

    Stop calling me pls

  • joe

    nonsense

  • escalinci

    Can I point out it’s easier to find it googling the text in your comment.

  • Teo de los Cobos

    I understand times are tough, but you think times are not tough for people with bicycles? Just because they decided to ride instead of drive? I recently had my bike stolen, and I don’t even make enough to rent a place…. Thank you for sharing your insight and I am sure everything balances out, but i guarantee that life in England isn’t so HARD. It is England haha but really seems like you have a good understanding now.

  • Alex

    And there you have it …………… `;@(

  • Ts

    He says he averaged 10 bikes a weekend, targeting bikes they could sell for at least £200. So that’s £2000 a week. I have literally zero pity for his complaints about the cost of living rent bills etc, pure greed.

  • John Campo

    I called Garmin and asked if they could make a chip that could be dropped in the top tube or steering tube that you could pickup on your cell phone to locate your bike they call the police once you found it. I said; ‘ You sponsor a pro racing team a product like this could make millions.’ After a few minutes the voice on the other end said; “We don’t sponsor a bike team”

  • Walter Crunch

    He did his time and is giving back. Time to move on. Want to do some teal good, setup a bait bike system.

  • Malaprop

    he was heart broken cos he missed xmas? Eff him. Thieving sob. He’d still be doing it if hadn’t been caught. He has no remorse.

  • ha i was thinking that too

  • Tim

    Great! Show the tools of the trade so that all the wannabe bike thieves can go out and buy the same gear, well done! From the bag label on the tubular lock pick photo i was able to go to the exact same website and spot the exact product i would need. It even says on the website description “Will pick 7-pin radial locks. Suits the tubular locks used on bicycle ‘D’ locks etc”. I would get rid of this photo if i were you, the article doesn’t need it.

  • Pete Christian

    “Times were hard back then” but he admits to using the money to buy luxury items like expensive shoes and designer clothes. F this dude.

  • joe

    18 months pfffft. Would still like to see these guys castrated.