We need to do more to combat bike theft, I know from bitter experience

Arrests are made in just 2.5% of bike theft cases

Bike Theft
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Last weekend, someone stole my bike. 

Living in London, it was almost inevitable that it would happen. I rode out to Hampstead Heath, chained it up and went to meet some friends in the park. When I came back two hours later, my bike was gone.

The glow of the public toilets sign lit up the empty rack where I left it. The thieves had even taken the lock, making sure to remove the smoking gun.

I would be lying if I said I stared on in disbelief. For three years I’ve lived in this city, and though it had never happened to me before, I knew bike theft was rife. In London, a bike is reported stolen every 16 minutes, with just 2.5% of cases resulting in arrests being made. 

As I stood at the crime scene, I knew that the odds were stacked overwhelmingly against me. 

A Parks Police patrol car trundled past. My bike’s been stolen, I frantically told the constable in the passenger seat. “Best report it to the Met,” he replied, before explaining that I’d need a crime reference number for the insurance claim.

Reader, I didn’t have bicycle insurance

As it turns out, I’m in the majority there too. The latest figures from insurance company cycleGuard, published in 2021, estimate that more than 80% of cyclists don’t have bike cover. Though insurance isn’t a prerequisite for riding on the roads, my pockets now ache for my lack of it.  

I walked home, helmet in hand, and surrendered hope of ever seeing my bike again. I felt bitter. I felt sorry for myself. Not because someone had taken it, but because I hadn’t been able to part ways with it on my terms. 

That bike, a battered Specialized Allez, had taken me to the summit of the Tourmalet, through the Yorkshire Dales and halfway up Alpe d’Huez to Dutch corner. The frame was chipped from loose gravel, the wheels slightly buckled, but still I didn’t want to let it go. 

The following morning, I went on the Metropolitan Police website to report the crime. The flow of questions seemed endless, and to each one I felt I had the wrong answer. 

Did you see the suspects? No. 

Did they leave anything behind? No. 

Do you have your bike’s serial number? I don’t. 

Had I registered my bike online, the police would be able to identify me as the owner and return it to me if it’s ever recovered. Foolishly, I never got round to it. I reported the bike as stolen and when my crime reference number appeared, I became another data point in London’s ever growing list of bike theft statistics. 

It's a gutting feeling to know you'll probably never see justice. According to the UK Theft Act, taking a bicycle without consent is "non imprisonable" and carries a maximum fine of £1,000. In the unlikely event that my thieves are found, there's no real deterrent to stop them doing it again.

As for me, I'm back riding the bus, where I spend the journey scouring online auction sites for my old Allez. As I trawl through pages of adverts, defeatism takes over and my hope turns to anger. Angry that someone took my bike, but angrier still that they’ll almost certainly get away with it.

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