By Ellie Henderson
I’ve been riding bikes since I was about five years old, so that’s a fairly long time now, but I’d never had one stolen before. Of course it happened to friends and colleagues with sickening regularity and I genuinely felt their pain as they showed me photos of their former pride and joy and explained the enormous sense of bereavement they felt. And then finally it happened to me.
The annoying thing is that I had a feeling that day – a friend at work had told me how her mountain bike, treasured for many years and ridden for thousands of miles, had been lifted from Preston Park station. How the thieves had just cut through the steel lock like butter and left the remains as a cruel reminder of how powerless we are against them.
Just three days later it was a gloriously sunny day so I planned to go to the beach after work. I packed my towel and wore a bikini under my lycra! Unfortunately I forgot to pack a sturdy lock – at work my bike is in a secure area so my £6.95 lock was just a deterrent…
I had a bad feeling. My carbon fibre Eddy Merckx EFX1 was looking fantastic – I had just got it back after upgrading its gearing and getting fresh new white bar tape. I couldn’t wait to take it out in the Downs, but never got a chance, riding home along the pan-flat seafront that day.
Still, Brighton beach was absolutely heaving with people that packed Saturday in June, surely no-one would be bold enough to nick it in front of literally hundreds of people and in front of a café with CCTV? I took a chance and chained Eddy to the railings with my cheapo lock, taking the contents of my saddle bag with me just in case.
A couple of hours later I returned, the hoards were still present and the café still doing a roaring trade but my bike had gone. My stomach lurched upwards as I dumbly stared round wondering whether I’d parked it on a different set of identical Celeste blue railings? I pushed through a group of holidaymakers only to find the calling-card of bike thieves – the sheared lock still hanging where my bike had patiently waited for me.
Anger and disbelief hit me simulatenously- how could I have been so stupid? I just knew it! How cruel for this to happen when I’d just spent £180 upgrading it! How did they DARE to cut through the lock in front of all these people – brazenly stealing my favourite bike? Someone must have seen them…
I sleep-walked into the café; “my bike’s just been stolen, has anyone seen anything?” The waitresses were very helpful and promised to check the CCTV footage the next day. I changed mournfully out of my lycra and into my work clothes to begin the slow walk home, forgetting my helmet and cycling glasses in the confusion.
As I trudged back to my flat I called the police. They kept me on hold for about 20 minutes but it was worth the wait as the woman on the end of the phone was sympathetic and helpful. When I suggested a gang must be operating in the area, she told me sadly that bicycle theft happens all the time, and that people come to places like Brighton to lift a load in a van. It’s not a crimewave, it’s an epidemic.
CCTV is a good place to start, although she warned me that detectives will need a very clear picture of the culprit’s face, and usually they will wear a hoody or baseball cap and sunglasses. On a hot day at the beach they wouldn’t look out of place. As it happened, the Volk’s café staff weren’t able to identify anyone but they impressed me with their caring and willingness to help in any way. They even returned my forgotten helmet and glasses!
If a thief is determined enough nothing will stop them. In London and the US I heard reports of criminals cutting through metal bike stands in order to take what they wanted. Even D-locks can apparently be opened with a Bic pen!
In the months afterwards, I scoured eBay and Gumtree waiting for Eddy to turn up, but no sightings as yet. In actual fact stolen bikes are far more likely to be stripped and sold for parts (no serial numbers), or else taken apart and mixed up with wheels, saddles etc from other stolen bikes in a ‘chop shop’. If you don’t know your serial number there’s nothing you can do to prove ownership anyway.
There were 285,000 estimated bike theft incidents in 2017* but this figure doesn’t include every bicycle theft, as some are stolen during the course of another crime such as burglary. This figure was up 1% on the previous year.
The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) shows that over the last decade, in around 40% of bicycle thefts the bicycle was locked by a chain, cable, shackle, D-lock or similar. Bike thefts are most likely to happen in a semi-private location nearby the victim’s home; this includes outside areas on the premises and detached garages.
Around 70% of cycle thefts took place during the week (equivalent to around 16% per weekday) and around 30% took place during the weekend (equivalent to around 12% per weekend day)
So what you can you do if your bike is nicked? Luckily in the UK we have a National Cycle Database where you can log your bike details before or after a theft. BikeRegister do return hundreds of bikes to their owners every year, and information can be shared via social media and linked your police report:
Stupidly, I didn’t ever take note of my serial number, but the first thing I did with my replacement bike was to record this with a photo. BikeRegister told me:
Luckily my story does have a happy ending - my home insurance covered everything. And while I was heart-broken, esure gave me a good replacement value for my bike and directed me to Wheelies where I could buy anything I liked from their extensive range.
Eddy was almost 6 years old, I was moving to Mallorca and the 11-25 cassette wasn’t going to cut the mustard in the mountains. I wanted disc brakes to give me extra confidence when descending those tight hairpins too. I decided to upgrade to a Scott Contessa Addict 25 Disc. It took two months to arrive in Spain, but now that it’s here I have to admit that it’s a much better bike and I can finally remember Eddy without my heart lurching in pain. I’ve moved on…
For more information about how to protect your bike visit BikeRegister.com
*Source: The Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) - year ending Sept 2017