Bike theft has been thriving in Britain over the past few years. According to figures from the Halifax, there's now one stolen almost every minute, and as the number of cyclists grow – so, too, do the levels of theft.
Over the past month alone, two people on my desk at work have had their bikes swiped – and the only reason I've managed not to avoid becoming a victim myself over the past couple of years is that I no longer leave my bike anywhere I can't see it for more than five minutes – unless it's in my flat, or locked up in the secure car park below The Independent's offices.
The sad fact is, this appears to be just about the only way to guarantee you won't get your bike nicked these days. Even spending £50, £70 or £90 on a lock, will not guarantee that you're protected from the most determined thieves. With the help of a little liquid nitrogen, a hydraulic jack or pair of industrial bolt cutters, you can get through just about any lock. Some of the older D-locks are actually very simple to crack open.
If you've got one of the old D-locks with a circular key, it's apparently relatively straightforward to open it using a Biro lid (there are dozens of demonstrations of this on You Tube, if you need to see for yourself). And even though most manufacturers have now discontinued these types of devices, I still have a few friends that rely on them.
When Boris Johnson got his own beloved Marin nicked two months ago, he wrote a blog on his website calling for greater use of tracker devices and decoy bikes – and it's good to know that he might make this a priority should he be successful in his bid for mayor of London. But I'm not sure tracker devices are necessarily the answer. It might help to catch some of the thieves, but surely most would quickly find a way to disable or destroy any tagging technology.
A much better idea, in my opinion, would be to provide more secure and monitored bike parks in towns and cities, such as the scheme currently being trialled on a small basis in Portsmouth. This particular project is the brainchild of policeman David Fairbrother, who has created a new lock that sends a text message to a central control system when your bike is locked up. If someone tries to tamper with the lock, a warning is immediately sent to the centre, and CCTV cameras will provide live pictures of what's going on. A security guard can then be dispatched if it turns out that a theft is being attempted.
Obviously, such a scheme would prove very expensive if it were rolled out on a grand scale – and it's unlikely that the police in most cities are going to want to waste too many hours chasing bike thieves. However, if the control centre also had the chance to talk to the thief through a loudspeaker, warning that police were on their way (a technique that has proved very successful at preventing crime in Middlesbrough), this may well prove deterrent enough.
Simply providing some large cycle parks in big city centres, manned by a permanent security guard, would be a giant leap in the right direction. While this, too, will cost money, local authorities and central government need to be prepared to invest if they are serious about getting more people out of their cars and on to their bikes. At the moment, theft is a real deterrent to using your bike for a journey into town – you can never be sure it'll be where you left it when you get back.
Meanwhile, if the Government is unwilling to invest, surely there is an opportunity here for a private operator? I know I would pay to leave my bike in a secure bike park – but I'm unaware of anywhere that provides such a facility in central London. Anyone fancy going into business with me?