Bought a stolen bike lately? You'll never know...

Surely there must be more we can do to prevent bike theft. Over the past five years, the number of reported cycle thefts in London has doubled to more than 20,000 a year - and given that many people don't even bother to report thefts to the police, this number is certain to represent only a fraction of the real total.

Across the country, it is estimated that about 500,000 bikes are now being swiped every year - a phenomenal but entirely believable number. Over the past 12 months alone, the person I live with and the person I sit next to at work have both had their bikes nicked. Twice.

For me, it's been more than two years since I suffered the same fate. However, I'm now constantly wary that my luck must be about to run out.

The reason cycle theft continues to thrive is that it's still so easy to get away with. Don't get me wrong; I understand that there are plenty of more important things the police must devote their time and money to. But when you consider that some bicycles are now more expensive than the cheapest cars on the market, it suddenly becomes apparent that a disproportionately low level of resources (practically none) are put into bike theft prevention.

Comprehensive databases, costing millions of pounds and taking years to construct, have been designed to deal with the theft of cars and motorcycles. Yet when it comes to bikes, the most that has been done is to ensure that all frames are stamped with a serial number. This is typically hidden underneath the main shaft, ensuring that most owners never even find them, let alone register them with the police or one of the growing number of property registration sites. Brilliant.

London's Metropolitan Police even admit on their website that serial numbers are not really any use unless you display them more prominently. Their advice is to get the number printed on an unremovable sticker, which should be placed somewhere more visible on your bike. A fair enough idea - but one that still won't make an ounce of difference until a proper database of bike details is established.

At the moment, bike registration is entirely voluntary. When you buy a bike, you can indeed register the serial number - not with the police, but with a property registration site such as www.immobilise. com. The idea is that if your bike is then stolen, you can report it to the website and they will get in touch if it gets picked up. Furthermore, people buying used bikes can check to see if they're buying stolen property.

The problem is that hardly any cyclists know about these sites, let alone bother to use them. For them to be effective, every new bike purchase would need to be logged, along with the owner's details. This is a mandatory requirement with scooters - many of which are less valuable than good bikes - so why couldn't the DVLA extend its network to cover bicycles as well?

As it is, once someone has stolen a bike, it's all too easy to offload; just stick it on eBay, or sell it to a mate. Even if the thief keeps it, and then rides straight past the person they stole it from, it'll be pretty hard for them to prove that it's really theirs.

Naturally, with the situation as it is, the black market for second-hand bikes is thriving. It's well known that there's a place in the East End of London where you can pick up stolen bikes on the cheap. I imagine the reason that the police don't do anything about it is that they have no way of proving that the bikes are stolen.

Given that bikes depreciate as fast, if not faster, than cars, wouldn't it be great if there were a thriving second-hand market in which buyers could have confidence that they were not buying stolen goods? Don't hold your breath.

Search for used cars