Claudia Pritchard: This cycle crime wave needs brakes

It's far too easy to steal a bike
Click to follow
The Independent Online

How to steal a bicycle... Choose a rainy day, and wear a huge, hooded poncho, with bolt-cutters hidden beneath. Pick a bike on a public rack, where a wet person fiddling around will not look out of place. Bend over, cut the locks and pocket them. Wheel the bike to the other side of the street, go to the blind side of your waiting van, load and leave. Wait a few weeks, until the owner has stopped looking for their bike on online shopping sites, and post it up, or take a stand at a boot fair – if necessary, filling your pitch with junk, for authenticity – or offload it 300 miles away, bringing back other stolen bikes to sell.

When my bike was pinched in central London on Monday, it was so clear how it had been done. And if it is clear to me, perhaps the professionals in this field – police, cycle industry, planners – might turn their minds too to the daily daylight robbery which, were the losses measured purely in cash terms, would be considered an unacceptable crime wave. Every day, 200 bikes are stolen in London – that's 200 people a day who have had the equivalent of several hundreds of pounds taken from their person.

Team Green Britain, a week-long campaign to get Britain on two wheels, ends today, with events that include a challenge to get the nation's unused bikes back on the road, with a few repairs. I have another challenge. In future, let's keep on the road those bikes that are on the road now, ridden by the people who bought them, by coming up with some serious anti-theft devices.

Since my bike was stolen, I have been in a frenzy of inventiveness. I have mentally devised the tubular lock that, if tampered with, sprays indelible red dye on thief and bike alike, rendering one highly visible and the other identifiable. Then there is the bicycle alarm, based on a rape alarm, which sounds if the bike is unfixed other than by the owner with the correct key or code. (My unpatented, folding bicycle helmet for the casual Boris Bike user is still on the bench, but coming along nicely.) And if my mobile-phone company knows where I am in the world at any moment, surely someone could pinpoint my next bike, with the help of a chip, and help me get it back, if needs be.

How to buy a stolen bicycle... Shop privately, from an online site, boot fair, street market or window ad. In London alone, around 30 women's bikes a day are posted up on a single, popular site. That is an awful lot of women apparently giving up cycling, or upgrading. Do not ask for the original paperwork, showing the chassis number. Do not, in the absence of such paperwork, check the chassis number with the police. Do not press the cycle industry to come up with a log book or registration scheme, even though some bikes cost more than some cars, which do have one, by law.

The cycle trade makes money from ineffectual locks, but needs to invest now in better security for bikes. Otherwise it will look like the motor industry, which dragged its feet for so many years over alternative fuel sources, because it had more to lose from the initiative than to gain.

Any 19-year-old hacker in his bedroom should be able to devise an online service for registering a bike, so that anyone selling a registered bike without proof of owner ID would be suspect. Any self-respecting competitor on Dragons' Den should be able to make a bike tamper-proof. But would they be welcomed by the cycle industry, or does it have a vested industry in bicycles being stolen? Cycling campaigns come and go, but it is hard to think of a better way to drum up sales, than to let thefts happen and so guarantee a regular supply of cyclists in need of new wheels.

And if you've just snapped up a bargain Specialized Globe in graphite grey... are you absolutely sure it's not mine?