The truth about bike crime: How to beat the thieves

Just because David Cameron had his stolen, doesn't mean the rest of us have to be victims

Simon Usborne
Friday 25 July 2008 00:00 BST
David Cameron gets on his bike
David Cameron gets on his bike (Getty Images)

David, David, David. What were you thinking? The rosy-cheeked opposition leader only popped into his local Tesco in west London for "some bits of salad" – and can't have been more than five minutes foraging among the rocket and radicchio – but on his return, where once rested Cameron's gleaming two-wheeler (an "old friend", he joked) stood a denuded bollard. Indeed, "bollards!" is what he might have muttered, as dozens of busy Londoners walked on by. Bewildered victims of bike theft are 10 a penny in the capital – almost 20,000 bike thefts are recorded each year in London, and more than 100,000 in the UK (countless more go unreported).

Cameron's crime? Not doing enough to deter the opportunistic thieves stalking the Portobello Road on Wednesday night. One witness told how Cameron had chained up his bike (he'd be an idiot not to) but had selected a bollard approximately a metre high. He may as well have ditched the lock and erected a "Steal me" sign instead. Of course, the thief merely lifted bike and chain over the bollard. Cameron was spotted minutes later, calling for help on his phone, and perhaps wishing he hadn't ditched his support car, which famously shadowed him during earlier commutes.

Assuming he forks out for a new bike, what can Cameron – and the rest of us – do to protect our rides?

1. Be prepared (to lose it)...

The fact is, if you live in a conurbation bigger than, say, Dunstable, and don't keep your bike under your bed, you'd better not get too attached to it – it will almost certainly be stolen at some time. No lock is too tough for a determined, tooled-up bike thief. Resourceful crooks have been known to use car jacks to prize open the chunkiest "D" locks; others apply a freezing spray used by electricians to cool components (a few hits with a hammer shatters the padlock metal). Angle grinders are not uncommon, but for most locks a decent pair of bolt cutters will do it.

2. ...But lock it up anyway

Of course, not all thieves have access to heavy equipment, and opportunists will be put off by decent security. When it comes to locks, you get what you pay for. A £5 cable lock is light and portable but barely a visual, let alone physical, deterrent. Get a chunky, heavy, expensive – upwards of £30 – lock that comes with a gold Sold Secure rating (find ratings at A gold rating means the lock has survived five minutes in a theft test. Lesser locks can be sprung in seconds.

3. Location, location, location

A three-foot high bollard is not a good place to lock up a bike, Mr Cameron. Nor is a tree, a chain link fence, or a flimsy railing. Even purpose-built bike racks can be defeated – one Independent cyclist returned to his bike to find the rack uprooted and leaning against the wall, bolts and all. Pick a place that is at least as hard to crack as your lock. Ensure it's busy – most thieves, if not all, are shy types who don't want to be caught – and don't choose the same spot every day.

4. Un-pimp your ride

Tempting as a gleaming carbon frame in metallic blue with shiny wheels is, it will be the first to end up in a bike gang's van. Use duct tape to cover prestigious brand names and shiny bits. Better still, if you've got a nice expensive bike for weekend rides, leave it at home, and pick up a cheap or second-hand cycle for getting about town or to work.

5. Don't give up

Don't bank on the police returning your ride if it gets pinched. Still, there is a lot you can do yourself to try to recover it. If you've parked it somewhere you shouldn't have, your bike may have been removed by police. They should have left a note, but it's worth asking to check the garage or car park at your local nick. Car boot sales and markets are popular spots for selling stolen bikes – Brick Lane in east London is a notorious "re-cycling" centre. You might have to pay a bit to get it back – or, if you can prove ownership, you can always tell the police.

6. Get insured

Dedicated bike-insurance policies are available, but it's usually cheaper to add a bike to your household policy (if it hasn't been added already). But – and it's a big but – check the small print. Is the excess close to the value of your bike? Does the policy cover the bike if it's not in your house? Does it cover the cost of an equivalent new bike? Can you choose where to get the replacement? Are your accessories covered? Do you need a specific kind of lock? If the answer is no to any of these questions, you might want a separate policy.

7. Get tagged

Immobitag ( is the only bike-registration service fully recognised by UK police. You set up a free online profile of your bike – serial number, photos, description – then buy a tag for £13.99 that is placed down the seat tube, and cannot be removed. If the bike is nicked, you change your online status, alerting police and the second-hand trade to look out for it. The tag emits a radio signal; if it turns up, you'll be notified immediately.

8. Smile!

Take pictures of your bike, including its components. This will help police trace your cycle and back up any insurance claim. Keep the snaps in a safe place, along with the receipt for your bike.

9. Take your bits

You might feel a bit silly walking round Sainsbury's with a saddle poking out your shopping trolley, but the more you can separate from your bike, the less appealing it will be to a getaway rider. Take the saddle, or even a wheel if you can (into the office, for example).

10. Or just get a fold-up

You'll look like a berk, but you'll be able to take your bike on the train, into the office, into your house and, dear David, into the salad aisle at Tesco.

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