We need to do more to tackle bike theft, I know this from bitter experience
Last weekend someone stole my bike.
Living in London, it was almost inevitable that this would happen. I went to Hampstead Heath, chained it up and went to meet some friends in the park. When I returned two hours later, my bike was missing.
The glow of the public restroom sign illuminated the empty locker where I had left it. The thieves had even taken the lock making sure to pull out the smoking gun.
I would be lying if I said I was watching in disbelief. For three years I lived in this town, and although it had never happened to me before, I knew that bike theft was commonplace. In London, a bicycle is reported stolen every 16 minutes, with only 2.5% of cases resulting in arrests.
As I stood at the crime scene, I knew the odds were stacked against me.
A park patrol car zoomed past. My bike has been stolen, I said frantically to the constable in the passenger seat. “Better report it to the Met,” he replied, before explaining that I would need a crime reference number for the insurance claim.
Reader, I had no insurance.
Turns out I’m in the majority there too. The latest figures from the insurance company cycleGuard, published in 2021, estimate that more than 80% of cyclists do not have bicycle cover. Although insurance is not a prerequisite for riding the roads, my pockets are now hurting because I don’t have any.
I returned home, helmet in hand, and gave up hope of ever seeing my bike again. I felt bitter. I felt sorry for myself. Not because someone took it, but because I couldn’t part with it on my terms.
This bike, a beaten Specialized Allez, had taken me to the top of the Tourmalet, through the Yorkshire Dales and halfway up Alpe d’Huez to the Dutch bend. The frame was chipped with loose gravel, the wheels slightly warped, but I still didn’t want to let it go.
The next morning I went to the Metropolitan Police website to report the crime. The stream of questions seemed endless, and each time I felt like I had the wrong answer.
Have you seen the suspects? No.
Did they leave anything behind? No.
Do you have the serial number of your bike? I do not know.
If I had registered my bike online, the police could have identified me as the owner and returned it to me if found. Stupidly, I never got there. I reported the bike as stolen and when my crime reference number came up I became another data point in the ever growing list of London bike theft statistics.
It is a feeling of anguish knowing that you will probably never see justice. The UK Theft Act provides specific exemptions for pedal bikes, emphasizing that such cases are “non-imprisonable” and subject to a maximum fine of £1,000. In the unlikely event that my thieves are found, there is no real deterrent to stop them from doing it again.
As for me, I’m back on the bus, where I spend the trip browsing online auction sites for my old Go. As I scroll through the pages of announcements, defeatism takes over and my hope turns to anger. Angry that someone took my bike, but even angrier that they will almost certainly get away with it.