Tuesday, 1 January 2013

*Guest Post* by Andrew Stephen: Resolve in the Face of Thievery

Crews of grinches are working in teams, spotting, plotting and thieving their way around London’s streets. They nab innocent bikes tucked snugly on racks, lampposts, and road signs. A dull roar has arisen about the sharp uptick in London’s bike thievery, and frankly, the only thing we should lose is the ‘dull’ part. But it happens in every city, especially when metropolitans increase numbers of cyclists in vast proportions like London has. Statistics are stark: 22,000+ bike thefts reported last year, while most thefts go unreported, and estimates of real thefts are as high as 100,000.

This situation we’ve arrived at is terribly sub-optimal given the momentum cycling has gained in London. The number of cyclists in London have more than doubled since 2000, with over 540,000 trips taken per day. People are excited to avoid traffic, improve their health, save money and have fun on their way to work. There have also been tragic deaths, 16 in total last year, along with 555 serious injuries. But this is gradually changing in our favor as well. Though better road design is without doubt the single most important factor needed to improve safety, having more cyclists on the road also helps. There is strength, and more importantly, visibility, in numbers. Despite all of these encouraging signs, the number of cyclists has plateaued and bike thefts are rising.

Some are saying that Londoners are discouraged by bike thefts and riding less often or not at all, and thus the recent plateau in the number of cyclists. Anecdotal evidence points to the contrary, however. I have met a number of bike commuters who have had their rides nicked, but are proceeding with firm resolve. They contend that bike thievery is similar to bike accidents. There is safety in numbers. The more Londoners who identify as cyclists, the more invested the general public will be in preventing thieves from practicing their craft as blatantly as they have become accustomed. 

Meet Simon. He is a daily bicycle commuter who’s not deterred by thieves in the slightest. Simon’s daily commute travails the handful of kilometres from Westfield to the London Palladium. Last week his lovely Bianchi Vigorelli with a full Ultegra set was callously nicked right outside his office. Exhausted from a long day of meetings and stressful client demands, Simon arrived to find his D lock sawed in two, and the bike nowhere to be found. He had done everything right: registered the serial number with MPS’s Transport for London officers, insured it with Butterworth Spengler, and upon discovering the theft, immediately reported it. He wasn’t locking it up deep in Westminster, where most thefts take place. He didn’t lock it with a merely superficial cable lock. Simon said, “I did everything my research told me to do to ride safely and securely in London’s streets”.

It’s not that big a deal, Simon contended. “Those who are shocked by bike theft must simply get over it. It may be an inconvenience in the moment, and sure, you may have a particular affinity for your bicycle, but frankly, if you follow the recommended procedures it will prove to be a blip on an otherwise lovely biking life.” Simon is a lifelong cyclist, and in that time he has had 2 bikes stolen, including his Bianchi and the rear wheel, seatpost, and saddle of his beloved Fuji Feather single speed. “I learned to use a cable in combination with my D lock when the Fuji was torn apart”, Simon said. 

Down, but not out. Simon's single speed Fuji Feather missing a few pieces…

Most of us know someone who have had their car stolen or vandalized. The main difference is that bikes are so much more easily replaced. Certainly, more thefts have taken place recently, but even with the uptick of theft, bikes are still far more practical than commuting by car. Simon’s Fuji was easily put back together with refunds from his insurance company, including a brand new freewheel, seatpost, and saddle. He has already filed his MPS and insurance paperwork and a new road bike is on the way. Simon found a 20 quid cruiser lounging about in the backyard for the meantime. “It was really quite easy to proceed after the theft”, Simon reported. “When you insure and register, you’ve got very little to worry about if you bike goes missing”. 

The best we can do is to take more care using D locks and cables in combination, greater coordination with police, refusing to purchase bikes without serial numbers, and the like. Simon has bought Abus’ particularly effective chain from the UK’s Bikesnbits, in anticipation of the new road bike. One can also use two different types of locks to force thieves to use two separate tools for lock jimmying. 

Abus Expedition Chain Lock 70/45 85cm
Simon left us with his firm resolve to continue cycling no matter what thieves do: “We’re all out here, hundreds of thousands of people who love riding, love saving money, gas, the environment - we’re not going to capitulate because thieves have begun targeting cycles. We’re going to keep riding, keep loving our commutes, keep our eyes out for thieves, and spread the word about insurance, locks, and registration.”


  1. I'm afraid I've yet to come across any evidence to support the theory of "safety in numbers". Indeed, according to the latest available statistics, cycling accidents in London appear to be rising at a faster rate than the amount of cycling going on.


    Perhaps it's best to stop talking about "safety in numbers" in relation to cycling, and instead insist on better cycling infrastructure which is proven to both encourage more people to cycle and reduce accident rates.

  2. Did you read the article properly? Here's what is written:

    "Though better road design [cycle infrastructure] is without doubt the single most important factor needed to improve safety, having more cyclists on the road also helps."

    Also, as regards the rising cycling accident rate in London: correlation does *not* equal causation.