What to do if your bike gets stolen

Locking your bike with two D locks makes it less of a target for theft
Did you know only a third of cycles owned in the UK are registered? Cycling UK’s digital communications and media officer Lauren Brooks spoke to superintendent Mark Cleland from the British Transport Police to get some tips on what to do if your bike gets stolen

With record sales of bicycles seen in the UK over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, bike theft is still prevalent. Superintendent Mark Cleland at the British Transport Police (BTP) commented: “It's important that people understand how best to apply their locks.”

A new bike

You’ve got your new bike and you’re desperate to take it out for a spin. But before you head out, there’s a few preventative measures you need to take first:

  1. Make sure your bike is insured inside and outside your home. A third of bikes are stolen from garages, sheds and outhouses. Your insurer will usually insist that your bikes are locked to an immoveable object inside the garage, shed or outhouse – much the same way you’d lock your bike up if you’re out and about. Cycling UK’s insurance partner Yellow Jersey has information on the claims process, including what you need to do to demonstrate that the bicycle was secured in line with the company’s security requirements, and to verify the value of the items being claimed for. Familiarise yourself with the policy wording before you purchase the discounted insurance with your Cycling UK membership.
  2. Keep your receipt/order information and make a note of the bike’s frame number (usually found underneath the down tube towards the bottom bracket). This is one of the ways the police can prove your bike is yours when they recover it in the unfortunate event it gets stolen.
  3. Register your bike with BikeRegister, the UK’s free national cycle database (Cycling UK members get 15% off BikeRegister marking kits for extra deterrent). Your local police force may also have a bike-marking initiative of their own. Registration is key. Without this, when the police recover a bike, if you can’t prove the bike is yours, they’re unlikely to return it to you: “We’re trying to encourage registration as much as possible,” says Mark.
  4. Make sure your locks are sold secure – Gold if you can afford it. Most insurers won’t accept anything less, and this grade of lock is more difficult for thieves to crack.

Take photos of your bike and make a note of any distinctive features (brand, model, any dents/scratches, unique paint jobs, stickers, distinctive gear).

Reporting cycle theft

If you are witnessing the theft taking place, do not approach the suspect, but call 999 immediately. If you have returned to where you parked your bike and it’s disappeared, call 101. Give the police the four Ws:

Who – give as clear a description of the suspect as possible: what are they wearing? What do they look like? Are they carrying anything?

What – what they are stealing? Give the make and model of the bike, type of bike, colour, any markings or stickers, distinctive gear and the frame number.

Where – where is the crime taking place? Look for street names, or shop names in the location, or any landmarks nearby such as churches.

When – make a note of the time if the crime is happening now, or the time you first noticed the bike was missing.

Most police forces also have an online reporting tool you can find on their website.

What happens next?

You’ll be given a crime reference number. Make a note of this, you’ll need it for insurance purposes later on, as well as for any further correspondence with the police.

The police will then decide if they will investigate. This is dependent on lots of different factors, not necessarily down to the value of your bike.

“Solvability is decided by individual police forces. Imagine you lock your bike to a fence in the middle of a field somewhere – there’s no CCTV, no witnesses – there’s no evidence, so solvability in that case is extremely low. On the other hand, if you park your bike outside a police station, which is covered by CCTV, we’ll have images of the suspect, so there’s more of a chance we're going to identify them.”

The police will keep the owner informed with updates on the progress of their investigation, and if a suspect is identified, they will be arrested for the theft.

If the bike is proven to belong to you (by supplying a receipt/order information, frame number and so on), then the bike will be returned to you. Unfortunately, on some occasions it’s just not possible to solve the crime because of a lack of evidence needed to identify an offender and because there is no proof of ownership.

In general, Mark says that the recovery numbers for stolen bikes are quite good. For example, in a recent raid, the BTP recovered about 100 bicycles. However, only around 20 of them could be returned to their original owners because they were the only ones marked or registered, “In those circumstances you can’t return them because we can't prove they belong to someone else”.

Next, report your bike as stolen on BikeRegister – even if the bike has not previously been registered. By reporting a bike as stolen on the database, it is easier for members of the public or the police to prove a bike is in the wrong hands.

Spencer Payne at BikeRegister said that the database is used by all UK police forces to search for bikes they recover. “It aims to reduce cycle theft across the country and enables owners to be reunited with their bikes if they are stolen and recovered.

“Registering your bike for free on BikeRegister means you are more likely to be reunited with your bike in the event of it being stolen, but registration alone does not make it a hard target for thieves. Not all frame numbers are unique, but with a BikeRegister marking kit you can security mark your bike with its own unique ID, and at the same time give it an extra visual deterrent to thieves.

“If you love your bike and want to protect it, you need to security mark it. Applying a visible security mark and warning label will act as a strong deterrent to bike thieves.”

Next, you need to let your insurance company know what’s happened. Call the claims line and let them know the four Ws (Who, What, Where, When), along with how the bicycle was secured and for how long it was left. You’ll need to provide the crime reference number, as well as proof of ownership for all the items stolen (the bike, accessories, gear and locks).

BikeRegister also recommends you contact local bike shops so that they can take your details and that of the stolen bike, in case the thief comes into the shop and tries to offer the bike for sale. Make sure you tell the shop your bike is registered on BikeRegister so they can also use the free BikeChecker to check whether a second-hand bike is listed as stolen.

You might also want to put up flyers in your neighbourhood and post photos of the bicycle on social media, asking bicycle forums and groups to share the post – the power of social media is incredible, these posts can be shared far and wide, and fast.

Locking your bike

Superintendent Mark Cleland explains: “The best way to lock your bike is to not lock it at all, take it with you, take it into your workplace if you can – that’s why folding bikes are such a good example because you can take them anywhere.”

Failing that, he says: “Use quality cycle stands, not fence posts or gates. Check the stand before you lock your bike.”

“There have been a series of incidents where cycle stands have been sawn through and taped up, so that if you don’t double-lock your bike as we advise, the thieves can simply lift your bike up and slip the D lock through the gap they’ve made by sawing through the cycle stand.”

It’s also a good idea to check the base of the stand too, to make sure it’s solidly secured to the floor. It’s important to consider lighting and CCTV coverage wherever you lock your bike, and ideally lock it in an area with high footfall. There is more advice on this in our guide to locking your bike.

Mark says: “The best cycle storage is the proper secure access-only cycle storage, and those sorts of places are growing in popularity.” You can find these most commonly in city centres.

Attaching GPS trackers to your bicycle is a good idea, too. You can follow your bike using an app on your phone and tell the police where you believe it’s been taken.

Mark also advises people not to be complacent when at home: “Follow good lock practice at home, so double lock your bike to something solid and secure in your garage, shed or outhouse.”

Mark tells me that burglaries are quite common – your bike isn’t necessarily targeted, but they’re often looking for high-value items and if your bike isn’t locked up properly it makes for easy pickings.

What do thieves look for?

Mark explained what thieves typically look for when they’re on the hunt: “It comes down to the value. Thieves will scan the cycle stands and ask themselves ‘Which one am I going to make some money out of?’ And then ‘Which one is going to be the easiest to steal?’”

One of the things Mark advises you to think is ‘What makes my bike harder to steal?’ If you can dissuade the thief by increasing the risk of the theft, that’s ideal.

“A cycle thief wants low risk, high value. They don’t want to get caught, but they want to make as much money as possible, so if you can increase the risk of them getting caught by double locking your bike in a busy, well-lit area covered by CCTV, they’ll start to think twice.”

It’s important to double lock your bike with the very best locks you can afford and to avoid cable locks where possible as they can be easily cut through. Right now, the BTP are running a double lock campaign and Mark has seen first hand how this can prevent cycle thefts. “I was walking through Cardiff city centre recently on my day off and I ended up chasing this guy who was trying to steal a bike.

“The owner had locked the bike to a cycle rack with just a D lock through the top tube and the stand, and this guy was trying to use the bike as leverage to break the D lock itself. So again, it just shows the way using just one D lock could be used to help in actually stealing the bike.

“If the owner had used two D locks, one through each wheel as well as the frame to the cycle stand, you wouldn’t be able to move that bike at all. It’s important that people understand how best to apply their locks.

“Of course, it’s proportional. If you’re cycling into a town centre for your days’ work and you know you’re going to leave your bike locked up all day, double lock it. If you’re on a ride and you’ve stopped at a café, you’re probably OK to use a more temporary lock if your bike is in full view.”

We’ve managed to get cycle crime into the Department for Transport’s (DfT) cycling and walking strategy so that the DfT invests in options around tackling cycle crime and implementing crime prevention measures

Superintendent Mark Cleland, British Transport Police

Making cycle crime a priority

The BTP does prioritise cycle theft, but reporting is imperative.

“If we don't know about it, we can’t do anything about it. We do have competing priorities, But if, say, 100 cycles are stolen at a cycle rack and not one of the owners have reported their bike stolen, as far as we know, there’s never been a bike stolen from that location. So why would we look there, when we can focus our efforts on somewhere we know bikes are being stolen because the public are reporting the thefts?

“A good example to use is dog theft. Dog theft is quite an emotive subject, and so when it increased during the coronavirus pandemic, everyone was talking about it and promoting preventative measures.

"People started reporting it so much that it got in front of the Home Secretary. We then committed to a taskforce to tackle it and now all police forces are engaged in tackling dog theft because people were suddenly encouraged to report it.

“Reporting cycle thefts can have this effect, too. More people are reporting it now so we’re getting more crime data come in that reaches the government. We’ve managed to get cycle crime into the Department for Transport’s (DfT) cycling and walking strategy so that the DfT invests in options around tackling cycle crime and implementing crime prevention measures.”

Research from a couple of years ago indicates that around 3% of cycles are recovered every year on average, but Mark hopes this will rise as more people register their bikes. “If people don’t register their bikes, we can’t tell if it’s stolen. During the pandemic, BikeRegister has seen owners register around a million bikes.

“Bear in mind, though, that 2-3 million bikes are sold every year on average in the UK, so around two-thirds of bikes still aren’t registered so can’t be returned to the original owner.”

“Robberies like the Alexandar Richardson incident in Richmond Park last year are incredibly rare. It makes for a great headline, but it’s very uncommon.”

The BTP is focusing on Crime Reduction Partnerships. It recently formed one with Next Bike and South Wales Police, along with 30 other partners including Cycling UK, and in Newport alone it saw a 30% drop in cycle crime over around a two-month period. These Crime Reduction Partnerships are popping up all over the country now.

Mark advises: “If anyone is particularly concerned about cycle crime in their community, I would ask them to make some noise locally about setting up a Cycle Crime Reduction Partnership. It’s easy to do, and we tend to set them up in areas where we’re suddenly picking up there's a bit of a rise in cycle crime, but everywhere we do it, we get reductions.

“The responsibility is also on cyclists. If you feel passionately about this then you can contribute and help us tackle cycle crime. Speak to your local council, your local MP, your local police force and tell them where you want a Cycle Crime Reduction Partnership that will tackle this, and we can form one. We find that in every community there's loads of people who all want to contribute.”

Mark’s colleague Jordan helped to push out the national campaign for Crime Reduction Partnerships to all police forces across the country: “It’s really interesting because usually you’d see a spike in cycle crime in the summer months, but last year it was actually pretty flat, which shows that the campaign had an impact on actually reducing crime over the summer months, which is ideal.

“As a result we had about a 13% reduction in cycle crime over the last 12 months at a time where we’ve had record numbers of bikes sold in the country.”

If you’ve had your bike stolen and managed to get it back, we’d love to hear your story, get in touch.

Protecting your bike

£50 off bike insurance with Yellow Jersey

Cycling UK members can get £50 off all annual bicycle insurance policies. There are three tiers of bicycle insurance to cover your equipment when riding, racing or training worldwide. From bicycle theft to crash damage, alongside numerous other benefits as standard, they will have you covered.

15% off BikeRegister security marking kits from £12.99

Reduce the chances of becoming a victim of cycle theft. Mark your bike with a BikeRegister security marking kit. BikeRegister is used by every UK police force and is the preferred bike marking system of the Metropolitan Police Service and the BTP.

20% off Hiplok

Hiplok works closely with experts and performs real-world security tests using the latest technology to stay one step ahead of thieves to ensure the locks are the most secure for purpose. Cycling UK members can get 20% off the products.

Sherlock £125

This ‘invisible’ anti-theft GPS tracker sits in your handlebars, allowing you to track your bike from your phone and let the police know where your bike has been taken.