What to do if your bike is stolen

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  • This thread is meant to become a one-stop resource like roxy's 'What to do in case of an accident' thread. I don't have all the answers, but I'll add things that people post to the OP. Thanks to dicki for the idea.

    So, what to do:

    Before a potential theft:

    • Consider insuring your bike.

    • Take photos and note the frame numbers. Having these to hand is absolutely key for you to have any chance of getting your bike back. If the police do recover a stolen bike (and it hasn't been resprayed etc.) then a photo of you with the bike will help you prove it's yours. The same goes for frame numbers. You could even take a photo of your frame number next to your face by standing the bike up on one wheel. Have I mentioned yet that you should make a special note of the frame number and keep it in a safe place? ;) Frame numbers are often on the bottom bracket shell (between your cranks on the underside of your bike, so you may have to turn it upside down to see it, and are sometimes obscured by gear cable routers (bits stuck on the BB shell)), but on some bikes they are elsewhere, especially on some older bikes. Don't give up searching for it too easily! Every bike should have a number (if it hasn't been filed off by previous thieves).

    • Individualise your bike, and hide your contact details on it, as much as you can. Whether you put a note with your contact details in the handlebars, stamp your saddle (there's a particular theft problem with unmarked Brooks saddles, of which the police recover piles and piles which they can't restore to the owners), hide a note in the frame, or in a tool bag attached to the bike, it all helps. The police will find these and will contact you if they recover the bike, and you never know, an honest but unwitting buyer of stolen goods might do the same. Skully stamps saddles, for instance. Have a look here: http://www.lfgss.com/thread12271.html

    • Most bikes are stolen from homes, e.g. garden sheds or communal storage, not from the street (although, obviously, this danger still exists). If possible, keep bikes in your flat or inside your house, not in insecure outbuildings.

    • Communal bike storage is not in itself secure, especially in newer developments. There can be a problem with unauthorised persons obtaining keys. Always lock your bikes well if you have to leave them in such a facility. Even if thieves enter overnight, they may not be prepared to break locks but will try to take unsecured bikes.

    • Ask your employer to install secure bike parking, where you can leave your bike without worrying.

    • There's a lot of advice on here about getting heavy locks. The Kryptonite Fahgettabout is particularly recommended. However, be aware that any locking mechanism can be overridden, and the more locking develops into an arms race, the more thieves will likewise tool up. The upshot is that those with worse locks will be more at risk from thieves coming equipped to break much heavier locks.

    • At any rate, never use a cheap cable lock on any bike--they can be easily snipped. Full locking advice is here.

    • Also be aware that a lot of thieves steal components, such as saddles and seatposts, or wheels. It is not recommended to use quick-release levers anywhere on your bike in London. They were developed for quick wheel changes in races. You don't need them on your commute. Get normal wheel nuts and carry a spanner with you. There are also special locking mechanisms with which you can further secure components, such as pitlocks or a saddle chain/wire loop.

    • With a bit of experience in London, you'll develop an instinct where it's fairly safe to leave your bike and where it isn't. Choose well-overlooked spots where there is a lot of activity.

    • Bikes that evidently look very 'used', e.g. dirty or scratched, are of little interest to thieves. However, if it's a fashionable kind of dirty bike that doesn't look very 'owned', they may think that they can sell it on, anyway.

    • Thieves' activity is often very recognisable to people living near them, e.g. bikes going in and out of the house all the time. Do report this if you can.

    • Many people and even some police officers don't know about the Cycle Task Force yet. Make sure you spread the word.

    • You can also register your bike on the Bike Register or Immobilise property databases. This could help the police in case they find your bike and need to return it to you. It is often impossible to return such bikes without this information being available to them. As you can see below, the police advise registering with both Bike Register and Alpha Dot (although they don't provide the latter service).

    Note that the Metropolitan Police no longer support Immobilise for stolen bikes and have switched to Bike Register. Their advice is that you should re-register your bike on Bike Register if you have previously registered it on Immobilise, as the two companies do not appear to share data.

    The police run regular bike marking sessions around London and it is there that you can have your bikes registered.

    • The police also offer security marking of bikes using Bike Register. There will hopefully soon be a nationally unified system of bike marking. In the meantime, look out for events at which your local police do security marking for free. Marking events are usually listed here--you can enter your postcode and the site will display marking events closest to you; it includes events run by the police, local authorities, and other organisations:

    bikeregister.com/events

    Here's some of this advice directly from the police, thanks to @Kieran_Ferguson_PC_2224T :

    If you are reading this post, chances are you have had your bike stolen either recently or at some point in the past.

    Could I ask, nay, implore that if you still have your bike, you go now and make a record of your frame number and take a couple of photographs of your bike. When you change a component or two, take another photograph. The frame number will be the best piece of information you can supply to the police as it is by far the easiest and most effective way we will be able to link the bike back to you.

    The photographs will also assist in proving provenance should there be some question as to ownership.

    If your bike has been stolen, consider contacting the shop from where it was purchased. Some will keep a record of frame numbers against customer details.

    Not all bikes have frame numbers, but most do. Once you have that number, visit bikeregister.com and create a free account where you can upload details and photos of your bike. There are other commercial sites and they are all useful - such as;

    alpha-dot.co.uk
    immobilise.com/about
    selectadna.co.uk/dna-asset-marking/dnabi­ke

    The Bikeregister scheme have a sticker and a marking kit which we (along with British Transport Police and City of London Police) offer for free if you attend one of our marking events. Follow the link below to find events in your area:

    bikeregister.com/events

    The sticker and marking kit are a little obtrusive but easier to find and read for officers on the street who are able to confirm who is registered as the owner of the bike there an then at the roadside. The Alpha Dot scheme is different in that the marking is very discreet and less likely to be obliterated by the thief but also not as easy for the officer on the street to find and impossible to read without the correct equipment. We do not offer this service for free but it can be purchased at many bike shops or on the internet and I would suggest that it would be well worth having both to cover all bases.

    We have thousands of bikes in back yards of Police Stations across the Met for which we are unable to trace owners. Some of this is caused by poor descriptions of the stolen bikes (it was blue. Yeah, and it had 2 wheels) some because of the property system we use but almost all because the frame number was not provided to the police when it was reported stolen.

    If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me (about cycle crime related stuff of course).

    Kieran Ferguson PC 2224T
    Roads and Transport Policing Command.
    Proactive unit – team 5.
    Belgravia Police Station,
    202-206 Buckingham Palace Road,
    London.
    SW1Q 9SX

    [email protected]

    In the event of a theft:

    • Report the theft. The Met Police are becoming much more aware of bike theft, and the special Cycle Task Force are a good unit to whom to report your loss. Their contact details:


    If it's urgent: 07768 928 456
    If it's less urgent: e-mail [email protected]

    The Cycle Task Force are particularly interested in seeing a picture of your stolen bike, so please e-mail one to them.
    Thanks to dicki for posting these details.

    The Cycle Task Force is under the Met's Safer Transport Command, which offers a few services here:

    content.met.police.uk/Site/safert­ransportcyclesecurity

    Please let me know if you spot that any of these links are dead. I check them periodically, but may miss something.

    • City Police: If your bike is stolen in the City, call the City of London police 020 7601 2000.

    • There is now a Hackney-specific Cycle Task Force. The unit can be contacted on [email protected]

    To clarify: This is not the same as the previous **Hackney Cycle Crime Unit **(which was disbanded in 2011).

    • You can even register your bike after a theft if you have the contact details.

    • There are various DIY techniques that people have used to get their bikes back. It is not advisable to put yourself or others at risk, but it is of course understandable why people resort to DIY action, e.g. because the police couldn't help. Hopefully, with increased police action on theft, DIY bike recovery will become increasingly rare.

    • Bikeshd helps with trying to find your bike on-line by scraping together pictures from around the web, e.g. from sites like Gumtree, where stolen bikes are often advertised for sale very soon after the theft. A Gumtree ad may also help the police. Stolen bikes also sometimes turn up on eBay.

    • You can set up alerts for items that match what you may have had stolen on some sale sites. Here are instructions on how to do this for eBay and Gumtree:

    gumtree.nickelled.com/HowToSaveAS­earch?&ngroup=faq

    pages.ebay.com.au/help/buy/search­es-follow.html

    • You can ask the forum to look out for your bike. Post on the Stolen Bikes thread. It sometimes works--someone may spot it and can PM you or post on the thread. A few bikes have been reclaimed after being spotted by people from the forum. Unfortunately, the nicer bikes tend not to be recovered. But it does happen.

    • However, be cautious about posting on-line when you've found your stolen bike on Gumtree or other web-sites. The thieves may notice that the ad is being watched. Report such ads to the police, especially the Cycle Task Force, in the first instance. They have experience in taking action on them. If you post about it openly, you may jeopardise your own chances of getting your bike(s) back. Good luck.

    • Advice from gaz1979: If you spot your stolen bike for sale on-line, one option that has been known to work is to arrange to meet the seller by text message in a busy public place, during the week, and in daylight hours. (e.g. a Tube station). You should then contact the police station nearest to where you have arranged to meet the seller, and explain the situation. The police don't have the authority to pose as buyers; they need special authorisation to solicit the appearance of a suspect by lying to them. In arranging the meeting yourself, you allow the police to act on information about where and when a suspect is likely to appear in possession of stolen goods. This bypasses a lot of red tape and allows the police to act far faster than they would otherwise be able to. DO NOT go to meet the seller yourself; it is more than likely not worth the risk. The police will take care of everything once they know the meeting place/time. They go in, pose as buyers and make the arrest, while you stick around to give statements/get your bike back. So: ARRANGE THE MEETING YOURSELF VIA TEXT MESSAGES.
      THEN CALL THE LOCAL POLICE AND LET THEM DEAL WITH IT.

    And here is some advice from a bike thief.

    This is by no means complete. Please post things to be added!

  • Also, ask the forum to look out for your bike, it sometimes works... there's been a few reclaimed after being spotted by people from the forum. Unfortunately, the nicer bikes tend not to be recovered. But it does happen.

    Also, painting your frame with tartan paint will help get it back. Srsly.

  • Before your bike is stolen, you may also think about bikeregister.com/

  • Might be worth adding recommended insurers/ways of insuring onto the line about insurance, this thread is very helpful.

  • May also be worth adding something to say that certain styles of bike are less likely to be stolen than others - e.g. town/dutch bike v. tarck bike - so may be worth considering if you frequent high crime areas. But not sure if there is any evidence on this?

  • Nah, dutch and english saftey bikes get pinched all the bloody time, maybe hip student kids want to buy them (again)? I really don't think you can generalise at all about that.

    I once saw this american hipster girl shouting at a japanese hipster girl about this crappy shopper bike, right in the throng of Sunday Brick Lane.

    AHG (actually trying to grab the bike from it's current guardian): Hey, that's my bike! It was stolen! I bought from here, for seventy pounds!
    JHG: No, it's mine, I bought here, for seventy pounds.
    AHG: It's mine! You stole it! It was Stolen!
    JHG: No! It's mine!

    then the penny drops ... they BOTH bought a stolen bike. I laughed in their faces.

  • Hmm, I didn't really know the answer to that question and was hoping that wasn't it!

    Guess I will be keeping the beater then (and my English safety bike inside).

    £70 for a crappy shopper btw? They were had in more ways than one!

  • Hah, exactly!

    • Bikes that evidently look very 'used', e.g. dirty or scratched, are of little interest to thieves.

    I think the wording should change a bit here... Someone might think they can use a cable lock because their Holdsworth is dirty, or leave their beat up Brooks on full display in Dalston at 1am

  • Good point, I need to include a warning about theft of components.

  • And maybe tips to avoid that - saddle chain/wire loop, pitlocks, Tynan's anti-theft paste(TM) etc.

  • Might be worth adding recommended insurers/ways of insuring onto the line about insurance, this thread is very helpful.

    Thanks, I've added that.

  • Before your bike is stolen, you may also think about bikeregister.com/

    What's the status of that now? Should we recommend both? I think that things are moving towards a unified national database.

  • Might be worth plugging bikeshd.co.uk as well

  • Also, ask the forum to look out for your bike, it sometimes works... there's been a few reclaimed after being spotted by people from the forum. Unfortunately, the nicer bikes tend not to be recovered. But it does happen.

    Also, painting your frame with tartan paint will help get it back. Srsly.

    I think the wording should change a bit here... Someone might think they can use a cable lock because their Holdsworth is dirty, or leave their beat up Brooks on full display in Dalston at 1am

    And maybe tips to avoid that - saddle chain/wire loop, pitlocks, Tynan's anti-theft paste(TM) etc.

    All done, except that I'm not recommending anti-theft paste. I think that technologically it's an evolutionary dead end.

  • Excellent thread.

  • dicki's idea.

  • The very cool Bikeshd could help save time trawling gumtree and eBay if your bike is nicked.

  • ^Was just about to day the same thing, it pulls feeds from various sites including ebay and gumtree can save a bit of time/hassle

  • Might be worth plugging bikeshd.co.uk as well

    The very cool Bikeshd could help save time trawling gumtree and eBay if your bike is nicked.

    Of course. How could I forget. I'll add it.

  • Another thing to do before your bike is stolen: Take photos and note the frame numbers. If the police do recover a stolen bike (and it hasn't been resprayed etc.) then a photo of you with the bike will help you prove it's yours. The same goes for frame numbers.

  • This will sound like I am taking the piss - I'm not though!

    Stand the bike on it's back and wheel and get a friend to take photo of your face next to the frame number. Keep this photo in your mobile phone.

  • The bike police (by that I mean police on bikes) were in Condor on Friday, handing out leaflets giving advice on techniques for locking your bike, and bike registration advice. I've not got them on me now and maybe their contents have been covered here already, but I'll check their recommendations later and put up anything not yet mentioned.

  • Ride a raleigh lizard with bent forks, you'll always be safe.

  • nice one Oliver. I think this thread is well overdue.
    It's great that people can have a checklist of the things they can do.

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What to do if your bike is stolen

Posted by Avatar for Oliver Schick @Oliver Schick

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