The key to beating bike thieves

Are you one of the thousands of bicycle theft victims? Rita de Brún asks what precautions cyclists can take to put the brakes on pedaling pilferers

It takes less than five seconds to steal a bike. That’s great news for crooks; bad news for bikers.

Other good news for crooks is that it’s a cinch to sell pilfered property online, with few used-bike buyers asking sellers for proof of ownership in that marketplace.

Questioning a seller’s right to sell may not be a nice thing to do, but it is savvy, and when we don’t, we’re as good as being in cahoots with the bike-swiping thieves we abhor.

The trouble is, there’s a don’t ask, don’t tell culture in the online used-bike marketplace. It’s in situ because it suits buyers and thief-sellers alike.

Of course, by making it easy for crooks to openly sell their loot, we do ourselves no favours. We’d be a greener, leaner, fitter lot if more of us cycled about, but according to Dublin Cycling Campaign’s David Timoney, bike theft impacts negatively on that.

“Our research shows that one in six victims of bike theft doesn’t replace the stolen bike,” he says.

“In that way, theft is a real deterrent to increasing cycling numbers.” As for the consequences of being found in possession of a stolen bike, Sergeant Kelvin Courtney of the Garda National Crime Prevention Centre of Excellence says it involves ‘having to hand it over and lose the money paid for it.’

While that’s more than fair, it fails massively as a deterrent, possibly because the odds of being caught is so low. But this is not a policing issue. It’s a legislative one.

Garda warehouses are filled with recovered bikes that can’t be reunited with their owners. That there’s a close to a national aversion to keeping a record of bike frame or serial numbers doesn’t help. In 2017, only 15 percent of us had that information when reporting a theft.

Among those not engulfed in the serial number fog, are the few who furnish not only those but a photograph of themselves atop or alongside the now stolen bike. They’re just a tiny minority, however, as surprisingly few of us report bike thefts at all.

In 2016, there were 5,600 incidents of bike theft or unlawful taking of a pedal cycle reported in Ireland. The key word here is ‘reported.’ “Only one in every three or four bikes stolen is reported,” says Timoney, voicing a trend the gardaí urge the public to change.

It’s a puzzle why so many of us keep our lips sealed when crooks steal away with our bikes. Maybe it’s apathy, but it’s sure not a reluctance to claim on the insurance.

“Bicycle thefts are one of the top claims made on home insurance policies,” says Paul Kavanagh, managing director of McCarthy Insurance Group.

McCarthy insurance’s Paul Kavanagh.

Cautioning that ‘a pedal cycle is not covered under a house policy unless it’s on the premises,’ he adds: “If kept at home, the house must be locked if there’s nobody home. If kept outside, lock it to something secure such as a steel fence, or keep it in a locked shed on the grounds.”

What if we lock it to a rusty downpipe that gets ripped from the house wall by a mean old thief? “It wouldn’t be covered. But as long as it’s locked securely to an immovable object, it’s likely to be covered as standard by most home insurance policies, possibly with an upper limit for the value per bike.”

Kavanagh cautions that it’s a mistake to assume that because you have a comprehensive home policy, you have cover: “For those who park their bike outside of the home address, an all risks add on to the home policy is needed. This covers the bicycle and the policy owner’s liability, which is vital if they’re involved in any type of accident.”

Confirming that this type of policy is widely available for homeowners and tenants alike he says: “As policies differ, nobody should assume their needs are covered without first reading their policy, or getting good impartial advice.”

For the growing number of pedal-assisted ‘bike’ and e-bike riders in Ireland, he has sage advice: “Many wrongly assume that whatever they cycle on is covered under general household cover. But it’s important to establish if your ‘bike’ is in fact a mechanically propelled vehicle (MPV). Irrespective of engine capacity, it probably is, if it doesn’t require pedalling or scooting for propulsion.” As for the thieves that cause so much grief in Ireland, the introduction of bait bikes is not something they need fear, just yet.

But the same can’t be said for their counterparts in Holland, where decoy bikes are being used as a sort of mechanical honey-trap for thieves.

There, the Telegraaf newspaper recently reported that the bikes, fitted with police GPS tracking systems, were used 1,612 times last year, resulting in 1,220 arrests being made.

Of course, prevention is always better than cure and on the topic of how best to deter bike-crooks from securing what’s ours, Cillian Read of The Bike Shed on Cork’s Magazine Road, is a font of knowledge.

Widely hailed as ‘The Bike Doctor’ in the region, there’s nothing he doesn’t know about the mechanics of human-powered, pedal-propelled vehicles and how to protect them.

“As a rule of thumb, spend 10 percent of the bike price on locks,” he says.

Pictured at The Bike Shed, Dennehy’s Cross, Cork City, owner Cillian Read. Picture: Andy Jay

“For bike chains, those costing around €30 are generally very good. The type typically used on motorbikes can be bought for €40 or €50. They require angle grinders to cut through them, but they’re heavy.

“For those who cycle to the same location every day, a no hassle way of keeping the extra security without carrying the added weight is to leave the chain attached to the bike-rack, rather than carry it back and forth each time.”

Cables can be snipped in seconds. Why buy them?

“Most do so because they’re cheap. But when they’re the only lock on a bike, they’re a false economy. They’re commonly used as additional locks on quick-release wheels and they’re fine for that when used with a strong U lock.

“As for quick-release bike skewers, they make wheel-thieving a cinch, but for €15 or so, you can replace them with a set that need to be unlocked with an Allen key.” Why not use cable instead of chain, given that the latter are so easily sliced?

“A chain long enough to secure a bike with a U lock would be incredibly heavy,” he replies.

Correct use of suitably strong locks is important but Dublin Cycling Campaign research indicates that two-thirds of bike-theft victims didn’t use suitable bike locks correctly. Inadequate and insufficient bike-parking facilities were other factors, with wheel-racks or no racks at all in apartment blocks, being one of the biggest problems, as was no security there.

While cyclists can’t conjure Sheffield hoops out of the ether, they’re not without imagination when it comes to reducing theft risk. Read says some cover the bike’s brand name with tape in an effort to deter crooks. Others are less savvy, failing to learn before it’s too late that bikes attached to short poles are magnets for thieves. “They lift the bikes up high and walk away,” says Read.

“Attached sign-posts don’t stop them. They easily whack those off.” All this mechanical talk has me pondering the big issues, such as whether pink flowery bikes would be safe from thieves?

“As most are male and wouldn’t want to be seen cycling away on a stolen bike that stands out from the rest, they’re slightly less likely to be taken,” opines Read.

”But they do get taken. Bike thieves break all the rules. They target what they want.”

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