Going for a steal

Taking precautions is the best way to reduce the risk of you falling victim to bike theft.

A few months ago, avid cyclist Grace returned home to an ominous sight: the front door of her home was ajar. She pushed open the door and discovered her pride and joy—her Specialized Ruby Comp road bike—was missing from the front hall.

The worst part of Grace’s story is, she actually saw the thief.

“As I was coming home from dinner I saw a guy in a hoodie riding along on a bike that looked like mine, but I didn’t think much of it … But as I walked up to my house I saw the door was open and my bike was gone.” The thief hadn’t taken anything else.

Grace called the police to make a report and told them that she had seen the thief. They did a sweep of the neighbourhood, but the culprit was long gone. Grace gave the police her bike’s serial number, specs and photos but at the time of writing—more than six months later—there’s still no sign of her bike.

Sadly, Grace’s story is a common one. Thousands of bikes are stolen in Australia each year, and very few are ever reunited with their owners.

Determining exactly how many thefts occur is difficult. While some individual states have statistics on the number of reported thefts, there isn’t a national count. According to data available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2012–13 bikes and sporting goods comprised 14.8% of property stolen from ‘Victims of Other Theft’—but of these thefts, 64.6% of victims didn’t make a police report because they saw the crime as “too trivial/unimportant” or “thought there was nothing the police could do.” bit.ly/1zMXlKt.

What the figures also reveal is that the chances of retrieving your stolen steed are slim at best. Of the 5,006 bikes reported stolen in Victoria in 2013-14, only 339 were reunited with their owners. That’s just 7.4% of the reported thefts. bit.ly/1BtblvA.

Though the figures are disheartening, the good news is that there are steps you can take to make your bike less attractive to thieves and to increase your chances of getting it back (or at least getting compensation) if it is stolen.

Take precautions

Universities, workplace bike parking facilities and sporting events are common target areas for thieves, and while the police do what they can to patrol high risk sites, the best way to protect your bike is to keep it secure. Around half of bikes reported stolen are taken from the home, where people are more likely to leave them unsecured and unattended for long periods of time. Ideally, your bike shouldn’t be visible from the street. Keeping it locked in a secure shed or inside the house is ideal, but if you must store it outdoors, keep it securely locked in the backyard.

When you’re out and about, lock your bike in a well-lit, high traffic area and remove any accessories, such as lights, as these make for easy pickings. Check that what you’re locking to is also secure and minimise the gap between your bike, and the object you’re locking it to. It’s also smart to mix up where you park; thieves may pick up on your routine and target your ride.

Finally, avoid leaving your bike on the street overnight. If you’re planning a big night out, leave the bike at home. Alternatively, some veteran riders will invest in what they call a ‘pub bike’—a cheapie which won’t be too sadly missed if it’s not there the following morning.

A note on locks: D-locks offer the most reliable protection and in the most recent Ride On locks test, the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboutit came in as the best. It takes an angle grinder and a decent amount of time to cut through and most thieves won’t have the equipment or take the risk. However, a D-lock really only protects your frame; thieves may be content with taking parts, most commonly the wheel set. To minimise your risk, invest in a sturdy cable lock to secure your wheels, especially if they’re quick release (some D-locks, like the one pictured, come paired with a cable).  For a reliable list of locks, see results from the Ride On locks test.

What to do if your bike is stolen

When you first purchase a bike, photograph it, make a note of the serial number (typically located on the underside of the bottom bracket) and store the information securely. It’s also smart to keep hold of the receipt but many bike shops also keep records of serial numbers. if required. Additionally, police recommend engraving your driver’s licence number near the serial number to make it easier for them to get in touch.

Some bike owners also choose to install a GPS tracker on their bike. They can be located, normally discreet, nestling inside your head stem or seat post, and send information to an app on your phone. In theory, they’re a good precaution, however, there’s a reasonable chance a savvy thief will detect and disable them.

In the event of a theft, make a police report. The more information you can provide about your bike, the better.  Even if you don’t have photos of your bike or its serial number, you should still make a report. Making a report can help police identify and target high risk areas. It can also help in making insurance claims,or if you’re lucky enough to find your stolen bike locked up on the street, as I did (the story is available online: bit.ly/1sonOig)

Engage the local bike community in the search by listing your bike on stolen bike registers and putting the word on local cycling forums and social media. You might also post flyers around the area where it was stolen, which has the added benefit of alerting other riders that thefts are occurring in the area.

Finally, check online marketplaces, such as eBay and Gumtree, and report any suspicious listings to police.

Invest in insurance

Given the slim chances of getting your bike back if it’s stolen, you might consider having it insured.

There are two options; the first is a 'stand-alone' bike insurance policy, the second is a home/contents insurance policy with the requested bike insurance extension.

A tailored home and contents policy that covers bikes may be cheaper in the long term but not all policies offer the same level of cover, and it’s important to clarify what is covered before committing to a particular policy.

Some policies automatically cover bikes up to a certain value, while others you’ll have to specify in detail the year and make and some policies, you may not be covered if your bike is stolen away from the home.

If your bike is stolen and you need to make a claim, it is likely that you’ll need to provide both proof of the bike’s purchase and evidence of forcible entry.

Insurance policies generally only cover bikes stolen within Australia, so what about if your bike is stolen while you’re travelling? Most travel insurance policies don’t cover bikes and can’t be altered to accommodate them. However, some will cover bikes under ‘sporting goods,’ but usually only to a certain value and not for damaging the bike while in use.

Buyer beware

The canny thief isn’t after a bike to ride; they’re stealing to turn a profit, and stolen bikes and parts often find their way onto the market. While buying secondhand is a great way to snag a bargain, taking possession of stolen goods is a criminal offence and you need to be careful who you buy from.

Buying from licensed pawnbrokers, such as Cash Converters, is a fairly safe bet as sellers must provide 100 points of identification and bike serial numbers are recorded and checked against police records (yet more reason to record your serial number and make a report in the event of a theft).

However, sellers on sites such as eBay and Gumtree don’t have to provide such information, and potential buyers should exercise caution. Look at the seller’s rating and feedback as well as ask for proof of the bike’s purchase and if you suspect a fishy deal, contact the police. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.


Have you seen Grace’s bike?

Grace’s bike is a Specialized Ruby Comp, serial no. WSBC614010968I. It’s matte black, 54cm and has a special stem cap with a red star. If you have any information, contact Grace via Bicycle Network (03) 8376 8888 or Victoria Police.