Page last updated at 09:36 GMT, Friday, 22 May 2009 10:36 UK

Bike thefts threaten Cycling City

By Imran Jina
BBC News, Bristol


Police caught some thieves on CCTV

When Bristol was named as the UK's first Cycling City in 2008, it received £11m of government funding to promote bicycle usage. Plans were eagerly drawn up to expand cycle paths and double the number of regular cyclists in the city.

However, statistics acquired by BBC News show that all is not as tranquil as it seems. Rates of bike theft in the city remain stubbornly at more than twice the UK average. And thefts of high-value bicycles - worth more than £1,000 - is up 20% on 2008.

Jules Brown is a victim of one of those thefts. His £1,600 mountain bike was stolen when thieves ripped his garage door off its hinges.

"The garage was reinforced with a steel plate. The man who fitted it did not know how so much force was applied," he said.

"Oliver", has become highly security conscious since his £3,500 bike was stolen from his Redland home. He has chosen to withhold his surname and he even took five minutes to satisfy himself of my identity before he would talk.

"Thieves smashed a hole through the asbestos roof of my garage," he said.

Even as the burglar alarm was ringing, they set to work with an angle-grinder and bolt croppers. They had escaped before Oliver could reach his front door.


"I now secure my bikes to an inch-thick steel bracket fixed with dead-head bolts," he said.

It is the sense of being singled out for owning an expensive bike that worries many of the victims.

"I feel paranoid," said Robert Przemioslo, whose £5,500 racing bike was taken in January 2009.

"They must have known it was there. There is no road access to my house so the thief would have had to climb over six garden walls with the bike to get away. This is not normal."

Anthony Piper, manager of Psyclewerx, explained that targeted thefts like these are probably well thought out.

"People get followed back from the cycle tracks. I tell customers to drive in a loop a few times before heading home if they have got bikes on the back of their car.

"There is clearly a second-hand market for these bikes - these criminals know exactly what is valuable."

Insp Phil Davies concedes that fighting bike theft is not a priority when compared with crimes such as serious assault and rape.

Though he is keen to point out that there have been some success stories.

Bicycle chip
The identifying chip is lodged in the frame

Convictions have resulted from an initiative in which police placed bikes in theft hotspots covered by CCTV.

"Those caught got anything from a £250 fine, to a 100-hours community order, to three months' detention," he said.

A second prong in this campaign is encouraging all owners to microchip their machines.

Bike owners can lodge an identifying chip inside the frame. If the machine is then stolen and recovered, police can quickly establish who it belongs to.

These initiatives go some way towards defending the reputation of UK's first Cycling City and other budding candidate cities may well look at Bristol as a test case.

As Oliver puts it: "They have to sort it out. Otherwise this crime is just a tax on having bikes."

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