For many years a motorcycle has seemed like a cost-effective way of commuting to work. Particularly in London, where motorcycles and scooters have been exempted from the Congestion Charge, their popularity has been rising sharply. However, mounting levels of bike crime in the capital and Britain’s major cities are raising concerns about the future.
Paul McDonald, Motorcycle Editor at automotive intelligence provider Glass’, says that rising crime levels are being reflected in higher insurance premiums. However, one of the problems is a number of riders who leave their machines unsecured at the roadside. “Your bike is much more likely to be stolen if you don’t take the basic precautions,” he says. “But there are still people that don’t secure their machines.”
Improved security now being fitted to bikes, such as immobilisers and tracking devices, have the potential to stem the rise in thefts, he says. Dealers remain worried about the impact that the reporting of the bike crime wave is having on sales, says McDonald.
He welcomes the second phase of the Met ‘Be Safe Campaign’. The Motorcycle Industry Association, who are working in conjunction with the Home Office and stakeholders involved including the Met Police, remind riders of the need to secure their machines, a message that will be reinforced by manufacturers.
Although residual values remain buoyant, says McDonald, insurance premiums remain a concern with some insurers insisting on measures with which he says some riders will struggle to comply. For example, some are insisting that bikes are stored at night in garages or sheds and also secured to ground anchors as a condition of granting insurance. McDonald says that people whose homes lack these facilities can find themselves refused insurance altogether.
McDonald says that one year’s insurance can cost more than the price of a small bike in some inner-city postcodes. And although thefts have been worse among bikes 125cc and under, riders of all types of bikes are feeling the effects of higher premiums, he says.
Two wheel account for half of vehicle thefts
Home Office figures show that half of all vehicle thefts in London last year involved motorcycles and scooters. The Metropolitan Police say scooter enabled crime has risen 600% in the past two years. Last year, the Police set up Operation Venice to tackle bike, scooter and moped crime using powers to stop riders and check their machine was not stolen.
And it’s not just London. A survey for the National Crime Agency identified West Yorkshire, West Midlands and Greater Manchester as well as Greater London as motorcycle theft hotspots. Manchester police warned riders to take increased security measures after a sharp increase in thefts of motorcycles parked in the city centre and West Midlands police reported a trebling of thefts of two-wheelers in Birmingham last year.
The insurance comparison website Confused.com says that postcodes with high bike crime figures will attract higher premiums, regardless of the type of bike. “If you own a beaten-up old scooter, don’t assume that just because your bike isn’t worth much, it’ll be cheap to cover.” And it’s not just cheap low-powered bikes in city centres that are at risk. Police data on the theft of performance bikes (defined as 500cc and over) shows that eight in ten thefts of performance bikes happen outside the owners’ home.
Where does blame lay when it comes to the rise?
Criminologist Dr Simon Harding, Associate Professor at the University of West London has studied the growth of bike crime and believes everyone has a part to play in halting its rise. “Individual owners have a responsibility not to leave bikes unsecured and manufacturers need to constantly improve security and look at ideas like electronic immobilisation and maybe even thumbprint ID to start the machine. To tackle this type of crime at its root, we need to tackle social exclusion and most of the youth programmes that I am aware of in London have been cut, so government has a responsibility here.”
Professor Harding said the rate of small bike and scooter thefts had escalated because more young people were turning to them as a means of transport in financially strained times. More of these types of bikes on the roads meant more opportunity to steal them. Street robbery had risen intermittently since the 2000's with the current peak seeing a shift in tactics from a street 'mugging' on foot to a moped-enabled robbery - often for high value goods. Multiple robberies could be committed by the same group in one day.
“The young people in these street gangs are very smart and adaptive. If the police put something in place to stop them they find a way round it in a few weeks. It is very difficult for the police to combat this sort of crime,” he said. “They have very few resources to go after them and there is confusion about how the police should go after them.
“The problem is that from the perspective of the young people committing these offences it is almost the perfect crime. These machines can go where Police vehicles cannot go, so they can get away down side alleys and walkways. Then they use the moped, scooters and small bikes to commit lucrative high frequency crime, like stealing mobile phones. They then dump the bike, sell it or set fire to it.”
Prevention always cheaper (and easier) than cure
So, what can riders do to stop their bikes being stolen? Operation Venice has issued the following guidance:
Thieves are often opportunists, they will look for bikes that are quick and easy to steal first. Always use the steering lock and remove the ignition keys, even if you are close by or away for a few minutes. It only takes a few seconds for a thief so don’t make it easy for them.
Never rely on just using your steering lock to secure your bike. A common method used by thieves to steal a bike is to break the steering lock and simply wheel the bike away. So, use a chain lock through the back wheel (the front wheel can be removed easily so won’t help). Where possible, secure your bike, with the lock off the ground, to an immovable object such as a ground anchor, railings or lamp post, which will also stop thieves from just picking the whole bike up.
If these options aren’t available, always try to thread the chain through your bike frame and back wheel if the design allows it. This helps protect parts being stolen and stops thieves from simply using a hammer or angle grinder to break the lock if it’s left trailing on the ground. Using a disc lock helps to secure the front brake disc to physically stop it from being wheeled away. Use a grip lock to secure the brake and throttle controls.
Use a cover- just doing this can mean thieves don’t ‘see’ it. Thieves often ‘shop’ for particular bike models, so using a bike cover instantly makes it less attractive to them, as they can’t see if it’s the model they are interested in. A cover also provides another time-consuming obstacle for the thief.
Fitting an alarm can be a deterrent to thieves. Consider fitting a Thatcham-rated 1 or 2 alarm system with tracking, immobilisation, anti-grab and movement sensors can help protect and trace your vehicle. A quality Thatcham approved, professionally fitted alarm system will not only put off thieves, but could also reduce your insurance premiums.
Property mark the parts. Marking as much of your bike as possible will make it more difficult for criminals to sell parts on, and therefore less attractive to steal. It will also help police identify parts and return recovered stolen bikes. When at home the best place to keep your motorcycle, moped or scooter is in your garage or shed. Fit a garage door defender or upgrade garage door locks. Garage and shed alarms as well as low level dusk to dawn lighting will also enhance security. Fitting a ground anchor also provides extra security. Motorcycle lockers are also available to store your bike at home. No shed or garage? Park in the safest place you can. Park it in an area near to your home where it’s well overlooked with good lighting. A Park Mark approved car park has a higher level of security than other car parks. And if your bike is stolen - never put yourself at risk. Call police immediately on 999 if you see it being stolen or 101 if you discover it has gone.