The Cycleplan Blog

How to avoid bike theft in the age of social media

We live in an age of over-sharing. Whether it’s a bite to eat, drinks with friends, or even a bike ride, it has become second nature to share what you do with your social networks. Over-sharing is risky, though, and it’s causing an increase in bike theft.

If you’re a keen cyclist, you’re likely to use one of the many popular cycling network apps, such as Strava, Garmin Connect or MapMyRide. These apps track your location by GPS, providing you with helpful stats and allowing you to compare your performance with friends. But there’s a downside to sharing this information.

Today, the Police are advising cyclists to be more discreet. In a presentation to BikeRegister’s Steering Clear of Cycle Crime Conference, the Police said cyclists need to keep habits to themselves a little more. That’s if you want to protect your valuables from thieves that target these social network users.

Here is a handy guide for avoiding organised thieves that target cycling networks like Strava and Facebook.

1. Don’t advertise your home address

cyclist at home could be at risk of bike theftWhen you go out on a ride, Strava uses GPS to meticulously display your exact route on the map. This means your little red route line will start and end precisely outside your house, which you then share for anybody on Strava to see.

Tip: First of all, it would be smart to make your profile and all your Strava uploads private so that only your friends can see your ride data. We’d also recommend using the privacy zone feature which then creates an ‘exclusion zone’ around your home address.

2. Don’t post photos of your bike

bicycle image on Facebook could lead to bike theft

Did you know that you can connect your Strava account with your Instagram account? By doing this you can then include any images from the ride in your ride data using Strava’s location-aware software. The images are geo-tagged to the exact place you took the image on your ride. Sadly, thieves and burglars can use this information.

Tip: Take photos of anything other than your bike when out on a ride. A lovely building or stunning view will be much safer to add to your ride data.

3. Don’t tell Facebook about every ride

cycle strava bike theft facebook status

Believe it or not, there are professional cycle thieves out there who will randomly add you on Strava and Facebook to try to steal your bike from you. They can easily monitor what times you leave and return on those regular weekly rides.

Posting a status to Facebook can let them know exactly what time you’ve left on your ride, or where you are currently. If they know you’re having a well-earned beverage, still some 50 miles and a couple of hours from home, they could take advantage of that.

Tip: Don’t advertise your rides on Facebook, unless you’re a) completely happy with your privacy settings and b) know and trust everyone on your friends list.

You might post a “Just off on another 100-mile ride – wish me luck!” message. Or even a “Halfway through today’s 100-mile ride – well-deserved beverage!” post. Unfortunately, these are the exact messages thieves crave because they have a geo-location on the post which can be pinpointed to your exact location. Telling them exactly how much time they have until you arrive back home.

4. Don’t list exact bike makes and models on Strava

These professional Strava bike thieves know exactly what to look out for. They know the difference in value between a budget Pinnacle and a top-of-the-range Specialized just by the make and model name. Plus, they’re likely to Google a bike model to assess its resale value.

Tip: Resist the urge to broadcast just how great your bike is. Even more so if you have several different bikes. Try giving your bikes generic names like “summer bike” or “bike 1”!

5. Don’t broadcast your cycling holiday plans. Or any holiday for that matter.

Even on holiday you're at risk of bike theft

We know how easy it is to brag about going abroad. There’s the obligatory “Can’t wait” post a few days before, or the picture in the airport lounge bar or the selfie at the top of the mountain you just climbed. As much as it is great to tell all your family and friends, the fact is you’re also most probably telling a lot of strangers simultaneously, therefore putting your home and possessions at risk.

Tip: Make sure your privacy settings are correct on Strava, at least until you’re back home. Also, resist promoting what an amazing time you’re having (as mentioned above) unless you’re completely happy with your privacy settings and know and trust everyone on your friends list.

How to avoid bike theft – what the experts say

Bike theft - bike is stolen by a thief

Nick Hubble, of Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign, says such thefts are a growing concern. He told the Manchester Evening News: “I’ve heard and read about a lot of thefts which people believe are as a result of advertising your whereabouts.

“These tools are incredibly useful for logging performance but you do have to be incredibly careful, set privacy zones, because criminals are becoming very tech-savvy.”

Simon Klima, UK manager at Strava, said: “We believe it is important that our members have the tools to protect themselves and control the detail of information they share.

“While we have not been able to confirm any cases of theft related to Strava activity uploads, we do offer a rich set of easy-to-use privacy controls for all our members.

“As a leading social network for athletes, Strava gives members the tools to manage the information they share with friends and followers. They can set privacy zones around any address such as a home or office address, so that start and end locations of their activities aren’t shared publicly.”

Avoiding cycle thieves – the Cycleplan perspective

Cycleplan Managing Director John Woosey said: “It’s really sad that cyclists have to be so careful about when and where they post on social media. These professional cycle thieves are getting much smarter and tech-savvy, though, meaning us cyclists must stay one step ahead.

“Every year in the UK 500,000 bicycles are stolen – that’s one every minute. As cyclists, we need to be more vigilant. By taking the right precautions, such as those listed above, cyclists stand a better chance of keeping thieves at bay.”

In the video below, road cycling World Champion and Olympic medalist Lizzie Armitstead talks about how you can protect yourself, your bike and your clothes with specialist cycle insurance from Cycleplan:

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