If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to have had your bicycle stolen, you’ll be familiar with the range of emotions that the experience evokes. But once the red mist clears and you’re in a more rational frame of mind, there are plenty of sensible steps you can take to increase your chances of getting it back.
When you discover your bike has been stolen, at first there’s a feeling of shock and disbelief. Then there’s the anger that someone feels they can just take your property. There’s also that sinking feeling when you realise you now have to deal with the aftermath; the annoyance of reporting the crime and making an insurance claim (if you have bike insurance); the inconvenience of having to make alternative travel arrangements.
However, all is not necessarily lost. This guide has been put together with the help of cycle crime experts to help you do all you can to retrieve your stolen bike. Following this advice will give you a much better chance of reclaiming your pride and joy.
Five steps on how to get your stolen bicycle back:
1. Report the theft to the police as quickly you can, and with as much detail as possible
Lots of people think that the police are not usually that interested in cycle crime – so much so that up to 75% of people don’t even bother reporting that their bike has been stolen to the authorities. However, PC Lee Honey, of the Metropolitan Police, feels that it’s of vital importance that victims always report cycle theft:
“Reporting thefts even if you believe you will never see your bike again is very important. Unless all crimes are reported, we will never have the correct crime figures and therefore, bike crime will not be seen as big of a problem as it actually is. Crimes can only be dealt with and measured if they are actually reported in the first place.”
PC Honey is also keen to point out that thousands of UK bicycles are recovered by police forces across the country, but because either the crime was never reported, or because the bike’s owners did not provide enough details, most of these are unable to be returned to their rightful owners:
“Police yards are generally filled with recovered bikes but sadly most people do not know their frame numbers or any identifiers and so these cycles are never paired up with a victim.”
When you report the crime to your local police force, doing it in person at your nearest station is best, as it enables you to give detailed information and hand over photos of the bike too. PC Honey advises victims to provide a full description of the cycle, including any frame number and registration numbers available. He says it’s also helpful to provide pictures with unique identifiers like individual marks, stickers or scratches as well as information about any changes or upgrades you might have made to it.
You will also need to note down the crime number provided by the police when you report the theft, as this will be required by your bicycle insurance company and any follow-up contact with the police.
2. Report the theft on specialist websites
There are several websites, some regional and some national, which exist purely to help cyclists protect their bikes from theft or to assist in tracking them down should the worst happen. Here is a selection of the most popular services available:
A national, police-approved bicycle marking and registration scheme, BikeRegister is simple and quick to use. The idea is that you register when you get a bike – so you can include the frame number and other details when you sign up (for free), then mark up your bicycle with their security kit and warning label as a deterrent (for an additional, one-off cost).
Every police force in the UK uses the BikeRegister database to search for stolen and recovered bikes, so even if you don’t register your bike until after it has been stolen, it will still mean that there is a better chance of you getting it back than if you don’t register at all.
Another UK register, Stolen Bikes, is a site on which you can register your stolen bike and they will use their existing networks to put out an alert via social media to cyclists all over the country. They also have a sister site, Find That Bike, which lists all bikes and frames publically put up for sale recently on selling sites such as eBay and Gumtree so you can keep an eye out in case yours appears.
Immobilise is a database where you can register bikes as well as other personal possessions, like mobile phones. It’s another database used by UK police forces to help return property to its rightful owner. Registration is free and straightforward.
3. Get the word out in your local community to make your bike ‘too hot to handle’
Flyers and posters:
Whilst you might use the internet and social media sites regularly, there is still a large proportion of the UK population who don’t – or not in a way that they might easily be alerted to your stolen bike. Though it’s actually against the law to put posters up on the street, you can leaflet houses, shops and businesses in your local area to see if they will display a poster in their window or flyers on their counter.
You don’t need to be a design expert to make a poster or flyer. There are some excellent free online tools, such as Canva, which provide templates for you to create your own eye-catching posters and flyers. You can either print them at home or send to professional printers.
For anyone not keen on putting their telephone number on a poster, you could choose to use an email address, as most people will either have access to email or know someone who does.
Second-hand bike shops and pawnbrokers:
Putting flyers through doors is one option, but in addition to this, you can also approach your local pawnbrokers, Cash Converters, or any second-hand bike shops and make sure that they are all aware of the theft and are on the lookout for your bicycle. If possible, leave a flyer with them so they know how to contact you should your bike show up there.
Car boot sales and markets:
If your local community hosts any car boot sales, then it can be a good idea to visit right at the start of the day to check if your bike is being sold there. Likewise, any local market which deals in second-hand goods could be a prime place for thieves to move on stolen property quickly without too many questions being asked.
Facebook community groups:
If you have a Facebook account, it may be worth joining local community groups so that you can post about your stolen bike and get people living locally to look out for it. Most towns or regions have their own community pages or groups and some are specifically for posting about missing items, lost and found pets, or thefts. See Formby Bubble, Lost & Found Brighton, Lost & Found in Liverpool or LostBox London, for example.
Posting an image containing all the details, like the flyer above for example, is a great way to make your post more shareable and get it seen by more people quickly. Ensure that the privacy options on this specific Facebook post are set to ‘public’ so that everyone can view and share the details if you aren’t already connected with them online.
4. Get the word out on your own social networks
In addition to sharing your image and story about the theft on specialist sites, don’t neglect to also share on your own social networks e.g. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The more people you make aware of your stolen bike, the more likely it is that someone will spot something.
If you share a post, again, ensure that the privacy settings are set to public and especially on Twitter and Instagram use hashtags (e.g. #stolen #stolenbike #cycling). You can even include a hashtag of your town or city name to help your message get in front of more relevant people. If you have any local celebrities who have a social media presence, you can always tweet and ask if they can share your post with their followers, which will extend the reach significantly. Be aware that most high-profile tweeters get dozens, if not hundreds of these types of requests on a daily basis, so don’t be offended if they don’t share yours.
5. Monitor local selling sites
PC Honey advises anyone who has had their bike stolen to keep an eye out on websites such as eBay and Gumtree with searches set to worldwide, rather than just UK sales. Whilst some thieves might try and move the item or items on locally as quickly as possible, that isn’t always the case. PC Honey is keen to impress on victims the importance of not giving up if you don’t find your stolen bike on one of these sites within a few days. “Don’t stop searching. Bikes are not always sold within a short timeframe; some reappear a long time after the theft,” he says.
Gumtree is one of the most obvious sites for you to keep an eye on. You can filter results by category and to an area near where your bike was stolen, but as PC Honey suggests, many bikes are moved quickly to another city or location to try and avoid detection before being sold on. So, if possible, keep your search area as wide as you can to give you more chance of spotting your stolen property.
Search not only within the broad bicycles category but within the sub-categories using your bike’s brand and colour, as items are often listed in incorrect site categories. It’s also worth looking for misspellings of your bike’s name, as those in a rush will often make spelling mistakes. For example, if your bike is branded ‘Specialized’ then try searching for ‘specialised’ and a few different versions of the model name.
The biggest online auction site in the UK, eBay, is another website to keep an eye on in relation to your stolen bike. Again, searching both inside and outside the correct category and looking for common misspellings of the bike’s brand can all yield results you might otherwise miss.
Set up alerts:
There are dozens of websites on which you could spend hours of your day trawling for ads in the hope of spotting your stolen bike, but fortunately, some of them allow you to set up alerts, which will send you an email when products matching your parameters are listed for sale. This is usually a daily notification email which can easily be set up or disabled when no longer needed.
Each site has its own set of instructions for how to set up alerts to help you find your stolen property:
As well as site-wide searches, you could set up internet-wide searches using Google Alerts.
Facebook local selling groups:
As well as having groups for lost, found and stolen items, many towns, cities and villages also have selling groups on Facebook where people post goods they have for sale. This can, on occasion, be an outlet for stolen goods too. For example, in Chester there are several groups or pages including Buy, Sell & Swap in Chester, Buy&Sell Chester, Buy and Sell Chester, Chester Buy Sell Swap, Chester buy and sell, and Buying and selling in Chester.
Find the biggest couple of Facebook pages in your area and concentrate your efforts on these. The chances are that anyone trying to move stolen property on in this way will use the groups with the biggest audience to try and achieve a quick sale.
You might ordinarily think that a thief deciding to list a stolen bike on Facebook with their personal profile is unlikely to happen – and most of the time, you’d be right. However, thieves have been known to a) not care if stolen property is linked back to them, or b) set up fake Facebook profiles purely for this purpose.
6. You find your stolen bike – what next?
Whilst it may be tempting for you to try and meet or confront the person selling your stolen bike either in person or online, advice from the police strongly warns against this type of approach. PC Honey offers the following pointers:
“If a victim does find their bike for sale, do not engage with the seller – report it immediately to the local police. Many bike thieves operate in gangs and you are often likely to be putting your own safety at risk by trying to deal with the situation yourself.”
“The police will be able to give you the best advice on how the crime should be taken forward at this point. At the end of the day, no matter how attached you are to your bike, it is a piece of property which can be replaced. You, however, cannot so do not place yourself in danger.”
Protect your bike
If you’re fortunate enough to get your stolen bike back, you’ll undoubtedly want to do everything that you can to stop it from being taken again. Check out Cycleplan’s cycle theft prevention guide for some top tips.
Taking out specialist cycle insurance can also give you peace of mind next time around. Should the worst happen, you can be covered and will get back in the saddle again as quickly as possible.
About the author
Cycleplan is the leading specialist cycle insurance provider in the UK, insuring thousands of cyclists in the event of accidents, bike crime and other common eventualities. Over the years, Cycleplan has developed experience and know-how, alongside those of its partners and colleagues in the cycling industry, about the techniques cycle thieves frequently use. Cycleplan has put together a series of cycle crime prevention and reaction guides to channel this expertise and help its current and future policyholders gain the upper hand on cycle criminals.