If you’ve ever had a bike stolen you will know that horrible sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, when you return to where you parked the it and something is wrong. At first you try and kid yourself - you must have parked it somewhere else, in another car park, on a different street - but as the truth slowly hits you it’s one of the worst feelings in the world. Someone has taken your bike, and now you have no transport and months of insurance wranglings. No matter what, you’re hugely inconvenienced and out of pocket just because some thief has had his way.
When my new Fireblade was stolen from a locked garage at my property in South London I assumed it was the last I’d see of it. But five years later it has been found and now, with the help of DC Mike Pilbeam and DC Gavin Smith from the Met’s Stolen Vehicle Unit, we can piece together exactly what has happened to it over the missing years. Hopefully you can learn from its experiences and save your bike.
1. The steal
“Bike thieves are mainly opportunists, but you do get some premeditation,” explains DC Smith. “Yours was stolen from a locked garage, so they didn’t stumble across it. The gang knew it was there and went for it. It doesn’t matter, they would have dragged it over the top of a car if needs be, they saw it going in and out of the garage and wanted it because it was a new bike. At this point it would have been stuck in the back of a van and taken to a ‘fix-it man.’ It probably wasn’t stolen to order, but was a new sportsbike and in a location that made the theft easy. Gangs use spotters or lower-order gang members to find bikes. Kids will break a steering lock by hand then wheel the bike about half a mile away from where it was parked and leave it to see if the police turn up. When they are sure it doesn’t have a tracker fitted, another gang member will turn up in a van and take it to the fixer. Gangs also drive around in vans looking for easy targets; they will stop, pick the bike up, and load it into a van, often in broad daylight. An alarm going off doesn’t usually bother them.”
2. The fixer
Once the bike is with the ‘fix-it man’ it’s either broken up and sold or it has its identity changed and is sold as a secondhand bike. How do you change a bike’s identity so it appears legitimate? You use a legitimate identity. My bike’s frame and engine numbers were erased and replaced with numbers from a British Superbike. Why? When a race team buys a brand new bike to go racing, the manufacturer registers the bike as a sale and obtains a registration number for it to boost sales figures.
Race teams have no need for this logbook as the bike is never destined for the road, but a thief can get hold of the bike’s V5 document lawfully, and can then use the frame and engine numbers, as well as the registration plate, on a stolen bike, safe in the knowledge that if the police do a check it will come up as a legitimate bike. Effectively there are two bikes in existence with the same frame and engine numbers, the stolen road bike and the racer, but the racer’s identification will never hit police records as it lives on track. Bingo, you now have a bike that will pass an HPI check and can be sold on.
As long as you have a skilled forger to replace the frame and engine numbers no one will suspect anything. But there is another route. Some less than scrupulous dealers are bringing in brand new whole bikes, breaking them for spares, then selling the frame and identification documents onto thieves. A frame with no identification papers costs £400, one with legitimate identification can go for nearer £4000. Thieves buy this frame and either swap all the components over, giving the bike a new identity, or simply erase the bike’s numbers and put on the ones from the legitimate frame, saving time and effort. Either way the result is the same, when it comes to standard HPI checks the bike appears legal and can easily be sold on.
I bought Urry’s stolen blade! By Paul Farrell
I bought the bike from a local dealer. He wanted £5000 including my old ‘Blade. I rode it and it seemed alright. I phoned the DVLA, checked the frame numbers, had it HPI checked – the works. As far as I was concerned it was fine. A few months later I had a problem with the electrics so I took it to Honda UK and they sorted the problem under warranty, no bother.
Then I got a call from the police. The guy said he was from the Met and asked if he could come and have a look at the bike because he thought it might be stolen. They checked the bike’s headstock and noticed one of the numbers was wrong, loaded it in the back of a van and I was left with no bike. My solicitor got my £5000 back from the dealer, but I reckon I’ve lost about £1000 in costs, plus all the grief. The worst thing was trying to explain to the kids why the police were taking daddy’s bike away. I did all the checks, went to a dealer, everything that was sensible, but you can only do so much I guess.