Motorcycle Theft - There for the taking

"Brand new R1, one stupid owner, free to anyone with bolt croppers and a van..." Bike theft isn't going away, but things are changing - and you can at least do something about it

Bikes are fast, sexy, liberating and, above all, damned good fun. Sadly they stop being all of the above when they're nicked. And it's a growth industry for those on the wrong side of the law.

The proof of this distasteful pudding is that bike theft costs insurers Carole Nash £7.5 million each year. Little wonder when you realise a motorcycle or scooter is stolen every 16 minutes in the UK. More than 54,000 two-wheelers are stolen every year, of which more than 60 per cent are scooters.
More bikes than cars are stolen too. In 2003, 1 in 100 registered cars were stolen; the figure for bikes is four times that.

According to Government records, only four per cent of bikes stolen are recovered compared to 79 per cent of cars, while small bikes (under 125cc), less than five years old, suffer a theft rate as high as 85 in 1000. In fact, thefts of small bikes account for 60 per cent of all bike thefts even though they only make up 26 per cent of bikes on the road. Hardly comforting, is it?

Worse still, 80 per cent of thefts are from owners' homes, whether the bike is garaged or not, and on average it takes a professional thief just 20 seconds to steal your bike. A fact made even easier when you realise half the riding population still don't lock their bikes...

The most stolen bike of 2006? Yamaha's R1, followed by Honda's CBR600 and Yamaha's R6. Oh, and if you want to know the worst time for bike theft, it's any Sunday in May, according to the stats.

London unsurprisingly tops the geographic theft league table, followed by the north west of England, Dartford, Sunderland, Northants and Hull.

Gawd. Things look pretty awful. But fear not, because over the following pages we've canvassed opinion from every side of the theft issue, so read on, arm yourself with the essential facts needed to keep your bike out of enemy hands.

The police motorcycle theft specialist

Dr Ken German was the Met police's leading bike theft guru for many years, and knows more about motorcycle thievery than perhaps anyone else on the planet. He says reckons that in comparison with some countries, we don't have it too bad:

"The recovery rate of stolen bikes in France is only nine per cent from around 85,000 machines stolen each year. On a good day in the UK, 35 per cent are recovered. And Britain is the best country in the world when it comes to local initiatives to combat bike theft, but there are no dedicated vehicle crime units left any more because it's not seen as high priority - and that's a problem.

"Vehicle crime units cannot exist without funding so the taxpayer would have to pay twice - once in normal taxes and once again to subsidise the unit. That won't happen, so the bike industry would have to come up with the money instead and costs would be passed onto owners - which wouldn't go down well. The manufacturers won't pay for it, so it's hard to see where else the money would come from. The manufacturers could do more, but the point is why should they?"

Still, over the last decade bike manufacturers have invested in security with initiatives like parts marking and immobilisers as standard, but is this enough? Here's what they had to say.

The manufacturers

Honda UK's Dave Hancock said: "Honda has always taken a pro-active approach to theft. We were the first to provide anti-theft immobilisers (HISS) and part marking (Smart Water) as standard. We also continue to work closely with Thatcham Research and Repair Authority on new model development, and as a result of combining our HISS system and HACE (Honda Access Corp Europe) alarm system our customers enjoy Category One security status on their bikes for insurance purposes."

Kawasaki UK's Martin Lambert echoes Hancock's sentiment: "Kawasaki takes the theft issue seriously. The increasing use of immobilisers is a visual and electronic deterrent and statistics show they are effective. As for the relationship between motorcycle security and theft, our view is it's our responsibility to continue making motorcycles less and less attractive to thieves, while the role of the police service is to detect and solve crimes that do happen. What we can both work in partnership on is the overall deterrent message."
So it would seem manufacturers are slowly but steadily moving with the times and giving us more
security, even if does mean selling a few fewer bikes off the back of it.

And what does the insurance business make of the situation?

Well, according to Dr German, insurers are sitting pretty right now. "Insurers are making good money from their bike portfolios now," he says, "not like the bad old days of the early '90s. Insuring bikes is good business again."

Whether this is down to low payouts on stolen bikes is difficult to tell, but Visordown readers have complained of insurance companies rarely paying top dollar for their nicked machines, so this could be a factor. Even so, the insurers say they're as anxious as the rest of us to find a cure for bike theft.

The insurers

Andy Loynes works for Carole Nash, who cover a quarter of the UK's riders - over 300,000 bikes. He says: "One of the things fuelling organised bike theft is the high cost of spares. If parts costs could be brought down that incentive would fade. I don't think we can push everything onto the manufacturers though - we all have to take responsibility. Manufacturers do their bit by increasing standard security on bikes but it would be good to see local authorities doing more to provide secure parking. They have an agenda to reduce congestion and damage to the environment but there's still a woeful lack of safe bike parking. As insurers, we do all we can to encourage owners to secure their bikes. It's common sense because not only do you reduce the risk of theft, you can also reduce the cost of your insurance."

And with insurance paying out eventually, even if it is on the low side, this means the police view bike theft as a 'victimless crime', and have even said recently that manufacturers should be paying towards the
investigation of bike crime.

Over to Ken German again

For Ken, understanding bike theft is about understanding criminals and their motives, then making bike theft so difficult they decide to nick something else instead. He says: "At the moment all sorts of police industry training is going on which will allow everyone to understand motorcycle crime a lot more. We're trying to draw in the scooter crowd because scooters account for three-quarters of thefts. If we can draw them in and get them to pay as much attention to crime as motorcyclists do then we're onto a winner.

Unfortunately, the organised crime business is the one doing the real damage with larger bikes, and as long as they're still so bloody easy to steal - and as long as there still aren't enough ground anchors to lock them to - then the motorcyclist is still going to be vulnerable whatever we do. If he wants to lock it to something - like a lamp post or a railing - he gets into trouble with a traffic warden; if he doesn't, his bike is likely to get stolen. Obviously it's a given that owners must lock their machines. But going forward, we have to make the organised criminal move on elsewhere. The reason he steals motorcycles is because it's easy, and there are no repercussions because there are no permanent markings on bikes. Motorcycles need to be infested with as much identity as possible, like DNA, so criminals know if they're found with any stolen parts they will be identified. At the moment, thieves simply rub the frame numbers out and sell the bike, or parts, on. We have to make it not worth the risk for them and for now that's achievable by marking bikes properly."  n

Thief Beater

Plenty of it's common sense, but it's amazing how often this fails us, so remember
Park in a conspicuous place. Avoid areas where a thief could work undetected.
Lock your bike to an immovable object. Steel railings, pillars, posts, ground anchors, with a decent lock, or chain two or three bikes together. Scooters and motorcycles can be lifted into a truck in seconds if not chained to something solid. Think like the scumbag: is it easy to lift?
Fit a simple but reliable alarm
To alert passers-by if the thief takes a pop at your bike. Few tea leaves stick around to finish the job with an alarm blasting away in their ear.
Mark your bike's components with an effective identification system. Use one that allows you to mark as many parts as possible. Few thieves want to be caught red-handed with stolen goods, and while removing reg plates and chassis numbers is simple enough, it's far harder to remove identifying marks from every major part.
Buy security according to the risk.The greater the risk, the greater the premium. Apply the same formula to your bike and remember effective security is about applying modest security at all levels rather than high security at just one.

Meet the Enemy

We'll call him Jay. Jay's 32 and an ex-bike thief. Jay got involved in bike crime when he was about 15. He nicked scooters and mopeds and sold them to friends to score weed. Eventually he progressed onto bigger bikes and harder drugs. "Scooters will always be dead simple to nick," he says, "nothing's really changed. But over the last years the rise in factory-fitted immobilisers has made things more difficult so many of my old associates find out where the keys for a bike are kept instead. So many people leave them hanging up near the front door, or by an easily smashed window. Keys are now more desirable than ever. Alarms, too, have got better and ones that don't go off so easy mean over time people's perception of alarms going off will change. At the moment if it goes off, people don't give a f*ck, but as this changes thieves will have to be more careful.

"The biggest single decider is if the bike can be carried. If it can, it can be nicked, and manufacturers make the most attractive bikes - sports bikes - lighter. How nice of 'em. My advice would be do all you can with security. Never concentrate on one method - like just chains and a ground anchor - instead make a series of things to put us off. That said, if we really want a bike, we'll work out a way. If you don't live in a quiet street you'd never even know we were casing your place, so be vigilant as to who's outside at all times, especially if they're in a van."

Do the police care? A biking copper speaks his mind

"Bike theft isn't a priority for us because in broad terms it isn't a significant enough problem to warrant the resources needed to tackle it properly. Our priorities change, we get pushed around by the Government. First it'll be robbers, then drugs, then burglary. We'll concentrate on one thing then have to drop it because the Government's priorities have changed and we've got new targets. But it's a constantly shifting target and not the way to be doing things.

"Bike theft isn't victimless. A crime is a crime, but there aren't enough people targeting bike theft or dealing with it to be fully aware of what's going on. Around the country there are forces dealing with bike theft, but there's no national policy. What's needed is an intelligence-led stance, but the resources simply aren't there right now.

"Measures against theft should be started at source, with better security marking of bikes making it easier to identify where a component came from. If bikes were harder to steal fewer people would do it. Car crime is different because cars are so much harder to steal. The only way to do it in many cases is by stealing the key first.

"People criticise us for using manpower at football matches rather than on car or bike crime but the two can't really be compared. With one you know it's happening and you're obliged to turn up because you've got the potential for public order issues. With the other you don't really know what, where or when it's going to happen."

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