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Stolen bike trade at East London's Brick Lane market on the decline?

Police figures reveal bike crime down in Tower Hamlets, but is problem simply moving elsewhere?

For years, one of the first pieces of advice given to any cyclist who has their bike stolen in London has been “Get yourself down to Brick Lane sharpish and look for it there.” Now, however, a police clampdown on sales of stolen bikes there appears to be deterring thieves from using the market as a place to dispose of hot property.

According to the Evening Standard, there have been consistent falls in recent months in the number of bikes being stolen in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, where the market is located, from 179 in August to 151 in September, 133 in October and 103 during November.

That figure from August represented a whopping 61% rise on the same month in 2009, however, suggesting that there is a lot of work still to be done in reducing levels of bike theft.

In all, 23,178 bikes were stolen in London as a whole last year, and the Metropolitan Police, its efforts spearheaded by the Police Cycle Task Force launched earlier this year, is hoping for a 3% reduction in that figure during 2010.

Referring to Brick Lane, Inspector Graham Horwood of the Police Cycle Task Force said: “The number of people offering stolen bikes for sale has gone down dramatically.”

However, perils remain for cyclists who hot-foot it down to the market in the hopes of being reunited with their pride and joy, with Gary Aspey, who operates a bike repair stall there, telling the Standard of a woman who confronted a “trader” whom she accused of having stolen her bike being knifed in the stomach.

Another legitimate cycle trader on the market, Derek Clifford, who together with Keith Slaughter runs Superbike commented: “It's a good market but over the course of the years it's been given a bad name. Now there are police here every week.”

Although the problem may be diminishing at Brick Lane, there are concerns that the trade is simply moving elsewhere, with the Standard reporting that stolen bikes are now commonly found on sale at the Columbia Road and Broadway markets in neighbouring Hackney.

Here, the mobility of the thieves and those who sell the bikes is potentially the most difficult issue for the police to combat. A bike stolen in the East End can find its way to Brick Lane or other markets within minutes, often being sold quickly on a street corner for a fraction of their true value to those who aren't bothered in asking too many questions about its provenance.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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Simon_MacMichael | 12 years ago

Yup, online of course has become another channel to dispose of stolen bikes, some of them very obviously so - picture of a bike on the balcony of a flat with the front wheel missing, anyone? - and besides the launch of Going Going Bike, this year has also seen the London Cycling Campaign working with the likes of eBay and Gumtree to help combat the problem.

The thing is, for as long as there are people prepared to turn a blind eye to where that bargain bike is coming from, there will be a trade in stolen bikes.

A few years back, my wife and I had both our bikes stolen while we were having a Sunday lunchtime drink at Broadway Market. They were out of our sight for no more than a minute, that was enough time for the thieves to cut both locks, load them into a van and drive off.

Amazingly, we found both bikes an hour later at Brick Lane. The guy who had bought my wife's bike pretty much walked into us with it.

While the police were taking his details down - rather foolishly, he'd insisted in sticking around in the hope of getting his £30 back, rather than take the advice of others to disappear before the police arrived - the guy who had just bought my bike rode past and was stopped.

Both were arrested on suspicion of handling stolen goods, we never found out if they were charged, but targeting not just the thieves but also the people who are willing to buy what is obviously a hot bike (and publicising that) would help kill the trade, I believe.

PJ McNally replied to Simon_MacMichael | 12 years ago
Simon_MacMichael wrote:

Both were arrested on suspicion of handling stolen goods, we never found out if they were charged, but targeting not just the thieves but also the people who are willing to buy what is obviously a hot bike (and publicising that) would help kill the trade, I believe.

Indeed! If people refused to buy these obviously stolen bikes, there wouldn't be a market for them. It's surprising who's willing to break the law like this.

I was shocked by a colleague, fellow medical student, respectable middle-class type, who commutes to the hospital by bike every day. Her bike was stolen recently - a nice old raleigh road bike, i think. I commiserated with her.

The next week, I heard she had a new bike for £50 - a second-hand road bike she'd bought off some guy she met in the University science area. Who only gave a mobile number - she found him on Gumtree, and a name, "Tom Wong", and said he had a couple of bikes to sell. Apparently he was in a rush to make a sale!

What's worse, she said a friend of hers had bought a bike a week earlier, from a "Tom Feng" - an old women's bike, he had a couple to sell as he's going back to China soon, no address, just a mobile and a quick meet-up in the Science area.

She misses her old bike - but I'm almost certain she's now riding someone else's - and they're missing theirs just the same.

GGB_Andrew | 12 years ago

The major problem is in the online world, where stolen bikes are traded easily.

That's the reason why we created Going Going Bike, with our Prove It system, and a very upfront approach to trying to create a legitimate online marketplace for bikes.

Bike registration is one key element. Immobilise, Bikeregister and Bikerevolution all offer bike registers that cyclists can register their bikes for free. Only immobilise charge to check their register.

johnmacintyre | 12 years ago

Identifying cycles is really difficult. The police recover thousands of bikes each month but cannot identify them. Can I encourage owners to register their cycles on the database This is a free service and you can register any property on it. There are 29 million items registered by 17 million owners. You register the make, colour etc and can put photographs on as well. If you cant fine a serial number consider fitting an electronic tag.
The police check a bike, if its not reported stolen but registered on the immobilise website then the registered owners details come up and they can return it. There are 1.5 million bikes registered on it and growing fast.
Traders can also use the Checkmend scheme which means they can check property such as bikes before they purchase them.

Bev replied to johnmacintyre | 12 years ago

Has anyone actually ever had one returned? I had an immobilise tag in mine when it was stolen a couple of months ago but no sign of it yet!! Only any good if the police get hold of it at some point in time!!!

Tha said I will be buying a tag for the new one as well -Call it insurance, just in case!

TRs Blurb n Blog | 12 years ago

Less bikes get stolen in November than in August or September - is this really down to the efforts of the Police doing a clampdown or are less people cycling during the colder months? I would hazard a guess that bike theft will be significantly lower during December.

There was a 61% increase in bike theft in August 2010 compared to the previous year but Police Cycle Task Force is hoping to reduce the figure by 3%. I'd say that the thieves are working a little bit harder than the Police on bike crime.

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