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Cambridge police 'caught' on video stealing bikes

Thefts staged to show just how easy it is to lose a badly-locked bike

Police in Cambridge have staged a series of bike thefts on video to demonstrate just how easy it is for a genuine thief to walk off with a bike without being challenged or even reported.

The ‘thefts’ were staged in fairly busy public places in the city, and while the video shows plenty of people close to the ‘thief’ or even watching him, nobody even called 999.

The police have warned cyclists to use good quality locks and to lock their bikes securely to solid objects. And they have appealed to the general public to alert the police of suspicious behaviour.

According to the police, 2,100 bikes per year are stolen in Cambridge. Many are not locked at all, locked with inadequate locks or have a lock round the frame and a wheel but not a solid object. In the video, a ‘thief’ wheels away a bike with a lock around just its rear wheel and in another sequence cuts a lock with a pair of bright orange bolt croppers without being challenged.

Sergeant Andrea Gilbert said: “The CCTV is shocking because the thefts are blatant yet, despite a large number of people witnessing the crime, we didn’t receive a single call.

“Sadly people are too reliant on others to report crime, but we need everyone to play their part.

“If you don’t call police it means those thieves are potentially free to strike again, and next time you could be the victim.

“We are committed to tackling bicycle crime, which is an ongoing issue in the city, but we need the public’s help.”

How to lock your bike

In this 2011 video from the London Cycling Campaign, Barry Mason (who has sadly passed away) shows us some better locking methods than the ones used in Cambridge:'s bike locking Dos and Don'ts

  • Do lock your bike to a secure, immovable object - ideally one designed for the purpose
  • Do make sure the frame and both wheels are inside your lock, or use two locks, or locking wheel skewers on the front wheel
  • Do use a lock, and use it properly even if you are leaving your bike unattended for even a moment
  • Do remove lights and anything else that isn't securely fixed to your bike when you are locking it up
  • Do lock your bike when you get it home, especially if you keep it in a shed or garage
  • Do buy the best lock or locks that you can afford
  • Don't leave your bike unlocked and unattended even if you are just nipping in to shop
  • Don't  lock your bike up in a secluded location where a thief has time to work on your lock undisturbed
  • Don't lock your bike to trees or fences that can be easily cut through, or, posts or signs that it can be easily lifted over
  • Don't leave space in your shackle - that gives space for evil bike stealing tools to do their worst or leave your lock lying flat on the ground for the same reason
  • Don't forget your lock

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for Along with founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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Kim Chee | 10 years ago

 41 great reminder for people to be responsible. But remember folks, do not TEMPT a thief. Have a modest commuter for commuting and leaving locked outside. Use pinhead or pitlock skewers/seat post/headset locks, regardless of quality or price. I used to pass a fellow commuter on a Litespeed "Blue Ridge" (Ti touring bike) with bling bling wooden fenders that were more art than oh, sorry, "mudguards", and Dura Ace drivetrain/Avid brakes. Yeah, REALLY nice, actually too nice to lock up in public area. She had a U lock and cable she left on the bike rack. Soon after, I read of a bike getting stolen from our worksite-a gated military base at main entrance of hospital where there are always plenty of people lingering out front. I never saw that Litespeed commuter again. Old scratched up steel, plastic mudguards, mix match old leftover components...Keep your dream ride for recreational rides.

Farky | 10 years ago

Simple economics highlighted by the police themselves here.

Thieves target bikes are the are high value to them and increasingly of a higher value as we all take to cycling.

Police dont have funds to actually police against theft.

Police have to ask the public to assist in some form to fill this financial policing gap as its in their own interest to do so.

Thieves win!


Policing! More of them, community support, council wardens, support groups or actual Police. Visibilty, numbers and action to prevent.
Just like safety on a bike, its cheaper to prevent than cure.

I bought a bike to commute via the Bike to work scheme but im now put off using it due to the thefts even from a work based lockup (publicly accessible). Regardless of locks, its a more valuable bike and soft target for those with the tools. My motorbikes safer with just a steering lock.

nug8321 | 10 years ago

I feel that people (myself included until recently) make too big a deal of carrying, and using a lock when they're riding.

I bought myself a Mini D and chuck it down the back of my jeans (or in the dedicated loop of my Levi's Commuters when I'm feeling extra hipster) whenever I'm riding around town now. It's so easy and is just second nature now.

When I leave my bike locked up, I leave it in complete comfort knowing that realistically it cannot physically be stolen due to the quality of the lock. Yes the wheels might get nicked if someone's got a 15mm spanner handy but I guess that's part and parcel of riding in a world inhabited by a small percentage of scum bags.

Get a decent lock!

a.jumper | 10 years ago

I'm mixed on the punishment thing. I think you get fined more for stealing a bike than running its rider over in some cases, don't you?

It's good if Cambs Police do respond on blue lights to a theft in progress. That should encourage more people to report them, especially when something over a quarter of journeys in Cambridge are by bike.

However, I do agree that shopping centres should have enough secure cycle parking. Cambridge is as awful as anywhere and the effect of more cycling there is that they get locked to fairly thin railings, as seen in that video.

Matt eaton | 10 years ago

All good advice here but all of this should be unnecesary.

Firstly, if real punishments were dished out to bike thieves we would have less of a problem in the first place; the value of a stolen bike is not enough to justify risking a stretch inside. Secondly, employers, supermarkets and town centres should have proper secure bike parking, such that locks are not required and having to remove lights etc. should not even be a consideration.

The risk of bike theft and the need for quality locks, which are both expensive and heavy to carry, deter people from cycling. I have taken the car to the shops on a Friday or Saturday night rather than cycling for fear of theft or damage to my bike by the low-lives that hang around at these times.

Owen Rogers | 10 years ago

How mature Sara. I know Cambs police will respond on blue lights to a theft in progress.
And Mr Whippet, do you lock your house when you go out?

Yorkshie Whippet replied to Owen Rogers | 10 years ago
Owen Rogers wrote:

...And Mr Whippet, do you lock your house when you go out?

I remember the times (as a kid) when both front and back doors were left open so that we could run in and out as we pleased. Fences and vegetation were low enough for neightbours to watch each other properties. I remember times when my father used to leave his car with the window down and the keys in the ignition. We used to ride to the park, play football and leave the bikes whilst the icecream van was visited....

And you know what, nowt got nicked!

Everyone looked out for each other and knew each other. Unlike these days when every bloody thing is locked up/down, high fences, barb wire, machine gun nests maybe a few landmines thrown in for good measure. Nobody dares to talk to each.

And to answer your question, as I reach the age of 40, I do find that I've forgotten to lock the house. I've even left the keys in the lock whilst I was at work. And something else the only times I had stuff stolen has been when it's been secured locked. The sods even stolen the bike chains as well.

workhard replied to Owen Rogers | 10 years ago
Owen Rogers wrote:

How mature Sara. I know Cambs police will respond on blue lights to a theft in progress.

Sussex Police won't, not even to a bike theft in progress. By a scrote with a stubbie. I felt sure they'd turn out if I was beating the scrote up but he escaped my grasp and ran away.

Yorkshie Whippet | 10 years ago

Yet another admittance by the authorities that crime is not caused by criminals but by law abiding innocent people.

Sara_H | 10 years ago

Maybe people don't bother ringing the police because they understand that action taken will geneally be zero? Pass the donuts PC Plod.

JamesyBoy75 replied to Sara_H | 10 years ago

I actually tried to stop some youths from stealing a Brompton near to Kings Cross, called police, took photos of them, tried to get others to assist. I was threatened with the angle grinder they were using to cut the lock. Police arrived much later and told me I shouldn't have intervened. I handed over the photos and said I would testify if they could bring the youths to court. Never heard anything again (although did receive a fine from a group of 4 police officers targeting cyclists at a closed one way system two days later - I was pushing my bike forward (with one foot) on a pavement off the saddle, as I had one foot on a pedal and was 'propelling myself forward' with the other foot, I was deemed to be cycling = £60 fine). Huighted the met police's priorities to me quite well.

Daclu Trelub replied to JamesyBoy75 | 10 years ago
JamesyBoy75 wrote:

(although did receive a fine from a group of 4 police officers targeting cyclists at a closed one way system two days later - I was pushing my bike forward (with one foot) on a pavement off the saddle, as I had one foot on a pedal and was 'propelling myself forward' with the other foot, I was deemed to be cycling = £60 fine). Huighted the met police's priorities to me quite well.

Cowardly bullying shits hiding behind their uniforms are all too common, unfortunately.

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