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Oxford student shows how easy it is to steal a bike in broad daylight

Cherwell reporter armed with bolt-cutters steals bike nine times amid heedless crowds

As anyone who watches University Challenge knows, typical courses followed by students at the University of Oxford include Politics, Philosophy & Economics, Modern Languages and Chemical Engineering. Now, one enterprising contributor to Cherwell, the august institution’s student newspaper, can add first class honours in Bike Theft to his CV.

But before anyone gets on the blower to Inspector Lewis or Sergeant Hathaway, Chris Graham was stealing his own bike in an exercise that found just how easy it is to steal a bicycle in broad daylight on Broad Street and other key locations around the university city, including Radcliffe Square, Turl Street outside Lincoln College, and New College Quad.

Armed with a pair of bolt-cutters, Graham makes no attempt in concealing what he is doing, but as shown in a video of his nefarious expedition, attracts little-to-no attention from passing students or tourists, although the holidaying couple outside the Radcliffe Camera who ask him whether he’s forgotten his keys and actually film him as he sets about the chain is a particular highlight.

Buffalo Bill from online bike courier magazine Moving Target points out quite rightly that filming bikes being stolen in high-traffic areas is nothing new - it was shown to good effect by Dominc Waugh in his 2006 three-minute wonder film for Channel 4 called Stop Nicking My Bike, which you can watch by following this link and clicking on the link at the end of the story - and Graham's film shows that four years on, nothing has changed.

As Graham reports in Cherwell, “in the end, not a single person attempted to stop the thefts. The most common reaction was to look away or just walk past as if nothing unusual were happening.”

He continues: “Is it really so common for a young man wearing bright red jumper, plaid trousers and no socks to walk around with bolt cutters? (I feel certain that people who carry bolt cutters at least wear socks and probably also work boots, unless they are stealing bicycles, in which case they probably wait for darkness and then wear all black and avoid crowds anyway.)”

Only four of the “thefts” made it on to the finished video, however, as Graham explains: “While we executed nine successful thefts, less than half could go in the video because - splendid irony - there were too many students and tourists around to make a good video about bicycle theft. Over half the shots were blocked by foot traffic. On one occasion I was literally lost in the crowd, having to fight my way through the crush of a walking tour outside Trinity College gates.”

He adds one happy piece of news for would-be bike thieves visiting Oxford who would also like to learn a bit about the city, however: “If you wait until the tour is just about to start, the guide will offer you a discount. Even if you are carrying bolt cutters.”

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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