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Bicycle Theft | ASU Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

What This Guide Does and Does Not Cover

This guide addresses bicycle theft, beginning by describing the problem and reviewing the factors that contribute to it. It then identifies a series of questions to help you analyze your local bicycle theft problem. Finally, it reviews responses to bicycle theft and describes the findings of evaluative research and operational policing. It will be apparent that despite the various responses being advocated or implemented, there are no systematic evaluations of what works to reduce bicycle theft. Addressing this is important for police practice, as the evidence base should inform decision-making regarding appropriate responses. However, we already know a lot, and this guide outlines how such knowledge (including a portfolio of responses) can usefully inform the crime reduction enterprise. In addition, it identifies what information you need to better understand your local problem and effectively evaluate responses implemented.

This guide refers specifically to the unlawful taking of nonmotorized pedal cycles. Bicycle theft can be further categorized into theft of and theft from bicycles. Awareness of these categories is important for understanding your local problem. Each category covers different offenses demanding different responses.

  • Theft of bicycles describes the theft of a cycle frame and its components.
  • Theft from bicycles describes the theft of components and accessories such as lights, seats, and wheels. As bicycles are of composite construction, they are particularly vulnerable to component theft, especially regarding “quick release” features.

Although this guide covers both forms of theft, unless otherwise stated, most of the research and practical examples focus on the prevention of theft of bicycles. This is simply because cyclists are more likely to report theft of bicycles to the police, largely to meet insurance requirements.

Bicycle theft is but one aspect of the larger set of theft- and vehicle-related problems that the police must address. This guide, however, is limited to the particular harms bicycle theft causes. Related problems and topics not directly addressed in this guide-each requiring separate analyses and responses-include the following:

  • thefts of motorcycles,
  • thefts of mopeds and scooters,
  • fencing of stolen property,
  • burglary,
  • thefts of and from motor vehicles,
  • vandalism, and
  • insurance fraud.

Some of these related problems are covered in other guides in this series, all of which are listed at the end of this guide. For the most up-to-date listing of current and future guides, see www.popcenter.org.

General Description of the Problem

Bicycle theft is typically seen as a low police priority, its impact and magnitude often overlooked because police often consider incidents on a case-by-case basis. This picture is often misleading, however, and when viewed at the aggregate level, bicycle theft represents a much larger problem, one with harmful economic and societal effects that warrant greater police attention.1

The Rise of the Bicycle

The bicycle has become increasingly popular as a healthier and environmentally friendlier mode of transport.2 In London, for example, cycle use has increased by 83 percent between 2000 and 2007.3 In the United States, between 1992 and 2006, bicycle sales have increased