There’s only so much that police officers around the country can do in the fight against motorcycle and scooter crime. While there’s been success in convicting gang members involved in often violent incidents, we as riders need to recognise the need to play our own part in the fight; we all need to lock our machines.
In October 2017, students at Coventry University were presented with projects from a range of leading UK businesses, including Bennetts Bike Insurance, who asked for designs that could help reduce the theft of powered two wheelers…
With so many scooters being stolen – particularly in London – then used for very serious criminal acts from robberies to acid attacks and murders, the Metropolitan police are successfully addressing these ‘scooter-enabled’ crimes with Operation Venice.
But despite the Met’s carefully targeted ‘Lock, Chain, Cover’ campaign, a large proportion of scooters are still not being locked in the city centre, so there’s far too much opportunity for the crooks, a large proportion of whom are 15-year-olds with no tools – they simply snap the steering lock (if it’s even been used) then push the scooter away with a mate riding another.
On CCTV, Met officers witnessed one scooter being taken that went on to be used in 20 robberies in less than half an hour.
Along with the assaults carried out while riding stolen scooters, when pursued the criminals will often go onto pavements, putting passers-by in serious danger: stolen scooters have become a public safety issue. If more of the machines were locked in the first place, there would be fewer of these attacks, and the police could start to focus on the bikes and scooters being stolen, rather than having to deal with robberies.
With a motorcycle and scooter kindly loaned by accident repair specialist 4th Dimension, the young engineers were able to take the machines apart and look for new opportunities to secure scooters and motorcycles.
While motorcycle theft is just as important an issue as scooter theft, we suggested they focus predominantly on the smaller machines, as these are the ones being used in the majority of crimes, yet the least likely to be locked.
We asked for a simple-to-use, affordable security solution for any machine, without requiring major modification. It should be at least capable of preventing the powered-two-wheeler being pushed away, and be simple to use without getting grubby – a key consideration for many city commuters.
Early ideas included an alarmed cover and proximity-sensing smart devices
Five students worked on the Bennetts project, which would count towards their BA or Masters in Product Design; “Our group chose this project [over others from Jaguar Land Rover and more], as we’re all interested in motorcycles,” student Luke Horner tells BikeSocial. “Most of us own bikes, and we’d witnessed the growing issue of motorcycle theft, so wanted to do the best we could to help prevent people losing their beloved machines, and to reduce further crimes being committed.
“The biggest challenge we faced was identifying which aspects to target, be it the visible deterrent or the individual strength of the products, and trying to find a balance where the concepts were both strong enough to withstand an attack, and visually deterring would-be thieves.”
The team first identified a typical user, then looked at materials and the main points of attack. Their research included how colours can influence a product’s effectiveness, and even what sounds an alarm could make to attract the most attention – should it be a piercing beep, or perhaps a human scream?
Early ideas included an airbag that would explode into the face of a potential thief, and an alarmed cut-resistant cover (a great idea, given how effective covers prove to be at reducing theft).
Here’s what they came up with – let us know if you’d like to see manufacturers picking up on them…
From left to right: James Beesley, Luke Horner, Scott White, Ali Hamza and Gary La
Ali Hamza’s solution uses rubber tension bands that pull the brake lever on to prevent the motorcycle or scooter being pushed away. Similar to a CrocLock, this design is wrapped in a cut, abrasion and puncture resistant material that would make attack very difficult.
While it could use a key to wind the internal bands tight, the idea is to have a small motor and power supply inside that automatically draws the device shut.
One of the limitations of a D-lock (or U-lock) is that, if too much space is left inside the shackle while the lock is in use, a small hydraulic jack can be used to prize it apart. Leading security manufacturer Pragmasis offers different lengths of shackle for its own locks (see one of them tested here), but Gary La’s design uses one shackle that can be locked at its tightest setting every time.
For an extra layer of security, Gary has designed in a motion-sensitive alarm, to attract attention in the event of an attempted theft, or to remind the rider that their machine is locked up.
Focussing on the fact that most stolen scooters have their steering locks easily snapped, then are pushed away, James Beesley’s solution is effectively a locking ratchet strap that ties the bars back, secured to a foot-peg or other solid item.
The strap would be made of cut, tear and abrasion-resistant material – once pulled tight, the body would lock securely, preventing the bars from being moved at all.
Luke Horner’s alternative to the traditional U-lock is a smart device that promises to make securing any motorcycle or scooter simpler, while being easy to transport.
The lock is designed to secure around the wheel, with leather grips on the outside edges that, due to their position, never need to get dirty.
Supplied in its own carry bag, which can be strapped to the bike or hung off a rucksack, it can be locked with a key, or using a paired smartphone app, which automatically unlocks the device when the owner comes into proximity.
Luke’s design cleverly plays on the idea that an attractive product would be more likely to be used by its target audience of reasonably well-paid city commuters.
The brainchild of Scott White, Spoke Chock is a glass-reinforced polycarbonate body that bolts around the scooter or motorcycle’s fork leg, with a rubber-covered steel locking pin that passes through the wheel.
The pin is fully removable, so there’s no risk while riding, and while this design would need to be specific to vehicles using the same fork designs, it’s also easy to see how the idea of a fork-mounted lock could be a good security solution that would prevent the wheel being turned or even removed.
“We all loved the experience of working on the Bennetts BikeSocial project,” says Luke Horner. “As designers, we try to create solutions to problems that people face every day, and we plan to continue doing this going forward. Following this project, we’re transitioning to our final year of university; once finished, we all plan to become full-time designers, starting off at small design firms, and growing and improving as best we can, solving as many problems as we can along the way!”
We wish all the students the very best for the future, and hope that their work will inspire innovative new security products…
Our thanks to the following companies, who kindly supplied equipment, advice and samples for the student’s projects:
• International Association of Auto Theft Investigators IAATI
• Accident repair specialist 4th Dimension
• Tracker, alarm and hard security manufacturer Datatool
• Lock manufacturer Pragmasis
• Motorcycle accessory specialist Oxford Products
• Lock manufacturer Abus
• Lock manufacturer Squire
• Chain supplier Brindley Chains