Motorcycle crime: The facts

John Milbank, BikeSocial Consumer Editor
By John Milbank
BikingMilbank BikeSocial Consumer Editor, John owns a KTM 1050 Adventure. He's as happy tinkering in the workshop as he is on twisty, bumpy backroads, and loves every bike ever built (except one). He's bought three CBR600s, two Ducati Monsters, several winter hacks, three off-roaders, a supermoto pit bike, a Honda Vision 50 and built his own custom XSR700. 

Bike crime theft security motorcycle

In 2016,” Dr Ken German tells us, “an average of 75 powered two wheelers were stolen each day.

Dr German joined the police service after racing motorcycles internationally. During his time on the frogman team, he recovered hundreds of stolen motorcycles, and found himself seconded to the Metropolitan Police Stolen Car Squad – part of the Flying Squad.

With a BA and PhD in international vehicle crime, he’s been key to many anti-theft policies and vital governmental and insurance decisions. He also developed the potential for transponders and parts marking, helping to create Datatag.

His training program in bike and vehicle ID contributed to a drop in theft of 50% in five years, and he became doctor in charge of technology and vehicle crime at the Met, as well as president of the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators.

Assisting many countries with their vehicle theft problems, he’s accepted as a world authority on motorcycle crime. As an advisor to the industry, and a member of the Home Office Motorcycle Crime Reduction Group, he’s currently working on improving vehicle identification, and collaborating with police and authorities in developing how they tackle new theft methods, and deal with Europe’s current breed of thieves and organised crime. This is the man to give the real facts on the state of motorcycle crime in the UK…

Bike crime theft security motorcycle

“In the last 12 months an unprecedented increase in the theft of motorcycles – especially scooters and mopeds – has been recorded,” says Dr Ken. “London has, for the past 50 years, been the UK’s vehicle crime capital; in 1991 it was responsible for 40% of the country’s 500,000 stolen cars and 120,000 motorcycles.

“The following years saw the government successfully ensure that the Home Office, motorcycle industry, police, trade and rider groups all worked together to reduce motorcycle crime to around 20,000 a year.

“But in 2016, powered two wheeler (PTW) theft rose by 16%. 27,217 machines of all kinds were reported stolen (that’s 523 a week!) and only two out of five were recovered. 25 years ago, scooters accounted for less than 1% of all two wheeled theft; today over half of all the bikes stolen are scooters and mopeds. In London alone, where 4776 larger machines were taken, an increase of 620% meant 6165 mopeds and scooter owners lost their transport.”

Broad daylight theft of a Ducati
Violent criminals are out there, but this does not represent the majority of bike crime.

“London’s Met police is tackling the problem through ‘Operation Venice’, which has reported some remarkable successes, but is this 27,217 the true figure? Sadly not; bikes stolen by way of burglary – that’s breaking into a house and taking the keys – are not recorded as ‘stolen’ for statistics purposes. Those taken in a burglary are not entered into the overall figures for motorcycle theft.

“The same applies to many of those taken by fraud. If someone commits fraud to sell your bike on, it is not shown in the stolen vehicle stats either. Fraud – including vehicle fraud – costs the UK £16.9 million a year.

“These shocking statistics have seen the police and motorcycle industry unfairly blamed on social media for not predicting this large increase, or preventing the awful yob culture that has been seen on our streets. Last year, anti-social behaviour by moped riders was reported in every town and city across the country. And many of the bikes being ridden were stolen.

“In reality, these hardened scooter gangs causing mayhem are in fact the organised and often violent criminals responsible for the majority of robberies, burglaries and assaults that take place in this country, and of course for stealing our powered two wheelers, which unfortunately still seem to be an easy target.

“The explanation for all this is really quite simple; the interest in motorcycling is huge all over the world, and wherever there’s constant demand – in this case for used machines and spare parts – organised crime is never far behind. At the moment, it’s a battle that the government and police have every intention of winning as soon as possible, by which time PTW theft will hopefully reduce to the earlier falling level that the industry worked so hard to achieve.”

According to data from Bennetts Insurance, in 2014, 0.3% of policy holders suffered a theft. In 2016, it doubled to 0.6%.

What’s being done about it?

“As a priority, both the government and police are addressing this new violent gang culture and its involvement in acquisitive crimes. Our motorcycle and insurance industries are working in tandem to assist police in fighting bike crime by the use of new technology and training, as well as workshop events via the Motorcycle Crime Reduction Group (MCRG).

“However, these new gangs aren’t unique to the UK, and are common in most cities of the world at this time. Many of the continental gangs use stolen scooters and motorcycles as the new currency for buying and selling drugs, and the fear is that this may be the case in the UK. Violence as displayed on YouTube and CCTV footage indicates many gang members themselves may be drug users. Because of this, the police caution against heroism, but do appreciate all the information on these gangs that they can get.”

Motorcycle dealer robbery

When Moto Croyden was hit, the thieves didn’t even bother to wait until it was closed. Tracking systems are helping some dealers get the bikes back.

Who’s stealing them?

“While several organised criminals posing as dealers and breakers were arrested last year, half a dozen or so groups are still active in the UK. There will be at least another two or three cells visiting from Europe to steal or collect stolen machines and parts at any one time. Vans with registration plates from Estonia down to the Baltic have been stopped with suspected stolen bikes and parts in their vans.

“These new, often violent, scooter-riding motorcycle thieves – usually seen in groups of four or five – must be grateful that seven out of 10 owners still leave their machines unlocked in city bike parks.

“Often brazen and fearless gangs employ ‘spotters’ to find their motorcycles, and have been known to be capable of threatening anyone getting in their way. Vespa and Piaggio 300cc machines seem to be the getaway vehicles of choice – quick and powerful enough to allow one gang member to push along another member on a stolen superbike with his foot, often travelling miles through heavy traffic to their 'slaughter house' – the gangster’s garage.

“Young opportunist thieves, fuelled by the activities of these crime gangs, have gathered together wearing masks and riding stolen or uninsured off-road machines to cause nuisance. Many of these are stolen by way of burglary, and are not registered for the road. The consequence is a resurgence in joyriding, often on cheap bikes from the far-east that end up burnt out. 

Motorcycle thieves must be grateful that seven out of 10 owners still leave their machines unlocked in city bike parks.

What’s happening to the bikes?

“Cloning stolen motorcycles is still popular with thieves, and they’re more sophisticated than ever before. Some of these ‘cloned’ machines are so convincing that dealers have been duped into taking them as deposits for new bikes, which are then acquired on false credit details. But cloning is time-consuming, and organised crime is always in a hurry to turn a profit; a good proportion of bikes therefore are simply stripped down for parts and sold on the black market.

“Dozens of specialist couriers, expert in the criminal protocol necessary to cross borders, continue to ply Europe’s roads 24/7, moving machines and parts from Italy to Scandinavia, and from the UK the Ukraine. Giant transporters with mechanics in the rear stripping stolen bikes have been stopped by police. These vehicles – owned by organised crime gangs – are also on the move 24/7, travelling from country to country, collecting and delivering stolen bikes and parts.

“The major problem still remains of motorcycle frames with matching V5s being offered for sale on the internet, allowing thieves every opportunity to give legitimacy to what is a stolen machine.

“One solution being undertaken is the training of police and officials in auto-crime throughout Europe, to include workshops on investigation identification and repatriation techniques. Successful multi-country operations, organised by Interpol and Europol, are thankfully becoming more frequent due to the organised crime involvement.”

Bike crime theft security motorcycle

Frames being sold with V5s are not helping the bike theft problem, as they allow crooks to easily create a new identity for stolen machines

 

Where are the bikes going?

“The UK has done well this year in dealing with several domestic gangs, but the black market trade in spare parts via the web remains huge, with some newly created ‘shops’ offering spares that even the factories can’t supply. But while many of our stolen machines, stripped or otherwise, leave our shores, a similar quantity of parts and ‘salvage’ machines stolen from Europe are imported, usually in shipping containers.

“Police in France, Spain and Italy confirm that land routes from the UK east to the Baltic and Ukraine are still popular, as are routes south to Ceuta and Morocco, Turkey, Cyprus, Malta and on to the Middle East. Dubai is still one of the biggest conduits for handling stolen vehicles.

“Germany and the Netherlands have seen a huge spike in traffic through to Lithuania, the Czech Republic and Romania, and down to the Baltic States. Once past the Polish, Czech and  Austrian borders, vehicles are often displayed for sale on websites with their identity numbers intact.

“Africa has a sponge-like quality for all things mechanical; sadly, if that’s where your machine ends up, there’s no repatriation mechanism, and you literally take your life in your hands if you search for it in Uganda.

“While Interpol holds records of 7.4 million stolen vehicles from 126 countries around the world, many European police forces still unfortunately use computers that can’t communicate with each other.”

Data from Bennetts Insurance shows that policy holders in London are over three times more likely to have their powered two wheeler stolen than the national average.

“The UK's 41 ports handle 9000 container movements every day, and are expected to load at least 12 stolen cars and motorcycles bound for Africa, India, South America, Asia and Europe. The police are likely to check one in every 200, whose manifests will often simply state 'household goods' or 'spare parts'. In just one container, on just one day, in just one port, police found 12 stolen machines worth £70,000, its contents listed as ‘spare vehicle parts’.

“The National Vehicle Crime Intelligence Service suggests they intercept up to a dozen vehicles a month at Southampton alone, 80% of which are destined for East Africa. One visit in one day from a combined task force found 18 vehicles at one port that were reported stolen.”

 

Bike crime theft security motorcycle

What is the motorcycle industry doing about theft?

“While many police forces are now hampered by their no chase policies, they are fighting back. That said, 749 of the 1299 pursuits carried out by the Met last year were abandoned due to the safety of the riders and the prevention of any collateral damage. The thieves simply removing their helmets will see a pursuit stopped.

“Affordable tracking devices have become hugely successful in recovering many machines this year, the most popular of which are claiming over a 90% recovery rate. Ironically though, thieves are now using their own cheap tracking devices to find their prey that they fix to a machine and track to its home without spooking owners. If they steal the bike they can use the device again.

“The Master scheme, sponsored by the Motorcycle Industry Association has achieved remarkable success, particularly on most new machines fitted with the new covert forensic marking systems. A three-year study of its progress has shown a 58% reduction in the theft of new bikes over 125cc, while the theft of machines over three years old has increased by 54%.”

“Technology to remotely halt high speed chases through ignition disabling is being considered, as are the new DNA sprays that can positively identify individual thieves.” In Europe, Vodafone’s system fitted to the new Yamaha TMAX allows the super-scooter to be remotely shut down. Unfortunately, that’s not currently permitted in the UK.

The Metropolitan police force has also launched a campaign targeted primarily at scooter riders – those currently most at risk – highlighting the need to make a machine as undesirable to a thief as possible... after all, if your two wheeler is harder to pinch than the one next to it, it's more likely to be there when you get back to it.

The Met has the following tips:

1. Lock your back wheel, with the chain off the ground to street furniture if possible. If not, thread the chain through the frame and back wheel to protect parts being stolen. Thieves can easily use a hammer or angle grinder if a lock is on the ground.

2. Use disc locks to secure the front brake disc and stop it from being wheeled away.

3. Use grip locks on the handlebars and always engage your steering lock.

4. Using a cover makes your bike less attractive to thieves as they often look to steal special models.

The force also recommends using a quality Thatcham approved, professionally fitted alarm and tracking system, which will put off thieves and could reduce your insurance premiums. Find out more at www.met.police.uk/scootersecurity

Bike crime theft security motorcycle

Following complaints from residents, the Met Police – Barking & Dagenham recovered these four stolen bikes after gaining entry to a garage.

Don’t be a statistic

• When you park your bike, do something to prevent it being pushed away; engage the steering lock and any other manufacturers’ security. Lock it to something with a chain or a U-lock, preferably through the rear wheel and frame – thieves sometimes carry spare front wheels in the event of only the front being locked. Disc locks are best on the rear if they’ll fit, but they’re still much better than nothing if you can only use one on the front; just know that there are some simple methods used by crooks to work around a front wheel with a disc lock.

• Consider fitting a tracking device – while you’ll need to pay a yearly subscription for monitoring, a notification to the police from a professional company is more likely to get a response than from someone with a cheap tracker they’re following themselves. Bikes often get moved, then left for a while, to see if they have a tracker fitter – any device that locates it could see you get it back, though we recommend a monitored service.

• Alarms and immobilisers are also an important deterrent – view footage of thefts on YouTube and you’ll see the alarm is often the first thing that’s checked. It won’t stop the violent criminals willing to threaten bystanders, but it could prevent you losing your bike to an opportunist.

• Garage thieves work mainly at night, so overkill your security if you can. Check for holes drilled in the door, as an endoscope may have been inserted to check what you have in there. And please, keep it locked. A thief might try many doors in an evening, and once they’re inside, they can work in comfort, undisturbed.

• Mark your machine with both overt and covert systems to give the police a chance to identify the bike and get the thief who stole it, which also acts as an extra deterrent.

• Cover your bike when parked.

• Consider CCTV – there are an increasing number of home systems, such as www.blinkforhome.co.uk, that allow remote, alerted monitoring without any subscriptions.

Social media could leave you thinking that things are even worse than they are, and ultimately, if a professional thief wants your bike, there’s little that will put them off. Yet according to data from Bennetts Insurance, a startling 43% of riders don’t use any form of security. Would you walk away from your car, leaving it unlocked? Equally, while the most shocking videos get shared the most, the majority of the increase in PTW theft is of scooters. In 2016, Bennetts Insurance found that scooters and mopeds were over three times more likely to be stolen than a supersport bike; it’s the same for adventure machines. Touring bikes were least likely to be taken. Of these, far too many are being left unlocked, sometimes due to the owners’ lack of knowledge, or even simply that some might figure that the insurance will cover it, so why worry? The fact is that, as theft claims increase, more underwriters will consider withdrawing from the market, leaving fewer companies offering increasingly expensive policies for scooters and motorcycles.

Taking precautions can drastically reduce your risk of being targeted, so we’ve got some serious product tests of security kit lined up for Bike Social, and will be offering as much advice as we can to help prevent you becoming a victim.

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