Bike crime

Why is bike crime so hard to stop? A short guide

Bike crime’s great … as long as you’re Muhammed Ali? But while bike crime may have been the catalyst that turned him into the self-proclaimed ‘greatest’, for us mere mortals it’s nothing to be happy about.

The statistics are eye-watering. A bike stolen every 90 seconds in London. 450,000 stolen a year in the Netherlands, 1.5 million annually in the US. And these are just the official figures. The estimates are that only 1 in 5 bike thefts get reported, so the real numbers are probably much higher.

So why, when overall theft levels are down in countries like the US, and when theft levels for car owners and motorbike owners are much lower, is bike crime proving so hard to stop? Don’t cyclists deserve proper protection from crime?

The question that led to Deeper Lock being created was a simple one; how can smart technology be used to empower cyclists to stop bike crime and make cycling the no.1 means of urban transport? One thing we soon understood is that to fight bike crime, you must understand bike crime. How does it work? How is it different from other forms of crime? How is it changing?

To answer these questions, we need to understand one key issue regarding theft – the relationship of risk vs reward. Like any other theft, in the end stealing a bike is all about economics. And, whether it’s trading on the stock market or investing in property, decisions are made by weighing up the potential risks and rewards of any action.

The economics of crime

In the 1960s, Nobel prize winning economist Gary Becker presented the (then radical) idea that we should think of criminals as rational actors seeking to maximise their own wellbeing. Just like someone buying a house or starting a business, they too consider actions in terms of risk and reward.

Each crime, then, can be analysed based on the potential reward it brings and the potential risks it involves. As data bloggers priceonomics have discovered, bike crime falls into the ‘free lunch’ category for thieves. This is because it carries virtually zero risk for the criminal. As one bike thief recently explained, “no one ever confronted us or said – what are you doing?”

Recovery and prosecution rates for bike crime are also very low. Police departments tend to be busy with other forms of crime. As a result, many victims don’t even bother reporting thefts.

A changing market

And while low risk used to be coupled with low reward, the changing bike market means this is no longer the case. As retail prices for bikes rise year on year, the potential rewards of bike theft are on the up.

What’s more, selling on stolen bikes has never been easier thanks to more and more internet sales platforms. Networks of sellers and suppliers are growing wider. All of this means the ‘free lunch’ is tastier than ever for bike thieves.

Moving forward

So, it’s time to start raising awareness of bike crime (and creating innovative ways to tackle bike crime). This blog series is designed to get us thinking deeply about how crime works, and to start a debate. Is bike crime really a ‘free lunch’? How can the risks for thieves be increased? How do we respond to the growing potential rewards?

What do you think?

In our next blog we’ll be analysing the question of risk in bike crime in detail. Until then, post a comment on our Facebook page or share with other urban cyclists you know. Have you been a victim of bike crime? How did it make you feel? What are your views on how bike thieves make their decisions – is it just economics or is there something else involved?