Bikes, many of them stolen, pile up at the Amsterdam bike depot. Photo A.S.
It's practically a requirement these days to carry not one but two ponderous bike locks, yet city streets are still thick with bike thieves. A British insurance survey recently suggested a bike is stolen about every 65 seconds in the U.K. and Mike Cavenett of the London Cycling Campaign thinks theft turns people away from healthful cycling: "Bike theft is cited as the most common reason for people giving up cycling. In 2008 there were over 17,000 bikes reported stolen in London." Police (and companies aiming to make a profit) seem to think registration and electronic tagging are the answer to reducing theft and keeping us all fit and healthy riding our bikes.Bike Revolution, a UK-based company, is the latest to offer cyclists free registration for their bikes on its online database. Also, for the "introductory offer price" of 8 pounds ($11.80), you can buy a Bike Revolution bar code tag. Placing the tag on your bike, the company says, will reduce the risk that it is stolen by deterring thieves, and in the event of a theft, give you a better chance of getting your bike back if it is recovered.
But is this accurate? Bike Revolution sites Norway as a country that has had success at deterring bike theft with a registration program. But bike theft increased 16 percent in Norway in 2009, the biggest increase of the last five years, according to this report.
The Norwegian Police Directorate says bike theft has now become the single largest category of theft in the country. Norway's registration system, through Falck, is said to reduce theft approximately 20%, if the registration sticker is clearly visible on the bike. Registration costs about $60 each year.
RFID projects to deter theft certainly seem like a worthy use of the technology, and we've reported on them eagerly. But thus far there aren't solid statistics to support their efficacy.
Copenhagen is running a trial registration program with 5,000 bikes receiving RFID detection chips in 2009. Since then, 17 of the 5,000 bikes have been stolen - 2 have been recovered. Is that success? Århus, the second largest city in Denmark reported a 16% increase in bike theft last year, while in Copenhagen theft increased 10%.
While registration and tagging systems may help police identify a stolen bike that they actually find, there are two main issues with registration programs. The first is manpower. Police admit they don't have the manpower to follow up or investigate reports of bike theft, especially as they are so numerous. Second, many bikes are quickly sold on the second-hand market including by supposedly reputable bike shops, while others are rapidly shipped abroad and sold on a black market.
The Netherlands has the best recent track record - the country managed to reduce its bike theft by nearly a third (750,000 reported thefts to 500,000 reported thefts) since undertaking a concerted effort back in 2008. What has worked, reports a news site in the town of Veenendaal has been an intensive combination of a bicycle registry along with old-fashioned policing, camera monitoring of a bicycle parking area, and public awareness campaigns. One of the best deterrents for the longer term, according to the report, was an increase in secure bicycle parking.
In this area, as in many bike-related subjects, Amsterdam and the Netherlands seem to be leading the way, sometimes simply because they have so many bikes to deal with. In Amsterdam, good bicycle parking is at a premium and bikes get tethered to every available pole with those uber-heavy chain style Abus locks.
In addition, though, the city is planning to put in thousands more bicycle parking spaces, not only at a new underground facility at the central station, but also at some smaller facilities around the city that will offer more secure parking - free for shorter periods and charged for longer periods.
Since it seems clear than neither the theft-proof lock nor the theft-proof bike have yet been devised, perhaps we need to look to theft-resistant infrastructure to stay together with our beloved bikes and stay healthy.
Read more about bike parking and bike theft at TreeHugger:
6 Ways to Avoid Bike Theft
Design a Better Bike Lock
How Awesome Bike Parking Facility Could Replace Downtown Parking Lot