The Problem of Bike Theft in Europe and the USA and Ways to Improve the Situation

February 10, 2023

It is general knowledge that a lot of bikes get stolen. But just how much of an issue it really is? To put everything into perspective we have gathered some basic information about bike theft in Europe and USA so it helps us to understand it better:

  • The scope of the bike theft problem,
  • Where does it occur,
  • The return rate of stolen bikes and,
  • How cooperation between cyclists and governments can help to turn the trend around.

Bike theft in numbers

Seasonal bicycle theft statistics for Inner London

Bike theft is a major concern for cyclists in both Europe and USA. In the EU alone literally millions (numbers vary between 3 and 4 million a year) of bikes get stolen every year. Two out of three Europeans either have been victims themselves or have a victim in their family or close friends circle. Even though USA biking culture is not as big as it is in Europe there is still one bike theft occurring every 30 seconds, which means roughly 1 million bikes a year.

Cyclists in urban centers such as Amsterdam, Berlin, and London are particularly vulnerable to bike theft, with theft rates in these cities being among the highest in Europe. According to recent data, an average of 1 in 3 bikes in Amsterdam is stolen each year, and in London, around 50,000 bikes are stolen annually. See the graph showing seasonal influence with peaks, not surprisingly, occurring during the summer. In Italy, one of the biggest biking markets in the EU 320.000 bicycles are stolen every year.

Risky urban places | Time of the day for the city of Milano

It is a very similar situation in less populated and "safer" countries. As an example, in Denmark, a small country of 5.8 million people, 70,000 bikes are stolen per year (Statistics Denmark, 2012) which, while small in comparison to the total number of bikes, still has a significant psychological effect on people’s willingness to cycle.

This is not only a financial burden for the victims but also a major inconvenience, especially for those who use their bikes for daily transportation. With the rise in popularity of cycling as a form of transportation, the problem of bike theft around the globe has only become more pressing.

Where does bike theft occur most often?

Most bicycles reported stolen are taken from on or near the premises of the victim’s home including garages and sheds, or from outside of shops or recreational facilities.

The location of bicycle theft varies, with each location requiring separate analysis to best inform your response. Common locations include the following:

  • In and around the victim’s home,
  • In and around the victim’s workplace,
  • In public spaces, such as bicycle-parking facilities,
  • At risky facilities like university campuses and railway stations.

The presence of facilities such as train stations, vacant houses, pawnbrokers, and payday lenders increased bicycle theft, but no evidence was found that linked police stations with crime levels.

Low return rate finding stolen bicycles

Finding a stolen bike is difficult, evidence is scarce, and police are simply not going to allocate staff to such thefts. Bicycle theft is typically seen as a low police priority, its impact and magnitude are often overlooked because police often consider incidents on a case-by-case basis.

No More Stress about Bicycle Theft | Kissmybike projec: Survey of 122 Danish cyclists
"Discouraged by theft, up to 23% of victims never replace their bikes."

If we consider this information and the fact that only 20% of bike thefts are reported it paints a pretty horrendous picture and the general feeling of not being able much once it happens.

Conclusion: What is done or can be done about bike theft to make it better?

Governments and law enforcement agencies across Europe and USA have taken steps to combat bike theft, including the implementation of improved bike storage facilities, the use of GPS tracking devices, and increased police patrols. For example, Amsterdam has a network of bike parking garages where cyclists can store their bikes securely, and many cities have introduced bike registration systems to help track stolen bikes and reunite owners with their property.

Despite these efforts, bike theft remains a persistent problem, and more needs to be done to tackle this issue. This includes educating cyclists on how to protect their bikes, increasing public awareness about the importance of bike security, and investing in technology and infrastructure to prevent theft.

Cyclists can also take preventative measures to protect their bikes from theft. This includes investing in high-quality locks, securing their bikes to immovable objects such as poles or bike racks, and registering their bikes with local police, where this option exists. Cyclists should also be aware of their surroundings and take extra care when leaving their bikes unattended, especially in high-risk areas.

To sum it up, governments can improve infrastructure, even employ Robocop, it will not help if cyclists do not at least:

  • Use strong locks,
  • Understand the area and type of bike theft risky there,
  • Minimize the use of “fly parking” (locking bikes to random urban infrastructure).

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More articles on bicycle security:

My Bicycle Got Stolen. What Should I Do?

Bike Theft and The Best Ways to Protect Your Bike from It

Bike Thieves and Most Common Bike Theft Areas

Choosing the Best Bicycle Tracker and Alarm

What Types of Bikes get Stolen Most Often

What Is a Proper Bike Lock?

Article references:

Environmental Risk Factors influencing Bicycle Theft: A Spatial Analysis in London, UK

Risk Factors Influcencing Bike Theft in Milan (Italy)

No More Stress about Bicycle Theft | Kissmybike project

U.S. Department of Justice: Bike Theft

European Commission: No more stress about bicycle theft

Ultimate Guide to Bicycle Theft Statistics

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