Sophisticated cycle thieves may be using apps as £1.8m of bikes taken

Officers from South Ribble Neighbourhood Policing team uncovered a bike chop-shop on Howick Cross Lane, Penwortham.
Officers from South Ribble Neighbourhood Policing team uncovered a bike chop-shop on Howick Cross Lane, Penwortham.
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Former Army captain Colin Johnson was left devastated when his hand-made bike was stolen in June – just as he was given the go-ahead to get back on the bike after spinal surgery.

He went to get his Moda Intro road racing bike from his garage in Cypress Grove, Lostock Hall, only to find the building had been broken into and the bike stolen.

Sgt Dave Sherrington (s)

Sgt Dave Sherrington (s)

Speaking at the time he said: “I was devastated. I’m 48 and I stood in the garage and was close to tears.

“I’d washed it and polished it _ I was like a kid at Christmas.

“I went from really excited to distraught that it had gone.”

He believed that someone had watched him unload the bike, worth around £2,000 from his car and put it away.

However police have raised another possibility - that sophisticated bike thieves are using the data from exercise apps to target expensive specialist bikes.

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Lancashire police this week revealed that £1,813,511 worth of bikes were stolen in the county in the last year alone.

Sgt Dave Sherrington said: “In 2015, 3,852 bicycles were reported stolen across Lancashire with a value of £1,813,511. This is only the thefts which were reported to police – we actually believe there are more thefts which remain unreported.

“It appears that the recent rise in the purchase of expensive high-tech bikes is fuelling the thefts – the most expensive bike stolen last year was worth over £10,000.

“We think that many of these thefts could have been prevented if owners had locked their bike up securely. Please prevent yourself from becoming a victim of bike theft by following some simple security measures. Don’t make it easy for thieves.”

Sgt Kirstie Whyatt, based at Bispham Police station, said: “We are looking closely at the apps and phoning victims to see if they might have been using them.

“We are also considering whether thieves are looking out for cars with bike carriers.”

Sgt Whyatt said police were doing all they could to ‘disrupt’ the behaviour of bike thieves,

“This is a big problem across Lancashire and we are no different on the Fylde coast,” she said.

“What has become clear is the way criminals are changing their behaviour.

“They are not taking any old bike.

“They are after cycles of high value.

“In the town centre we’re still seeing people cutting chains and taking any bike.

“But in residential areas they are breaking into sheds.”

In February last year, police investigating a spate of bike thefts across South Ribble uncovered a hoard of rare and valuable bike parts in a professional style ‘chop shop’ in Penwortham.

Dozens of bikes had been stripped down and sold for parts, or refurbished for sale as complete cycles. Among the haul, discovered in two lock ups in the Howick area of Penwortham, were rare bikes and parts from two antique bikes, and a number of high value high performance components.

One of the lock-ups had been converted into a workshop for working on the pedal bikes.

Officers called in an expert from a local cycling shop who said some of the frames were worth upwards of £1,000 and a wheel discovered in the lock-up was worth over £700.

Sgt Whyatt said it was difficult to trace bikes once they had been taken and said most were never found.

She said thieves were not advertising large numbers of bikes for sale on online aution or car boot sites but made clear officers were constantly monitoring the selling community.

She said: “We are constantly trying to disrupt the thieves in their operations.

In January this year a bike worth £1,200 was stolen after several garages were ransacked in Poulton overnight.

In the past police have recommended bike owners take pictures of their cycles and have them valued.

The most expensive bike stolen in Lancashire last year was worth more than £10,000.

Bike thefts reported to Lancashire Police in 2015

Preston -770

Chorley - 193

West Lancs - 137

Lancashire total - 3,852

In February, nearly £17,000 worth of suspension mountain bikes and parts was stolen from Bounce Rivington Leisure in the Coppull Enterprise Centre.

Owner Frank Spear said it “opened his eyes” to the extent of bicycle crime in Lancashire, and the business has since relocated for security reasons.

Mr Spear said: “There’s a very organised criminal world in Lancashire - they all know one another and know how it works.

“Stolen bikes get broken up quickly and parts swapped around, so you might see your frame on a bike on eBay, but the rest would be different.

“An average high-end bike would cost about £3,500 - it’s virtually the norm and with 0 per cent finance people don’t even bat an eyelid.

“Many are worth around £7,000 and if you want the top-end stuff, like Bradley Wiggins rides, then it’s £15,000.”

He added: “The biggest threat to bicycle security is Facebook. People are proud of what they have and put their bikes as profile pictures, take pictures by their car with the registration clearly visible, and have an open profile.

“Strava’s another one, but there are privacy settings where you can block out locations so people can’t see where you’re setting off from or returning to.

“The best defence is not letting people know what you have in the first place, but I even heard an interview with a reformed bike thief who was saying he’d sit on a motorway bridge in a car waiting for high-end bikes to come past. Then he’d literally follow them to see where they lived and make a note of it.”