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Going, going, gone

11 September, 2012

An estimated 16,000 bikes are reported stolen in Australia each year, with only a tiny percentage returned to their owners. Margot McGovern investigates what happens to unclaimed bikes and how to prevent your bike going missing.

Stolen bike

On a freezing morning in a drafty warehouse, a group of bargain hunters eye off bulk boxes of Lego, DVDs, plasma televisions, iPads, alcohol and other seized items and liquidated stock slated for police auction.

Strung up on hooks are six bikes: three Repcos (a Random cruiser, a Horizon ladies bike and a rusty Continental), a Huffy, a home-painted Apollo mountain bike and the day’s prize, an XDS Retro women’s alloy that looks like it has come straight from the shop.

To end up at Melbourne’s Breen Auction Group, these bikes have been turned in or seized as stolen goods by police and held for three months without being claimed by their owners. Any turned in would have been first offered to whoever found them.

Although it’s depressing that they exist, bargains can be found at police auctions. Boxes of 180 recent-release DVDs go for a dollar a disc and a high-quality plasma television fetches $230. The bikes close at $30 each, with the exception for the Huffy and Continental, which go for $50 as a pair and the XDS Retro, a clear favourite at $220 (but given it retails for over twice that, it’s still a bargain).

During the pre-auction viewing I checked the underside of each bike’s bottom bracket and found the serial numbers intact, meaning that it should have been possible for their owners to identify them.

In the period 2010–2011 only 126 (3%) of the 4025 bikes reported stolen in Victoria were recovered by police, while 448 alleged offenders were processed for Theft of Bicycle offences. According to Senior Constable Adam West, because riders usually don’t take the time to mark their bike, it is nearly impossible for police to match recovered bikes with their owners.

He strongly urges bike owners to engrave or use an ultra-violet pen to mark their bikes with their state initials and driver’s licence number (or a friend’s number) so the police can contact you if the bike is stolen then recovered.

“Police look for any identifying marks and compare recovered bikes, and bikes they believe may be stolen, to those that are recorded on the database,” says Senior Constable West.

Ideally you should also take pictures of your bike, and record any identifying markings and the serial number (the bike’s fingerprint). Every bike frame has a unique serial number that is usually found between the pedal arms on the underside of the bike’s frame, although it can be in a different location.

Keep this information in a safe place and present it to the police if your bike is stolen. If you bought your bike new, the shop you bought it from should also have the serial number on record.

More information about police auctions in your state is available in the classifieds section of major newspapers. Otherwise, try these auction houses:

New South Wales Combined Auctions

Queensland The Public Trustee’s Office

South Australia Evans Clarke Auctions

Victoria Breen’s Autctions

Western Australia Ross’s Auctions

Police auctions in Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Terrirtory are often held by local police. Contact your local station for further information.

Anti-theft tips

  • Approximately 50% of all bikes are stolen from the home, where bikes are most likely to be left unsecured.
  • The Ride On Locks test proved some locks can be broken in under two seconds. We suggest using a D-lock and recommend the Vulcan VLS101B Supreme 2000 and the Abus Granit X-Plus 54.
  • There should be as little room as possible between the bike and what it is locked to. Avoid locking to street signs, as many can be easily lifted out of the ground.
  • Use a second lock with a different locking mechanism to secure the wheels, particularly if they’re quick release.

Ride On content is editorially independent, but is supported financially by members of Bicycle Network Victoria. If you enjoy our articles and want to support the future publication of high-quality content, please consider helping out by becoming a member.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. COLIN CATLIN permalink
    13 September, 2012 9:31 am

    The article you wrote is fineif your bike is pinched by someones nature. How do you explain when you leave a bike in the hands of a shop owner for servicing and someone walks in and takes it?? I had a racing bike that was only a hand full in Australia that it happen to. The guys serviced the bike,took it for a road test and left a message saying it had a punture had to wait another day and then get a phone from the police saying to contact them that my bike has been stolen.
    Did I get it back? I got some slight compensation for it.

  2. Michael McGrath permalink
    4 October, 2012 6:41 pm

    Unless your bike is in a secure lockup, preferably with CCTV coverage there is one simple rule:
    Never let it out of your sight.
    Park it next to your desk at work, next to your bed at home.
    Particularly true if you ride vintage steelies like I do. They cannot be replaced.
    If you need to ride out for an evening with friends take the old junker that’s not worth more than $50 and you won’t miss it so much.

  3. Craig permalink
    9 October, 2012 6:25 pm

    Nice work Ride-on. Given report indicate only 3% of bikes stolen being recovered by police (at least in Vic), a key question needing further discussion is in relation to the markets for the 97% of bikes stolen and if anything further can be done about it. Look forward to the follow up article!

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