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Organised Bike Theft on the Rise in the Netherlands and Other Not-So-Good News

By Adam Marsal

If you’re wondering just how securely you locked your bike outside a café on the street, we have good news: the number of stolen bikes in European capitals has been declining slightly in recent years. Then there’s also some bad news, though. At least half of bike owners never report the theft of their rides, so the numbers of stolen bikes are actually about twice as high as official statistics suggest.

In the EU alone, between 3 and 4 million bikes get stolen every year. The Netherlands has the highest rate of bicycle theft in Europe. According to a report by the Dutch Cyclists’ Union, approximately 500,000 bicycles are stolen in the Netherlands each year, which equates to about one bicycle stolen every minute. Bike theft is a major problem in many European capitals such as Amsterdam, Berlin, and London. These cities are particularly vulnerable to bike theft, with theft rates 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.

Most stolen bicycles are never recovered. According to a study by the European Cyclists’ Federation, only about 5-10% of stolen bicycles are recovered by law enforcement. For example, of the whole number of reported bike thefts in the UK in 2022, 90% of the police cases were closed without a suspect being identified and just 1.7% resulted in someone being charged. Nonetheless, 71% of bike theft victims never report the crime to the police. This means that the problem is most likely twice as bad as it appears from the numbers.

The Royal Dutch Touring Club ANWB refers that even though the total number of stolen bikes is slightly decreasing, the total value of stolen bikes considerably grows to nearly €600 million in damage. The reason is that thieves are increasingly targeting e-bikes, which can be many times more expensive than regular bikes. 85% of the cases involved a non-electric bicycle and 15% involved an electric bicycle and speed pedelec.

A dismounted bicycle
The war between bicycle owners and their implacable predators, bicycle thieves, is an ongoing battle of wits. © Profimedia

Guus Wesselink, the chairman of a foundation tackling bicycle and e-bike theft (S.A.F.E.), says that these are shocking figures. “Almost three-quarters of a million bicycle thefts in a year. That’s more than 2,000 a day. We, therefore, make an urgent appeal to bicycle owners, ministries, municipalities, insurers and the bicycle industry to make extra efforts in preventing and combating this phenomenon that is getting out of hand. If this does not happen, bicycle theft rates will only increase further and the Netherlands will remain a paradise of bicycle thieves.”

Earlier this year, the Groningen Observer reported that bike theft in the Netherlands has become an organised crime. It is easy to buy a stolen bike: the interested person can either contact a dealer on social media or outsource the theft to a homeless person. The price for a bike is around twenty euros, which is less than a fifth of what used bikes offered in legal shops cost. The Dutch police and cycling unions have warned of international gangs targeting bike theft, which are present in most Dutch cities. The thieves use means to overcome locks and forge serial numbers on frames.

ANWB confirms that besides electric bikes, even heavy electric cargo bikes are increasingly being targeted. The criminals come in vans, load the bikes and ship them straight across the border, abroad. Folding bikes are at the bottom of the list, although that is mainly because they are almost always stored inside.

According to a study conducted in the UK, the Netherlands and Germany by AlterLock, 90% of stolen bikes were locked in some way. The study shows that despite relatively high fears of theft, most owners protect their bikes with insufficient means and that only a fraction of owners relies on modern electronic devices like sensors and trackers. It is interesting to see the probability of theft in proportion to the time the owner leaves the bike unattended. The AlterLock study shows that the chance of theft increases dramatically after the first five minutes. Are you still in the café and reading this article instead of going out to look at your bike?