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The bike crime epidemic Part 1: Explaining the explosion in motorcycle related crime

In a major five-part series we look at how the police are currently hampered by their own guidelines and also focus on a piece of legislation that, until it is changed, will continue to hamper efforts to stop the bike crime epidemic, even if the guidance is changed. 

A lot of people don’t have much time for bikers. Unless we are delivering their pizzas or attending a road traffic accident as a two-wheeled paramedic, we don’t really enter the public conscious, except to annoy people by filtering through traffic.*

And then the motorcycle related crime epidemic happened.

Now we are all over the public conscious, but not in a good way. Now, when you mention you are a biker, people want to know what on earth is going on.

They want to know why there are gangs of youths on scooters and quad bikes rampaging through Birmingham, Bristol, Nottingham and other city’s streets without the police doing anything to stop it.

A #BikeLife swarm impedes an ambulance getting through during an emergency

They ask why is it that in many parts of the country, the police are advising ordinary people not to use their mobile phones in the street, in case they get mugged by kids as young as 10 on scooters.

They want to know about headlines saying motorcycle related crime has risen 1,500% in London in the last year.

They don’t even see half of what’s going on. Biker’s own social media streams are stuffed with videos of gangs using angle grinders to cut through bikes’ security devices in broad daylight. Of bikers assaulted with hammers, knives and even fire extinguishers as their bikes are stolen from under them. Of acid being sprayed in a rider’s face when he tries to prevent a fellow biker’s motorcycle being stolen.

It’s a completely crazy situation. How on earth did it get to this?

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There are two things happening

Motorbikes are being stolen for two purposes – either to be ‘ringed’ and sold on or stripped for parts, often for export. Or they are being stolen to be used in other crimes, such as robberies and muggings.

The former is a long and well-established ‘industry’. Forget for a moment the leisure wear and balaclava-clad ‘scrotes’ – almost the universal term being applied by bikers to the moped-riding criminals that hit the headlines. This is good old-fashioned ’thrown in the back of a van’ crime that happens up and down the country every day. It’s happened for decades and unfortunately, it will probably be here for decades too, until the manufacturers pull their finger out.

It happens because it is incredibly easy to fill a container with stripped parts and, for a couple of thousand quid, send it to the other side of the world. Once there, the parts are quickly distributed throughout places like South East Asia, where few questions are asked about the parts’ origin.

Or, whole bikes are pretty much stolen to order and shipped across to Eastern Europe, the Caribbean and Asia, where again few questions are asked about previous ownership.

Stolen motorcycles in container
Image: © Kent Police. These bikes were rescued before they left the country

It happens because it’s incredibly easy to ring a stolen bike – give it the identity of a perfectly legal bike, and sell it on to an unsuspecting biker. Some argue this has become even easier since the digitisation of the DVLA.

And then there are the ‘chordie’ and ‘repo’ morons who steal bikes and then put them up for sale on Facebook and Instagram accounts for a fraction of their real value. They’ll also steal bikes to order if you fancy setting up a sting to catch them in the act.

They know that other chavs will see these ads and equally not care much about riding a stolen bike. The way they see it, why not buy a £6,000 sports bike for £500? They won’t be insuring, taxing or MOT’ing it like every other ‘mug’, will they?

Because the truth is it’s actually become quite difficult to get caught by the Police.

Bike crime is not a priority for the local nick and if an officer happens to see a stolen motorbike being ridden, the odds are stacked against them when it comes to being allowed to lawfully chase the criminal riding it.

Thankfully, after websites like Biker & Bike and numerous Facebook groups started highlighting this idiocy, there are fewer fake profiles selling stolen bikes.

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There are still plenty of ‘Keep it 100, Bruv’ delinquents still putting up ‘if U know U know’ requests for hooky bikes they want to buy.

If that sounds like you, we’ve got news for you, bud. The same groups that have been collecting information on the seller’s real names and addresses are also doing the same with you. Save up like the rest of us and buy a legitimate bike instead, mate.

Bike Thief databases
Multiple biker groups have created databases of alleged bike thieves and their associates

Robbery squad

As well as being sold on or stripped, bikes are also being stolen for use in other crimes, mainly street muggings but also robberies and burglary.

They also feature heavily in gang-related crime around drugs. It’s quite easy to spot runners on peds moving between the estates.

They favour high-powered scooters – they’re quick, agile and can carry two criminals quickly away from a crime. They are also relatively quiet – most mugging victims are completely unaware of any danger until, usually in a state a great confusion, they realise the bike moving swiftly away down the pavement must be why they no longer have their expensive smartphone in their hand.

Attempted mobile phone theft by moped riders
Image: © Met Police. Attempted mobile phone theft

These phones are quickly stripped for expensive parts – forget about ‘find my phone’. One team can get up to 20 handsets in a few hours and feed them into a distribution system Amazon would be proud of.

It means untraceable parts can be back on the market in days. Ever wondered why it used to cost £150 to get a new lithium battery but now one can be yours for £25? Now you know.

Order a curry, get a free bike

There’s also a significant number of lower powered scooters and mopeds being stolen. One theory is they are quickly sold to unscrupulous food and other home delivery guys who either can’t hire the bikes they would normally use working for companies like Deliveroo and your local pizza place, or they simply don’t want to ‘waste’ money on hiring bikes.

Ironically, these bikes will have been stolen from other delivery riders. We heard of one case where a fake order was placed so that the thieves could just wait around the corner for the rider to turn up – they then helped themselves to both the meal and the poor delivery guy’s bike.

Another theory is that these bikes are stolen purely for their fuel and batteries. The so-called TMAX gangs now find it incredibly hard to get served at petrol stations. So they simply steal a bike for the fuel that’s in it.

The way the bikes are used by the mugging and drug dealing gangs can be incredibly hard on batteries – all those instant starts from ignition. It explains why Vespa owners would commonly find their seat lock broken and the battery missing.

There’s another reason why scooters owners are such easy targets, but we’ll come on to that.

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Why now is it happening now?

Leaving aside the motivation for quick criminal profits, there are three reasons why we have reached a ‘perfect storm’ of motorcycle theft.

The first is that motorbikes are so easy to steal. They can literally be wheeled away or lifted into the back of a van.

Unlike the car industry, the motorcycle manufacturers have stubbornly refused to accept the problem or even recognise that £1,000 laptops have better security than £10,000 motorbikes.

In an era where some motorbikes have gazillions of electronic traction and engine management devices, the standard spec includes little more than a key and a steering lock for protection. Even tracking devices are extra. But there are many measures they can take to immobilise a bike far more effectively than the current technology they provide.

The second reason is that many owners don’t do much to help themselves.

We love at statistic at Biker & Bike so here are a few: 61% of motorcyclists use no extra security devices. This rises to 80% for scooter owners. 80% of motorbike thefts are from the home location, yet many bikes are left on the drive or in the back of the garage protected by nothing more than the steering lock, which takes less than 5 seconds for two people to disable.

But neither of these reasons explains why there has been an explosion in bike-related crime.

For that, we have to look at Police guidance and associated legislation that has practically given the criminal community immunity from being caught when they are on a motorbike.

Catch me if you can. Oh, you’re not allowed…

Bikers call it the ‘no chase’ laws. In reality, there is no such thing, but there does exist an extremely complex situation involving College of Policing and NPCC guidance under which police officers must act, plus Road Traffic Act legislation that officers can be prosecuted under if they have to pursue a rider driving dangerously.

A biker tries to chase thieves – something police are increasingly unable to do

We’ll explain fully in Part 2 what should happen when an officer sees a motorcycle-related crime being committed. For the moment, all you need to know is that the moment a thief indicates they are not going to stop for the police – and we are being absolutely serious here and we’ve checked it with officers – unless the pursuit is conducted by one of the very few officers trained to do so, a pursuit has to be called off.

The reason is the risk of injury to themselves or members of the public becomes so great that any non-qualified officer chasing in a vehicle has to be stood down by a commanding officer in the Control Room.

In some cases, even qualified officers either take the decision to cease the pursuit or are called off by the commanding officer.

Because if they don’t the lawyers come a calling and as we’ll see in the following parts of this series, this can have a devastating effect on a police officer’s life and career. There can also be a huge impact on the public coffers.

At the heart of the issue is the lack of fully qualified police drivers who can be authorised for a pursuit. The answer is either to increase the number of officers who are trained in pursuit or change the legislation.

The good news is that the latter is likely to happen. The bad news is that, without your help, it’s not going to happen soon enough.

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What is being done?

In Part 2, we’ll look at the ridiculous situation, where an officer in a patrol car often has to sit and watch as known criminals ride by, and we’ll explain exactly what the problem is.

In later parts, we’ll look at what happens when an officer is prosecuted for not acting to the letter of the law, what is being done by the police and lawmakers to change the situation and how you as an ordinary biker can help accelerate the process.

*Yes, it is legal for a motorcycle to filter between rows of static and slow moving traffic.

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The bike crime epidemic Part 2: Why the police don’t pursue motorcycle criminals

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The bike crime epidemic Part 3: The devastating consequences for police who try to stop bike thieves

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B&B Staff

B&B Staff