CCTV shows the suspect making off with BristolWorld editor Alex Ross’ bike
It wasn’t even a very good bicycle.
Bought eight years ago on the Government’s cycle to work scheme, I’d run it into the ground, to the point I was warned it was no longer safe to ride when taking it for a puncture repair at Halfords, writes BristolWorld editor Alex Ross.
But on Saturday morning, after discovering the bike - a grey Specialized Allez model - had been stolen from outside my home, I felt strangely quite upset. Someone had targeted my property, they had targeted me.
The strength of local community, the way it is in Bristol, meant I had CCTV footage from a neighbour within hours.
It showed two figures heading toward my house shortly after 1am, before five minutes later the same two making off on bikes.
The second was my father’s.
And so, in an instance, we both became part of what I have discovered was a very large group of bicycle theft victims in the city.
Home Office figures covering the 12 months up to March this year showed there were 1,694 bicycle thefts reported to Avon and Somerset Police.
That is the equivalent of almost five bike thefts each day - and that being over a period with two lockdowns which saw many people cut back on transport, and stay at home.
For the bigger picture, after Cambridge, Bristol saw more bicycle thefts than any other local authority area outside London. Figures were unavailable for Manchester.
“I’m not surprised at all,” said Eric Booth, a long-standing member of Bristol Cycling Campaign, which promotes cycling in Bristol, working with Avon and Somerset Police and Bristol City Council.
Both security and theft are two ongoing issues which face the group.
“But that doesn’t mean the theft of a bike isn’t deeply upsetting for the owner - it can be like a slap in the face or a punch on the nose,” Mr Booth added.
“With cycling being a very delicate issue, we worry that a theft could lead to someone giving up, which for a city like Bristol and its aspirations, could be a big problem for us.”
While some thefts were down to opportunists, Mr Booth said he believed most were done through organised crime with bikes stolen to order or subsequently put up for sale on the second-hand market.
“These are prolific offenders who are organised and able to steal a bike in seconds,” he said.
To help people protect bikes, the group is asking Bristol City Council to install 1,000 bike hangars - secure, covered spaces for residents to park their bikes - by 2024.
The city council, which currently has 15 hangars providing space for 90 bicycles, does realise the value of cycling.
In 2019, its joint report with Sustrans called Bike Life Bristol estimated each mile cycled instead of driven saved 95p for the individual and society due to factors such as driving costs, congestion and health.
What Bristol City Council says
But a council spokesperson said a lack of funding meant other transport schemes had taken priority over the building of more hangars.
They said: “The funding we received from the government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund was unfortunately smaller than our original bid which meant other elements of our proposals, such as the segregation of walking and cycling routes and pedestrianisation schemes, were prioritised over cycle hangars.”
They added that the council was, however, looking to provide more hangars in residential neighbourhoods where schemes have already been introduced to minimise car usage.
And they said all future walking and cycling schemes will consider bike parking too.
What Avon and Somerset Police advise
In August, as part of National Cycle to Work Day, Avon and Somerset Police urged people to protect their bikes by registering them on the national BikeRegister database.
Cyclists were also encouraged to mark security-mark their bikes with QR stickers.
The force also provided crime prevention advice on its website.
PC Peter Rooke, who leads on the issue for Avon and Somerset Police, said: “Bicycle thefts have a very negative impact on people’s lives.
“With each cycle stolen, people are left struggling to commute, unable to enjoy exercise and leisure time, counting the cost of what can be a considerable investment and suffering the emotional impact of theft.”
He added: “We are working hard to target bicycle thieves and reduce offences - but the best thing we as your local police force can do is prevent the offence in the first place, thus we offer the BikeRegister initiative for free and we are always on hand to talk through cycle security.”