Bike jacking has become a curse

With all the bad news about the economy, many people are ready to lock down their possessions and bolt the doors.  And there’s a new lucrative 'black market bitcoin'- Bikes.  So, 'lock your sheds', but more so- be mindful of where you ride your bikes.  Cycles can cost a fortune especially with the advent of e-bikes and these are easy contraband to get rid of.

A malevolent pursuit

This really pains me to write about this subject, for it potentially threatens every cycle ride I do in the future, and it's not a topic people want to even read about. To swallow this bitter pill, I can only approach the subject with a bit of humour. Fair warning; this article will have some distressing stories and images, but hiding away from them and adopting the attitude 'it'll never happen to me' perhaps isn't the right approach. This article is only about Bike Jacking, it's not about any other form of violence against a person, and doesn't replace professional advice, and I urge you to read our T&C's on this matter. I've tried to remain impartial and unbiased, but people take offence so easy these days, it isn't easy to cover a subject like this without upsetting someone. So, in the words of Sigmund Freud's famous remark "a cigar is sometimes just a cigar", in my terms that means 'it is what it is'.

Having your bike forcibly taken from you is statistically really low, but the impact it has on your life after an assault, robbery, or other attack is massive. So, I've set about researching the subject in the hope this article may prevent at least one assault. People can experience Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a traumatic experience and can feel anxious for years afterwards, whether or not they were physically injured. If the people are caught, the sentences don't really equate to the suffering and damage they've caused. Personally, I have not been mugged since I was a teenager, but I can still recall that memory in vivid detail. Most of the videos I have found are actually too distressing to show on the website, if you want to see some, it doesn't much Googling to find them. The page contains some interesting things to look out for to help you stay safe, but most of it is just common sense!

Safety in numbers

There is always safety in numbers and you are far less likely to get attacked if you ride in a group. Most of my cycling trips are alone and this seems to be one of the main actions not to do to stay safe. If you perceive an unsafe area ahead, and there's a cyclist/ s behind you, don't be bashful, wait until they arrive, explain your actions and ride with them. If you are a touring male/ female couple, it is recommended that the lady carries the cash (it seems muggers are sexist too), as the assumption is normally that the guy will be carrying the money.

Where do most muggings take place?

If you can avoid the noted areas where these events happen, you decrease your chances of becoming a statistic. Sadly, here lies the conundrum; the places where I want to ride are usually the places where these events happen. I'm an advocate of more cycle paths, the more the merrier, but the whole idea of these paths are to take you away from busy main roads and onto quiet routes.

Urban environments are best for the criminal, as waiting all day in the middle of the countryside may only produce a limited amount of fresh meat. So, like a spider spinning it's web, the robbers target places where they know lots of people will pass throughout the day, but are not overlooked by property or cameras. These city centre 'Greenways' are usually converted old railway lines, they generally have many side entrances, the perpetrators use these on and off ramps to quickly attack and easily escape.

What to look out for. Research is the key, know your route and try and visualise it. On Google maps, you can see street images of estates that run near the cycle paths. When I rode through Stoke-on-Trent to wild camp, I was wary about the estate I had to ride past. In all urban areas there are always 'hotspots' for crimes like robbery and assault, get an up to date account of this, just be aware most crime statistics are tied to a street or road nearest to the cycle path, not the cycle path itself. Here's a radical approach when you're on the path- stop and ask local people (such as a dog walker or a couple) about the part of town you're riding on. If they say "I wouldn't go down there", take their advice!

A true story- A friend of mine rode past a traveller camp one day, a herd of feral kids ran out, pushed her off her bike and ran back into the camp with her bike (i). The police did nothing. Look out for blind corners on paths, be cautious on your approach and listen. If the path looks unloved, has lots of rubbish around, used as a dumping ground for that old fridge that stopped working, if the properties backing onto the path have barbed/ razor wire on top of the fences and are covered in graffiti, you're in a dubious area. Areas that are clean, litter free, graffiti free, where bushes are not allowed to overhang the cycle path, mean people are taking pride in their area and keeping their eye on the paths condition. Of course the image above may show the very people who attacked you- community service offenders. A certain irony don't you think?

Forewarned is forearmed!

If you've got headphones in, on loud volume, or if you insist on staring at your phone or ipod (does anyone use these anymore?) as you're riding, the next section of advice won't help you. Use all your senses to be aware of your surroundings at all times. It's all about vigilance and situational awareness because you're looking for strange behaviour or suspicious activities. It's unlikely you will be bike jacked by a single person, these attacks tend to happen from small groups, but a single person can instigate the event- If someone is lolling around, maybe on their phone and look straight at you, look at their body language. If you are their prey they may give a smile as you pass (to say here's one) or they may try to engage with you to get your attention (asking for directions or have you got the time mate?), don't allow yourself to become distracted. A big red flag- if you ride past them and then they suddenly whistle or begin a phone call. Look back as you pass, if they turn towards you and continue using the phone as you ride on. Caution- the main cackle of predators will be quite near. Your spidey senses should be tingling.

I have never understood the culture of hoodies, if my head is cold I would wear a hat, but I wouldn't wear a hat in the summer. If there is a group of people ahead (usually male youths) all wearing hoodies (ii), and I'd also be wary of a group of youths wearing face masks even in the aftermath of Covid19. Stop and look at their body language, if you feel uneasy about some shady-looking characters, trust your instincts and leave the area. People on scooters or bikes don't congregate in static groups- they ride them, race them, wheelie them. If there's more than one person on a motorbike, has it a number plate?- No, then it's not their machine, it's stolen. If they remain in a group they will try and be inconspicuous, non-menacing, but there's always one who will break the idiom- 'don't look now, but'. Stop at a distance watch and wait, but don't stare at them, this is a game to them. Pretend to adjust something on your bike. If they realise they've been sussed more of them will look your way, but they will still stay in a group for a short time until they decide on another plan. They may then scatter to what looks like pre-rehearsed positions (remember 'The Truman Show movie' in the morning when they were getting ready for the scene, they were spread out and static). An even bigger danger sign is if the group ahead, spread out as you approach. Turn and look at the first lone lad you passed, if he has his back to you he's a lookout.

Instinct Is Your Friend. Any strange behaviour and your spidey senses should be on fire now. Look for an escape route, be unpredictable, make a judgement call to turn around, know where a main road is and head for it. At unavoidable close quarters you could try either talking loudly into your jersey (as if you're communicating on a radio) or even carry a dummy radio with an ear piece on a shoulder harness (as long as it doesn't have 'Police' written on it and doesn't work, it's legal). Another distraction technique is to point past the group (I don't know anyone who wouldn't look where you've pointed), these might seem silly tactics, but if they work, they work and they may enable you rush past.

A good friend of mine (Mat) was riding in Atlanta in America many years ago. He was told categorically by his American hosts- whilst out cycling, if he goes off the back of the group due to a flat tyre- absolutely don't stop to repair it. Just continue to ride until his friends notice he's gone, they will come back for him. It seems the area where he was, was notoriously bad for muggings and as a lone cyclist fixing a puncher, he would've been vulnerable. As we're both Brits, when he told me this story I was gob-smacked, but it makes sense. UK muggers are using spikes or Jack stars (you can even get them on eBay) to deliberately puncher tyres of cyclists, then they can come in and take the bike whilst the rider is trying to repair it. So, if you get a puncher in a secluded spot and can see the reason is man-made. Don't stop, make a quick exit. Look for an escape route, be unpredictable, make a judgement call to turn around, know where a main road is and head for it, head for the nearest densely-populated area.

An option is to give them what they want

The first stage is to decide how much money/ cards do you need for the day/ week (commuting to work or touring), carry the minimum amount of valuables, then split the rest up. Why have everything in one wallet? Leave one or two credit cards in your wallet, maybe out of date ones, they're not going to check the date and hand it back to you- "sorry Sir, this cards' out of date" or keep an in date credit card that's invalid (sometimes a new card will overlap the date of the old one, or keep a cancelled card). Leave some cash in there too. Secrete live credit cards in your pockets or hidden on your body, or sew some credit card pockets into your base layers. The same with your physical cash, hide the rest elsewhere on a leg wallet, money belt (in a plastic sleeve so that sweat doesn't get to it). Emergency cash- drill a 6mm hole inside the back of your helmet in the polystyrene, as deep as the width of a note (yes, it can compromise the integrity of the helmet, but not that much on the back), you can roll up a large note and insert into your helmet, seal it from sweat with 'blu tac'.

Muggers favor men as their targets as they're less likely to scream. Make a judgement call before the event happens- do scream, do yell, carry a personal safety alarm that you can quickly activate, or put a small remote control alarm on your bike (you could even operate it, if they take your bike), make enough noise and your potential attackers might just give up and someone may come to your assistance. Typically, robbers only want your cash, valuables, and your bike, hurting you takes more time and escalates the crime, inviting a higher investigation from the Police, the robber doesn't want this. Once they're in your personal zone and it's imminent you're about to be robbed, don't be cocky and don't be submissive (or they'll treat you that way), keep your head and give them what they want, things can be replaced, you can't. Don't yell when the attackers have already surrounded you, unless you can see someone who may help. It's tempting (I know), but don't verbally threaten the muggers whilst they are around you. Never escalate the situation with physical violence unless it's absolutely necessary (or you're Bruce Lee's relative). The only time violence is justified, is if you feel your life is in danger and you can't escape the situation. In that case, fight back with everything you've got.

Consider getting a rear-view mirror that'll enable you to see what's coming up behind you well in advance. Here is a dirty tip (I never used in a race). If one or two people on a motorbike/ scooter/ cycle suddenly appears out of nowhere and is now riding alongside you. If you feel threatened and in fear of your life, you can use reasonable and proportional force, and you don't need to wait until they knock you off. Think quick, and look for an escape route first. Now, you maybe interested to know- all motorbikes/ mopeds/ scooters and most bicycles have their front brake on the right. On a motorcycle/ moped/ scooter hit or squeeze their front brake hard, they will stop dead and probably go over the handlebars, hitting or squeezing a bicycle front brake will take that bike backwards (if the bike has disc brakes the riders will fall off). Hitting or squeezing the back brake on a cycle or motorcycle/ moped/ scooter will have a lesser effect, but might be enough time to get you away. Another dirty tactic is to diagonally hit the end of the handlebars on one side or grab the end of the bars and push forward, this can be done from either side of the bike. On a bicycle it will turn the front wheel sideways, the rider will fall off, on a motorbike it will have a limited effect, but will still work. It actually takes practise to do these maneuvers without falling off yourself, and there is a caution here, the perpetrators will become angry and could give chase. So it's a call you have to make, escape route first, then act.

What is the usual times of muggings?

Ghouls and ghosts come out after dark, muggers are not restricted to a timetable, but some of their day is predictable using Police statistics. It is unlikely these people doing the crimes are in a job (iii). In the early morning light, there's too many people rushing to their workplaces, lots of people mean loads of potential identifiers or witnesses. So muggers stay in bed in the morning (iv). They get up around nine or ten (v), they may be around at dinnertime, but their mates may have had a late night so they don't form a mugging group until afternoon.

Typical Police shift change over is at 0700-1700 and, 1400-0000 (varies across constabularies), the criminals know this and expect a slower response around changeover. Find out the changeover times where you're going. The street urchins will usually get hungry around teatime (so they go back home for food- they typicaly won't travel far, this ties in with an areas crime statistics), early evening is reserved for socialising and anything after six (until they get sleepy) is 'mugging time'. Optimum times for street robbery begin around 1300 peaking at midnight. Bizarrely, the day people are most likely to be mugged is Friday, because thieves assume you got paid that day, even though most people get paid straight into their bank these days.

The main seasonal aspect to street robberies and assaults is the weather, nobody wants to sit on a bench in the cold pouring rain, so in bad weather they will gather in a subway or an underpass or a covered shoppng precinct. Avoid riding through any group or crowd, especially if it's somewhere that's not overlooked. In good weather it seems 'Mad dogs and Englishmen' are not the only ones to 'go out in the midday sun', criminal groups spend much more time on the street when the weather is warm. In high risk areas you may wish to exploit this fact in warmer weather, take the safer road route even if longer. Keep in mind of special events in the area (such as summer concerts), criminal activity at these times often increases because there are more targets to choose from.

Current hotpots (2020)

The 'Men in Black' had the right idea using the tabloid 'hot sheets' for information, fortunately all the newspaper articles are now online, so searching for the subject matter is easier to find. Use search words like- 'Bike jacking', 'cycle path mugging', 'anti social behaviour' and don’t forget to add the area or cycle path you’re going to ride on. Current blighted areas include the Grand Union canal which runs through London, the Worcester and Birmingham Canal tow paths (near Birmingham though), the Calder & Hebbie Navigation canal towpath between Horbury and Dewsbury and on the River Avon Path, which runs from Pill to Ashton via the Avon Gorge. Here is Ramblingfatman's own spoof Newpaper- the Newlyd post, the articles are real and the dates of the stories are in recent years.


Newlyd Post
Newlyd post Newspaper, MA           Thursday- August- 4th -2020
Dozens of cyclists mugged on one stretch of London cycle route

by PETER STUART 25 Oct 2019Cyclist investigates claims that thieves target cyclists on London's cycling network, and talks to a victim of mugging on a cycle route

Cycle paths in East London, including some routes linked to or within TfL's Quietway scheme, may be putting cyclists' personal safety at risk as thieves exploit the secluded nature of cycling routes away from major roads.

One bike shop manager claims that a single stretch of the Greenway cycle path that travels between Stratford and Beckton, part of which forms TfL's Quietway 22 cycle path, has been the site of 22 muggings within a period of several months.!

'In the last seven months we know of 22 people who have had their bikes taken from them on the Greenway,' explained Richard Betts from Plaidstow-based bike shop Little Biker Boyz.

Cyclists are saying the Greenway is a no-go area. The sign reads- Armed Attackers Are Targeting Cyclists On The Greenway, Be Extra Vigilant. Robbing Cyclists At Knifepoint. Met Police and Newham Are Aware. July 2018.

He described groups of four or more young men often perpetrating the attacks, using anything from baseball bats to knives. He also suggested they use broken glass to effectively immobilise cyclists with a punctured tyre.

Izzy, a 24-year-old London-based marketer (who did not wish to publish her surname), describes how she was ambushed by eight men on the Greenway, near to the Olympic Park, in the early afternoon.

'I was cycling home from swimming when I ambushed by eight men on a cycle path behind the Olympic Stadium,' she recalled to Cyclist. 'It was broad daylight, and it seemed obvious to me they had planned to steal my bike. They threw me off my bike and stole my bag, but luckily I managed to keep my phone and run away from them.' (Stuart. 2019)

Cyclist mugged on the Fallowfield Loop

By Alexandra Rucki 7th MAY 2019

Pip Moss was left with a fractured elbow following the traumatic incident

A cyclist was knocked off his bike with a tree branch, viciously attacked and mugged on the Fallowfield Loop.

Phil showing his injuries after the attack.

Pip Moss, of Stretford, was cycling home from work when he saw a group of teenagers ahead on the pathway near to Yew Tree Road, in Fallowfield. The 28-year-old continued to cycle the route home, but as he passed one of the boys swung a tree branch towards him. It struck Pip on the side of his head and he was flung from his bike. As he lay on the ground the yobs continued their attack and several of them kicked him in the head. Eventually they walked away with Pip's bicycle, mobile phone, keys and debit card. (Rucki. 2019)

Birmingham canal muggers preying on cyclists

by Stuart Clarke October 2015John Ainsworth became the victim of an attack on a Birmingham canal path claims muggers are targeting cyclists after having his nose broken by youths trying to take his bike.

"The lads who attacked me had a particular technique," Mr Ainsworth said.

It involves two youths, one standing either side of the path where the canal is, to make you cycle between them. Then one guy runs from the side and pushes you hard into the canal. Another guy then tries to run off with the bike. Others hide close by. (Clarke. 2015)

Police pledge action after more attacks on cyclists on Bristol-Bath cycle path

"This anti-social behaviour is completely unacceptable"

Written by Tristan Cork SEPT 2018

Police have pledged to increase patrols on the Bristol to Bath Railway Path after another evening of 'unacceptable' violence and intimidation on the cycle path. At least two more attacks have been reported on Thursday evening, including one in which a woman was kicked off her bike in an attempted robbery, and a man was punched in the ribs. The incidents have even led to calls from some cyclists for volunteers to mount their own patrols of cyclists to provide security on the railway path.

Earlier this week, a man told Bristol Live how a gang of youths in Fishponds attacked cyclists commuting home in the evening on the cycle path. Peter Finney told how he was struck by a broken glass bottle thrown at point blank range by one teenagers in a hoodie, as a gang waited to attack cyclists pedalling through the section near Morrison's.

One woman commuter said she was kicked off her bike in the Easton/Greenbank area. She said her shouts for help were heard by another cyclist who stopped the gang. (Cork. 2018)

We're About 100 Years Away From a Real RoboCop
Robocop
"Let the woman go, you are under arrest. Your Move Creep."

We need a RoboCop. 'Sure, there are some morally and ethically questionable aspects of an unstoppable privatized security bot, but the armor and cyborgian capabilities are pretty freaking awesome. Whether it's in Paul Verhoeven's 1987 original or José Padilha's remake out today, RoboCop is simply as badass as it gets.' (Watercutter, A. Et al. 2014.)



You have suffered an emotional shock, I will notify a crisis centre

That's what RoboCop says to a lady after she has been assaulted, the robotic voice offers a 'matter of fact' tone with as much empathy as a telephone answering machine. It may seem our Police act in the same way and a lot of cyclists feel the police do not take their complaints seriously and just quote a procedural statement. My research has indicated some Police regions have responded with apathetic reactions and that feels like 'rubbing salt in the wounds'. It's a sad sign of the times, but the Police operate on results, by responding to a single mugging (where a person is physically unharmed) it's doubtful it will produce anything but waste their time (though they will publicly contradict this) as the culprits would have fled the scene. In a utopian world, muggings wouldn't happen, but it isn't and they do. Police simply haven't got the resources to respond to everything and I realise that's not the way it should be, and not the way you see it, and that that doesn't make you feel better. Criminals repeat their crimes until caught, with more logged incidents in the same area, Police can set up a sting which should produce results. So, please report all incidents, even if you're unharmed and got away, the Police will log the incident. Your next cycling comrade mightn't be so lucky.

Insure, track and smile (a bit later on)

This bike went for one Pound on eBay

Don't be a money tree. The biggest factor in influencing the choice of a victim, is how expensive the bike looks. A daily commute through a dodgy area on an expensive bike is going to invite a debate at the very least. Use a crap one (hover or click image), it can still be in good condition, fully serviceable, without buckles or bends and still be a pleasure to ride. If you do use a cheap bike, it's disposable and you won't need theft insurance. Many cycle tourists will even spray paint an expensive frame to make it look unattractive and tatty. You might believe 'Victim blaming' is not right (vi), but the advice could save you the anguish of having a really bad day.

On the subject of insurance, I'm not a lover. They totally rely on a 'what if' scenario, playing on peoples fear of loss, but (and it is a but) if you can't bear the loss of your bike, then insure it. What you insure it for is up to you, but that will change according to your needs (you may need medical cover, travel insurance). I've toured now for several years (mostly this country but some abroad and I'm well travelled all over the world) and haven't been mugged or lost much from theft, that's not boasting, it's just justification for the next statement. I now have four bikes, the annual insurance for all of my bikes cost more than buying a really good second hand bike every year, over the years tot that up and I have saved a fortune by not insuring, so is bike theft insurance worth it?

You could buy a tracker (have a look on our Gadget page), if shit does happen, you don't have to act on it straight away, gather your thoughts, get help, have some tea. Then activate the tracker and smile as the police home in on your bike. Of course if they steel your phone as well, the cherry on the cake is when you've got a 'Find My Phone App' as well. You'll need the website and access codes to track your bike/ phone (keep these inside your helmet- some helmets have a secret compartment specifically for this and who's going to take a sweaty helmet off you anyway). Then, watch the police intercept the phone and your bike. Imagine the people who took your out-of-date/ invalid credit card trying to buy stuff in a supermarket, you know the card will be rejected, and the chances are when they use it, they’ll be on CCTV too, that should give you a little chuckle.

Things will get better

Right now, we're heading for a storm, but it will change for the better. There's still only a tiny chance of being a victim of bike jacking and it's not going to stop me cycling, I'll just be more selective where I ride for the time being. Police resources are set to increase, the economy will recuperate and cycling will play a big part in that. As governments are now being forced to rethink how they approach urban travel, our Government want to promote cycling as part of the post Covid19 recovery process, but they have to play their part. Making safer cycleways with more police (or civy) patrol's, more CCTV and well lit cycle paths at night. Better conviction rates are needed and Cyclists should not feel that the police do not take their complaints seriously.

References:

  • (i)    The impartial and unbiased bit- I'm not suggesting that this happens with all traveller camps.
  • (ii)   This is where the politically correct police get involved; Though the average age of convicted street robbers is 18½, not all groups of male youths wearing hoodies are muggers, but they must be really hot in the summer with a hood up. Anyway, I don't care, what matters is staying safe.
  • (iii)   This is where the politically correct police get involved again; Two thirds of convicted street robbers were unemployed at the time of arrest, though not all unemployed people commit crimes, but you know what again? Same answer- I don't care, what matters is staying safe.
  • (iv)   You know what? I don't care, what matters is staying safe.
  • (v)    Don't care. It's hardly controversial saying gangs commit crimes.
  • (vi)   Talk to the cat.
  • Barker. m., Geraghty. J., Webbtom. B., 1993. The prevention of Street Robbery [online] Police Research Group. Available at: http://library.college.police.uk/docs/hopolicers/fcpu44.pdf [Accessed 25 July 2020].
  • Watercutter, A., Yael Grauer, W., Barrett, B., Pearson, S., Gilbertson, S., Dasgupta, S., Strampe, L. and Staff, W., 2014. We're About 100 Years Away From A Real Robocop. [online] WIRED. Available at: https://www.wired.com/2014/02/robocop-science [Accessed 25 July 2020].
  • Stuart. P., 2019. Dozens of cyclists mugged on one stretch of London cycle route [online] Cyclist. Available at:https://www.cyclist.co.uk/news/7277/dozens-of-cyclists-mugged-on-one-stretch-of-london-cycle-route [Accessed 25 July 2020].
  • Rucki, A., 2019. Cyclist knocked off bike with tree branch and mugged by group of teens on the Fallowfield Loop. [online] Manchester Evening News. Available at: https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/fallowfield-loop-attack-tree-branch-16203069 [Accessed 25 July 2020].
  • Clarke. S., 2015. Birmingham canal muggers preying on cyclists. [online] Cycling Weekly. Available at: https://www.cyclingweekly.com/news/latest-news/birmingham-canal-muggers-preying-on-cyclists-says-victim-of-yardley-attack-194684 [Accessed 25 July 2020].
  • Cork. T., 2018. Police pledge action after more attacks on cyclists. [online] Bristol post. Available at: https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/news/bristol-news/police-bristol-bath-cycle-path-2028698 [Accessed 25 July 2020].


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