Cycling moves up a gear to ride high on a wave of popularity

Tue, Jun 19, 2012, 01:00

We are rediscovering in great numbers the compelling case – in terms of cost and health benefits – in favour of cycling and now you can better secure your wheels by insuring and registering them

NATIONAL BIKE Week started last Saturday.

Once again, Pricewatch thinks it is an event worth celebrating because, although the humble bike may not be particularly glamorous, it is the best way to get from A to B as long as A is not more than 10km from B in which case you might want to get the bus – or, if you must, drive.

Despite all the advantages that the bike has – it costs less, you’ll live longer, it’s faster and less stressful – only two out of every 100 Irish adults cycle every day.

By comparison every second adult in the Netherlands and Belgium can be seen on a bike every day.

Things are changing though and cycling is slowly growing in popularity thanks to a generous bike-to-work tax incentive – a legacy of the Green Party’s less than entirely successful period in government – and an excellent city bike scheme in Dublin which has captured the public imagination in a way that the most optimistic of cyclists found surprising.

Close to 200,000 bikes have now been bought under the bike-to-work scheme since it was launched at the start of 2009 and, if we assume that each of these bikes cost €500, that means there is €100 million worth of new bikes on our roads.

Or at least there would be if so many of them had not been stolen already.

While overall crime rates have fallen in recent years, bike thefts have increased by more than 50 per cent since 2008.

There is very little you can do to protect your bike and no matter how well it is locked, a determined thief can make off with it in a matter of seconds.

The Garda is already overstretched and does not have the resources to go after bike thieves in any significant way.

In 2005 then minister for justice Michael McDowell promised us a stolen-bike unit but the initiative disappeared faster than a unlocked bike on Talbot Street.

So if you do want to cycle but don’t want to gift your purchase to ne’er-do-wells, what can you do? Well, you can secure it or you can insure it.

A little under three years ago Shane Hamm set up CycleSure, a bike insurance and registration scheme.

He had been working in regular insurance and saw a gap in the market which he decided to fill.

“The idea is the same as any insurance product – the many pay for the few. We partnered with a company doing business in the UK and they had 25 years experience so they knew at what level we needed to set the premiums.”

And how much are those premiums? It depends on the bike but, generally speaking, the annual cost of a CycleSure premium is between 8 and 10 per cent of the cost of the bike.

Unlike so many household insurance schemes, the bike is covered wherever it is locked – as long as it is locked with one of a pre-approved list of brands – the quality of the lock required depends on the cost of the bike.

“We can’t actually prove that you were using the lock at the time the bike was stolen but we do need proof that you actually owned the lock,” Hamm says.

“We try and tailor our insurance for different types of cyclists. A person who uses a bike for commuting will typically want cover against theft but a club cyclist may only want cover against damage so we offer them a 20 per cent discount.”

While the Garda cannot be expected to go after the person who stole your bike with the same vigour as they would more serious criminals, they do recover many stolen bikes.

The problem is most will never be reunited with their owners because there is no way to tell who that owner is.

There is no central register and even if there was most people wouldn’t have a rashers what the serial number of their bicycle frame is. Do you know? Pricewatch doesn’t.

Hamm has an answer to this too. He has set up a bike registration scheme and, for a one-off charge of €5, you get a pack which could help you track your bike in the event that it is stolen.

There are obvious stickers you can stick on the frame which are supposed to act as a deterrent to theft and other hidden elements which make it easier to identify and recover a stolen bike.

Even if the security labels are removed by a determined thief, a unique code and a freephone number of the International Security Register (ISR) remain visible under UV light.

The what? The ISR is a secure database that has more than 14 million cars and bikes registered.

You permanently and visibly mark the bike with a unique code and a freephone number. Once marked and registered, a bike can be verified by the ISR.

The verification service is available to the police, insurers and even the general public but only the police are able to obtain personal information.

“There is no official bike registration scheme in Ireland,” Hamm says.

“You can give the details to your local Garda station all right but then only they will have the details and, if the bike turns up outside their jurisdiction, then it will be impossible to locate.”

Hamm continues: “The idea is to make your bike less attractive to thieves. These guys are looking for a nice easy job. At present if the Garda catches a guy with a van full of bikes it is very hard to prove that they were stolen. This system makes it that little bit easier so it can act as a deterrent and it is a very low-cost way of doing it which has worked in other countries.”

What though is to stop people taking advantage and faking a bike theft in order to claim against theft?

Hamm says: “Well, you have to be able to prove ownership of the bike and a certain type of lock and you will need to report it to the Garda and get a reference number.

“If people are thinking of scamming the system they will have to get the Garda involved. It could be open to a certain amount of abuse.”

THE PERKS OF PEDAL POWER: REASONS TO GET BACK IN THE SADDLE

HEALTH

Cycling dramatically improves your aerobic fitness and reduces the risk of heart disease and strokes.

Your blood pressure will fall as will your stress levels and your cholesterol. According to one Danish survey, cyclists live seven years longer than non-cyclistsng ones.

PERKS

Traffic jams disappear when you get on your bike and there is no no need to worry about parking spaces when you’re a cyclist – even if the State could do more to provide secure places for people to put their bikes.

COMMUTING

Cycling is the most reliable way to commute and is consistent, so you can plan your day without worrying about getting caught up in traffic or missing your bus.

EXERCISE

Cycling every day is one of the best workouts you can have and it works more muscle groups than most sports. It’s less taxing on the joints too.

TAX BREAKS

Speaking of taxing, tax breaks available to cyclists and their employers means decent bikes cost a wholelot less.

The Bike to Work ( biketowork.ie) scheme covers bicycles and accessories up to a maximum of €1,000.

Your employer buys it and you pay for it, tax-free, over 12 months, which effectively knocks around 40 per cent off the price.

ENVIRONMENT

Emissions from cars, buses and trucks do more to damage the air quality in our urban areas than anything else.

Cycling, on the other hand, is perfectly clean.

Every kilometre you cycle instead of drive saves approximately 250g of CO22 emissions or a tonne each year.

COST/BENEFITS

A commuting bike will cost anywhere between €250 and €700.

Add the cost of the lights, €25; helmet, €35; rain gear, €100; and lock, €50; and you will spend around €600.

If your commute is just 8km each way and you usually drive, then you will save more than €400 in petrol costs alone over the course of a year.

The savings on tyres, servicing and repairs is around €300 a year.

PLAY IT SAFE: TIPS TO BEAT BIKE THEFT

IF YOU cycle an expensive bike – and by expensive we mean anything over €500 – it is a good idea to use both a D-lock and a wire lock.

Thieves need a hammer (or angle grinder) for the former and a bolt cutter for the latter. Some professional bike thieves will carry all three tools around with them but not the casual bike thief.

As a rule of thumb you should look to spend 10 per cent of the cost of the bike on your lock. Although, to be honest, most locks that cost less than €30 could be opened by a small child wielding a bolt cutters so you might want to consider spending at least €40 on your lock, no matter how much the bike cost. Whatever the price, make sure your lock is made with hardened steel. This site – url.ie/ 4rvt – offers a list of locks that have undergone testing.

Close to half of all bicycles are stolen from the owner’s home so don’t make it easier for them by leaving it locked in your front garden or unlocked in your back garden. Put it in the shed or hall.

Thieves are cunning – well, some of them are – and observant and if they see a bike locked in the same place day-in, day-out, they will eventually steal it. So park it in different places three times a week.

Always lock your bike to an immovable object and make sure the object is immovable. There are few things more depressing than returning to the signpost you locked your bike to minutes earlier only to find the signpost lying on the ground beside the place where your bike should be. Trust us, we know. Also bear in mind that if your bike is locked to a post less than four metres high, a resourceful criminal will just lift it over the top.

Make sure to leave no space between the bike and the object as this will make it harder for a would-be thief to lever a lock open and also invert the keyhole so that it points down, which stops anyone pouring corrosive fluid into the locking mechanism.

BIKE THIEVES: THE TWITTER VIEW

Me, none. Crappy looking bike + decent lock = long lasting. – Andy McGeady

Had two stolen. One on Sunday @ 6:45 by a bloke in a hoody! He cut through two locks. The b****x! Only had it five weeks. – Niall Tully

Yes, three. One had a really, really good U-lock but they cut the metal frame the bike was locked to and took away the whole thing. – Sharon Gibbons

Had two stolen from inside my apartment in 2009, both had back brakes on the right so I like to think the thieves flew over the handlebars. – Cathal Melinn

One bike and one rear wheel, both occasions outside St Stephen’s Green Centre on a busy Saturday afternoon. – Kevin Fagan

When I lived in North Strand I twice left it out overnight, unlocked, with the lights on. €50 racer. No one touched it. – Mike Morris

Never. But I start and finish every cycle journey at home, only use it for wheeling around on a Sunday morning. – Natalie

Current bikes been fine for three years after figuring out secure places for locking it up. Location, location, location! – Ronan Delaney

The last bike I had stolen had a cracked frame. Hopefully the thief came a cropper somewhere. – Tim Redfern

I once accidentally left my bike unlocked on O’Connell Street for two days. Was still there when I came back. – Emma Burns

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