Bike theft surge: Angle grinders, muggings and break-ins

Despite lockdowns, bicycles are being stolen at greater rate as more people take to cycling

Some bike theft victims  suspect their cases were never really investigated despite making reports to the Garda. A number of Garda sources accepted many cases were low priority because of other workloads. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Some bike theft victims suspect their cases were never really investigated despite making reports to the Garda. A number of Garda sources accepted many cases were low priority because of other workloads. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

When a thief moved in to steal an expensive Scott carbon fibre racing bike from Gary Cardiff, a human resources executive and mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, it didn’t end well for him.

Cardiff (37) was cycling from his home in Dublin’s Inchicore out to Howth Head one day when he realised en route he had forgotten his pump and so he ventured into an East Wall supermarket to buy one.

As he was training at the time he had no lock, so he brought his bike up the escalator and right into the supermarket. He then “gave the security guard a nod” before placing the bike behind the checkout in the hope it would be safe there. It wasn’t.

“I walked down the aisle, without taking my eye off the bike the whole time, and then I saw this guy walk over, pick it up and walk out the door with it,” he says. “I had to make a break for it after him. He was already on the street by the time I got out to him.

“I’m running in cycling shoes with cleats [rigid shoe plates] on,” he said. “I caught him and I swung to grab him and I ended up punching him. I was then able to hold him down; wrapped his arm up and put my knee across in his neck,” he said of his skills honed in the MMA octagon coming into their own on the street.

“When I had him pinned, just to hold him there rather than hurt him, I was able to use my other hand to ring the guards.” Gardaí arrested the man on the spot. A conviction followed and the culprit was eventually fined €300, spending two days in prison when he did not pay the fine.

Other bike theft victims have less successful stories to tell as robberies rise in tandem with a rise in spending on cycling in Ireland.

Bike-to-work scheme

In the five years to 2008, about 3,000 bike thefts were reported to the Garda each year. Then the government introduced the bike-to-work scheme, which offered a tax break on spending of up to €1,000 – now increased to €1,250 – for the purchase of bikes and equipment. The scheme resulted in a boom in bike sales – especially expensive bikes – and thefts then doubled, to 6,000 per year by 2013. Between 2014 and 2019, bike thefts were within a range of between 5,200 and 6,000 per year.

New figures obtained by The Irish Times show bike thefts increased by 7 per cent in the first nine months of 2020 despite the Republic practically shutting down due to Covid-19 and every other property-related crime plummeting.

The trends in 2020 were erratic – bike thefts falling by 15 per cent at the start of lockdown and surging later once bike sales and cycling participation rates increased.

Gary Cardiff who stopped a man stealing his bike: “I saw this guy walk over, pick it up and walk out the door with it.” Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Gary Cardiff who stopped a man stealing his bike: “I saw this guy walk over, pick it up and walk out the door with it.” Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

An Ipso MRBI poll conducted between February and May last year showed the number of people out cycling rose by 51 per cent to 510,000. Research carried out by AIB showed bike sales increased by 49 per cent last May and by 70 per cent in June. Around the same time, bike thefts also boomed – jumping by 46 per cent in Dublin last June and increasing by 40 per cent nationally.

Dublin Cycling Campaign research has shown only one in four bike thefts are reported to the Garda, meaning the real number of bikes stolen each year is at least 20,000. The campaign’s research has also shown 1 per cent of thefts result in a conviction, that one in six victims never replace a stolen bike and that three-quarters of all bike thefts nationally are in Dublin.

The Irish Times spoke to a number of victims this week who told of how their bikes – often worth thousands – were stolen from garden sheds, garages or inside their homes. Others were taken while locked on the street, with one man describing how he had a bike stolen from the back of his car as he ran into a charity shop to donate items. One victim reported being stopped by a group of teenagers and being beaten and mugged for his bike.

Drumcondra ebike

Another person said their mountain bike, worth €3,500, had been stolen outside a Dublin train station, adding both suspects were caught and that one was aged just 12 years. “Based on the Garda investigation, the older thief took the bike straight onto the train, with their working assumption being he sold it that day,” the victim said.

One woman reported how her 14-year-old nephew had his ebike stolen from him recently in Drumcondra, north Dublin. “It was very upsetting, some older teenagers just followed him and took it,” she said.

Another person said their bike had been stolen from the car park in their apartment complex, despite it being behind security gates and covered by CCTV. “The gardaí said it’d take too long to review the footage. I wasn’t sure what day in a one-week period it was taken, so they didn’t follow up on it.”

Some victims strongly suspected their cases were never really investigated despite making reports to the Garda. A number of Garda sources who spoke to The Irish Times said thefts were investigated but accepted many cases were low priority because of other workloads. Others said high-value thefts of several bikes during the same crime – such as a burglary – or a spate of bike thefts in the same area would likely get more attention.

There is also some evidence bikes were being stolen and exported in very large quantities in containers. However, gardaí believe the crime of bike theft is mainly domestic in nature and that it is often a gateway offence for boys, with very young children often used to spot expensive bikes and then older boys being called in with angle grinders to cut locks.

Stolen bikes are increasingly being sold on Facebook Marketplace and similar online sites, sometimes for a fraction of what they are worth, both gardaí and victims say.

Another man said a group of boys used an angle grinder to break his lock and steal his €1,500 ebike parked close to a Luas stop on O’Connell Street, with a tourist taking a video of the crime on her phone and showing it to him when he arrived back in the area minutes later.

“It took them less than 40 seconds,” he said of the youth gang. “I was shocked it was able to happen on O’Connell Street during the day like that; in the middle of that street in the capital city with an angle grinder . . . I don’t know many cities in Europe where you could use an angle grinder like that on the main street at 4 o’clock in the day. It’s really ridiculous.”