How are motorbikes stolen?
There’s an old police adage, ‘If you want to catch a thief you’ve got to think like one.’
It stands to reason that the same idea must apply to preventing a theft in the first place. So it would be good to know how they operate.
But, frankly, being the law-abiding citizens that we are we couldn’t be expected to think along as extreme a line as this story we heard from a contact in the insurance industry: “I took a claim call a few months ago. The guy had a Yamaha 1200 XJ, not the lightest bike ever made. It was chained to a steel workbench in a locked garage, behind the guy’s Ford Mondeo ST.
While the guy was sleeping the thieves broke into the garage, cut the chain to the steel table, lifted the bike over the ST and away into the night. The bonnet, windscreen and roof of the car were trashed.”
Point 1: Bike thieves will clearly go to any lengths.
Point 2: As we aren’t bike thieves we needed to get lucky and find people prepared to talk about the dark art of motorcycle theft. We got lucky.
The cop’s view
Back in 2012 Reddit users in the US asked bikes thieves to come forward and explain how they go about their trade. In the midst of this a UK police officer gave his side of things (we’ve cut his post down a bit to keep it readable):
“The most popular bikes for thievery are sports bikes and those bikes which you see around more commonly. Reason being in an age of trackers, HPI checks and people knowing much more about how to be smart when they buy a new vehicle (so as not to buy a stolen one) its much simpler for the thief to break the bike up into parts and sell it for parts.
The most common way of stealing a motorcycle is by lifting it off of the ground and loading into a van. Quick, easy, quiet, once the bike is in the van it’s invisible, riding it comes with a greater risk of being caught. Plus you don’t even need to know how to ride it. No need to override the ignition. It couldn’t be simpler. We have seen them in the past put a scaffold tube under the front forks and under the back of the bike near the shock and lift it between 4 of them. Even a big sports bike at 200kg is only 50 kg each. For this reason, your first priority must be to stop it getting off the ground. Only a good chain, lock and ground anchor will stop this. Ideally, you need something which is hardened and 16mm diameter plus. Otherwise, they may well be able to cut it with bolt cutters.
A good lock is one which is hard to pick and very hard wearing. We don’t see many picking attacks at all, in fact, I don’t think I ever have but for peace of mind I use an Abloy on my bike. Another good tip, always lock it off tight, don’t leave a lot of loose chain on the floor. If you do then the chain is vulnerable to freeze and sledgehammer attacks.
Another great thing, disc lock alarms. I’ve got two, one on each wheel. If the bike starts moving they go off and make a right ruckus, just what the thieves hate. Also, things like Alphadot, SmartWater, with visible stickers are deterrents too.
Ideally, garage your bike. If it’s on a driveway then get one of those PIR security lights. When you’re away from home, use the disc locks, a 16mm+ chain is heavy and a pain to lug around, but do if you can.
Park where there is going to be a lot of pedestrian footfall so that people will see if someone is trying to steal your bike. Thieves hate witnesses!
Ideally keep your chain off the floor, as high up as possible. This helps to make it hard to use the floor as a lever for bolt cutters. Ideally not through a wheel. A wheel is easy to remove. Its great having a really secure wheel but like I say a lot of the time they get sold as spares so through the frame is great. You can’t do that with my bike so I’ve put it through the gap between the engine block and the down pipes then through the front forks which is either going to be quite time consuming (likely set the disc lock alarms off) or very noisy. Lock the chain off tight. What I mean by that is it shouldn’t have much slack between the bike and floor at all. You may have to make a cut in the chain sleeve in order to be able to do this. But it’s really worth it. If the chain is loose on the floor it’s much more vulnerable to sledge hammer attacks, freeze attacks, wedge attacks and bolt cutters.
The biggest deterrent is a secure motorcycle. Reason being there are lot of insecure ones out there and they will go for the low hanging fruit every time.”
We should point out the officer’s post was written before the recent increase in the use of battery-powered portable angle grinders.
The thief’s view
The cop’s response appeared in the same thread as a post from a retired but self-confessed US motorbike thief and fence, who responded to the original post under the handle ‘tremendousguilt.’ Again, we’ve shortened the post to get to the insight quicker:
“Never, ever, never never never, NEVER leave your bike outside at an apartment complex. Especially one with a gated parking garage. The gated parking garage in a mid to high rise apartment building in the nice part of a large city is the number one place for bike thieves to go “shopping.”
Chain/locks need to go through something like a braced swingarm whenever possible. If you absolutely have to put it through a wheel put it through the rear wheel. It takes much longer to swap than the front wheel. Any $100 disc lock will work well, again, rear wheel, locks on the front are more easily defeated, take my word for it. Cheaper disc locks can be quietly, well, we’ll leave it at that, cheap ones can be defeated in silence.
Lo-jack [Ed: a tracker] and Lo-Jack w/early warning are pretty good at recovering the bikes from amateurs and semi-pros, but someone who knows what they are doing will remove the lojack system quickly after clearing the area. Still someone even more professional (surprisingly rare) will have somewhere to check/store/breakdown the bike that is rf shielded. The problem with lo-jack is that it doesn’t keep someone from stealing the bike. Even if you get it back in one piece without the police crashing into your bike to catch the thief you’ll still likely have a broken upper triple, damage to the neck of your frame (Steering lock), damage to your ignition, damage to the tank lock, possible damage to the tank itself (rareish) possible damage to the trunk lock , and then your insurance company might fuck you too. It’s much better to not get the bike stolen in the first place. So in addition to lo-jack you want some sort of VISIBLE passive devices to make the thief move on. The paging alarms are somewhat effective, but they aren’t linked to the police. Removing electronic devices is obviously more of a mental challenge than a physical one. The quality of the install is a huge factor here. Hide the lo-jack or alarm in or under the airbox and all the wiring within the factory looms and you’ll have a good set up. However, almost NO dealer tech is this thorough. It’s not his bike, why would he go the extra mile?
I’ve known very very few stone cold guys that can sit there for an hour working on a bike. Most people will give it a few seconds, maybe a couple minutes, and if they can’t get it they are gone. What is only seconds feels like an eternity when your freedom and life are on the line. Quality disc lock on the rear wheel, quality chain and lock, lockable bike cover and theft coverage on your insurance.
Personally, I didn’t like spending a lot of time at a bike and most guys don’t, but there is that oddball guy with nerves of steel that doesn’t care. Multiple quality devices will stop most thieves or at least get them to go to an easier target. I used to pay $100 for tips on locations and there were always multiple bikes available.”
He also goes on to say he has a pretty low opinion of trackers, mainly because of the expense. But his simplest advice doesn’t cost a penny. “If you park outside of an apartment and your bike gets stolen, rent a fucking garage or self-storage unit near by to use as a garage. The thief is just going to wait a couple weeks for insurance to replace your bike and come back to check. If someone tries and fails to get your bike the same thing applies. Move it, they WILL be back.”
This guy is clearly no dumb thief, so he worked his way quickly up the chain to become a fence, buying stolen bikes and moving them on by ‘parting them’ for a huge profit. “I was very cautious who I bought from. I was more interested in dealing with the most professional thieves I could find or trying to turn decent ones into professionals. I knew others that weren’t as concerned and bought just about anything from anyone.
Depending on a few factors I generally paid between 1k-1500/bike. From there you can do two things, buy a wrecked bike at auction and use the hot bike as a parts donor, part the rest. Or you can part the bike out from the beginning. This can be done through some B2B channels, through a storefront, or through eBay. Excluding any business overhead, solely based on what you paid for the bike, there is at least a 200-300% mark-up. More if you’re willing to sell the motor kit, but I never did. I parted the motors out too. There was plenty of profit already and motors are traceable. No sense in being overly greedy. I mostly did supersports, but I was open to just about anything, there is a market for it all.
The insurance insider’s view
The same insurance contact who told us about the Mondeo being trashed just to get away with an XJ also gave us an insight into how the UK bike theft industry works. “Most bikes are stripped down for parts – you’ll never see the complete bike again as individual parts because, unless they have been marked, they are far harder to trace [Ed: Datatag claim that bikes are 90% less likely to be stolen once they have clearly been marked as tagged].
I’ve heard that bikes are stripped down inside trucks on their way to Channel ports, with the parts often taken abroad and then re-imported under false documentation.”
It’s an interesting and plausible view, although surely there would be mountains of abandoned bike frames and engine casings along the M20, A14 and M180 if that were the case?
Get yourself sorted:
More on bike theft:
Stolen motorbikes are being sold openly on Facebook
How to protect your