This is the only way motorcycle theft will be significantly reduced

Motorcycle theft affects us all (in insurance premiums). The police are currently restricted by poorly thought-through policy. Aftermarket security isn’t always practical and is very easily defeated. Only one initiative can actually do something to reduce bike crime in any meaningful way. 

One-third of people who have a motorcycle stolen never get on a bike again. We’ll come back to that, but it’s worth knowing this from the off.

As you’ll have read elsewhere on Biker & Bike, theft in cities like London, Liverpool and Bristol has reached epidemic levels, with bikers literally being pushed off their bikes in the street by opportunistic thugs wielding hammers, knives and bottles full of acid.

Why are so many bikes being stolen? Here’s the stock answer: It’s because of angle grinders that can cut through even 19mm case-hardened chains in under 40 seconds* and a police policy of not allowing a pursuit of bike thieves in all but a very few, very limited circumstances, so opportunistic thieves act with impunity.

But that’s not why so many bikes are being stolen.

The real reason is that bikes are being made easy to steal. Motorcycle manufacturers have made security a very low priority. And if the situation continues, we’ll know they are doing it deliberately.

Theft is good for the industry

There. We said it. The dirty great big secret in biking is that motorcycle theft is actually good for business.

Even allowing for the fact that up to one-third of owners abandon biking after a theft, the remaining two-thirds take the insurance payout and get another bike. Is it too crude to suggest this is good business for the manufacturer? They have just sold two bikes to the same person much sooner than the natural replacement cycle.

It’s not just the bike brands who win from bike theft. So do the insurers.

Remember, every time they have the opportunity to put up premiums due to rising bike crime, their profit margin rises with the premium. Even though they take a hit on the payouts, the rise in general premiums more than makes up for it.

Why else do you think huge brands like GoCompare are taking a sudden interest in motorcycle insurance, even though it is supposedly more high risk? They are even advertising it on expensive television adverts, FFS.

The only risk they are taking is stretching premium hikes too far, and then the motorcycling industry collapses.

If you take away the opportunity, you take away the crime

Bikes are stolen because they are so easy to steal and apart from the efforts of a few security product brands, there is little-to-no effort made to recover bikes once they have been stolen.

So, once a bike has been nicked, the chances of the thieves themselves being collared are remote to non-existent. It’s become such a low-risk business that even Alan Sugar must be tempted to invest in it.

When you follow this train of thought through to its natural conclusion, the only solution is to make the valuables worthless and literally too hot to handle.

How many scrotes, two-up on scooters, would be prepared to attack a biker if they knew the bike they were attempting to steal was not only unsellable even in Eastern Europe but individual parts could be traced to a precise lock-up location? Exactly.

The Government knows it

It’s not just us who think this way. The Government Home Office released a 138-page report called Reducing Criminal Opportunity: Vehicle Security and Vehicle Crime, and in it said there is a “case for manufacturers and others to be thinking carefully” about the wave of vehicle crime to “ensure they stay ahead of the technological curve”.

The report urged manufacturers to develop better security for motorbikes due to a significant increase in motorcycle theft. “Whereas car thefts in 2014 were down by 15 percent compared with 2012, motorbike thefts had increased by 44 percent (around 2,900 extra offences)”. So the manufacturers know they have a role to play in reducing bike crime. No less than the Home Office has told them so.

The question is, will they?

What follows is all possible today

So what proof do we have that the manufacturers are, if not the cause of the escalation in motorcycle theft, at least responsible for not acting to resolve it?

If you are one of the 70% of people who read Biker & Bike on a smartphone, you are holding the proof.

The technology exists within your phone to not only track its location during a theft but also to disable it completely, making it useless.

Some phones require your fingerprint before they’ll work. Soon, they’ll be voice activated, like Alexa.

So if this can be done on a tiny £500-600 phone or £150 home assistant, it can be done on a £6,000 motorbike.

Of course, the software behind electronic protection can always be cracked. So there would need to be a constant updating of security algorithms to stay one step ahead of the organised criminals.

But instead of focussing on that, manufacturers instead focus on other electronics like traction control and other gizmos.

Gizmos that frankly have taken the capability of most bikes way beyond the ability of their riders, so most of these electronic aids are pretty much redundant.

We find ourselves asking why we have to spend upwards of £600-800 to inadequately protect a bike with chains and disc locks when it could be done by pressing your thumb on a sensor that would probably add just £50-60 to the bike’s cost…

Stolen mootorcycle
Why is a £40,000 motorbike so easy to steal?

Once again, the industry already knows this

If you are in the trade, you probably don’t read many Home Office reports. But you will keep a close eye on British Dealer News. And it has woken up to the motorcycle theft situation.

Back in January 2017, BDN started quoting from Biker & Bike articles, talking about the situation with bike thefts and the protests that happened at the tail end of the previous year.

Taking up the theme, the trade magazine’s then resident columnist, Danny DeFazio, made some very good points about the security measures manufacturers could build into bikes.

“You want to stop ride-away thefts?“ he wrote, “OK, lock the gearboxes (ie, break the lock, wreck the bike). You want to stop bike-jacking? Then hard-wire fail-safe systems into the ignition (with coded switchgear overrides). Or program switchable GPS routes into the ignition so that the bike knows when it’s being taken for a ride. Or develop on-board unusual behaviour detectors. Or fit twin trackers to every new bike as standard. or deploy engine interlocks. Or design-in delayed breakdown protocols. Or develop unique user key fobs. Or fit user proximity devices. Or all of the above.”

He has a point, doesn’t he?

Better security is cheaper overall

Obviously, this tech comes at a cost, but does it really? Take the significant rise in insurance premiums. I had a renewal quote recently that saw the annual premium rise more than £300, with no changes to the bike and no extra points on my licence.

(Of course, I won’t be paying that, I shopped around and managed to reduce the increase to only £40.)

But, if I couldn’t have found a better insurance deal, that £300 would really be £900 over three years of ownership. Would I pay an extra £200-400 for better security if it meant I didn’t have to pay out £900? It’s a no-brainer.

What about parts stripping?

Microdot technology like the kind used by SelectaDNA and Datatag can be deployed at the point of manufacture across practically every part on the bike.

Credit is due to the manufacturers who participate in the Master security tagging scheme. But not every manufacturer participates, so it’s not enough.

Low cost, low energy Bluetooth and RFID devices can be embedded in the most valuable parts, such as forks, petrol tanks etc. Once you make the most valuable parts worthless, you’ll soon see a radical drop off in the criminal activity that surrounds their resale.

So, are they going to do anything about it?

If you are a representative of a manufacturer reading this maybe you could make the first move and grab a significant chunk of the market by making your bikes the most secure on the market. Make them the bikes the thieves just know it’s not worth bothering with.

We can’t argue that a motorbike can be made 100% secure. It can’t. Professional bike thieves will always find some way around it.

But let’s be honest. In Liverpool, Birmingham, London, Southampton, Bristol the thieves whose identities are plastered all over social media aren’t professional bike thieves. They are the morons who can’t even work out how to make money selling drugs. That’s the level of intelligence we’re dealing with.

You think the best brains in the motorcycle industry can’t work out how to defeat them?

Only a wholesale change in the way the industry looks at bike security is going to make a significant impact on the levels of theft.

We were once told a story by a broker at a major insurance company. While a customer of theirs was asleep, thieves broke into his garage and lifted a Yamaha XJ1300 (a seriously heavy bike that was attached via a chain to a metal workbench), across a car, trashing the car in the process. They even took away the workbench and cut the chain later. that’s how determined they were to take the bike, because it was worth taking.

If the bike could have been fully disabled, its location traced even with the power off and the parts rendered unsellable due to DNA marking, the theft would have been pointless.

It’s about time manufacturers got that point.

Get yourself sorted:

Until the bike manufacturers take motorcycle theft seriously, it’s down to you to use as many deterrents as you can to deter an attempted attack in the first place.

More advice on bike security:

*Biker & Bike has been conducting significant testing of motorcycle security chains. With the exception of a 22mm case-hardened chain, every brand’s chain was defeated within 40 seconds, using a battery-powered angle grinder, of the type increasingly being used by bike thieves. We’ll be making the results of the testing available in a major report, coming soon. Sign up for our emails to guarantee you see it.

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The Author

Ian Malone

Ian Malone

Ian is the Editor and a co-founder of Biker & Bike.

He is obsessed about bikes to the point that he often starts conversations with new people by saying, "Please don't get me onto the subject of bikes. We'll be here all day."

Inevitably, the next question asked is nearly always, "What bike have you got, then?"

He's 'down' to three bikes at the moment:

'97 Triumph Daytona T595
'11 Triumph Tiger 800
'13 Triumph Speed Triple R

He's not even a huge Triumph fan, it just turns out that's how the stable is filled at the moment.

Having been on every continent except Antartica (as long as Cuba kind-of qualifies as South America) he is a big fan of travelling. However, to his deep but hopefully not eternal shame, he's only ever explored Europe on two-wheels and only started doing this a few years ago.

His main mission now is to explore as much of the world on two wheels as possible, at the same time as trying out as many new motorcycling experiences as he can and go on to inspire other bikers to do the same.