How one London cyclist got his stolen bike back from eBay

It’s everyone’s worst nightmare.

You return one day to find your bike has been stolen. Then, you spot it for sale on eBay.

What do you do?

  • Confront the seller directly?
  • Just pay them?
  • Contact eBay? Contact the police?

Sometimes miraculous recoveries do happen.

This is the story of how one London cyclist, Stuart, got his bike back.

In the early hours of Thursday 11th of April, Stuart discovered that a thief had cut through two padlock straps on his bike shed. They’d managed to free the bike in the same way as three other bikes in his local area.

Stuart immediately registered his stolen bike with Bike Shepherd and then used www.findthatbike.co.uk.

Find That Bike along with Bikeshd are two websites that give you an easy way to glance through the listings on online auction websites such as eBay.

Stolen bike on eBay

The Cannondale Supersix bike was quickly spotted for sale on eBay. The distinctive wheels were easy to spot as they’d been bought to replace the standard wheels that come with the bike. This little customisation was to prove crucial in the recovery.

With the bike listing in hand, he called and emailed the Cycle Task Force.

Time was of the essence and the listing only had two days left.

When he was able to describe the non-standard parts and was able to provide receipts, the police had enough to be able to execute a search warrant on the address that they found.

Fortunately, the bike was there as expected and it was returned to Stuart almost immediately. The thief was apprehended and the police believe there’s a good chance of a prosecution.

Key takeways:

  • Register your bike
  • Non-standard features on your bike make it easier to identify
  • Always keep receipts
  • If you are in London, contact the Cycle Task Force: cycletaskforce@met.police.uk. They are often better equipped to deal with bike theft.
  • Bike sheds are not necessarily as secure as you may be lead to believe. Stuart had his bike locked in a Trimetal bike shed.

This wasn’t the first time..

This wasn’t the first time Stuart had experienced a bike theft and has managed to beat the thieves.

After a bump with a van, Stuart was hailing down a black cab on Victoria Embankment. When he turned round to pickup his bike, his damaged bike had been stolen.

Despite looking away only for a couple of minutes, that’s all it took and his bike was gone.

Three months later, Stuart is cycling along near Clapham South on his replacement bike. Unbelievably, he spots a guy riding his old bike.

His Scott Expert Hardtail mountain bike had a very distinctive paint job and graphics. When he spotted the big dent on the top tube and the replacement hand grips he’d bought, he was certain this was his bike.

He went over to the thief and ran his hand over the top tube to check for the familiar dent.

Confronting the thief, he asked what he was doing with a stolen bike and that he would be getting the police involved. After a short sharp conversation, he told the thief that he wasn’t going anywhere with his bike.

The thief ran off and Stuart got his bike back.

The story proves that if your bike is stolen, there is always hope you can get it back.

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

12 Responses to How one London cyclist got his stolen bike back from eBay

  1. Country Cousin 03/05/2013 at 8:49 am #

    Out of interest, do you know why the police think there’s only “a good chance” of prosecution?

    It would seem that the thief was caught “bang to rights”, in possession of the stolen machine. In my book no clearer evidence of guilt could be found.

    Perhaps bicycle theft is a low priority for the Law, in a similar manner to exemplary punishments for drivers who kill or maim cyclists?

    • Stephen 03/05/2013 at 9:29 am #

      I’m guessing there are a couple of things they can be prosecuted for: theft of the bike and handling of stolen goods. They may only be able to prove the latter without evidence of the thief actually stealing the bike. Even then they have to show beyond reasonable doubt that they knew the goods were stolen. That is why it’s not always easy to prosecute in these cases. Although it should be a high priority nonetheless.

      Sadly with such rampant bike crime it can be just as easy to unknowingly buy a stolen bike as to have yours stolen.

      • Country Cousin 03/05/2013 at 11:23 am #

        Stephen,

        Thanks for that information.

        Luckily, and touching wood, bike theft in my area of rustic Suffolk isn’t too much of a problem, but it’s on the increase in the large town some 12 miles distant.

        Round here, an expensive bicycle was one that cost £200, but people are now beginning to buy better machines. As in London, that seems to provide an incentive for these people to steal for resale.

        A propos buying stolen things unknowingly, I’m surprised at how many used Brooks saddles turn up on eBay!

    • Owen 04/02/2014 at 1:33 pm #

      I brought a stolen bike on eBay the police called about 4 months later, recovered the bike and returned it to its rightful owner. But they didn’t really make much of an effort at all to charge the seller with anything , so I think you’re right theft comes low in the priority list. At least the owner got the bike back , eBay and the police were no help in getting my money back though, so wasn’t entirely a great ending.

  2. bycostello 03/05/2013 at 12:57 pm #

    really pleased that the bad guys well at least one got what was coming to him

  3. pjpk 03/05/2013 at 10:32 pm #

    Photos of yourself with your bike help too, especially if you do have a unique set up you can detail. I recovered my bike a year after it was stolen – caught someone riding it. Police came down on my side (took a bit of time) as I was able to present a dossier pointing out a load of unique points.

    • Scottie 04/05/2013 at 11:07 am #

      I had my uninsured Spesh stolen from Brighton last year. I had registered it on Bike Shepherd (frame no, photo, scratchmarks etc) and had given it up (and got a new bike) when, a month later, I got a call from a guy who sheepishly admitted he had bought my bike in West London and when he tried to register it, realised it was stolen. He gave me it back, and to reward him, I gave him an old (but decent) Mongoose I used for commuting. He supplied the police with names and telephone number. I did some detective work and found these low-lifes were selling lots of high end bikes (including kids bikes) and iphones. More detective work led me to a (public) facebook site of one of the theives. Of course with all this info, the police (both Cycle Task Force and local) declined to do anything and these guys are still stealing our bikes and no doubt mugging kids for their iphones………

  4. Syra 08/05/2013 at 11:19 pm #

    My stolen bike was on eBay a day after it was stolen. It still had the second lock attached to the frame and rear wheel. The police suggested I should buy it back if I wanted it back. Cycle Task Force didn’t do anything and even though I did offer to buy it back the thief wanted to deliver it to me, as if I would want to meet him, hand over money and show him where I live.

  5. Natalie 11/05/2013 at 10:17 pm #

    My husband’s £1000 bike was stolen from our garden shed on Wednesday. We were resigned to our loss. I did an Internet search about bike theft and found your site and read the information page on what to do when you have your bike stolen. We had the serial number, the bike was less than a year old and my husband still had 6 months of cycle scheme payments to make, it wasn’t insured. I did all the steps you suggested. Unbelievably, an hour later the bike was listed locally on Gumtree with a mobile number. The urge to ring and pay the paltry £200 was nearly overwhelming. The police seemed uninterested but unbeknown to us, mounted a massive undercover operation which involved setting up a viewing of the bike and, as the serial number proved that it was nicked, arresting three men. The police then uncovered a big haul of burgled goods and many more stolen bikes. I can’t thank you enough for the great advice, I would never have bothered to look on auction sites. Also, the serial number really is your ONLY hope if you have your bike stolen. Thanks again – excellent site.

  6. 2wheelsbad 31/05/2013 at 10:44 am #

    Read an earlier article – just increases my outrage at promoting law breaking

    http://2wheelsbad.wordpress.com/

    • Matt 01/06/2013 at 12:07 pm #

      I read your article, unfortunately your biased perspective seems to deter an impartial view when reading the referenced piece. Not all cyclists are law breakers, and for those of us who respect the rules of the road it is just as annoying when somebody comes and ignores them. The article above mentions nothing in regards to promoting unlawful behaviour, yet it somehow manages to strengthen your view. May I kindly invite you to mount a bycicle and cycle in London to realise that some of the hazards are a reality we have to face day by day. Remember, it is a lot easier for a driver in a 2 ton box of steel to injure or maim somebody and blame them afterwards, because they believe the road is for motorists. I sincerely hope you will give this a chance to develop a clear view of the truth about cycling, instead of blaming all cyclists.

  7. Ed 07/06/2013 at 11:00 am #

    I have had 4 bikes stolen in the last 4 years – 3 from my garage & 1 from my flat. Unbelievably my insurance actually paid me under the house insurance on 2 of them.

    It helped that I could prove where I got the bikes and had pictures & all receipts for all the additional extras such as lights, computer, mud guards etc – as these had all been bought online.

    The first decent bike to get nicked was a Scott Sportster that had 700c wheels and really ignited my love for cycling, as opposed to wasting loads of effort on a MTB with slicks & low gear ratios.

    Ironically I bought that bike off a guy from Gumtree. Whilst he gave me all the manuals etc I didn’t get a receipt but phoned him & explained the situation and he very kindly posted me a written receipt with all his details.

    In the meantime I was without a bike – my only transport – and found another one on Gumtree – a Scott Sub 30 – but this time I had to pay £300 for it. I ensured I got a receipt when I bought this off him – but he also had the POS shop receipt.

    BTW – these bikes were both basically “as new” – doubt they’d done more than 20 miles since they bought them so it is possible to get some good legal bargains on Gumtree.

    Apart from writing down the serial nos and keeping them safe I would suggest you take some pictures of the bike, preferably inside or even better with you in those pics.

    Use a UV pen somewhere on your bike. I now draw a penis on my bikes in a secret place.

    Get some of these garage door bolts http://www.amazon.co.uk/Asec-AS1997-Garage-Door-Lock/dp/B004ULMMXI – if you have a garage. They are pretty easy to fit if you are fairly handy at DIY.

    I also have a wall anchors in my garage.

    Sheds are never really very secure. There have been cases reported locally where thieves have been using public Strava information to find out where people live. Simple fix – don’t start it right at your house!

    If you MUST leave your bike in a shed make sure the door has at least 2 secure locks & ensure that you lock the bike to something substantial IN the shed with a decent lock.

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