The Real World Impact of Bike Crime

We are lucky that a recent victim of bike crime offered to tell his story that highlights the issues in London today with the motorcycle crime epidemic. In his own words Georg Buchner tells the story of one theft and one near miss and the craziness that followed. It also shows how we can all work together to help find these stolen bikes bit without changes to the laws and police policies we won't be able to reverse the tide. 

From Georg Buchner, SW London:

At 46, with a 15-month-old baby and a little barking dog, I do not see myself as a cool, law defying hard biker, but more like a middle-aged man that is following his passion on two wheels.

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As many in Italy, I fell in love with motorbikes at 14 with my first Vespa, that I tuned till it literally broke in pieces. It followed a constant upgrade in ccs and power, with the firm believe that I could have been Valentino Rossi if given the chance. A two-year stint racing in the Italian Aprilia RS 250 cup and a rather unpleasant 6 months in hospital for a road accident, reminded me that I was just a normal and vulnerable rider like many others. 

When I came to London in 1999 it was just a matter of time till the bike bug would come again. Despite the weather, not great roads ( I come from the Italian alps, that is like living in Disneyland for kids), traffic everywhere and no awareness for bikers, I convinced my partner that London only makes sense with a bike. And I saw that this started to make sense to a lot of people, as more and more bikes appeared in the city.

Fast forward to 2016 and I can say that I was a happy biker that thought stroked a good balance. I had a 6-year-old TMAX that I used for the winter and every day riding, and a Ducati that I convinced my partner that with a PSP, it would actually be affordable …. I am not a lucky banker, so splashing out £16K for a bike was never possible for me.  I had heard that bike crime in London was getting worse, however, I was blessed with ignorance and just did not take notice…. Having been in London for 17 years, only once they tried to steal my triumph, but left it with a broken steering lock in the same spot.

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With my garage and disc locks always in, I thought I was secure, nothing prepared me for the next 12 months of agony.

In November 2016, living in a temporary accommodation, I woke up in the morning to find my TMAX which was parked outside the pub, with two chains, in a busy road, was gone.  When I checked the pub’s video footage, I saw that at 3am the bike was taken by three kids, I call the police and reported it stolen with the thought they would act quickly, only to understand that they came two weeks later when the video was automatically deleted.

The next morning I was behind my house and saw two guys riding a TMAX with no number plate, at a closer look I realised that it was mine, as there were the same stickers and clear markings that made it unmistakable.  I called the police and waited for 30’ before the call was answered and was given assurance that they would come out. In the meantime, I took my Ducati and followed my TMAX and saw them riding into an estate and disappeared. I called the police once again. 

Next day which was a Saturday, I rode out near the estate and saw them shifting Vespas, TMAXs and other bikes from one estate to another, I called 999 and in return I was told off by the operator that I have called 6 times and they have no time for this.  In disbelief, I followed the thieves and managed to stop a police car to let them know where the bikes have been taken to, I was told to report this to the police station, where I was told they will look into this.  Over the next few days I saw the same gang riding my TMAX at various times and realised that these kids were actually living there all the time, but had never bothered to noticethem before. I spoke with shop owners, they knew who they were and saw them going around writing up bike number plates.  In Shepherds Bush, the market stall sellers told me that they saw them every day with mine and other bikes roaming around.

I also saw them at Chiswick in local B&Q grouping up with scooters with no number plates, laughing and riding around, wheeling in broad daylight near to schools and busy places… Finally an honest police person on patrol told me the truth and suggested that I should get the insurance money and forget about my bike as there was nothing that the police could do, they have no power to stop them. Once the scrotes take off their helmets they stop chase. The police know who they are, but they are powerless.  He had personally stopped a guy with a stolen bike that was stopped 103 times before, and the guy received only 250 hours social services.  With this in mind I tried to move on with life and stop looking for them.  I still see them around and by now I have spotted various gangs around London, so I try to avoid parking in dangerous areas.

In June 2017, back at my permanent address, I parked my Ducati in front of my house with the alarm, steering lock and disk lock on and ran in for an urgent work related call to US which took 2 hours. When I finished the call, I looked outside and my Ducati had gone, in panic, I ran outside and took my car and drove around for a while to look for my bike.  When I returned I found 3 peds with scrotes behind my house (terms I only learnt the meaning of later) picking up a scooter. I had no proof, but I confronted them, they surrounded me and shouted “all is ligit” and that they knew nothing about my bike.   When they realised I was firm and would not give up, they just left…. Police arrived 2 hours later and told me there was not a lot they could do.

The next day I wrote to my fellow Kent Ducati Owners Club (Spitfires) friends about this and they started posting it on social media.

In the meantime, I contacted my insurers and told them my bike was stolen, which prompted them to reply immediately they would not cover it as the bike has to be garaged over night. I asked for clarification as they had not sent me the full policy and they promised me they would look into this.

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This was the first time I had become aware of the bike theft prevention sites on Facebook, as a fellow Spitfire friend posted my request for help.  As a result someone sent me a text the day after saying that they had found my bike. What followed was pure brilliance.  In 1 hour, I received 20 messages from bikers saying they found my bike and they were going to the location where the bike was to protect it. I called the police to let them know and I was told that they could not come and if I was able to, to resolve this situation on my own.  In disgust, I wanted the name of the operator as I was driving there with my baby, to take back a stolen bike in an estate in Isleworth rife with gangs driving around …this seemed to work as the operator sent somebody ‘immediately’ which actually took 1 hour…. The rescue was a moment of pride.  Friends and fellow bikers were there to escort me home.  Police arrived and seemed to be pleased to see what was happening, although they said they could not do a lot apart from taking my bike off the stolen register.  Everybody patted each other’s back and Facebook was a source of joy and compliments.

I called my insurers to cancel the bike theft claim and they stated that there was no claim and the the records was clear.  When I finally received the insurance documents in relation to the clause about the garage, it stated that from 11 pm until 6 am the bike has to be garaged when at home.  As the bike was stolen sometime between 10-12pm the insurers had found a loophole to not pay out, which was not a problem as I had my bike back.  

One week later I received a letter and an email stating that LV Highway insurance is questioning if I have a garage.  I called LV Highway directly and had rather an unpleasant operator whose only goal was to cancel my insurance.  First, he claimed that I do not have a garage, after photographic proof, he then stated that the garage was too small.  Just to clarify, three years ago I commissioned three builders to build a purpose made garage in my garden.  The ‘garden’ is a small patio surrounded by my house, three, two meter high walls and a metal gate with two locks for security.  The garage was built with massive wooden beams laid in the ground cement, with beams both vertically and diagonally on the walls and roof, a big lock also closes the two folding doors.  I think that it would be easier to rob my house than to steal the bikes.  It contains my Ducati with stand, two push bikes on one wall, all my garden tools on the other wall, shelves all around to keep my tools / bike stuff and I can still easily move around.

With this in mind, I could not believe that he claimed the garage was too small and he argued his underwriter told him so and there was nothing he could do.  I had no choice other than to accept it and looked into changing my insurance company.  In all my years in London I had only claimed for a non-fault incident paid out by the car owner as he rammed into me ad the theft in 2016, I was certainly not prepared for the incidents that followed.

I realised the extent of the damage caused by the insurances company’s strategies, whilst I was looking to find a new insurance and after calling them to clarify.  Outlined below are the things I had learnt:

  1. Despite LV insurance telling me there was no claim and all the details were cancelled, they had actually logged the claim as an ‘incident’ into an insurance database (MID) without my knowledge. They had stated that there was a theft of my bike and in essence and without knowing it I was making false statements and claims.  When asked about previous accidents/theft I stated that there was only one theft which occurred in 2016.
  2. The cancellation was also logged into this database.

This in fact meant that I am uninsurable.  I literally spent the first three days of my holiday with my family locked in a hotel room trying to find unsuccessfully, an insurance company that would insure my bike.  Once again a fellow biker came to my rescue and told me about an agent that was able to find impossible policies for uninsurable people for a £100 fee.  In all fairness, this agent tried her best and helped beyond duty and eventually found a third party only for £178 after looking and calling for 3 days. There were no other options.

The next thing for me was to put a tracker on the bike, but with having third party insurance only I wondered whether it still made sense to drive a bike in London.  After great deliberation I decided to write a long letter and call LV Highway insurance and the financial ombudsman to let them know how badly I was treated.  The reply I received from LV was completely ridiculous. They did not even mention that the reason they had cancelled my insurance was because of a small garage, but because they had proof that I do not have a garage and in order to prove this, they had used google earth footage.

My reply was somewhat sarcastic but firm,  I pointed out that the google earth footage they had used was taken in 2013 and that since then I had refurbished my house, and had built a garage and put in a metal garden door and if they wished to come and see for themselves.  I also copied the ombudsman in on the email in the hope that the assistant sees the nonsense of all this. The cc seemed to do wonders.  I received a call after a week from LV Highway to let me know they would re-instate my insurance, remove the cancellation and cover any costs.  Finally a small victory I thought…..

In the meantime I had joined the Facebook We Ride LondonUK Motorcycle Theft Protest and Motorcycle Crime Prevention Community groups and realised the full extent of what is happening in London.  On top of that I am now able to see for myself that these gangs are roaming around in broad daylight near my house and other neighbourhoods and am able to draw a map of West London of where they hang out, drive and what they are looking for.

I am not even surprised that in just 2 weeks after this, three scooters were riding near me at 8.30am the morning at a traffic light, wielding bats and knives, shouting at me to give them my bike.  Luckily my reaction was quick and I managed to push one scooter aside and drove off like a lunatic! I did not even waste my time to call the police this time. 

And this is me now. I swing between bipolar moods of: 

  1. Buying a baseball bat, go out and hunt down the scrotes, 
  2. Join the vigilantes and do the same
  3. Realise that I have too much to lose and just leave it, and just be paranoid every day when I ride my bike
  4. Sell the bike and just give up 30 years of passion
  5. Leave London as this is just getting ridiculous.

Every morning when I look at my beloved bike I am torn between taking it out for a ride or just leaving it in the garage and have a peaceful life.  I have already enquired as to how I can sell my bike under the PSP scheme.  I feel as though selling part of my family and am just postpone the decision to do the logic step.

Still somewhere in my brain I believe that there is a solution for this. That if the lawmakers gave back the power to the police this can be tackled. That if we all unify and find constructive ways to help the police, without trying to be the Rambos or paper lions on Facebook, by giving them our intelligence they need to prosecute, this nightmare can be solved and normal law-abiding citizen can actually go back to their normal biking life.  I just cannot believe that despite the gangs being so brazen and openly defying the law, nobody does anything, when it would be so easy to catch them.  We all know who they are, where they roam and their tales on Instagram.

I look at my bike and wonder why bike manufacturers have not done more.  Rather than a quick shifter, latest electronics and upside down forks, why they do not upgrade their antitheft gadgets. Something like putting trackers that cannot be taken out, electronic systems that make a bike unusable when stolen and the rear wheel not movable when parked, steering locks that actually work and ways to track down parts. 

Sometimes a bad thought creeps in…. Nobody really cares about bikers and their traumatic experiences, stolen bikes means new sales and higher insurance premiums. Even if it is a short-term win against a long term damage, it will not make anybody change if not driven by laws.

Our only hope is that the gangs start targeting other members of the public in such horrific ways (like acid attacks, jewellery theft and assaults) that the lawmakers have to react and give police the tools to stop this. 

Now, my mind wanders back in the romantic days when I was riding my Vespa with my first girlfriend around the Alps, never locking my bike and enjoying the freedom two wheels can give.  Is this not what we should all be able to enjoy in a first world country? I wonder…

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Mike Butler