Bike theft in London is booming. Over 18,000 were stolen in Westminster alone in the last year, up 1,000 on the previous 12 months. Now Boris Johnson is being asked to increase the use of 'bait bikes' to trap thieves, according to the Press Association yesterday. It's something our cycling mayor knows all about: he says he's had seven taken over the last decade.
I had a bike thefted in 2005 in that hotbed of cycle larceny, Twickenham (I'm not joking - apparently it is). I came out from a convivial curry with friends to find an empty rack, and did that ten-minute wandering-in-disbelief thing. Had I locked it somewhere else? Had I come by bike at all? Did I ever have a bike in the first place? Do I actually exist, or am I someone else pretending to be me?
You feel that, at least, the removals team could leave you some sort of notification, perhaps a sticker or card on the rack, informing you the bike had been stolen, like when your car is towed away.
It had been double-locked. It was registered on immobilise.com. I reported it to the police, who were about as keen to see me again as they would an internet date whose profile photo had proved ten years old. I scoured second-hand bike shops, second-hand websites, Brick Lane. All to no avail: less then five per cent of 440,000 bikes reported stolen in Britain every year are returned to their owners.
Talk to many a lapsed cyclist and a saddening story often emerges: they used to cycle a bit until their machine was stolen, and they never got round to replacing it. (The average loss for an uninsured stolen bike is nearly £350, so it's understandable.)
Anyway, if the Met want decoy bikes for their scheme, I have a suggestion. Do a house-to-house run just after Christmas. Every other family house will have an eighty-quid thing with two wheels, bought as a present in the naive belief it was a bicycle, ridden twice, and chucked in the garage when it proved as rideable as a supermarket trolley.
It seemed a steal at the time - well, now perhaps it really can be. Bingo! Two problems solved at once!