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Why should cyclists and homeowners have to pay the price for ‘safety’ on a daily basis?

by Verity Justice-Warrior

New research says up to 70% of British cyclists have taken steps in their everyday lives to guard against bike theft. From chains and padlocks to D-locks and even removing handlebars as a precaution – the idea that the onus is on us is writ large. Part of our new “Bad things shouldn’t happen, so why should I act like they do?” season, inspired by the Guardian.

Scrolling through my Amazon recommended product list this morning, I came across a picture of a large, D-shaped piece of metal, intertwined with metal cable. It was being recommended as the perfect product for bicycle owners. The idea – according to Kryptonite Bike Locks, the company behind the D-lock and Kryptoflex Cable Lock – is that “it is a convenient, comfortable, effective way for cyclists to defend their bikes, if the unthinkable should happen when they are shopping or working”.

Convenient? That a product intended as a precaution to warn off property theft can be described as “convenient and comfortable” crystallises just how blasé we have become about the idea that constant vigilance is a routine part of a person’s reality. In 2016, it is quite normal to come across products like this. Mortis locks. Burglar alarms. Car alarms. Wallet chains. Anti-theft iPhone apps. Anything to remind me to step up, open my wallet and pay the price for “safety” as a non-thief in a thief’s world.

The idea that I need reminding to take extra precautions to try to protect myself is laughable. People do this every day, in hundreds of tiny ways. For most of us, it is automatic. When you’ve been looked at, talked to, followed, and made to feel afraid for your safety by muggers in the street literally a million times a day, responses such as crossing the street, doubling back, avoiding darker routes, clenching your fists, walking faster, and countless others, happen instinctively. It still doesn’t stop us from being harassed, assaulted and mugged.

The reality of how heavily the threat of bike theft hangs over cyclist’s daily lives was laid bare today in new data from the government that shows, shockingly, nearly 400,000 bikes are stolen the UK PER YEAR. That’s a nearly 800 MILLION bikes stolen since they were invented in 1817. Think about that. A recent poll of 1000 people revealed that over 50% of British cyclists have experienced some form of bike theft, and only just over 2% were ever recovered.

These are shocking statistics. But the looming cloud of theft doesn’t just hang over your everyday cyclist, even more dispiriting is the finding that nearly 70% of cars in Britain are fitted with alarms, and over 99% of all British houses now have doors that lock. Property theft doesn’t only impact people’s lives in the moment of an assault or an incident of bike theft. It affects us every day, influencing our behaviour, our travel plans and our peace of mind.

The poll listed 10 different strategies people use to try to avoid theft, from locking their doors or windows to installing a burglar alarm, not putting valuables on display in their parked cars, or even avoiding dark alleys late at night. A quarter of the people polled had changed their travel route and 28% had prepared to use an everyday object, such as keys or an umbrella, as a weapon in the event of a mugging.

What is worse is that society encourages people to do these things. It regularly reinforces the message that it is human’s responsibility to keep themselves safe, not thieves’ responsibility not to mug or assault them. We see it in newspaper articles that emphasise a theft victim’s lack of secure door locks, implying the attack might never have happened if only they had taken more precautions. We see it in celebrity “warnings” to young people to avoid leaving their phones and wallets unattended. Because, the assumption goes, theft is a shadowy, inevitable force out there waiting for silly people who walk into its path, not the deliberate act of an individual criminal. We see it in police campaigns that tell people to avoid “becoming a victim of theft” by doing things that are legal, instead of telling people not to become thieves by breaking the law.

This International Day for the Elimination of Stealing, we must confront the idea that it is acceptable, normal even, to live in a world where people disrupt their lives to avoid theft and violence on a daily basis. We must recognise the absurdity and horror of a person posting a review on the Amazon page for the “bike lock” that reads: “Got 2 of these after having my brand new bike stolen, (the thieves snipped through the security cable)”

Yes, I of course understand, but don’t wish to mention, that statistics on people taking precautions have no bearing on the crime rate whatsoever. I know, but will never volunteer, that encouraging precautions is NOT the same as condoning criminal behaviour. I’m educated enough to realise, but will never admit (even to myself), that the marketing of crime-prevention devices is nothing but a predictable, inevitable side-effect of a corporate-media machine (of which I am a willing and well-rewarded part) designed to turn everyone in the world into blind consumers, paralysed with fear and festering on their own petty grievances as a fenced off minority. Hating their neighbours on one side, and being terrified of them on the other.

Some people might even question my role in all this. What sort of person, you might ask, writes columns about the scary pro-theft culture we live in, and then complains when people buy anti-theft devices? You may even wonder, “Is this column ACTUALLY just a back-handed advert for the Kryptonite bike locks?” After all, I write about bike theft statistics a LOT, and now I’m describing a anti-bike theft device, telling you where it’s sold and quoting a good review.

These are the kinds of complex analyses that have no place in modern newspapers, or any purveyors of simplified, angry identity politics. It is not my job to be intellectual, it is my job to be angry, and I for one won’t stop writing hysterical, outraged blogs until the world has changed to fit my incredibly simplistic and short-sighted world view.

As a bike owner it is my demand, nay my natural and unshakeable right, to barrel along through life oblivious to the fact I may come to harm at the hands of the criminal minority. That I should have to worry about my bike being stolen is an act of oppression, and one that won’t change unless everyone shares this column on Facebook and ups this ailing publications ad revenues.

It is 2016, why are we still living in a world in which people have to conceive of, and even prepare for, the statistically very unlikely event that they will be the victim of a crime? Why don’t we finally start teaching our children that they shouldn’t steal things or hit people? When will YOU, the vast swathe of humanity I have decided to blame, finally take responsibility for the problems I invent so I have something to write about?

Verity Justice-Warrior is an oppressed, upper-middle class Oxbridge graduate, who finds everyday life offensive so you don’t have to. Her latest book “My problems: Why won’t YOU solve them?” didn’t sell well but is quoted on tumblr quite a lot. She believes strongly in identity politics because “they’re easier”, and is a four-time winner of the prestigious Tortured Logic Prize at the annual Clickbait Awards.

P.S. August 15, 2017: Here’s a link to a Biking Expert article on how to prevent bicycle theft.



  1. RishiDiwan.com says

    Kryptonite lock is great stuff than can help. Insurance is another way to secure.

  2. Brian Burgess says

    Yeah well the joke’s on the author of this piece because despite the intended sarcasm and irony the fact is that many of the points made seem to have resonated with we cyclists and crime victims. There’s a decent number of comments posted here for an off-guardian article. And the majority of them took the article seriously in relation to bicycle theft. Unfortunately we don’t appear to live in a ‘just world’ but that’s no reason not to strive for improvement.

    • I agree (not living in a just world) – in terms of bike theft – well it happens & if we crucified bike thieves with a notice above their heads – “don’t steal bikes” there would be a lot less of it around. Public crucifixion – they’d soon get the message.

      • John says

        There is a very real danger you could turn them into the next Jesus!

  3. Hertog Jan says

    Leave a bike unprotected anywhere in most of the largest cities of the world, and it’s gone in just a few minutes. This means that either the ‘bike thieves’ are everywhere, always ready, or that a significant proportion of the population is ready to steal a bike at the first opportunity.

    I think the author is on to something with this question: “Why don’t we finally start teaching our children that they shouldn’t steal things or hit people?”

    • O Lucky Man! says

      All non-bike-owners ARE bike thieves!
      And that’s all they are.
      They thieve from us with their eyes, their laws, their codes…

      Hmmmm, I trust that’s not too harsh a judgement…

  4. Brian Burgess says

    Meanwhile woe betide the police officer that dares to charge the bike thief with a crime or, God forbid, that a custodial sentence be recommended to “teach them a lesson” and prevent a repeat of the offence (i.e. further bike thefts) at least whilst the thief is in custody!

    Oh no the Police and the legal system should not be looking to punitively deprive the bike thief of their liberty. Particularly for such “petty” offences The bike thief is a human being. Just give him a piece of paper and let him be in his way. (Presumably to commit more bike thefts and perhaps to receive more pieces of paper, since the system should not be “punitive.”)

    Anyway the bike thief probably had a bad childhood so you should feel ashamed for being so privileged and owning a bike and how dare you complain about having to secure your property so it doesn’t get stolen by some scumba…. ah I mean by some poor underprivileged misunderstood individual.

    • Kathleen Lowrey says

      oh dear. You have missed the point of this article, which is vituperative misogyny.

      • Thomas Horton says

        I think you’ve missed the point, Kathleen. And it’s quite simple : there are some things in this world that suck. Some people that are immoral, amoral or just plain malignant. Campaigns to tell those people that something is wrong are not likely to work because they know this already, it just doesn’t matter to them. We can either deal with that reality or deny it.

        It’s nothing to do with misogyny. It’s a response to a kind of demonstrative politics which is the hallmark of a small but vocal subset of people who live for angry, self righteous confrontation. People for whom there is no discussion or dialogue, only denunciation and epithet.

      • The article is only misogynistic if you consider narcissism and frantic irrationalism to be uniquely female – which would be very misogynistic of you.

  5. Anneka says

    This reminds me of when I was at college in the early 1980s and the self-titled Law Society, namely the off-SU organisation for law students, had a character in their magazine pages and annual revue called Lezzie Bien. You get the idea. It was a man in drag at the revue.

    Ha ha feckn ha. It was mightily hilarious in those dark Thatcherite days – for them, anyway. Now I see that the spirit has risen, Lazarus like, from its grave 30+ years later as a crappy filler on OffGuardian.

    Do please avoid this ‘witty’ satire on the Guardian. You cannot come close to the performance that they themselves manage.

  6. Jen says

    Ha, very amusing and sly dig at The Guardian for its continuing identity politics obsession as it sinks like the Titanic.

    I suppose now that the “Bad things shouldn’t happen, so why should I act like they do?” season is upon us, I take upon myself the duty of believing good things should happen so I will act like they do.

    Yesterday I discovered a new resources list that I would like to share with other Off-Guardian.org readers. It is The List of supposed Kremlinite propaganda sites at the website “Is It Propaganda Or Not?” at PropOrNot.com. There, you will find a stack of media resources – not all of them reliable or accurate admittedly – you can refer to when you feel like reading some un-fake fake news for a change. Off-Guardian is listed at ProPornBot – oh sorry, PropOrNot.com – by the way.

    I have no idea who set up the website or The List but on seeing sites like Journal-Neo.org, Katehon, Pravda and The Duran mentioned there, I find myself almost agreeing with those who say the website may have Ukrainian links. (Still want to keep an open mind though.)

  7. Unless a bike lock zaps the potential thief with 15 amps @ 5000 volts, it’s worthless.

    PS I thought Kryptonite only works against Superman. Why would he be stealing my bike?

  8. Johnny Hacket says

    It makes more sense to buy a cheaper bike , you don’t need to fork out 900 euros for a Gazelle when you can get the same bike for half the price by choosing an alternative , the lower priced bikes have the same things and are not so attractive to thieves because of the non brand name.

    • kevin morris says

      You don’t sound as if you have done much cycling! Cheaper bikes tend to have heavier frames, components tend to have less effective or even non-existent bearings. Cheaper components also have a tendency to fail at very inconvenient and even dangerous times.

      I was a cycle commuter for many years and in one of the hillier cities in the UK and testify to the benefits of using the best cycle components that can be afforded. Given the cost of commuting nowadays, buying the best in terms of cycling is very cost effective. The corollary of course is using the best theft prevention equipment.

  9. John says

    If today truly is International Day for the Elimination of Stealing, then I think a far better target for consideration would be all the lands stolen from indigenous peoples in places like North America, Australasia, South and Central America and the Caribbean, Africa and regional areas such as Palestine and the Chagos Islands.
    All the lives, futures, homes and lands stolen by colonists over time have been immense.
    More contemporaneously, the situation in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria are perfect representations of this.
    There millions have lost their lives, lands and homes, while millions more are now semi-permanent refugees.
    That rather puts a luxury bike theft or two into its proper perspective, don’t you think?

  10. I suppose it’s a sign of how bad things are out there that it took me a while to identify this as satire, but oh the rewards!

  11. Kevin Morris says

    Yes, I suppose life is simply like that and bad things happen. They always did and likely always will, especially in communities that are impersonal and where thieves know they are likely to get away with it.

    The Kryptonite cycle lock is a wonderful invention by the way and I have had mine ever since the early 80s when they first came out. It still works as well as it ever did. Even then we used to say that whatever social change occurred in the US would occur over here within a few years. I don’t think any of us would have guessed back then that things would have come to the terrible pass they have.

Please note the opinions expressed in the comments do not necessarily reflect those of the editors or of OffG as a whole