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Is There a Rosier Future for Guildford Cycling or is Bike Theft a Spoke in the Wheels?

Published on: 26 Mar, 2023
Updated on: 26 Mar, 2023

By Jane Hepburn and Hugh Coakley

Daub your bike with luminous paint, stick to ancient bone shakers or abandon the idea of cycling into town altogether. These are some of the choices left to local residents faced with rising tides of cycle theft in the area as police say it is “low on their agenda”.

Spectrum appears to be a bike theft hotspot with forty five cycles stolen from the Spectrum leisure centre bike pound in July 2021 alone.

Shocked by statistics post lockdown that bicycles have been disappearing from key sites in the town centre with forty five cycles stolen from the Spectrum leisure centre bike pound in July 2021 alone, Dragon reporters were sent to investigate the problem and gauge the public mood.

Cyclists are both angry and also resigned to the fact that Guildford’s roads are not only unfriendly but their precious bike may be stolen with impunity as well.

A vox pop on the Nextdoor app over 24 hours this week (mid March 2023) produced a flood of replies. We asked whether following a spate of thefts last year, local residents were now thinking twice before venturing out on their bikes and how happy they were with the police response.

People reported watching a gang in Nightingale Road, Guildford grind a D-lock from its moorings on a private drive, a bolt cutter used to spirit away a new bike outside Lidl in broad daylight, and a gang of boys, caught on video, vandalising the front wheel of a bike parked outside its home.

Brendan Kelly posted four of his stolen from Spectrum in a week last year. “The CCTV at Spectrum is useless,” said his wife Julie. “You can’t even make out any images it’s so old”.

Emma Beavis, general manager of Guildford Spectrum, speaking to The Dragon agreed that bike thieves had targeted their cycle park, but wanted to assure users that when thefts occurred, they did everything possible to work with police to bring perpetrators to justice. Police came to the centre recently to mark bikes free of charge and advise users on security.

“Educating users in the correct bike locks as this is the best form of prevention,” she said.

London’s Westminster lockable bike hangars could be an answer at some locations.

Thefts from the railway station going through the roof, are deterring commuters. Police impotence coupled with lack of safe parking infrastructure are frustrating would be cyclists, and a growing commitment to jettisoning the car is being thwarted by what is perceived as the council’s “unjoined-up approach” to better cycling initiatives.

“We’re watching you” signs at Spectrum and outside of the library in the town centre but not closely enough though, according to Guildford cyclists.

PC Ryan Soper, Guildford neighbourhood officer, when approached by The Dragon said that, excluding Guildford railway station, bike thefts were down to 75 this year over a six month period from August to February 2023, compared with 87 over the same period last year.

He said there were particular trouble spots in the town centre including the library, Holy Trinity Church, and the Farnham Road side of the station, and the University.

He said: “When it [bike theft] is organised by criminals, we take it very seriously but it is quite low down our agenda with all the other issues going on.”

He blamed owners for inadequate locks and advocated investment in motor cycle-quality disc locks, alarms and chains. “Cable locks are next to pointless,” he said. Owners should look for “Sold Secure” certified locks and register their bikes on the Bike Register.

Elderly CCTV networks in town were also to blame, he said adding that the entire CCTV system could do with an overhaul both in terms of camera type and their number.

Kier Gallagher of Guildford-based Cycling UK, the national cycle charity, agreed that cycle theft was a serious problem that undermined the will to cycle. “Bike theft is sometimes perceived as a petty crime, but it carries a huge social impact, putting many people off cycling altogether” he said.

Despite limited police resources he was dismayed that ninety percent of bicycle theft cases are closed without a suspect being identified.

Online marketplaces should be scrutinised and serial offenders prosecuted, he urged.

Chris Harlow owner of Fully Charged on Woodbridge Road said that bike theft was a “fact of life” and was disappointed that “the police are not interested, or able to be interested”.

The Guildford Bike User Group, GBUG, advocated lobbying local councillors over lack of CCTV, overnight lighting, and better cycle parking, and advised reporting theft immediately.

Surrey County Councillor for Guildford South West, Angela Goodwin ran a residents survey two years ago to sound out interest in safe and secure bike hangars.

From 90 responses between December 2021 and February 2022 it was clear that cyclists would be prepared to pay for safe storage suggesting key spots such as the town centre, High Street, North Street, Spectrum Leisure Centre, train Stations (mainline and London Road) and The Friary Centre with G-Live and the Odeon cinema close behind.

Cllr Goodwin speaking to The Dragon, was hoping that SCC might take a leaf out of the Portsmouth City Council  and Waltham Forest books by rolling out its own hangar scheme. She is passionate about the “end to end needs of cyclists”.

“We need to think out of the box, be creative, and not just think we’ve done a good enough job by putting in cycling lanes,” she said.

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Responses to Is There a Rosier Future for Guildford Cycling or is Bike Theft a Spoke in the Wheels?

  1. S Firth Reply

    March 31, 2023 at 12:23 am

    If you have a nice bike, get a good lock, two or three if you may leave it some time. Some of the toughest D-Locks on the market take four discs to cut through with an angle grinder. Pair this with a secondary lock on and you stand a good chance of always being able to cycle home when you get back to it.

    The main issue is finding a smart way of carrying a heavy lock or two, which either takes some research into how to mount to your type of bike frame, or more money for panniers of some kind (which is OK because panniers carry other things like shopping).

    If you’re really concerned, just remember, that as much as you may love your bike, it is only a bike, but if it is really precious, perhaps get insurance, household insurance levels can be quite generous and hey, if it really gets nicked, then it is a great excuse to get a new bike, and they get better each year.

    Seriously, you cannot let the fear of your bike being nicked stop you from cycling when it is so much more fun, cheaper and usually quicker than driving.

    The cheap option to all this, if you do not want to get an expensive lock, or use the nice posh bike, is to get a bike which no one would steal, a rusty-looking thing, this approach worked well for me for years and still today when I want to keep fit (I have found that although expensive eBikes are very good at staying still when locked up, they are not so good for keeping up that strong muscle mass). Just keep the rusty-looking thing running sweet and move on from worry and being stuck in traffic, life is too short.

  2. Bob Walton Reply

    April 19, 2023 at 2:35 pm

    Encouraging people to spend big money on locks is disingenuous. When thieves can buy a cordless angle grinder that will fit in a daysack and make light work of any lock in seconds few, for well under £100, you’re better advised to buy a cheap lock to dissuade the opportunist thief and put the money you’ve saved into an insurance premium. Same for Bike Register. When my last bike got stolen, the Police said they didn’t even have a working reader for the chip.

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