Professional bike thief gangs are reported to be tailing mountain bikers away from popular trail centres and stealing high-value bikes from their homes or car bike racks.
And in one jaw-dropping case, BikeRadar has learned that a policeman was followed to the station where he worked – and a £3,000 bike stolen from a secure lock-up on the premises.
The latest victim is Andy Keetch who travelled to Forest of Dean to ride the popular Verderer’s Trail. He’s believed to have been followed to a café a few miles away from the centre, where his £3,000 Orange Five Pro was ripped off its bike rack while he ate lunch with friends.
Colleagues and friends from his Brighton-based social media company have set up a concert ticket raffle and a crowdsourcing page to raise funds towards replacing the bike.
Keetch, 36, said Gloucestershire Police officers sent to investigate told him there had been six similar instances, centred on the Pedalabikeaway Trail Centre in the Forest of Dean, since the start of the year.
“The Gloucestershire Police came out and the first thing they asked was [if we had] been at the Pedalabikeaway café at Cannop bike centre – and it turns out there’s been about six of these since Christmas,” he said.
“What they’re thinking is that people with high-value bikes are being followed from the centre, and then in most cases [are] having their houses broken into and their bikes stolen.”
He said there were no signs at the centre warning riders of the danger. The centre manager told BikeRadar there were a couple up.
Keetch said police offered little hope of retrieving the stolen bikes. Officers told him: “‘We don’t think there’s any chance of getting it back because it’s a professional gang, and it’ll probably be either stripped or shipped somewhere.’”
PC Duncan Sleeman of Gloucestershire Police said: “We have had some mountain bikes stolen after persons have ridden at Pedalabikeaway, but I don’t think that’s any different to mountain bike thefts all of the county and indeed all over the country.”
He added that two police officers had also been victims of the tactic.
PC Sleeman said: “One officer actually rode at Pedalabikeaway on a Saturday morning; he put [his bike] on his roof, went to work at Cheltenham police station, put it in a secure lock-up [there], finished his shift, went back and his bike had been nicked.”
The incident happened “two or three months ago”, and the bike has not been recovered.
PC Sleeman urged riders to get bikes coded and registered, and to be wary of being followed away from these venues.
Jody Hoare, manager of Pedalabikeaway, said that as well as there being signs up, a CCTV system had been installed to prevent thefts from the premises – of which there had been only two.
Hoare added there were known criminal gangs operating out of Cheltenham, Gloucester and South Wales and said that he had heard of similar crimes happening at other trail centres in South Wales.