The risk of bike theft is often cited as a reason for not purchasing a bike. Fear of bike theft severely limits cycling mobility in many cities. Those who enjoy recreational cycling with expensive bikes rarely use their high-end bike for daily mobility, citing the fear of bike theft. Fear of bike theft also has motivated city governments and private ventures to invest in protected bike structures. However, larger and permanent bike structures are difficult to replicate at scale because of their size, expense, and extensive public space that some may occupy. Fear of bike theft has also been cited by parents as a reason why they are unwilling to let their children ride their bikes to school. But are these fears of bike theft justified? What are the patterns in bike theft in the city? How many bikes are stolen per year? Which types of bikes? Which neighborhoods and under which conditions? What is the probability of bike theft per neighborhood? Or by type of bike? Or time of day? Our research project aims to summarize what is known about the bike theft problem in Barcelona.
In 2021, we analyzed the bicycle thefts that took place in the city of Barcelona. For that, we contacted the local police (Guardia Urbana and Mossos d’esquadra) who gave us the bicycle theft reports of the year 2021. The report is available in English and Catalan. The main figures of the study can be interacted with below.
In 2022, we started the BiciZen project, a collaborative citizen science platform that aims to make city regions more bikeable. Bicycle theft is one of the various topics addressed by BiciZen. Thought BiciZen, we collect bicycle theft reports with accurate coordinates, distinction between part and whole bicycles, price, if it was reported and if the stolen god will be repurchase. With BiciZen, we aim to:
- Raising the awareness of the bicycle theft issue and the necessity of reporting thefts.
- Collecting theft data from the users and helping them to recover their bicycles when possible.
- Obtaining and merging theft data from different sources to generate knowledge.
In 2023, we had a student doing a master thesis on the perception of cyclists, the under-reporting rate and the effects of bicycle theft.
Bike theft perceptions & under-reporting survey
During spring of 2023 we had Julius Sax, a master student, working on the perception of cyclists, the under-reporting rate, and the effects of bike theft. During his master thesis, he organized a survey with more than 300 respondents. We are happy to share some of the main results of his work. Unfortunately, the full paper is not yet available.
According to the official but unpublished data on bike theft in Barcelona, there were 1042 reported and recorded cases of stolen entire bikes in 2022. Applying the survey results to these data and considering the reporting rate form the survey (33%), it can be estimated that approximately 547 cyclists stopped cycling in Barcelona in 2022. This equates to an average of roughly 1.5 cyclists per day. This is a conservative estimate, as the police only register bikes that are uniquely identifiable in the statistics. Thus, there are more reported thefts, but since their number is not known, they cannot be considered in the study.
Factors for reporting bicycle theft
Using a binary logistic model, we find that victims with a master’s degree or higher are 71% more likely to report bicycle theft, and the value of the stolen bike significantly influences the likelihood of reporting, with an impact of up to 98%.
Bicycle thefts reported in BiciZen
We have collected some bicycle thefts reports thought the BiciZen platform. We have not organized any campaign to collect bicycle theft data, nonetheless, we received 30 reports. Below, you have some plots of the data. You can download the data here.
We would like to hire a master student to focus his/her master thesis on bicycle theft. He/she would develop a field experiment with locked and unlocked bikes to learn about the risk of bike theft in various neighbourhoods. We would like to explore a research design that would leave real bikes to see if or how long it takes for the bike to be stolen. The expenses associated with the (potentially stolen) bikes would be covered by the research program, however the student would need to lead the research design and implementation. We may need to think about multiple research designs and strategies to efficiently use our resources, working with both data reported by owners of stolen bikes as well as experimental data that we may generate ourselves using field experiments and direct observation. Please, get in contact with us if you are interested.