Motorcycle Theft

By Kevin Ash
Tridays_10

One of my first ever jobs as a fledgling bike journalist was attending a presentation at the then-importer of Yamaha, Mitsui. This was 1992 and it was about Mitsui's new bike marking system called Datatag, which was, we were told, going to have a major effect on the endemic bike theft problem.

I asked a question at the time: if this system is so good, and if theft is such a big problem, why isn't it being applied as standard from new by the importers and manufacturers? The answer was a woolly one about giving consumers a choice, adding value to a bike and so on.

20 years later, nothing's changed as far as theft is concerned, it's still a massive problem, and it's one that reaches far beyond the immediate distress and financial loss of the owner who's been robbed. I was told recently at an MCI (Motorcycle Industry Association) conference that 40 per cent of owners who have a bike stolen give up on motorcycling altogether. With 26,000 bikes being taken in 2010, that's more than 10,000 riders who've left the fold in one year, who've stopped buying bikes and spending on tyres, servicing, clothing, helmets and so on.

Last year, around 8,000 new people came into motorcycling through the GetOn campaign.

There are other problems too. A favourite trick of organised bike thieves is to buy a new or nearly new bike, sell most of its parts aside from the frame and engine or crankcases, then steal another and replace all the non-marked parts to create a new machine. Often this will still be covered by the manufacturer's warranty, but instead of being expertly assembled by workers and robots on a clinical, quality-controlled Japanese assembly line, it's been thrown together by some bastard thief in a run down shed who clearly doesn't give a damn about others.

It will go wrong, and as it's under warranty, the importer will pay - MCN has reported how Kawasaki UK spent £50,000 trying to correct problems on a bike which turned out to be one of these built up around a legitimate frame and engine from stolen parts.

Very often there's another victim, the person who bought a bike in good faith, only for it to be identified as a stolen machine. Then they have no title as it's the property of the insurance company, so the bike is repossessed and often they get nothing back. This also boots people out of motorcycling altogether.

All of which should make those who've claimed 'every bike stolen is another bike sold' hang their heads in shame.

It might be 20 years too late, after half a million stolen motorcycles and 200,000 riders lost to biking forever (read those numbers again, they're barely credible), but now six major manufacturers are applying Datatag identification to their bikes from new. There's no separate charge, it's either done at PDI time or in the case of Triumph, on the production lines, and is included in the retail price. You can't even opt out of it, so there's no bypassing the system that way.

To see how effective this can be, look at the plant and machinery sector, where theft was also a massive problem. These days, 85 per cent of manufacturers mark their products from new in what's called the CESAR scheme, in essence much the same as Datatag. In 2007, 12,000 machines were stolen, and of those, 286 were CESAR machines. 31 per cent of those were recovered against 7 per cent of the rest.

The figures are so stark, there's little need to ask the remaining motorcycle importers why they're not on board with this new initiative, because with such a massive contrast in theft figures, they'll either get on board soon anyway or customers will go elsewhere to stand a much better chance of hanging on to their bikes. Thieves, after all, will be concentrating much harder on the non-Datatag brands and their theft figures will get even worse.

Meanwhile, the industry might have been painfully slow to do this, and you might pick at details in the scheme, but full credit to the MCI and the police for pulling this together and making it work.

Other Comment

GenericName
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Joined: 15/04/2011

It's weird, I must have had 10-15 attempts to steal my bikes over the years, but nobody ever succeeded, thankfully.

The most heart attack inducing was when I'd ridden out to Maastricht for a couple of days and like a young idiot thought it'd be fine to leave my bike in the main public parking square while I had my holiday. When I came back to get it after a couple of nights I was walking towards the car park and suddenly came across it about 100 meters from where I left it, down a flight of stairs and semi-hidden behind the stairwell!

F'ing tea leaves had carried it down to presumably work on it undisturbed - the ignition barrel was gone, but their drill bit had come off and got stuck in the disk lock, jamming it shut, so it couldn't be freewheeled. Took me 3 hours with a hacksaw blade to get enough of the plastic off the disk lock to be able to slide it through the disk and ride home - good job it was the cheapest lock on the market, I wouldn't have dented a fully metal one.

Good times - and that was only the first attempt on one of my bikes! Happy to say that motorcycle theft, at least the English style organized theft, is nearly non-existent in SoCal, especially where I live. Strange how different little cultural things can be sometimes.

kevash
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GenericName wrote:
Happy to say that motorcycle theft, at least the English style organized theft, is nearly non-existent in SoCal, especially where I live. Strange how different little cultural things can be sometimes.

It does seem to be an oddly British disease, which is a significant reason the bike manufacturers don't appear to care, we're just one market out of many and it's not a major issue in most.

GenericName
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My guess is that there's not enough good bikes here to make thieving worthwhile - Harley's aren't worth nicking :)

Random
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kevash wrote:
GenericName wrote:
Happy to say that motorcycle theft, at least the English style organized theft, is nearly non-existent in SoCal, especially where I live. Strange how different little cultural things can be sometimes.

It does seem to be an oddly British disease, which is a significant reason the bike manufacturers don't appear to care, we're just one market out of many and it's not a major issue in most.

In Brazil bike theft has been high for as long as I remember so I'm safe to assume it is a concern in at least another major market. I may need to put into context first, everything is expensive here and even a small 125cc bike can cost 10+ times a monthly minimum wage. So even if mean salary is 2-3 times above that any 250cc or + bike is very expensive.

As a result both small and big bikes are targets and insurance gets to ridiculous levels (I'm talking 15 to 20% bike value at least, to over 40% in sports bikes!). While adding locks can help in small bikes, gun-toting bastards are the main issue for 600cc+ bikes. At least one big manufacturer (Suzuki) is well aware of the problem, offering insurance at relatively low prices with new bikes, and rumors about Honda lowering prices on parts (because scavenging parts was one of the destinations of stolen bikes) seems reasonable.

Many former local bikers I know personally and in internet forums complain about this. It already is a big concern here and may turn a less popular model into the most sold. Every now and then you can hear a story about someone who lost both the bike and the interest in riding again, especially when facing a dangerous situation. People with high income that wouldn't have trouble buying a new model or young people who had opted out of public transport and should be lifetime bike users.

shuggiemac
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I am all for any efforts at all that help to combat bike theft. I had Datatag on a couple of my bikes when I still lived in dear old Blighty and if nothing else it gave me a certain piece of mind. It also gave the dealer some additional point of sale margin, so I guess all were happy. Is there however not a fundamental caveat in this system and that is that the Police have to have some kind of scanner that can read the I'd chips secreted on the bike? If my memory serves me well and Kevin please do take me up on this but way back in the day I think Mitsui even offered a scanner free of charge to all Police forces. That, if my memory serves me well, was very laudable but on the flip side unlikely to give a whole lot of coverage. If the old Bill see a suspected knicked bike in the streets of Paisley but the scanner is in Milngavie (feel free to substitute your own relevant metropolitan areas here) then it is not much 'cop', so to speak. There is also the broader issue of coverage outside of UK or wherever the native country of the owner may be.

I am not trying to be a pessimist here and I repeat that I do applaud any efforts but is there a mechanism in place that makes the system transferable? There are a lot of bikes now coming up for sale in places like here in Czech Republic, that have been brought in from the UK, Italy and the such like. The vast majority, I have no doubt, are perfectly legally done but even if I did see one with Datatag stickers on it then I know that there is a snowballs chance in hell of the local fuzz having either the equipment or the will to check it out for me before buying.

nikos
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I'm considering buying a tracking device - any views on whether these are proving to be effective? There appear ro be various technologies used including pin point location using VHF - I was thinking of the Acumen system for cost reasons. I leave the bike for extended periods at a local airport in a relativel secure area (it's quite near the Police station (!) but I still worry..

kevash
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shuggiemac wrote:
... the Police have to have some kind of scanner that can read the I'd chips secreted on the bike? If my memory serves me well and Kevin please do take me up on this but way back in the day I think Mitsui even offered a scanner free of charge to all Police forces.

Your memory's stood the test of time, but as you also point out, they weren't always available when or where needed. This time it's been done in association with the police stolen vehicle unit coordinating, which helps, and all police forces have the scanners. There are still issues, as you've pointed out, but the main problem comes from the large scale crime gangs and being able to prove ownership of recovered parts, which this does address. It won't stop small scale theft, although even then it'll be a useful tool for checking stuff sold on eBay, as long as the police can be persuaded to do so in individual cases. It should have the same effect as it has in the plant and machinery world, which had broadly the same problems, and there it's been enormously influential.

kevash
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nikos wrote:
I'm considering buying a tracking device - any views on whether these are proving to be effective? There appear ro be various technologies used including pin point location using VHF - I was thinking of the Acumen system for cost reasons. I leave the bike for extended periods at a local airport in a relativel secure area (it's quite near the Police station (!) but I still worry..

I've had a BikeTrac system on two bikes now and it's spectacularly good at tracking the bike. The company has had huge success, I think a 100 per cent finding rate or not far off, to the point where thieves now will leave an expensive bike somewhere they can observe it before finally taking it back to their base, just in case it has one of these fitted. It works using a mobile phone SIM card and you can set it to send you a text or e-mail whenever the bike is moved. I once pushed the Multistrada out of my garage to get to something, then the phone rang so I left the bike, answered the phone and it was someone from BikeTrac telling me the bike had moved!

All your journeys are recorded on a website too (only you have access, and you can delete them...), and there are other impressive features, such as auto dialling of the emergency services if the bike crashes at speed. They're not cheap and there's an annual fee to maintain, but for expensive bikes there's nothing better. The issue though is you shouldn't advertise on your bike that it has a tracker or the thieves will hunt for it and remove it (although that's often very time consuming), so it's better for recovery purposes rather than as a deterrent.

shuggiemac
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kevash wrote:

I've had a BikeTrac system on two bikes now and it's spectacularly good at tracking the bike.

Kev, do you know if it works outside of the UK?

I have a neighbour who owns a couple of earth moving machines, JCB style thingies and he has a tracket on them which has saved them both a couple of times. I think for a hogh ticket machine, like my Diavel, it would be money well spent.

shuggiemac
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Kev, another point about that tracker system. If the bike is nicked from your garage and stuck straight into a van is the system able to track it? If it uses GPS then I assume that this would render it blind or ?

shuggiemac
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More or less on the strength of Kev' recommendation and some questions answered by the manufacturer, I have ordered one of the BikeTrac systems and shall fit it too the Diavel, once it gets here.

It apparently works over all Europe, so we shall see how it pans out and I will let everyone know.

kevash
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I was going to say yes, they do work outside the UK but only cover Europe, not the whole world. The signal can be obscured if the bike's put in a van but not always, and as soon as it comes out the signal will be picked up again. It'll get picked up at some point soon. You also get a warning by text, mail or both when the bike is moved with the ignition off - they'll all be your own fault at first until you start remembering to switch on the ignition when you move it.

hallary
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Bagger bike
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