Black market suspected to be behind wave of Auckland bike thefts

Police are warning riders to be extra vigilant when it comes to securing their bikes.
Police are warning riders to be extra vigilant when it comes to securing their bikes. Photo credit: Getty Images

By RNZ's Checkpoint

A wave of bike thefts in Auckland has police warning riders to be extra vigilant when it comes to securing their cycles.

But a leading Auckland cycle advocate believes there is something more sinister at play.

The spate of thefts has bike shop owners like Chris Hoff-Neilson taking time away from their businesses to chase down suspected thieves themselves.

"Today, I'm going to look at a bike in the CBD, a stolen bike that was stolen two weeks ago," he said, when Checkpoint visited his shop.

Hoff-Neilson planned to leave his Bikes and Beyond store on Wednesday afternoon to visit a man he suspected is selling one of his e-bikes for a bargain via Facebook. "It's got 200km on the clock at present and it's a $2500 bike, and it's for sale for $1000.

"The person is willing to meet me, of course, because he doesn't realise who I am."

Hoff-Neilson said he actually feels sorry for bike thieves, often down-and-outs trying to make a buck.

But it has also become commonplace, he said. He opens one of his stores for a day's trading, someone comes to test a bike before riding off, or simply steals one from outside his Newmarket shop. 

Hoff-Neilson said he then takes to social media buy-and-sell pages to hunt it down.

At least six of his e-bikes, which cost anywhere between $2000 and nearly $20,000, have been stolen from outside his Bikes and Beyond shop in the last year.

"We collectively pay, our insurance premiums will be huge in five years if this continues," he said.

"Because, of course, each time it's thousands of dollars … in your contents insurance.

"It's probably the most expensive item after family rings in your personal items."

Police said there is anecdotal evidence of an increase in the number of bike thefts in central Auckland.

But Bike Auckland's Barbara Cuthbert believes a sophisticated black market is at play.

"I'm hearing from shops that it's just epic - that before they'd occasionally have someone come in and have to replace a bike," she said.

"Now it's a weekly and sometimes daily event, so we've never seen bike thefts like this.

"What we've got is that perfect storm - racing demand, diminishing supply, or slow supply, and now a black market that's just going [up].

"I've never, in all my time in cycling, experienced anything like the theft levels."

Cuthbert believes the city's bike thieves are organised, driving around Auckland in vehicles big enough to store multiple stolen cycles.

"This is just going around, picking them up to order, stacking the van [and] meeting the orders online," she said.

Cuthbert wants Aucklanders to stay alert. Many bike thefts has heard about occur when riders least expect it.

"People riding their e-bike home because they forgot their phone, so they zip into their house, they come out and the bike's not there," she said.

"Somebody has seen them on an e-bike, followed them home, picked up their e-bike.

"It's extremely worrying and it's really unsettling to me, the level of theft that is now occurring."

My Ride Takapuna Store manager Steve Parker agreed bike demand was through the roof and said sales post-lockdown had spiked.

"We've basically sold a year's worth of bike in six months and everyone came out of the woodwork and they decided they wanted a bike, or they wanted their old bike fixed," he said.

So once you finally have your hands on a brand new two-wheeler, what is the best way to keep it safe?

First there is the humble wire lock for a quick trip to the shops.

"It's no more than a deterrent really, though. Your determined thief will get through that," Parker said.

But if you are heading into highly-populated areas there are better options, like a D-lock with a key.

"They're not going to get through that, they'd need a blow torch to get through that," Parker said.

In a statement to Checkpoint, Central Auckland area commander Inspector Gary Davey said police were aware of an increase in theft reports involving bikes and e-bikes in Auckland.

Police were making enquiries into a number of these reports and asked anyone purchasing a bike to be cautious and use verified outlets, Davey said.

If the sale price appears too good to be true, Davey said it probably is.