Bicycle theft in Germany

Bicycles have been experiencing a real boom in Germany for several years. Increasingly entrenched environmental awareness, congested roads, parking problems and better bicycle models (especially with electric motors) have massively increased the popularity of the good old wire bike in the recent past. Especially for younger and urban people, the bicycle is nowadays a fully-fledged substitute for the car in many life situations. But just as bicycles are popular with private individuals, they are also popular with thieves. It is therefore not surprising that bicycles are among the most frequently stolen items in Germany.

Annual statistics bicycle theft

According to data from the German Insurance Association (GDV), around 155,000 insured bicycles were unlawfully stolen across Germany in 2019. Compared to 2018, the number of thefts of insured bicycles thus decreased by about 5,000.

In contrast to the GDV data, the police crime statistics also record the reported theft of uninsured bicycles. The total number of stolen bicycles in 2019 was approximately 278,000. Although this figure represents a decline of around five percent compared with the previous year. Nevertheless, an average of 32 bikes are (officially) stolen every hour in Germany.

Since bicycle thefts, especially of older and uninsured bikes, are often not reported to the police, the number of unreported cases is much higher. Crime statisticians estimate that it is about twice the value of officially recorded thefts. Expressed in figures, around 600,000 bicycles are stolen from their owners every year in Germany.

Insurance damage due to bicycle theft

According to statistics from the German Insurance Association, the total loss incurred by insurance companies as a result of bicycle theft in 2019 is around 110 million euros. On average, the insurance companies paid 720 euros per stolen bicycle – a peak value. Compared to the insured value of 650 euros in 2018, an increase of over ten percent. The increase in insurance losses is even more pronounced in a long-term comparison. While in 2009 the average compensation for a stolen bicycle was 410 euros, in 2019 it was already 75 percent more.

The background to the sharp rise in insurance claims is two developments that have been observed for several years: First, bicycles are becoming more expensive. And secondly, bicycles are more often insured.

The fact that prices for bicycles are rising continuously has primarily to do with the unbroken trend toward e-bikes. In 2019, 1.36 million electric bicycles were sold, according to data from the German Two-Wheeler Industry Association. Compared to 2018, this represented an increase of almost 40 percent. This means that almost every third bicycle sold in 2019 was an e-bike.

Bicycles in which the rider’s propulsive power is assisted by an electric motor usually cost over 1,000 euros. For higher-quality models, the price can also amount to a higher four-digit euro amount. Freight bicycles also contributed to the general increase in sales prices of bicycles. The bicycles with large transport boxes are becoming increasingly popular among families and businesses. They are an extremely practical substitute for the car, especially in urban areas. Even cargo bikes usually cost 1,000 euros and more. For model with e-motor support, the prices are usually over 3,000 euros.

Bicycle thefts by federal state

The strongholds of bicycle theft among the German states are the three city states of Berlin, Bremen and Hamburg. The inglorious leader in the number of thefts in relation to the number of inhabitants was Bremen. In 2019, 926 bicycle thefts per 100,000 inhabitants were registered in the Hanseatic city. Second place in the bicycle theft ranking goes to Berlin. The German capital had 788 thefts per 100,000 inhabitants. Hamburg was in third place with a rate of 656 bicycle thefts per 100,000 inhabitants.

As far as the regional distribution of bicycle thefts in Germany is concerned, there is a strong north/east/south divide. This means that significantly more bicycle thefts were registered in the northern and eastern German states than in the south of the Federal Republic. Saxony was the top theft state with 515 thefts per 100,000 inhabitants. This was followed by Brandenburg (487), Saxony-Anhalt (477), Lower Saxony (395), Schleswig-Holstein (389), North Rhine-Westphalia (365) and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (307).

Significantly fewer bicycles were stolen in the southern German states in 2019 than in the rest of Germany. Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg registered 208 and 207 thefts, respectively, per 100,000 inhabitants. Even safer were Hesse (198), Thuringia (167) and Rhineland-Palatinate (162). Bicycle owners can feel safest in the Saarland. Here, only 101 bicycles were stolen per 100,000 residents in 2019.

Bicycle thefts by city

A look at the theft statistics by city paints an even more accurate picture of the situation. As with the evaluation by federal state, the ranking by city also shows that places in the north and east of the Federal Republic are frontrunners in terms of bicycle theft.

By far the most dangerous place for bicycle owners is the city of Leipzig. The Saxon metropolis reached a sad record of 1,700 bicycle thefts per 100,000 inhabitants in 2019. Göttingen in Lower Saxony was in second place with a figure of 1,444 thefts per 100,000 inhabitants. Third place in the city ranking went to Münster in North Rhine-Westphalia with 1,374 bicycle thefts per 100,000 inhabitants. Whether the fact that the top three cities are major university cities with relatively young populations plays a role in the incidence of theft cannot be substantiated from the data.

Osnabrück (1,203), Halle an der Saale (1,113), Cottbus (965), Bremen (944), Potsdam (914), Gütersloh (911) and Oldenburg (902) followed.

Theft frequency by times and places

According to data from the insurance company Wertgarantie, most bicycles are stolen in the spring (April, May and June). The police’s crime statistics show where bicycles are stolen particularly frequently, namely where there are especially many parked. These places mainly include train stations, schools, shopping centers and swimming pools. Due to the dozens of parked bicycles, it is usually not noticed when a person “tampers” with a bicycle lock for several minutes.

A particularly popular target for bicycle thieves are train stations in the suburbs of large cities or in the provinces. The background is that at these stations, mainly commuters, park their bikes. As a result, the bicycles are not supervised from morning until afternoon – an ideal environment to pick a lock in peace and quiet and unobserved. Even more so with a free choice from over 200 wheels for the most part.

Bicycle theft detection rate

The clearance rate for bicycle thefts is lower than for almost any other crime. On average, only one in ten bicycle thefts is solved. In the cities, the clearance rate is only five percent.

The background to the extremely low rate of solving bicycle thefts is the difficulty of identifying the perpetrators. Most bicycles are either quickly resold, for example via Internet platforms or flea markets, or they are cannibalized so that the individual parts can be resold as spare parts. Due to the virtually impossible tracking of bicycles, bicycle thieves feel correspondingly safe. It is even more difficult to identify the perpetrators of cannibalization into individual parts. Since most bicycles only have a serial number on the frame, tracing individual parts once they have been resold is futile in practice.

Types and detection of thieves

The spectrum of bicycle thieves in Germany is wide. It ranges from young people stealing a bicycle for their own use to junkies and casual thieves stealing bicycles for money, to professional individual offenders or gangs who trade in bicycles or bicycle parts on a commercial basis.

Identifying a stolen bicycle is nearly impossible for private citizens. Unlike cars, bicycles do not have papers that provide clear proof of ownership. The safest way to purchase a “clean” bike is to buy from a reputable bike shop. The probability of acquiring a stolen bike in a specialized shop is rather low.

On the other hand, it becomes more critical when buying a bicycle at a weekly or flea market. Especially in big cities, markets are the preferred trading places of gangs of professional thieves.

Caution is also advised when buying on the Internet. On large trading platforms such as Ebay, there are many professional thieves or gangs who appear there as individuals. A warning is when a private dealer has several bikes on offer at once.

You should always refrain from buying a bicycle on the open road. The probability of acquiring stolen goods in the process is particularly high.