Bicycle theft in Germany

Bicycles have been experiencing a real boom in Germany for some years now. 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 iron horse in the recent past. For younger and urban people in particular, the bicycle is now a fully-fledged substitute for the car in many life situations. On the down side, just as bicycles are loved by private individuals, they are also coveted by thieves. It is therefore not surprising that bicycles are among the most frequently stolen objects in Germany.

Annual statistics to bicycle theft

According to data from the German Insurance Association (GDV), around 155,000 insured bicycles were stolen throughout Germany in 2019. Compared to 2018, the number of thefts of insured bicycles thus decreased by around 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 decrease of about five percent compared to the previous year, nevertheless, an average of 32 bicycles 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 certainly much higher. Criminal statisticians assume that about twice the number of officially recorded thefts are stolen. Thus: approx. 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 was around 110 million euros. On average, 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 compensation 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 lies in two developments that have been observed for several years. Firstly, bicycles are becoming more expensive and, secondly, bicycles are being insured more frequently.

The fact that prices for bicycles are continuously rising is primarily to do with the unbroken trend toward e-bikes. According to data from the German Two-wheeler Industry Association, in 2019 1.36 million electric bikes were sold. 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 where the rider’s propulsion is supported by an electric motor usually cost over 1,000 euros. For higher-end models, the price can also be a higher four-digit euro amount. Cargo bikes also contributed to the general increase in the sales prices of bicycles. Bicycles with large transport boxes are becoming increasingly popular with families and businesses. They are an extremely practical substitute for cars, especially in urban areas. Cargo bikes also usually cost 1,000 euros and more. For models with electric motor support, 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 front-runner in the number of thefts in relation to the number of inhabitants was Bremen. In the Hanseatic city, 926 bicycle thefts per 100,000 inhabitants were registered in 2019. Second place in the bicycle theft ranking goes to Berlin. The German capital had 788 thefts per 100,000 inhabitants. In 3rd place was Hamburg with a rate of 656 bicycle thefts per 100,000 inhabitants.

Bicycle thefts in 2019 per 100,000 inhabitants. In parentheses from 2018.
Average in Germany: 355 (353).

In terms of the regional distribution of bicycle thefts in Germany, 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 leading bicycle 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).

In the southern German states, significantly fewer bicycles were stolen in 2019 than in the rest of the Federal Republic. Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg registered 208 and 207 thefts per 100,000 inhabitants, respectively. Even safer were Hesse (198), Thuringia (167) and Rhineland-Palatinate (162). Bicycle owners can feel safest in Saarland. Here, only 101 bicycles were stolen per 100,000 inhabitants 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 when it comes to bicycle theft.

By far the most dangerous place for bicycle owners is the city of Leipzig. The Saxon metropolis achieved a sad record of 1,700 bicycle thefts per 100,000 inhabitants in 2019. In second place was Göttingen in Lower Saxony 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 three top-ranked cities are major university towns with a relatively young population plays a role in the theft rate cannot be proven from the data.

The other top cities were Osnabrück (1,203), Halle an der Saale (1,113), Cottbus (965), Bremen (944), Potsdam (914), Gütersloh (911) and Oldenburg (902).

Theft frequency by times and places

According to data from the Wertgarantie insurance company, most bicycles are stolen in the spring (April, May and June). Police crime statistics show where bicycles are stolen particularly frequently, namely where there are especially many of them parked. These places mainly include train stations, schools, shopping centres and swimming pools. Due to the dozens of parked bicycles, it is usually not noticed if 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 mainly commuters park their bicycles at these stations. The bicycles are therefore not supervised from morning until afternoon – an ideal environment for picking a lock in peace and quiet and unobserved. Even more so with a choice of usually over 200 bikes.

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 reason for the extremely low rate of detection of bicycle thefts is the difficulty of identifying the perpetrators. Most bicycles are either quickly resold, for example via Internet platforms or at flea markets, or they are cannibalised 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 when the bicycles are cannibalised into individual parts. Since only the frame of most bicycles has a serial number, 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 who steal a bicycle for their own use to junkies and casual thieves who steal bicycles for money, to professional individual offenders or gangs that trade in bicycles or bicycle parts on a commercial basis.

Identifying a stolen bicycle is nearly impossible for private individuals. Unlike cars, there is no paperwork for bicycles that provides clear proof of ownership. The safest way to acquire a “clean” bicycle is to buy it from a reputable bicycle dealer. The probability of acquiring a stolen bike at a specialised 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 street. The probability of acquiring stolen goods here is particularly high.

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