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Trading of Stolen Bicycles around the
Brick Lane area

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bike details record cardUpdate - 3rd January 2006
Bike Details Postcard &

The number of stolen bikes passing through Brick Lane is an ongoing issue. We have talked to the police a lot about this and the feedback that we get from local officers is that have a difficulty in proving that any given bike down Brick Lane is stolen. Although they can seize the bike based upon Illegal Trading, this is nowhere near as good as getting the seller based on them having a stolen bike.

One of the reasons that the police have a problem proving that a given bike is stolen is that the generally speaking the quality of theft reports given by owners when their bike is stolen is very poor. Typical examples are to describe the stolen bike as 'Men's mountain bike, blue'. This is just not that useful when you want to PROVE that a bike is stolen!

We want to reduce the number of stolen bikes sold through Brick Lane, therefore we want to help the police out - there is a simple way to do this! That is to have a record of your frame number, then if the worst happens and your bike is stolen it can be reported as part of the theft report. A frame number is a unique identifier that can normally be found stamped into the frame on the bottom of the bottom bracket (the part of the frame where the pedal cranks are attached). Once the number is in the Met Police system it is then simple for an officer on the street to radio back to their control and get a suspect frame number checked. Dead simple, and if the bike shows up as stolen the seller is nicked!

Recording Your Frame Number
We have two ways of helping out with recording your frame number, hi-tech and low-tech:

  • bike details record cardThe low-tech way is a Bike Details Postcard that the Wheelers have had designed and printed. We have 10,000 of them which we will be handing out at Wheelers events. Alternatively you can print off a pdf of the postcard or the Wheelers to order a batch. It is then just a case of filling in the postcard and putting it somewhere safe. Then if your bike is stolen take it with you when you go down the police station and voilà, you have that long digit frame number to hand!
  • The hi-tech version is to register your bike on This is a nationwide system that as been set up for bikes in conjunction with TfL and the Home Office. The same system has long been used to combat mobile phone theft with great success. The steps required for this are:
    1 - register your bike online at Most of the fields are the same.
    2 - if your bike is stolen revisit the site and flag your bike as stolen.
    However is more than just an electronic version of the postcard. The key difference is that it is then available if your bike turns up in Cambridge or Cardiff then it will show up as stolen!

The key point is to record your frame number. If the police don't have this then,
- they can't prove that your bike is stolen
- they can't nick the person who had it
- you won't get your bike back!

Other Brick Lane news
Unfortunately over late summer 2006 there was quite an increase in the number of bikes stolen across Tower Hamlets. The Met Police figures stand at:

June: 114
July: 110
August: 211
September: 131
October: 198
November: 124

The silver lining to this cloud, is that since then there have been several raids on the Brick Lane market area and a large number of bikes have been seized. We also hear that combatting cycle theft is likely to be set as a higher priority by the Metropolitan Police Authority in several boroughs for 2006.

March 2005: Brick Lane Police Station is running an initiative to reunite stolen bikes they have seized from Brick Lane Market with their owners - full details »

Update - 13th January 2005

The evenings may be dark and the weather may be getting colder, but the campaign to remove Brick Lane from the map of places to buy stolen bikes in London is still in top gear.

The most important thing is that the enforcement that the council started in August has fed through and had a impact on the number of bikes stolen from the borough. Although still too many are being stolen, in October and November there were 100 less bikes stolen in Tower Hamlets than at the same time last year. Big thanks to all those that wrote letters in early summer pushing for enforcement!!

We have continued to highlight the problem at Brick Lane is several ways. A few jolly Wheelers attending the Brick Lane (markets) Action Group meeting in December chaired by Councillor Louise Alexander. This was a good opportunity to push for more police resources to tackle the problem and meet those that had been responsible for the good work so far.

On the media side we've also been busy, if you get this newsletter with your Feb/March copy of London Cyclist, have a quick flick through. If all goes to plan then you will find a prominent article in there to highlight the issue at Brick Lane!

In order to help the enforcement effort we have now started actively working with the police. A couple of Wheelers met Sgt Kennedy and Inspector Antill of Brick Lane station. They are interested in tackling the problem and were suggesting ways in which local cyclists can help reduce the problem at Brick Lane. There are a couple of specific requests from the officers:

  • If visiting Brick Lane on Sunday morning, please please either don't bring your bike or if you do park it a good distance away. The number of proper cyclists wandering round their with bikes is making their enforcement effort more difficult.
  • When cycling out and about they recommend using two different types of lock. A typical thief will normally only carry the equipment to defeat one type of lock so you drastically reduce the chances of your bike being stolen.

However the police's main problem is proving that a bike is stolen so they can nick a suspect. The cycling community can really help out here! What we need to do is improve the standard for the theft reports we provide.

This is easy, ALL we need to do is make sure we write down our frame numbers somewhere safe. These are unique numbers, an officer on the beat can radio in and check them against the police theft database and then nick the person if the bike they have is stolen. It's that simple! You can find your frame number underneath your bike, stamped onto the bottom bracket (that is where the pedals connect in).

Currently we believe that helping the police in this way is so crucial that we're working (thanks ed!) on a handy Wheelers postcard to hold these details. Watch out for this at one of our events in early spring.

Update - 1st September 2004

Well done to all those that wrote letters pushing for this problem to be cleared up. We have had many supportive replies and better still we have seen ACTION!

Sunday August 15th saw the police working in conjunction with the council market trading group to clear the North side of Bethnal Green Road being of illegal traders. This was followed up on August 22nd with the North side of the road again being cleared.

Thanks to Councillors Matin, Alexander and John Biggs of the GLA for their fine support over this issue.

Over the next few weeks and months we still need to keep an eye on the area. During the first week of enforcement there was a problem as the bike sellers just crossed over the road onto Schlater Street. However by Sunday 22nd only a very small group did this.

As part of our continued observation of the area we would like your help. If you are down the market on a Sunday morning we would be grateful to hear what you see. Just send an email with the date and time of when you where there and what you saw.

Hopefully this fine result will shortly feed through into the bike theft stats for the borough. The quick response by the local authorities is a great result and does show the power of the pen!

Background on the issue - July 2004

In recent months there has been a spate of bike thefts in the boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hackney (stolen bikes register). The police often advise theft victims that the best chance to recover their bike lies in visiting Brick Lane Market.

If you take the police up on their suggestion on a Sunday morning and visit the junction of Sclater Street and Bethnal Green Road (streetmap link) then you will find an unofficial market attached to the main one. Local lads who will sell you a new looking bike, that has recently been relieved of its lock, staff this 'market'. It is not a small event, standing nearby on a Sunday morning you will witness in order of 100 bikes changing hands.


Without a ready market a bicycle is less attractive to a thief. The police are aware of the trade and they need to take action NOW to close down this illegal market.

Please help highlight this issue by using the template letter and contact addresses below.

Template letters

Below is a sample letter asking for action on the illegal Brick Lane bike trade.

Cut and paste the text into your favourite editor or directly download a Word doc.

[Contact address]

Dear [Contact],

Trading of stolen bicycles at Brick Lane Market

I am writing to voice my concern over the trading of stolen bicycles that routinely takes place at Brick Lane Market and the surrounding area on Sunday mornings. It is common knowledge that this activity is going on - even the local police advise visiting the area if you have your bicycle stolen, yet nothing effective is being done about it.

According to the Metropolitan Police's own crime statistics there have been 1245 bicycles stolen within Tower Hamlets alone in the last 12 months. At an average of £400 a bike, that is nearly half a million pounds worth of bicycles stolen from one borough alone.

What is perhaps more worrying is that the number of thefts is on the increase. The running 12 months totals for the last 3 years reads as follows:

To June (year)




Thefts in
Tower Hamlets




Up over 60% in three years. Police action in this area is poor, with an average of only one incident clear-up per month. That is a paltry 1.4%. These theft figures could easily be reduced if the outlet for the re-sale of the bicycles is closed down.

If you were to visit the area surrounding Brick Lane market on a Sunday market then you would be appalled to see how many bicycles are being sold on. I would estimate there to be on order of a hundred bicycles changing hands per week, most of which would never have been bought originally by the person selling the bike.

I am writing to ask you to take action on this issue and request that this unofficial market for bikes is shutdown immediately. I believe that this would greatly reduce the number of bicycle thefts in the surrounding boroughs. I would be grateful if you could contact me to let me know what is being done.

Yours sincerely,

[your name]

Contact address list

Metropolitan Police
Sir John Stevens
Metropolitan Police Commissioner
New Scotland Yard

Bethnal Green Police Station
12 Victoria Park Square
E2 9NZ

Brick Lane Police Station
25 Brick Lane
E1 6PU
Borough Council
Tower Hamlets Councillors

Cllr Manir Uddin Ahmed
Chair Living Safely Scrutiny Panel
c/o Scrutiny Group

Councillors for Weavers Ward (Brick Lane Market is within this ward)
Cllr Louise Alexander
Cllr Abdul Matin
Cllr Timothy O'Flaherty

All of the above can be contacted at:
Town Hall
Mulberry Place
5 Clove Crescent
E14 2BG

Tower Hamlets Trading Standards

Trading Standards
Tower Hamlets Council
Southern Grove
E3 4PN
Greater London Assembly
Ken Livingstone
Mayor of London

John Biggs
Member of GLA (keen on transport issues)

Jenny Jones
Member of GLA (Green Party)

All the above can be contacted at:
City Hall
The Queen's Walk
London SE1 2AA

Central Government
Bethnal Green & Bow constituency includes Brick Lane:
Oona King MP
House of Commons

and/or write to your own MP at the above address.

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