Where do stolen bikes go in Amsterdam?

With around 11,000 bikes officially reported as stolen each year, Amsterdam is no stranger to bike theft… In fact it’s the main location for stolen bikes in the Netherlands. Some estimate that the true number of bikes stolen is over 80,000 a year.

But where do the stolen bikes go? A research team, funded by the Municipality of Amsterdam and the Transport Institute of the Delft University of Technology, used hidden GPS trackers to find out.

The bikes used and the GPS tracker locations

This shows the location of the GPS trackers and two of the bikes used. A Batavus and Lekker. Copyright: © 2023 Venverloo et al.

The researchers used 100 second-hand bikes in the study and installed low-cost trackers on them. The bikes were locked up in known bike theft hotspots around Amsterdam, with the hope the bikes would be stolen, and the journeys tracked and then analysed.

Amsterdam map of stolen bike hospots for the bike deployment

This map shows the planned deployment locations and realised parking locations. Copyright: © 2023 Venverloo et al.

Over a five-month period, 70 bikes out of the 100 were stolen. The tracking data paints a powerful picture not found in historical police data and surveys.

Study results

The results indicate that stolen bikes in Amsterdam tend to stay very close to their theft location, with almost all of the 70 stolen bikes remaining within Amsterdam itself.

Where do stolen bikes go in Amsterdam?

This map shows the visits of the stolen bikes. Copyright: © 2023 Venverloo et al.

The researchers suggest 30% of bike thefts might be due to organised crime and 4.3% – 8.6% of stolen bikes might be resold through second-hand bike stores. They also concluded that the distance travelled by a stolen bike is influenced by demand and the potential reward, as well as transportation difficulty and perceived risks of arrest.

This Amsterdam study highlights that cheap tracking technologies can be used effectively. The data collected can be used, in part, to inform and validate police practices and planning department plans in areas such as secure cycle parking.

To read the ‘tracking stolen bikes in Amsterdam’ study in full, visit the PLOS website.

Conclusion

Clearly, any study like this needs to be well managed by professional researchers with data controls, to avoid misinterpretation and sensitive data being released to the public, such as home addresses. The researchers in Amsterdam emphasised legal and ethical implications of a study such as this.

In contrast to the UK ‘bait bike’ trials that we wrote about in 2019, the Amsterdam study focused on understanding the paths stolen bikes take, rather than locating criminals.

Whilst Stolen Ride does not get involved with stolen bike recovery itself, we do often hear from the @StolenRide community members who have had their stolen bikes spotted and then recovered by the police. It is surprisingly common for bikes to be located in the same borough as they were stolen, even in nearby roads. However, the vast-majority of stolen bikes nowadays are spotted online, and some high-value bikes end up travelling abroad to countries such as Poland.