Thief steals Belfast Bike in three seconds 'using trick found online'
The mystery of how thieves are apparently stealing Belfast bikes from their docks with ease appears to have been solved.
Cyclists believe the 'hack' allowing criminals to make off with bikes within seconds may be spreading on social media, helping to spark a huge surge in vandalism. Posting on the website Reddit, a user named 'NoZb2k' said he had watched from a window as a thief laid the bike on its side with its wheel at an angle, lifted it off the lock mechanism and then made off.
"If these bikes are so easy to steal, its not a wonder they are suffering from so many stolen and out of action bikes," he wrote. "I didn't even have time to pull my camera out to record it,"
Last week, this newspaper revealed that the cost of theft and vandalism to the scheme had risen 10-fold in one year to almost £20,000.
Belfast City Council is considering installing CCTV or dummy cameras near bike stations and has already removed bikes from some docks overnight after they were identified as crime hotspots.
The witness who saw the thief in action said: "I'm not even exaggerating when I say three seconds because that's literally how long it took."
Another cyclist added: "It seems ridiculously easy for these bikes to be stolen and I can imagine via social media etc this 'hack' spreads like wildfire and that probably explains why there's been such an increase in vandalism."
Nextbike UK, which installed the public bike sharing scheme, said on Twitter that it had been running such schemes since 2004 in 120 cities and had never had such problems. A spokesman told this newspaper: "We are well aware of the issues affecting the bikes in Belfast, and we keep in close contact with the local service providers in Belfast as well as the team in Germany to provide know-how and other support in order to resolve the issues."
Nextbike UK added that it would investigate the issue reported on Reddit and had "already passed it onto our colleagues".
A spokesman for Belfast City Council said it was carrying out a strategic review that includes an independent quality assessment of equipment and technology.
"Whilst no major failings in respect of the equipment and technology were identified, recommendations for improvement were identified and these are being examined and rolled out," the spokesman added.
"We are also working with partners on a technology project to help reduce vandalism and theft and assist in the recovery of bikes not returned to docking stations."