Motorcycle Theft

By Kevin Ash - 14/08/2012

One of my first ever jobs as a fledgling bike journalist was attending a presentation at the then-importer of Yamaha, Mitsui. This was 1992 and it was about Mitsui's new bike marking system called Datatag, which was, we were told, going to have a major effect on the endemic bike theft problem.

I asked a question at the time: if this system is so good, and if theft is such a big problem, why isn't it being applied as standard from new by the importers and manufacturers? The answer was a woolly one about giving consumers a choice, adding value to a bike and so on.

20 years later, nothing's changed as far as theft is concerned, it's still a massive problem, and it's one that reaches far beyond the immediate distress and financial loss of the owner who's been robbed. I was told recently at an MCI (Motorcycle Industry Association) conference that 40 per cent of owners who have a bike stolen give up on motorcycling altogether. With 26,000 bikes being taken in 2010, that's more than 10,000 riders who've left the fold in one year, who've stopped buying bikes and spending on tyres, servicing, clothing, helmets and so on.

Last year, around 8,000 new people came into motorcycling through the GetOn campaign.

There are other problems too. A favourite trick of organised bike thieves is to buy a new or nearly new bike, sell most of its parts aside from the frame and engine or crankcases, then steal another and replace all the non-marked parts to create a new machine. Often this will still be covered by the manufacturer's warranty, but instead of being expertly assembled by workers and robots on a clinical, quality-controlled Japanese assembly line, it's been thrown together by some bastard thief in a run down shed who clearly doesn't give a damn about others.

It will go wrong, and as it's under warranty, the importer will pay - MCN has reported how Kawasaki UK spent £50,000 trying to correct problems on a bike which turned out to be one of these built up around a legitimate frame and engine from stolen parts.

Very often there's another victim, the person who bought a bike in good faith, only for it to be identified as a stolen machine. Then they have no title as it's the property of the insurance company, so the bike is repossessed and often they get nothing back. This also boots people out of motorcycling altogether.

All of which should make those who've claimed 'every bike stolen is another bike sold' hang their heads in shame.

It might be 20 years too late, after half a million stolen motorcycles and 200,000 riders lost to biking forever (read those numbers again, they're barely credible), but now six major manufacturers are applying Datatag identification to their bikes from new. There's no separate charge, it's either done at PDI time or in the case of Triumph, on the production lines, and is included in the retail price. You can't even opt out of it, so there's no bypassing the system that way.

To see how effective this can be, look at the plant and machinery sector, where theft was also a massive problem. These days, 85 per cent of manufacturers mark their products from new in what's called the CESAR scheme, in essence much the same as Datatag. In 2007, 12,000 machines were stolen, and of those, 286 were CESAR machines. 31 per cent of those were recovered against 7 per cent of the rest.

The figures are so stark, there's little need to ask the remaining motorcycle importers why they're not on board with this new initiative, because with such a massive contrast in theft figures, they'll either get on board soon anyway or customers will go elsewhere to stand a much better chance of hanging on to their bikes. Thieves, after all, will be concentrating much harder on the non-Datatag brands and their theft figures will get even worse.

Meanwhile, the industry might have been painfully slow to do this, and you might pick at details in the scheme, but full credit to the MCI and the police for pulling this together and making it work.

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