E-bike retailer Maurice Wells is warning owners to take precautions as e-bike thefts continue to rise.
E-bike theft has reached epidemic proportions, with insurance figures showing a 115 per cent rise in thefts in the first three months of the year.
If the trend continued, e-bike owners could find they no longer automatically qualify to have their machines covered by their contents insurance, says Maurice Wells managing director of Auckland retailer Electric Bike Team.
Wells not only sells e-bikes, but previously “stole” his own e-bike back in 2018, after he spotted his e-bike locked up with a weak combination lock by the side of the road. He called police to witness him retake his bike.
“It’s gone crazy. We’re hearing about it from customers all the time,” said Wells.
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His shop had taken a stand against facilitating theft by refusing to sell replacement batteries to anyone who could not provide proof of purchase for their e-bike.
Often when e-bikes were stolen, the thieves ended up without the batteries, which e-bike owners took with them when they locked their bikes, Wells said.
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Other e-bike retailers were taking the same stand, but the effort was not coordinated across all e-bike suppliers.
Wells said e-bikes were being stolen by well-organised criminals, often using power tools, such as the theft of $250,000 of e-bikes in Christchurch in six weeks.
Wells said prices for some new e-bikes were on par with entry-level cars, but they were easier to steal, especially as many bike owners did not invest in heavy-duty locks to keep them safer.
“Unlike cars, cycles carry no registration plates, don’t usually have an alarm and at just over 20 kilograms are light enough to be carried away if needed,” Wells said.
People were also quite slack in the way they locked their e-bikes, but the problem was exacerbated by a lack of secure bike parks in towns and cities, and at people’s workplaces, he said.
“When you are spending $5000 to $15,000 or more on a cycle, you want to know that when you step off the train at the end of the day it is going to be where you left it,” Wells said.
In the past year, about 50,000 e-bikes worth $62 million were imported, up 67 per cent on the previous year, with people using them for commuting, but more often for weekend leisure rides.
Adam Smith, director of Velo Consulting, an insurance assessor specialising in bicycles and e-bikes, said: “The sheer number of these claims over the past year is now causing insurance companies to sit up and notice – to the point where they are looking at doing things differently now.”
The average value of claims for e-bikes was $4800, he said.
“What this could mean for owners is they may need to get specialised e-bike insurance, which may also have policy conditions which require it to be adequately secured when not in use,” he said.
Insurance broker Jason Bailey recommended people buying e-bikes checked their policies to see what level of cover they had.
Insurers often required people to “specify” bikes worth more than $5000.
Bailey said insurers were not yet responding to the e-bike crime wave by dropping the amount they would cover non-specified e-bikes for, but that could come, if thefts continued to rise.
Wells, who is an engineer by training, was also working to fill a gap in the New Zealand e-bike market.
He said GPS tracking of a bike’s location was not usually enabled for the New Zealand market.
“We are currently working with a local company to develop cycle tracking technology that can be installed on bikes in this market, and we expect to be able to have this ready in the coming weeks,” he said.