How not to get your bike stolen in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a very safe country. For humans, that is. For bicycles it’s an entirely different matter. If bikes had a consciousness we would likely face a mass emigration of Dutch bikes. On average, 311 bicycles are stolen here each day, according to the Royal Dutch Touring Club (ANWB).
Bike theft in the Netherlands: Majority of bikes stolen at home
A study conducted by the Dutch cycling association concluded that 45 percent of stolen bicycles are taken from the direct vicinity of one’s home. City centres account for 20 percent of stolen bikes in the Netherlands, while 18 percent are stolen from around train stations.
While a determined bike thief with professional cutting tools, a van and enough time cannot be deterred 100 percent, there are some things that you can do to protect your property, in order to frustrate criminals and slow them down.
Preventing bicycle theft in the Netherlands
As a general rule of thumb, always, ALWAYS lock your bike. Even if you’re "just" going inside somewhere for a couple minutes to buy a pack of gum.
There are many things you can do to protect your property and to discourage theft:
Consider which bike you’re buying or using
It’s understandable that you may want to invest money into a nice, brand-new bike, but the reality is that theft is always a risk - especially if you’re cycling around on a fancy and expensive bike. When buying a bike, consider whether you really need to splurge on an e-bike, or whether you might also be okay with a second-hand bike or more traditional omafiets.
On the other hand, don’t buy a stolen bike. If you buy a used bike and the owner can’t show you an original proof of purchase, you can check the stolen bicycle registry (fietsdiefstalregister) that’s maintained by the Dutch police.
Even unwittingly buying a stolen bicycle can lead to legal problems, and the police can take your bike. Prior to buying a used bicycle, verify whether the serial number has been scratched through and whether the original lock is undamaged.
Keep note of your bike’s manufacturer and model number
While this step won’t prevent your bike from being stolen, it’ll make it a lot easier for you to register your bike as stolen, and could increase your chances of actually getting it back.
For your own information, write down the manufacturer, model number, colour and any other unique identifying characteristics of your bike. You should take photos of your bike. You can register your bike at the place of purchase or online on the national fietsenregister.
Mark your bike so you know it’s yours
Similarly, this is a good way to make sure your bike is easily identifiable, so that if it is stolen you stand a better chance of having it found and returned to you. You could, for example, have the frame engraved, even if it has a serial number - some cities and municipalities (including Amsterdam) offer this service for free!
Buy a good bike lock (and make sure you use it properly)
Invest in a good lock - don’t just buy the cheapest one. Spend at least 30 to 40 euros on a hardened steel lock or a U-lock. It's recommended to use two locks, of different types, as thieves are often specialised in a single kind of lock.
ART tests bike locks and awards a seal of approval to the best ones, so you should always buy ART-approved locks - this means the lock is theft resistant, and will put you in a stronger position if your bike is stolen and you want to claim back on insurance.
Make use of a bicycle alarm or GPS tracker
If you really want to go the extra mile, you could choose to invest in a bicycle alarm or a GPS tracker. The former will make it harder for thieves to actually get away with their crime, whereas the latter will make it easier for the police to trace your bike if it is stolen.
Some types of bike insurance even include a track-and-trace system, so that if your bike is stolen your insurer is able to locate it quickly and easily.
Consider getting bike theft insurance
It’s better to be safe than sorry. Bicycle insurance will cover you in the event of your bicycle being stolen - usually paying for a replacement bike.
Where and how to lock your bike
You can save yourself a lot of trouble by paying a little extra attention to where and how you lock up your bicycle.
Where to lock your bike to prevent theft
When at home, you might want to consider storing your bike indoors, in your garden or in your shed, instead of outside in a bike rack (if you have the space, of course). This option isn’t viable for a lot of people with smaller living spaces, but it is a guaranteed way to keep your bike safer.
When you’re out and about, think about where you’re parking your bike. Don’t park your bike if there is a sign that explicitly prohibits parking of bicycles. City employees will remove your bike due to illegal parking and you will have to pick it up at a Bicycle Depot (fietsdepot - see below). When you see a white sign with black print that says fietsen worden verwijderd ("bikes will be removed") it means you should look for a different spot.
There are a number of manned bicycle parking facilities across the country, which have more security and are more strongly guarded than your average on-street parking. You should use these bicycle parking facilities when possible. Attendants decrease the chance of theft.
If there are no parking facilities, it's always best to use bicycle racks when possible. You can attach the chain to the rack. If it's crowded, it’ll make it harder for thieves to pick out and remove your bike. They're more likely to go for a bike that stands out and is quick and easy to remove. Lock your bike in plain sight and in busy, well-lit areas.
If there are no racks, make sure you lock your bike to a solid object that’s attached to the ground, like a tree or a lamppost.
How to lock your bike
When it comes to locking your bike, make sure you always lock the rear wheel or the frame, not the front wheel. The front wheel is typically easy to remove.
With a U-lock, don’t lock it in the centre of your frame. By lifting and turning the bike on its axis, the lock can pop open. Lock it high. If the chain to your lock is on the ground, a rock can be used to smash it open. Also, more force can be applied to bolt cutters when the chain is on the ground.
What should you do when your bike is gone?
Like many other Dutch cities, Amsterdam removes bikes that have been parked for longer than two weeks, or have been parked illegally, and delivers them to the Bicycle Depot (fietsdepot) where they are registered and checked for evidence of theft.
Removed bikes are stored at the Bicycle Depot for three months, during which time their owners can retrieve them. Only about 25 percent of bikes are collected, likely because many owners mistakenly assume that their bike has been stolen.
Bikes that are not collected from the Bicycle Depot after three months are used for employment and reintegration projects, or are auctioned off to second-hand dealers.
Many Dutch cities have Bicycle Depots, so checking there is worth it if your bike disappears. This national Dutch database of lost items often lists bicycles that have been collected by city workers.
Has your bicycle been stolen?
If your bike has disappeared and you’ve checked the Bicycle Depot and not found it, you can safely assume your bicycle has been stolen. There are a few steps you can take to try to get it back.
Report your stolen bike to get it added to the stolen bicycle registry (fietsdiefstalregister)
Contact the police by phone (0900 8844) or you can fill in a police report online. Your bike will then automatically be added to the national bike theft register (fietsdiefstalregister). This register is consulted by the police, community service officers (BOAs), and bike sellers who will be able to check if any bicycles they come across have been registered as stolen. You also need the police report for insurance reasons.
Of bikes that are reported stolen in the Netherlands, only about 7 percent are recovered. For bikes with a chip or frame number, it’s about 15 percent. Without making a police report you will definitely not get your bicycle back, so it’s still worth the time even if chances are slim.
Check online marketplaces
If you installed a GPS tracker or have insurance with track-and-trace, you can take the time to try and locate your bicycle to see if you can get it back. It might also be worth checking sites like Marktplaats to see if your bike has been put up for sale - although even if you do recognise your bike, beware that trying to meet up with the seller could be dangerous.
Keep your bike safe!
Keeping these tips in mind, we hope you never have to face the misfortune of a stolen bike, and that you and your two-wheeled friend enjoy many years of adventures together in the Netherlands! Happy cycling!