The frequency of bicycle thefts in Utrecht makes people reach for second-hand options when buying bikes. The question for the customers is which market they want to choose.
There are two sides of the second-hand bike industry. There are the bicycle shops, and then there is the street. The street market is controlled by various people. People that often are deep into drugs and criminality. People that have found a business in selling cheap bikes in the country of bicycles.
Frank* has been selling bikes on the street for over thirty years. You can find him at a park right next to the canal in Utrecht that is well known for various kinds of illegal business.
”This spot is famous for selling cheap bikes in town. There are more markets in Utrecht, but since this one is very central most of the people come here.”
At the moment Frank has one bike for sale. It is a women’s bike, light blue with an orange frame, and it is sold for fifteen euros. But it did not look this way when Frank first got it.
”I bought the bike for ten euro. Back then the tire was punctured and the paint was flaking. I fixed the tire and I painted the bike blue. And now I sell it for fifteen euros.
Five euro in profit is not a big win. But all together Frank believes he has a comprehensive bike business running.
Another man who is in the bicycle business is Mustafa Cetinturk. He is the owner of the bicycle shop Cecil Citybike in Utrecht, where he sells both new and second-hand bikes.
”The second-hand bikes start from fifty euro and go up to around a hundred ten. The new ones usually cost between two hundred and four hundred euros.”
Cetinturk has had the shop running for ten years, and despite the street market, he says his business is still going well. He believes this is mainly due to the second-hand bikes sale.
”I would say that it’s 50/50 whether you go to the bike shops or the black market to buy your bike. The Nederlands is a bicycle country. If you do a great job, there is no problem selling bikes here.”
Cetinturk usually buys all the second-hand bikes from the Dutch government. The government systematically collects bicycles from the street that have been abandoned or illegally parked. If their owners do not pick them up within six months, the bikes are sold in large quantities to, among other things, Mustafa Cetinturk and other bike shops for a very affordable price.
Frank collects his bikes from the same place.
”I buy a lot of them at the same time very cheap, maybe 30 pieces, and I fix them so they can be cycled. Here on this market, we help each other with supplies and tools that are needed for the bike. Sometimes we find broken bikes on the street. We disassemble them and take the parts that are still working, and from all spare parts we can build a new bike that works perfectly.”
Mustafa Cetinturk on the other hand has all the tools and spare parts he needs available in his shop.
”They all come in different conditions. I can fix any bike here, whether it needs a handlebar, a new tire, a stronger brake cable. When de repairings are complete the bikes that started as trash almost look brand new and can be sold again on the market.
According to statistics from the police over bicycle thefts in Utrecht, an average of 310 bicycles reports as stolen every month during June, July, and August 2021.
”We advise people to use more bicycle locks to prevent their bicycles getting stolen as well as report the missing of the bicycles”, says Angelique Slob, spokeswoman for the police unit Midden-Nederland.
Slob believes that as police they cannot solve all thefts, and also the police cannot know about the thefts that stay unreported. Cetinturk thinks the issue with bicycle thefts in Utrecht will not disappear in the first place.
”Seriously, for the bike thefts, you can’t do anything. If you want to report your bike missing, you need to have insurance. And that is very expensive. So it’s just easier to go and buy another cheap one instead.” says Cetinturk.
”The police knows that we sell bikes here on the street. They come here sometimes, but they cannot really do anything about it. It is a free country, and we are allowed to be here”, says Frank.
”Our business is not about stealing bikes. We collect them in other ways. In a country with so many bicycles in motion, people have stopped care about the bike’s condition. That’s why they now also come to us.”
*Frank refused to give his name in fear of getting into a conflict with the police, and his real name is something else.