In one video, the poster says: “So to take these bad boys apart, you just have to take these screws out and crack the case, they’re tiny, all you need is a pair of pliers.”
Another guide claims: “You can buy kits online easily. It’s no more complicated than putting a PC together.”
Another addressed one company more directly: “It’s so easy to do this to get free rides, when will [they] realise?”
According to the videos, with some models of bikes and scooters, a cheap universal charger, GPS-disabling kit, and a wireless device that connects to the bike, allow users to bypass set speed limits of 12.5mph on rental bikes without being detected by geolocation services.
By disabling the delimiter, bikes can travel in excess of that, making them ideal for getaways from crime scenes and moving drugs on busy roads.
Last year, the Metropolitan Police issued a warning of gangs using e-bikes to commit robberies, switching from mopeds.
On Sunday, Westminster City Council said its enforcement officers were aware that rental e-bikes were seemingly being “hacked” and could then be used in muggings and by drug dealers.
Data is not held on crimes involving e-bikes specifically, but Westminster Council says an increase is “inevitable” as the bikes are “everywhere”.
The council said rough sleepers had also been seen using rental e-bikes, suggesting it is “relatively easy to get around the lock mechanism”. The bikes require a debit card and online account to unlock.
A victim of an e-bike mugging warned pedestrians to be aware of the problem. Nick Eftychiou, a retired civil servant and full-time carer in Tottenham, was left “bleeding and shocked” after being dragged to the ground by a robber on a rental e-bike.
He said: “The police officer told me there was nothing that could be done as there were probably thousands of fingerprints on the bike as it was a rental. He told me criminals deactivate them and use them for crime and in fact, they have so many rental bikes at the police station they either get collected or destroyed.”
‘Flood of complaints’
Greg Smith, a Conservative MP on the transport select committee, said: “This is clearly an unacceptable state of affairs if such technology can quite clearly be used for criminal purposes.”
He added: “Government needs to look at enforcing more stringent regulations on these products, or potentially taking them off the streets until they are more able to regulate them.”
Dockless rental e-bikes, which can be left anywhere, have attracted criticism since they were first introduced to UK cities in the last few years.
Simon Hogg, leader of Wandsworth Council, said last week the council will start impounding abandoned rental bikes, following a “flood of complaints” over how they are parked. The council has singled out Lime, a San Francisco-based company with e-bikes in 150 cities, as a particular problem.
Lime, which was valued at half a billion dollars in 2020, said it was “critical” for the company that its riders “don’t negatively impact other people’s journeys” and had introduced measures to ensure that its bikes did not clutter up pavements.
Lime bikes, which operates UK rental schemes in London, Manchester and Milton Keynes, stressed that it had received no reports that its e-bikes were being tampered with.
A Lime spokesman said: “As a global business, we have extensive technology measures in place to prevent our bikes from being tampered with.”
It said the bikes contained “anti-tamper components” including alarms, fully enclosed wiring, wheel locks, and “enhanced cybersecurity”.