THIEVES are stealing five bikes a day from cyclists in Edinburgh, with the number of thefts climbing to a four-year high.
Professional gangs are among those cashing in on the city's cycling boom by targeting bikes.
Top-of-the-range models, sometimes costing up to 5000, are particularly attractive to criminals eager to turn a quick profit by selling them on.
But police are now stopping "suspicious" cyclists and asking for proof of ownership as part of a crackdown.
A number of arrests have been made in recent weeks after officers pulled over thieves riding stolen bikes.
A total of 1748 bikes were stolen in the Capital between April last year and March, against 1688 for the year before.
Sergeant Norman Towler, who is leading the operation against the thieves, said: "We are stopping cyclists in the south of Edinburgh who look suspicious.
"That may mean they are cycling without a helmet because they've just stolen the bike.
"The scheme is proving very successful and we've made a number of arrests on the back of it."
The initiative has also seen police officers offer special classes to teach students, and the general public, how to secure bikes properly, and discounts on bike safety and security equipment.
Areas such as Marchmont and Bruntsfield, in particular, are the hardest hit by thieves because of the large student population using bikes to get around.
In the Newington area, the majority are stolen from outdoors close to student accommodation at Pollock Halls and Kings Buildings.
Insp Towler added: "The problem is that cyclists often spend 1500 on a bike then 10 on a lock. People should only buy locks with a 'secure by design' logo, which is a kind of Kitemark for quality. They should also mark their bikes with smart water or simply etching the frame."
Organised gangs of criminals have been blamed for an increase in thefts from streets, common stairways and sheds. They often steal bikes in the city before selling them in places like Glasgow.
Drug addicts are also believed to be contributing to the rise as they try to fund habits by selling bikes on for a fraction of their value.
The new figures sparked renewed calls for better secure parking facilities for bikes, particularly in the city centre, to combat thefts.
Ian Maxwell, a member of Spokes Lothian Cycle Campaign, said: "We've seen a massive increase in cycling in Edinburgh over the last ten years and, unfortunately, with that trend comes an inevitable rise in thefts.
"Overall, though, with tens of thousands of cyclists, the numbers are still relatively low. The figures underline the problem of lack of secure parking facilities for bikes. They can be difficult to find.
"Cyclists need to take the appropriate precautions. These are opportunist thieves who move quickly and disappear on their newly acquired getaway vehicle."
Between 60 and 70 bikes are found discarded each month after "joyriders" have finished with them, and they are left piled up in a police compound at Fettes.
A police survey found that 63 per cent of bikes stolen from Morningside are taken from common stairs.
Someone had sawn through the lock
A RESEARCH scientist whose bike was stolen has been denied compensation – because he chained it up in a common stairwell.
Tom MacGillivray's insurance company refused to cover his claim because he didn't keep the bike in his flat. His 200 mountain bike was stolen in September last year from Brougham Place in Tollcross.
The 32-year-old said: "It was chained up to an alcove in the stairwell and I thought it would be fine. But I got up one morning to find someone had sawn through the lock and stolen it.
"The insurance company refused to pay out because they said I should have kept it inside my home so the policy didn't cover me.
"I never got the bike back and had to buy a replacement. But I bought a better lock for it and now keep it inside my flat."