However, I'm not in the police, so I don't have any legal authority to demand proof of ownernship, and I'm reluctant to start accusing people without evidence. I tried to ask about it casually, but that didn't really work.
Me: "Were these bikes abandoned?"
Him: "Do you like them?"
Me: "I was just curious; it seems like quite bad luck to get four punctures at once!"
One of the bikes was rusty, and they both looked quite old. Tyres do gradually lose air, even without a puncture, so it's a good idea to check the pressure at least once a month. Giving this guy the benefit of the doubt, I'll assume that he got the bikes from Freecycle (or equivalent), i.e. someone had them sitting unused in their garage for ages and decided to get rid of them.
Anyway, this leads on to a useful tip that I picked up at the Cycle Show last month: Immobilise.com. It's free to use, and you can register anything with a unique number, e.g. bikes and mobile phones. It took me 15 minutes to sign up and put in the details of my two bicycles (Brompton/Roberts), which includes the time I spent digging through my records to check the purchase date/price. If they ever get stolen, I can update the website, then the police can refer to it if they stop someone who looks suspicious. I spoke to a police officer at the show, and she said that it's really frustrating if they stop someone with two bikes, then they prove that one bike is stolen but they have to hand the other one back because there's no record of it being stolen, even though they "know" that it is. Every bike should have a frame number carved into it, and you can check this if you're buying a second hand bike via CheckMEND. If the frame number is missing, e.g. filed off, be very suspicious! My Roberts bike has a second copy of the number inside one of the tubes, so the police could look for that if they recovered the bike. If you're a cyclist, I strongly recommend using that website. Get the frame number now; don't put it off until after your bike is stolen!
While I was at the cycle show, I was also amused by the B.O.N.D. Bike. This has a list of features that get increasingly silly: a caterpillar track on the back wheel, a ski next to the front wheel, a flame thrower on the handlebars, and an ejector seat. Apparently it can actually be ridden, and they were going to try it out on the snow at an indoor ski slope.
One other highlight of the show was an HGV safety demonstration, run by the police. (HGV = Heavy Goods Vehicle = huge lorry.) There have sadly been several deaths where HGVs have run over bikes, mostly involving female cyclists. One theory for this is that women are more likely to ride "in the gutter" (i.e. close to the kerb); another theory is that men are more likely to jump red lights. I'm aware that big vehicles are dangerous, and I've seen signs on the back of some that say "If you can't see my mirrors then I can't see you". A particular danger is "undertaking", i.e. passing vehicles on the left. Suppose that you have a long vehicle ahead of you, which has stopped at a red light. If you try to pass it, but only get halfway along before the lights change, it may turn left and squash you. So, my rule of thumb has always been that I only undertake if I'm in a separate cycle lane. In a similar way, if I'm driving on a motorway in the leftmost lane, and I see a slower vehicle hogging the middle lane, I'm quite happy to stay in my lane to go past them rather than moving two lanes to the right then back two lanes to the left again. Even then, I will only go past a long vehicle if I'm sure that I have time to get all the way to the front, i.e. if I saw the light go red. I'm also quite happy to use the advanced stop line at a traffic light (see rule 178 of the Highway Code).
So, I thought that I was quite safety-conscious, but the HGV demonstration really opened my eyes. They had an HGV parked inside, and I climbed up into the cab. Someone then pushed a bike along the left hand side of it (simulating a bike lane) while I watched it in the side mirror. The bike stopped when it was level with the front of the HGV, and all I could see in the mirror was the very back of the luggage rack; I wouldn't immediately recognise that as a bike if I didn't know what I was looking for. The person outside then moved the bike along the front of the HGV (simulating the advanced stop line) and I couldn't see it at all. So, if an HGV is stopped at traffic lights, and I whiz up the bike lane then sit in front of it, the driver could have no idea that I'm there at all. When the lights change, and (s)he moves off ... splat. The solution is to move the bike forward, then make eye contact with the HGV driver. I don't think that these deaths are the result of murderous drivers, so I just need to make sure that the driver is actually aware of my existence.
I said that I couldn't see the cyclist from the cab, but that's not quite true. As well as the standard mirrors, this HGV also had two extra mirrors which were mounted horizontally, i.e. pointing straight downwards. One was on the side, and one was in front of the windscreen. Using them, I could see the bike. Since these aren't standard, I can't rely on drivers having them, but I'm certainly in favour of changing legislation to make them compulsory. Anyway, this was a very worthwhile demonstration, and I definitely recommend trying it out if you get the chance.