FIFTY bicycles are being stolen every week by thieves operating in Southampton .

They are targeting sheds, garages and outbuildings at people’s homes across the city as well as bikes left in shopping areas and railway stations.

Police say that determined bike snatchers are behind an average of seven thefts every day – going equipped with tools so they can help themselves to even locked-up bikes.

The problem has grown so much that police are now carrying out dedicated operations to target the thieves.

In one of the most recent successes, officers stopped a cyclist in Shirley and found that the bike he was riding was stolen. When they searched him, they found he was carrying bolt croppers.

It’s thought that while some bikes are being offered for resale to make money, others are simply being lifted to use as a mode of transport between one part of the city and another.

Other stolen bikes – some worth hundreds of pounds – are being taken apart or broken up so that parts can be used on other cycles.

As part of the crackdown, cycle shops across the city are being contacted in the run-up to Christmas to encourage staff to give customers crime prevention advice when they buy a bike.

Cyclists are also being urged to obtain a coding kit from police, so that their bike can be identified and returned to them if it is recovered.

Insp Phil Scrase, from Bitterne police station, is leading the crackdown.

He said: “This is a growing problem that we need your help to tackle. Many of those involved in doing this are also connected to other areas of criminality and use these bikes as a form of currency or transport to commit crime.

Don’t let your bike help them do this.

“Many of these cycles are of substantial value in financial terms, and costly to replace. Irrespective of the cost, they are a mode of transport and can prevent someone going to work or otherwise getting around.”

If you have any information about bike thefts, or have been offered a bike for sale, call police in Bitterne on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.