BIKE thefts in Oxford have risen to their highest level for six years.

New figures show 1,380 bicycles have been stolen in the city since April 1, the equivalent of more than five a day.

The figures show a rise of 247 on the same period last year, and are 444 up on the same period in 2007.

In 2008 1,133 bikes were stolen. In 2007 the figure was 936, in 2006 1,230, while in 2005 there were 1,371 thefts, 1,258 in 2004 and 1,318 in 2003.

Police are determined to reverse the increase seen this year and staged a city centre operation that saw them speak to scores of cyclists.

Sgt Andy Thompson said there were about 21,000 bikes in use in Oxford on a daily basis.

He added: “That number of bikes lends itself to danger for any cyclist not paying attention to road safety, and increases the likelihood of theft.

“We’re working to reduce the number that are stolen and are promoting safety.”

Officers gave crime prevention tips to about 190 bike riders and security-marked about 160 bikes during the day.

Police Community Support Officers also handed out advice at cycle racks in Queen Street, outside the Westgate Shopping Centre, and in Broad Street and Magdalen Street.

Twenty-six cyclists were fined £30 for riding in the pedestrianised zones in Queen Street and Cornmarket Street.

Sgt Thomspon said: “The idea of the day was crime prevention and road safety, rather than slapping everyone with tickets and fines. The enforcement was not the main part of the operation.

“It’s important we marked so many bikes with a security code, because a number of the bikes recovered daily do not have anything to distinguish them.

“Hopefully we can return more stolen bikes to their owners.”

He said it was vital to get the safety message across.

Three cyclists have died and 126 have been seriously injured in Oxford in the past five years.

A total of 747 cyclists have suffered minor injuries since 2004 in the city centre alone.

Police hope the action and advice days will become a regular feature of their city centre operations and they plan to be out on the streets again early in the new year.

All city centre Pcsos have also been kitted out with bike marking kits which do not damage paintwork while they mark postcodes on cycle frames.

Sgt Thompson added: “Everyone was really positive, and if they didn’t have the time to stop, then they would come back later with their whole family for their bikes to be marked.

“There were cyclists without helmets and they also took the advice on board.

“We were also explaining the dangers on the roads, including not going through red lights.”