THIEVES ripped the metal roof off a store-room and stole eight bicycles belonging to a club which teaches elderly people how to ride.
The raiders snatched the bikes overnight last week from the building in the grounds of Linford Christie Stadium, in White City, weeks before the Agewell on Wheels group was due to take on more learner riders.
It is thought the thieves broke in from open ground in Wormwood Scrubs Park - set on higher ground behind the store-room - and carried the bikes up a tall ladder and through the gap in the roof.
They also vandalised a tractor, used to maintain the stadium, which is due to serve as a training centre for the 2012 Olympics, stole tools and poured diesel and petrol over the floor. Staff feared they intended to set light to the building.
Now Gwen Cook, who launched Agewell on Wheels last year, fears her insurance company will not replace the bicycles in time for the summer programme and is appealing for donations to help buy new ones.
The project was created to encourage more people aged over 50 to explore the health benefits of cycling in later life, and was shortlisted for a prize in last year's London Cycling Awards.
It was set up with cash from Transport for London and Hammersmith and Fulham Council.
"We were just setting up for the next season," said Ms Cook, 65, of Seagrave Road, Fulham. We were due to start in three weeks and were just trying to drum up some support.
"When I set it up, I was sure it would work. I didn't know how well it would work, but people did enrol and they went away absolutely equipped to ride on the road.
"These were new bikes and people felt confident on them."
The bikes, silver Trek T-30 models with step-over frames and panniers, were bought new last year at a cost of £280 each. About 30 people learned how to ride with confidence when the project was launched last year, and numbers were expected to rise this year with more classes being offered.
The theft was discovered by the stadium's facilities manager,Adam Shears, last week.
"It was a shock," he said. "I didn't expect that they could have gone so easily through the roof and it must have taken some effort to get the bikes up there.
"Stealing the bikes is bad enough, but then there's the senseless vandalism.
"I don't know what they were planning to do with the petrol and diesel, but I can't help thinking they were going to set light to it."
* Anyone who wants to help replace the bikes should contact Gwen Cook on 020 7385 8536 or email email@example.com.