Whether it’s your pride and joy, or a cheap commuter to get you to and from work, the bad news is that your bike is often seen as easy money by opportunistic thieves. With more than 200,000 bikes stolen each year in the USA, it’s all too common to hear hard luck stories of how a cyclist has returned to their bike only to find they’ve had components removed, or the bike has been stolen completely.
Whilst there is no such thing as an unbreakable lock. The good news is that there are many products available on the market that will go a long way to making your bike near theft proof, or at the very least reduce unwanted attention from thieves. We’ve come up with this handy list of tips and tricks you can use to secure your ride.
1. Buy a good lock, or two
The most obvious tip that tops our list is to buy yourself a proper bike lock. There is a myriad of different locks available and whilst the number of options on offer can be overwhelming, it’s important to understand that not all bike locks are created equal.
Cost is an excellent indicator of quality when it comes to a bike lock. Whilst bargains can be found, more secure, well-made options will generally carry an increased cost and so buying the best lock you can afford is good practice. The lower quality materials used in cheaper, flimsy locks can often be quickly sawn through or cut using very basic tools.
The materials that a lock is made from will usually dictate how strong that lock is. Unlike other bike components and accessories that have shifted from steel to lighter weight aluminium and carbon fiber, bike locks are required to be strong. The best performing locks on the market are often made from double, or triple heated, hardened steel which whilst heavier will offer excellent security for your bike.
U-locks, also known as D-locks are a great choice for a reliable primary lock, as they’re the most secure option available. Made of thick reinforced metal, U-locks have fantastic structural integrity. Whilst no lock is totally theft-proof, their strength will go a long way to deter opportunistic thieves.
Smart Bike Security
Technology is increasingly being integrated into cycling products and bike locks are no exception. Smart-lock options are starting to become available and bike locks can now feature tech such as key-less Bluetooth locking mechanisms, distress alarms, motion detectors and GPS tracking in the event your bike gets stolen (or you forget where you left it).
2. Learn how to lock your bike properly
Having an impenetrable bike lock will count for nothing if you don’t know how to properly secure your bike. A loose fitting lock or a lock mounted too close to the ground, or around the toptube of your frame are easy targets for potential thieves. The more leverage that can be generated gives more opportunity for a lock to be compromised, potentially making your bike an easy target.
The following tips should help you lock your bike more effectively, keeping your bike safe from thieves:
Solid, sturdy and safe
Your bike is only as secure as the object you’re locking it to. Locking your bike to a solid object, such as a dedicated bike rack or immovable street furniture like a sturdy bench or railing is generally going to be the safest option. If you’re unsure, a quick wobble test should give you a fair indication as to whether poles and racks are firmly seated in the ground and suitable to lock your bike to.
Low and Tight
When locking your bike frame, placing the lock as close to the bottom bracket as possible and selecting a lock with clearance as tight as possible is advisable. If you have a little more room, passing the lock through or around as many components, such as the wheels and frame, or street furniture will reduce excess movement, making your bike more secure in the process.
In addition to making your bike more secure, the more time and effort seemingly required to steal your bicycle will often prevent theft. Combining a secure U-lock to secure the frame with a sturdy chain or reinforced cable lock for the wheels is a popular option and enough to deter opportunistic thieves, leaving them searching for an easier target.
Keep your locks down
Some bike thieves have resorted to filling locking mechanisms with glue or solvents, seizing the lock and rendering the owner's keys useless, allowing thieves to come back when there are fewer people around to steal the bike in the future. Keeping your lock facing downward will go a long way to prevent this from happening.
Lock by value
Depending on the type of bike you ride, certain components on your bike can carry a big price tag. For example, a carbon wheelset on a road bike can carry a resale value in excess of $1000. Big ticket items can be a target for experienced bike thieves in the know. Locking your frame, followed by your rear and front wheel will go a long way to stop them from being fleeced.
3. Check your location
Where you lock your bike up is often as important as how you lock it in the first place. If you’re unfamiliar with the area you’re planning to leave your bike, it doesn’t hurt to ask a local bike shop or business in the area if there are any places with a track history of bike theft to avoid.
More often than not though, bikes are stolen out of garages, or laneways with poor lighting and low foot traffic. Even if your bike is kept at home, in a shed or communal lock-up, it’s worth investing in a sturdy anchor lock or similar to ensure your bike remains where you left it.
If you must leave your bike in public, locking it where you can see it will obviously let you keep tabs on it. If this is not possible, thieves are going to be less likely to tamper with a bike lock with a lot of eyes on them and people frequently passing by. Locking your bike in a well-lit high traffic area, covered by CCTV is the way to go. Avoid locking up your bike close to where people commonly loiter, as previously stated, no lock is unbreakable, so leaving your bike surround by loiterers can provide the perfect cover for thieves to spend the time needed to crack your lock.
4. Lock down your fitness tracking
Fitness-tracking apps such as Strava are great for encouraging friendly competition amongst like-minded cyclists. However, they also broadcast insight into where you live or work, and what gear you are using. Many bike thefts have been linked to such information in recent years.
The good news is that privacy settings on these apps can be altered. Making your account private will provide anonymity re your details and activities, making you less likely to be a target in the future. You can also place exclusion zones around your address or workplace so no one can see exactly where you start/stop your rides and store your bike.
5. Theft-proof your components
Followed by the frame and the wheels, the components on your bike can represent significant value and are often targeted by thieves. It’s all too common to walk past a row of bikes with stems, seats, handlebars and other easily accessible components stolen from them. The good news is that there are steps you can take to secure your components.
The most common theft prevention measure available is replacing the common hex bolts that lock these components in place with security bolts such as the Hexlox system pictured. Similar to lock-nuts found on car wheels, the anti-theft bolts and wheel skewers will typically require a key to “unlock” or loosen them.
Whilst there’s still a small chance that determined bike thieves may have a workaround tool, chances are slim and will usually leave thieves searching for an easier target.
6. Unappealing = Undesirable
Similar to a bird drawn to shiny foil, leaving your pride and joy locked up adorned with accessories, and looking the goods, unfortunately, will attract unwanted attention. Depending on the attachment you have to the bike being locked up, there are steps you can take to make your bike blend in, making it go unnoticed.
The obvious tip here is to remove as many of the accessories fitted to your bike as possible. Having lights, computers and other expensive goods hanging off your unattended bike are often easily removed in seconds making them both easy to take with you or be pinched when you’re quickly ducking into the cafe.
The appearance of your bike can also be a lure. For those unphased by the appearance of their bike, there are measures that can be undertaken to make your bike appear more subtle, and less expensive. Covering over the branding on your bike or components with electrical tape or something more permanent is one such measure. This can make your bike both more subtle, yet more recognizable and therefore harder for a thief to onsell in the future.
7. When it doesn’t work, tips for recovery
The unfortunate truth is that no lock is unbreakable if you end your bike ends up being stolen, there are steps you can take both before and after the fact to make recovery of your bike easier.
Make recovery easier in advance
Having good quality photo’s of your bike, including the serial number(often found stamped on the bottom bracket section of your frame, underneath) or even the receipt of purchase will make the recovery of your stolen bike easier. With this information, you can key in your bikes details to online Websites that routinely check your details against bike recovered by the authorities and suspected stolen bikes listed on used bike marketplaces such as eBay.
Having your bike insured will also go a long way to alleviating the emotional and financial toll that having your bike stolen can cause. Working similar to car or motorbike insurance, bike insurance will generally cover theft of your bike should it be stolen. There are many options including adding your bike as a specified item to your home and contents to cycling-specific options such as VeloSure. The key thing to remember with all insurance is to read the fine print of your policy, some policies such as those from VeloSure require you to use only specific approved locks.
Another option is to etch your details, or initials onto the frame of the bike, the recognizable marking will be easy for you to spot in the event your bike pops up online, or at a pawn shop and makes your bike harder for a thief to onsell. Doing so, however, will likely hurt the resale of your bike.
Recovery tips after the theft.
Once the standard seething hatred directed at the anonymous low-life that’s just pinched your bike has subsided, there are proactive measures you can take to increase the odds of recovering your stolen bike.
Reporting the theft to the relevant authorities is a good first step to take. Around half of all bikes stolen are eventually recovered by police, however, approximately only 5% are returned to their original owners due to insufficient information. So whilst you may feel that reporting your bike theft to the police is a waste of time, having the theft and your personal details noted with the authorities will dramatically increase the chances of your bike being returned to you should it be recovered.
Pawn shops and 3rd party online marketplace websites such as eBay, and Facebook Marketplace are hot spots for thieves to list stolen bike for sale. Frequently searching for the brand, model or description that fits your bike may uncover the location of your bike. Whilst vigilante style operations to steal your bike back may sound cool, this is not recommended. If you happen to uncover the location of your stolen bike, alert the necessary authorities to recover the stolen bike for you.