After my Specialized Hard Rock mountain bike was stolen, I did a whole bunch of research (including talking to a cop) to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Here are my findings, which I hope will help ensure that your bike never gets stolen!
My bike wasn’t super-expensive. It cost about $450 new. But, I used the wrong kind of lock to lock it (a cable lock), and I didn’t realize that I was in a high-risk area for bike theft! Here are my top tips to protect your bike from theft!
1. Use the Right Kind of Lock(s)
By far, the most important thing you can do to protect your bike from theft is to use the right kind of lock. I had a cheap steel cable which the thieves probably cut through like butter using hand tools. It was about as good as having no lock at all. A better type of lock is a U-lock. These were originally made by Kryptonite, but are now made by a variety of manufacturers. You’ll have to spend over $25 for a decent one (and more if you live in a high-risk area), but it’s worth it. Here are the lowest-cost good U-locks from OnGuard that I would recommend:
Kryptonite also has good locks, but they are a bit more expensive:
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Avoid the cheaper U-locks by either brand, as they can be cut with bolt cutters, as a friend of mine found out:
Make sure the U-bar is at least 13mm thick.
Chains can also be effective, but you need to get a thick one or else it won’t do any good. Chains are heavy and hard to store on the bike itself. The advantage, however, is that you can lock the wheels, and it gives you more options on where you can lock your bike to (i.e., a thick light pole). Don’t bother with a light chain. You can break those with a hammer.
Avoid cables unless accompanied by a U-lock. They can be cut with a pair of wire cutters.
If you want more info, here is an entire site devoted to bike locks!
2. Use Extra Precautions in High-Risk Areas
My bike was stolen outside a train station, not far from a bus station. According to the police officer I talked to, these are some of the riskiest areas to park your bike! There are lots of bikes around left unattended for long periods of time. The officer told me that thieves will steal the bike and immediately sell it to someone arriving by bus who needs some wheels.
Universities are also high-risk areas. They have tons of bikes available, sometimes poorly locked. This is a target-rich environment for thieves.
One specific urban area has been universally singled out for bike theft: New York City. There are so many bikers and so many thieves there that this is a prime location for your bike to get stolen. It’s so bad that the bike insurance that came with my bike lock doesn’t cover the entire state of New York! Kryptonite even came out with a New York-themed line of locks including the hilariously-named New York Fahgettaboutit lock!
Many cities in Europe are equally bad for the same reasons. London has a bad bike theft problem for example.
If are in a high-risk area, consider using two sets of locks for your bike. This will enable you to protect both wheels when you lock it up, in addition to making it that much harder for thieves to get your bike. Some sites suggest having two different types of locks so that the thieves will need two different types of tools to get through them, for example, a U-lock and a chain.
Or, bring your bike inside with you.
3. Beware of Balconies and Shared Garages – They are Not Safe
If you live in an apartment or condo complex with a common garage, these are definitely not secure, even if there is a locked “security gate”. I know so many people who got their bikes stolen in apartment parking garages!!! The thief just has to wait for someone to pull out of the garage, then run inside while the gate is closing. Lock your bike when it’s in any kind of common area including garages, courtyards, etc.
I also know people who’ve had their bikes stolen right out of their house’s garage, which was left open “for only a few minutes” or “while the kids were playing outside”. A bike supplies its own getaway vehicle, so a thief needs only a few seconds to make off with your bike, even if it’s inside your garage.
Another place where you might store your bike unlocked is your balcony. Even if you’re on the second story, it’s not secure. It’s not that hard to climb up a tree or get a short ladder to the balcony, then drop your bike down into some bushes.
The best place to store your bike, as far as security is concerned, is inside your residence (but I know that is not always possible).
4. Don’t Leave Your Bike on Car Racks
After I posted my bike theft story on Facebook, two of my friends said they had bikes stolen off of Thule car bike racks. This is a very common occurrence, Car bike racks are NOT secure. In one case, they were able to get the bike off simply by deflating the tires. In another, they stole the racks themselves along with the bikes! Do NOT leave your bikes on your car for an extended period of time. Yes, I know this can be a hassle: You’ve just driven to a hotel and you’re going biking the next day. What a pain to remove your bikes for the night, bring them to your room, and then re-attach them in the morning. But, it’s better than getting them stolen.
5. Register Your Bike!
One more thing you can do is register your bike so that if it is stolen and later found, the police know who to return it to. Colleges and universities often have their own free bike registration services.
BikeIndex.org is the most widely-used bike registration service in the world. It’s recommended by the police forces of many cities, including my home town of Santa Monica.
I also signed up for this free bike registry service from My Asset Tag, and they’ll even send you metallic stickers for your bike:
If your bike is stolen, the chances of the police recovering it are slim, but if you park your bike in a high-risk area, it’s probably worth your time to register it.
6. Avoid Leaving Your Bike Outside Overnight
Under cover of darkness when no one is around, thieves can really go to town on a lock. Bring your bike inside if you need to leave it overnight.
7. Mind Your Accessories
I remove my front and rear lights and take them with me when I leave my bike. Yes, it’s a pain, but they are too easy to steal. I’d love to have a bike odometer and other stuff on my bike, but I don’t – just because they would be too inconvenient to have to remove all of the time.
Bike Lock Insurance – Probably Not Worth the Hassle
My OnGuard bike lock came with $1501 worth of bike insurance for one dollar for the first year. On paper, it seemed like a great deal. However, after I read the fine print, it wasn’t so exciting. You have to jump through so many hoops it’s not really worth it. You have to file a police report and prove that the lock wasn’t cut with power tools (how do you do that?) Oh, and the insurance is void in the entire state of New York!
Cost is a dollar for the first year, $10 for two years and $15 for three years. I took the first year but won’t be renewing.
How Paranoid Do You Need to Be?
Let’s face it: many of these security measures are a pain. If it takes you an extra two minutes to find bike parking and lock your bike every day, you’re spending twelve hours a year locking your bike, or one and a half workdays! Blah!
The key is to balance the hassle with the risk. If you have an expensive bike in one of the high-risk areas mentioned above, you should definitely be paranoid. If you park a Cannondale in an urban area, you should definitely have two locks, or consider having a beater bike for commuting and only using your good bike for recreation. If you live in Manhattan, two locks. If you have a junky beater in the suburbs, one lock is probably fine. If you live in a rural area where you know all of your neighbors and you leave your front door unlocked at night, one lock. Anything in between is where you have to make the judgment call.
So what do I do? I’d categorize my situation as “high risk” because I have a brand new bike which I park in high-risk areas. I have an On Guard 8010 Bulldog U-lock and I have a chain to lock the wheels when I park at the train station. Plus, I’m going to park in the dedicated bike parking area which is under surveillance.
Hope this has been helpful, and please let me know about any experiences or ideas that you have! – Brian