Keeping your bike safe and secure is a constant concern for urban cyclists.
Being prepared with the right equipment, an understanding of the risk level in your area, and following good safety and locking practices, you can eliminate most of the risk of having your bike stolen. Though most thefts are preventable, there will always be a slight chance of falling victim to a professional bike thief or to damage caused in an attempted robbery.
Set-Up Your Security
Before leaving home, there are a number of ways you can make it more likely for your bike to be returned to you or accounted for in the event of a theft.
Insurance. Adding your bike to homeowner’s or personal property insurance (if you have it) is a good place to start after buying any bike. Some credit cards also offer accidental damage and theft insurance on items purchased (check your contract to see if these features are included on your credit card).
Record serial number. Most bikes have a unique serial number that can be registered online and then used by second-hand buyers to identify stolen bikes (to date, over $13 million worth of stolen bikes have been recovered using this database).
Keep up-to-date photos. It is also prudent to take and keep up-to-date photos of your bike to have in the event of a robbery to prove ownership and better enable it to be identified by your community.
Bike Locks & Secondary Locks
The level of bike theft in your area, and the value of your bike, should determine the amount you invest in a lock, as quality, features, and designs vary greatly.
Different types of bike locks are better suited to different situations, however, quality U-locks are widely recognized as the most secure for locking outside the home. Abus bike locks and Kryptonite locks are regarded as the most secure bike locks in the industry and have a variety of options in different styles & price ranges. This is where considering the value of your bike comes into play. The more expensive (or valued ie: your work commuter) your bike is, the more features and security you’re going to want when protecting it. Check out our article on 2021’s best locks to help you pick the right one for your needs.
With better locks, the thickness of the steel, and the quality of the locking mechanism will be enough to deter any casual thief (cheap hardware store alternatives may be cut easily with bolt cutters). When purchasing a U-lock, choose one that has a smaller U section. This limits the space (and leverage) available for a thief to fit a hydraulic jack into and find an angle to break the lock. Also, smaller locks are more compact and easier to carry or affix to your bike: a win-win situation.
If you lock your bike at the same place each day and store your bike inside your home at night a heavy-duty chain lock may be appropriate. You can conveniently leave the lock at the anchor point permanently (the ability to do this may depend on your city’s regulations).
But not even the most expensive and durable lock is fail-proof. If a thief has the audacity to carry an angle grinder, there is not a lot that can be done.
Wheels, seat posts, saddles, and handlebars are quick and easy to remove for an opportunist thief with a little know-how. These items can be costly to replace, so it’s worthwhile to invest a small amount of time to secure them effectively when you lock your bike.
Quick-release skewers leave your wheels free for the taking with laughable simplicity so having a solution to this should be a priority. Carrying a long cable everywhere so you can secure your wheels is unnecessarily inconvenient, a waste of both time and space.
Securing wheels with locking skewers (except on fixed gear bikes) is simple and inexpensive, and saves a lot of time spent messing with cables. Locking skewers are effective because they require a special key in order to be removed, a feature that deters thieves (especially considering the bike parked next to yours likely has quick-release skewers). A secondary deterrent is that the bike will be rendered useless in the event that a thief encounters a puncture, but so will you unless you make sure to keep the key on hand.
Saddle Cable and Special Security Bolts
To secure a saddle, a small saddle cable attached to your U-lock with a knot around the seat rail should be ample protection for most saddles. If your saddle is costly and you live in an area with high bike theft, it may be worthwhile to remove it and bring it with you or invest in security bolts for the seat and seat post. Security bolts can be used for securing most of your bike’s components should you deem fit.
Bike Wheel locks
Pinhead Bicycle Locking Skewer Set, 2 Pack
How To Lock a Bike
There are 4 keys to locking your bike efficiently and effectively:
- Avoid weak anchoring locations. If the spot you choose is not secure, you may only deter the less cunning thief. Trees, street signs, and moveable bike racks should be avoided. Small trees can be cut down, bikes can be slid over a street sign, and flimsy, temporary bike racks can be dragged off easily.
- If possible, choose an area where other bikes are locked. Good locking technique and a quality location put you at a distinct advantage. Your bike doesn’t have to be the hardest to steal, just not the easiest.
- Always lock the frame and leave minimal space in between the lock and the anchor. A small U-lock helps significantly here, however, if yours is larger, it may be possible to lock the rear wheel along with a part of the frame to the anchor point. Less space means less opportunity to get leverage to break your lock. A tight lock also helps prevent damage caused by your bike falling over while locked.
- Secure your components and double-check. As mentioned above, secure your components to the degree you see fit, and then double-check your work by giving your bike a shake, it’s not unheard of to have missed the anchor while locking.
Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst
There are many don’ts when it comes to bike locking, like only locking the front wheel, but if you use good judgement, technique, and lock your bike according to risk in your area and the bike’s value, you should be able to avoid the large majority of thefts.
It’s probably worth mentioning that if your bike costs $1000+, it may be worthwhile to purchase an old second-hand bicycle for casual usage, saving the headache of advanced locking techniques and the stress of leaving your precious bike locked up somewhere.