Bike theft & security

By Harv :: Photos: Harv

As we use our bikes more for errands and general transportation, securing them at our destination becomes an important issue. Sure, when we are just out for a cruise, a group or club ride, an hour workout, or any other pleasure ride, we are always with the bike and no thoughts of security are necessary. Assuming, of course, we are not worried about being bike-jacked. But that is another discussion.

A basic 2-3 lb. U-lock

A basic 2-3 lb. U-lock

Where and for how long?

Where and for how long we leave the bike is important an issue as what locking devices are to be used. For an example of what can be done to a locked bike left in the wrong place for too long see “Abandoned Bicycles of New York” . Many of these bikes were abandoned after being stripped or damaged. An all-day lock-up at work or school calls for stronger measures than a short stop at a supermarket, post office, or book store. Over-night lock-ups are the very riskiest and unthinkable almost everywhere.

There are three requirements for a bike theft to occur. Someone has to be motivated to steal your bike and risk the exposure time to make the effort. Then the thief must have the required equipment. Every locking device can be defeated with the proper tools and enough time. As the owner of the bicycle you take the chance that all three requirements won’t be met. This is a risk exercise, as is the actual riding of the bike.

Basic rack lock-up with U-lock around rear wheel

Basic rack lock-up with U-lock around rear wheel

Make it ugly

First consideration is how to lessen the temptation for a thief to steal your bike. This is the rationale of the “beater” bike. A crappy looking bike (but fully functional) is the way to go. A shiney, colorful, flashy bike is a theft magnet. What to do if your bike is the latter? Either build a beater, or cruddify your pristine ride. Get out the rattle can of flat-black paint or the roll of black electrical tape.

Types of lock

Starting simple and working up, let’s take a look at what to do with the locking devices. A brief lock-up at a food market should require only your basic U-lock or cable lock. Roving hoards of bike thieves seldom cruise the Food4Less or Safeway. Your typical SUV-driving house frau is not interested in loading up your bike next to the baby seat and bags of groceries. My local food emporium has no bike rack, so I leave the U-lock at home and cable-up to a tree. For a bit more security, use both U-lock and cable .

If you are lucky enough to patronize a store with an actual bike rack accessible, then go with the higher security U-lock as a minimum because bike racks are usually on the street and there will be more visibility of the bike to passing traffic which may include those with a propensity to commit crimes of opportunity. Still, it is not likely that international bicycle thieves, carrying diamond-bladed cut-off tools or hydraulic car jacks are going to attack your U-lock here. So you can use a basic inexpensive, narrow-shackle, light-weight (2 pound) U-lock in this situation. As the neighborhood quality, exposure, and crime level for the area worsens, you might want the more expensive and heavier (3 to 5 pound) U-lock which would resist the above assault weapons.

Rack U-lockup plus cable around both wheels with additional padlock

Rack U-lockup plus cable around both wheels with additional padlock

Anti-theft Skewers

In any case, there are some basic things to watch out for. Those neat wheels with quick release skewers instead of axle nuts are a bad idea if you are going to be locking up your bike. You can run a cable through both wheels (see photo above) to secure them. Or you can simply use solid axles with nuts or replace the quick release skewers with locking or bolted skewers. If you elect to replace the QR skewers with bolted ones, you have to carry a 6 mm hex key (normally part of a multi-tool) to remove the wheel. What are the chances that a casual thief would have a 6 mm hex key? Or a 15 mm wrench to remove axle nuts?

Lock your wheels

If your bike has quick-release wheels, there is another lockup method that would preclude worrying about wheel theft and a separate system to protect them. You can remove the front wheel, place it along side the rear wheel, then pass your U-lock around both wheels, the frame, and the bike rack. Shackle not wide enough? Then try omitting the frame from the U-lock and just pass it around the wheels (inside the rear triangle) and the bike rack. Since neither wheel can pass through the frame, the whole bike is still protected.

Bike with front wheel removed and both wheels u-locked together with the frame.

Bike with front wheel removed and both wheels u-locked together with the frame.

Hide the accessories

Also, any removable items such as lights, computer, pannier bag, or quick-release seat post might easily be taken. Notice the lack of these items on my “beater” bike. Quick releases on the seat post may be easily replaced with a nutted binder-bolt or a locking skewer. A small cable can be used through the seat rails to secure it.

Use multiple locks

Moving on to a more difficult case, you want to leave your bike behind a movie theater for several hours, all day at a school or work location, at a train station, or in front of an apartment building. Here, multiple locking devices are called for. Use a U-lock plus a cable for the wheels, preferably with another padlock an shown in above photo. Using both a U-lock and a padlocked cable means a thief would have to take more time and do more work to defeat the two devices.

Kryptonite Fahgettaboudit New York chain and padlock

Kryptonite Fahgettaboudit New York chain and padlock

OnGuard Beast Chain and Padlock

OnGuard Beast Chain and Padlock

For overnight parking, bring out the Fahgettaboudit New York chain with square-section hardened links and matching padlock. Pass chain through wheels and frame and around immoveable object. Then add more locks and cables. Now you have a 20 pound bike protected by 10 pounds of locks and cables. Time to think about a folding bike that you can take with you.