Having had a bike stolen in the past, I wanted to make this as clear as possible for you, to save you going through the hassle and frustration that I did.
To be clear, the bike I had stolen was actually my brother’s borrowed (and almost brand new) mountain bike. I had ridden down to the city in the middle of a weekday and left it locked up under a security camera, thinking all would be fine. However, I came back 45 minutes later to find no sign of the bike or even the lock, even from a busy street. The police were uninterested and largely useless, meaning I never heard anything of the bike again.
I still feel a little guilty about it and really wouldn’t want you (or your siblings!) to go through that same thing, so here’s my take on preventing your bike from being stolen, since prevention here is so much better than cure (AKA buying a new bike)!
Psychology of Bike Thieves
First, let’s think about what goes on in the mind of bike thieves, not to become criminal masterminds (!) but to help us prevent our bikes from being stolen from our usual parking place.
So, what do bike thieves look for? Thieves are most interested in stealing a bike when the following applies:
- Quick to steal (unlocked, cheap lock or not locked properly)
- Bike locked around a quick release or detachable wheel
- Bike locked around a low post or moveable object
- Few people will see them doing it
- Minimal foot traffic
- Out of sight from windows in nearby houses and offices
- After dark, at night
- Branded bike that has high value and is quick to sell (obvious logo)
- Lack of security cameras (but still not a major one)
- Easy escape route by bike (loading into a vehicle is riskier and makes thieves easier to trace)
Steps to Keep Your Bike From Being Stolen
Now that we have considered many of the most obvious reasons why a thief might try to steal your bike, let’s look at all the things you can do to make your bike as anti-theft as possible.
1. Cover Branding/Logos on Your Bike Frame
You can quite easily make an expensive bike look a heck of a lot cheaper by covering up the branding on the bike. This can be done in several different ways, as will be explained below.
Humble duct tape will be fine for this purpose.
To do this, simply buy duct tape that matches the color of the bike frame (or as close as possible). Then, clean your bike frame to make sure that it is free from dust or dirt. Cut the tape as needed and apply. Try to leave it for a few hours before going out into the rain on a ride to work.
This might not look ‘amazing’ but it will certainly be cheap and effective.If you find that the tape starts to peel off after a period of use, simply add some more from the roll of duct tape you already have!
If you want to get creative and actually do some kind of design over the branding, then you can get some bicycle decoration stickers. These durable bike stickers will add a touch of fun to this process, although they will make your bike stand out rather than blend into the background. That said, they will still be effective in obscuring the brand name on your bike frame, which is the main point here.
If you want to go one step further, you can also use spray paint to permanently alter the design of the bike to obscure the branding.
Obviously this then makes a permanent change to your bike, so think carefully about this option before doing it as it will affect re-sale value later on, whereas duct tape can simply be peeled off. Spray painting your bike in this way will help you to make your bike look old and therefore less appealing to thieves.
2. Use a Lockable Bike Cover
This sounds obvious but most people only ever consider using a bike cover at home, but using one outside your work or wherever you lock your bike on a regular basis again reduces the number of people who see it.
For example, this Pro Bike Cover has an eyelet for locking, which should work well with a cable lock. The added advantage of this over standard bike covers is that it adds a layer of hassle for thieves, meaning that they will have to first cut your bike cover off to even see the bike, which would be an added effort and add time to any bike thieves activities’. Clearly, if they see you riding it to your lock-up spot, they may well know what bike it is but the added hassle still makes it that bit less appealing.
With lockable cover, you could also leave the bike cover with your bike at the place you choose to lock it during the day, meaning that you don’t have to carry it with you at all times and making it an easy option that doesn’t get in the way of your routine.
The only real downside for this option is the added time as bike covers can be a bit finnicky to put on and take off, but the Pro Bike Cover is an XL cover with space for 1-2 bikes, so should provide plenty of space for most bikes, making it straightforward to put on or take off.
3. Get Locks Worth 10-20% of Your Bike’s Value
This simple rule should apply to all riders, regardless of the use of their bike. As mentioned elsewhere in this post, the higher cost of a lock generally means that it is more difficult and time-consuming to break, making it less of an easy target for thieves.
I actually took a photo of this bike I saw locked up near where I park my bike while at work and was surprised to see that, despite being the exact same make and model as my bike, it was locked using a cheap-looking cable lock only that would be easy work for an opportunistic thief passing by. The added pannier bags on the bike only served to draw attention to it as the kind of bike that someone did not think was likely to steal (would you leave $50 bags on your bike all day?! I wouldn’t!)
This is particularly relevant if you are wondering how to lock up an expensive bike or an e-bike since they are certainly a high-value proposition for thieves and therefore more of a target.
How Much to Spend on a Secure Bike Lock?
So, if your bike is worth $500, look to spend around $50 on a lock. If it’s worth $1,000, then spend anywhere from $100-200 on locks, cables and other securing devices.
If you want to get a lock and cable for the $50-100 mark, Kryptonite is a reliable brand that offers U locks with cables at a fair price. This is the brand and lock I’ve used for the last 5 years while riding to work at my local university campus (where thieves are definitely active!) and, so far, it’s been great.
For more expensive bikes, Kryptonite’s New York U lock range is a good bet as they offer added security to features to further deter thieves from trying their luck with your bike. These locks are at the premium end of the range but they should pay for themselves in terms of the added piece of mind and their theft prevention ability.
4. Double Up on Locks
You can add further security to prevent bike theft by adding a second lock (or locking mechanism) to your bike. You can do this in multiple ways, as we’ll look at below.
U Lock Front and Back
If you get 2 U locks, one for the front wheel and frame and another for the back part of the frame, you will be doubling the time it takes for someone to steal your bike. By making this take extra time, you are reducing the chances of bike theft. All U locks you use will be visible to all passersby so it acts as a visible deterrent in that sense, too.
The downside to having two locks is the weight, with the standard Kryptonite lock weighing 3.55 lbs each and the heavy-duty New York version weighing 4.45 lbs each. To get around this weight issue, I’d recommend leaving one of your locks on the frame where you lock up your bike regularly since this means not having to carry the lock (and therefore weight) around with you on your bike ride.
U Lock with Cable
This classic locking combination is actually more of a ‘lock plus’ option than a true double lock but it’s worth doing if to only secure your wheel as well as your frame. As you can see in the images below, this is how I currently lock and secure my bike.
How to Securely Lock Your Bike?
I’d recommend taking the following steps to lock your bike securely with a U lock and cable:
- Get a big enough lock so that it can go around both the wheel and the frame
- Push the bike as flat against the stand/locking post as possible
- Push the U lock from the ground up through your front wheel so that it goes around both your bike frame and the stand
- Pass the cable through one end of the lock and then around the rear wheel to secure it
- Close the lock around the top of the angled part of your frame
- Check that your bike does not move much
- Carry on with your day!
The reason why I recommend this way is that it leaves as little movement as possible and focuses the lock around the front of the bike. The front being more of an issue since it is quicker and easier to take off the front wheel of a bike than the rear, so leaving the cable to protect the rear wheel only means that you have the most amount of security on the most vulnerable part of the bike, the front wheel.
These locks are majorly popular in the biking hotspot of the Netherlands, but they are not to be used on their own as they simply stop the bike from being wheeled away. However, using them in combination with a U lock would be a handy addition if you are worried about remembering or carrying a lock with you.
They work by sliding a lock between the spokes on your wheel and are secured to your frame so are always there.
Just make sure that they will fit onto your frame before buying and you might need to buy them with a
Abus makes the most well-known bicycle frame locks, but remember that you will need to get some mounting straps as well since Abus do not supply them together (no idea why!).
Well, These are not so much of a lock as a deterrent in that they replace the quick-release options on your wheels. A quick-release wheel mechanism has a handle on the end for a quick option to remove the wheels. The problem here is that expensive wheels are also an inviting target for thieves, and removing a wheel can comprise a poorly locked bike.
If you think wheel locks are a good option for your bike, then check out the Pitlock Bicycle Locking Skewer set.
You can see how wheel locking nuts work in general in the YouTube video below (starting at 2m06s):
5. Leave as Little Movement as Possible
Another thing you can do is to lock up your bike in a way that allows it to be moved as little as possible. By this, I mean when someone approaches your bike, it shouldn’t really move side to side or forwards or backwards. The reason I say this is because movement in a locked bike means that a thief can get more leverage when attacking the lock or trying to take the bike.
I know this from a friend who saw thieves kicking his bike frame to the side as hard as possible in an attempt to pop the lock open. By kicking the frame (which had some movement when locked), they were trying to get enough weight behind the kick to push the frame onto the lock and hopefully break it open. Fortunately my friend was able to run down and chase them off (‘them’ being young boys) but it is something I’ve always remembered since.
It also stands to reason that any kind of stretching or leveraging on the bike lock that a thief can get will make it more prone to breaking, be it with a kick, a hammer or other object of brute force.
If you missed it, skip back up to the U Lock with cable section in this post for tips and a picture on how to securely lock your bike to prevent this kind of movement.
6. Remove ALL Possible Accessories (Including lights)
Leaving lots of items on a bike gives the impression of someone who is not expecting a bike theft, and is therefore unlikely to return or have a good lock. I’m pretty sure that this would not only draw the attention of bike thieves but also make them feel encouraged by what they see. The key things to always take off your bike to prevent theft are:
I say to remove lights because these can be worth a lot of money and add incentive to a thief. They also invite people to inspect them, even if they are not planning on stealing your bike and can serve to encourage opportunistic theft that might not otherwise happen. If you don’t already have some, get a set of USB chargeable bike lights that attach with a simple strap like a wristwatch, like this bike light set by Lezyne.
Bags left on bike frames, be they pannier bags, trunk bags or other, are extremely conspicuous and attract unwanted attention, adding to the thinking that you are someone who is a little careless about your bike and therefore not too worried about it getting robbed.
Although Ortlieb makes cables to go with some of their panniers, they are hard to find and only fit certain types, meaning that there aren’t currently any theft-proof panniers on the market that I know of at the time of writing.
Leaving a helmet is something that might seem innocent enough (‘who would want to steal a helmet?’, you might ask), but their color again serves to draw unwanted attention to your bike. If you have an expensive helmet, then definitely take it with you since leaving it locked to your bike can add a nice ‘bounty’ to would-be thieves who are deciding on which bike to target.
7. Park Your Bike as Close to Windows as Possible
This option might not be possible for all of you, but make sure your bike is as close to nearby windows as possible. This will provide the added ‘social’ protection of the feeling of everything being visible, and should help to prevent thieves from attempting to take your bike.
I know – people who are in work or living in houses might not do anything to stop bike thieves or raise the alarm, but the presence of these kinds of features will at least put up another psychological barrier to bike thieves.
If this is not possible in your current bike parking area, have a look around the corner to see if there is somewhere else that might offer more protection on this, with more on this in the section below.
8. Change Your Bike Parking Location
To continue on from the point above, think about changing your bike parking location if you feel that it is unsafe.
The main reasons why your current bike parking location could be as follows:
- Limited visibility from surrounding buildings
- Very little foot traffic or passersby
- Close to an easy or concealed escape route
If you remember that bike thieves will take higher risks when they see a bike that has limited visibility to the outside world and an easy escape route, try to find a place to lock your bike in an open area, rather than in a concealed one. You can do this by doing a few loops around the neighborhood in which you need to lock up your bike. Again, the return for doing this relatively short task should pay for itself, so think of it as a good use of time.
9. NEVER Leave Your Bike Unlocked (Not Even for a Few Seconds!)
This perhaps sounds a little silly but I’ve heard of this happening. People saying ‘but I only left it for 20 seconds’. In reality, this means that you are leaving an opportunist a few seconds to get on your bike and ride away, which is more than doable.
I know it seems like hassle but spending the extra 30 seconds to lock up your bike before going into the store is actually nothing when you consider the value of your bike. Imagine the your bike is worth $1,000 but you didn’t want to spend 30 seconds to a minute locking it up and it gets stolen. That means that you think your time is essentially worth $20,000 per hour, which is, sorry to say, highly unlikely!
10. Look for Signs of Activity on/in Bikes Around You
This works in two ways. The first is that if you see that most of the bikes locked up around you are actually not being used and have flat tires and are stripped of components, then it’s probably a sign that you are parking your bike in an unsafe area. Just taking a moment to monitor how well-used the bike parking area is will help you to make the judgement call of whether to find a new location to lock and leave your bike immediately.
The second way to do this is also to monitor your own bike for signs of activity, such as chipped paintwork or any small dents on the frame. I had this with my bike when leaving it in a new bike parking area that looked busy but had lots of old, unused bikes left there (something I didn’t leave time to change before getting into the office!). I came out at the end of the day to see some chipped paintwork on the frame and a dent in it, something that bike store owner who did my maintenance the following week confirmed – a blow from the instrument of a thief trying to steal it.
The point here is that as soon as you see any warning signs, even if it is picking up on bad vibes in the area where you park your bike, change your location as soon as possible.
11. Use a Different Bike!
Use a cheap bike
If you’re really concerned about your nice bike being stolen, look into getting a cheap bike to use on your regular commute or bike journey.
You can get some extremely good deals on used bikes from sites like Craigslist in the USA, or Gumtree in the UK or Australia, so why not get a bike for cheap that you will not feel too worried about losing? Again, if you think of it in terms of money spent, spending an extra $200 on a good used bike isn’t that crazy when it gives you the extra peace of mind and redudced anxiety about bike theft.
Get a Folding bike
A folding bike is an awesome option, either to buy used or to change and use in place of your current bike. This is because they are, by nature, theft-proof since good folding bikes can be carried easily with you, wherever you go.
The obvious choice for a folding bike is a Brompton because of their compact folded size and quick transition between folding and riding. You could easily store a Brompton under your desk at work, as well as in a tiny apartment, or in the trunk of the smallest car. They are also fun to ride and are much more powerful than their tiny wheels suggest. Their only downside is the premium price, but this reflective of their quality and durability, as well as the added practicality that they can offer.
Get (Or Hire) a Smart Bike with Anti-theft Technology Built In
Smart bikes are now most definitely becoming a thing and they are targeting the prevention of bike theft. The main player in this market at present is VanMoof, who have both standard and electric bikes with alarms and theft-tracking GPS devices built in as standard. The alarms promise to be as loud as that of a car, while the security features also immobilize your bike when it is ‘under attack’! To go even further, VanMoof offers a subscription service that means that they will track down your bike if it gets stolen.
The other great feature of VanMoof bikes is that they have the option of a bike hire subscription service, meaning that you don’t have to buy one to enjoy the benefits of their smart bike technology. If this sounds like something you need, see more on this in a detailed article on anti-theft bikes.
Other Things You Can Do to Prevent Bike Theft
Install a GPS Tracker
OK, so this won’t prevent your bike from being stolen, but it should help to find or locate the bike afterward.
In case you’re wondering ‘Do bikes have trackers?’, unfortunately only premium VanMoof bikes currently have trackers on them when purchased. You can however buy a tracker like the SwissTrack GPS tracker but you will need to install it in your frame by taking your seatpost off and then recharge every 6 months – see video below for more on this.
This kind of bike theft prevention using GPS is surprisingly new and not available in many forms at present, but hopefully this will change in future with rapid advances in related technology.
Can bike locks be cut? Yes, all bike locks can be cut. Generally speaking, the cheaper the bike lock, the easier it is to cut. More expensive bike locks contain more advanced anti-theft measures which make cutting or breaking more difficult, but with the right equipment, any bike lock can be broken.
What is the most secure (strongest) bike lock? The strongest rated bike lock on the market today is claimed to be the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboutit Mini 18mm U-Lock Bicycle Lock, with an 18mm steel shackle and even an anti-theft protection service in the event of your bike being stolen.
That said, remember that no bike lock is 100% guaranteed, so even if you do decide to get one of these locks, take the other steps mentioned in this article to reduce the chances of inviting a thief to attack your bike!