Summary: The risk of having your bike stolen can prevent you maximising the benefits of cycling for transport - both through losing access to it and because you may not use your bike for some trips due to the risk of theft. This post summarises the best advice on decisions, techniques and habits that will keep your bike safe while enabling you to use it as much as possible.
cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Bart
> What type of bike lock should I buy?
> What to do if your bike is stolen
1. Don't overspend on your bike and fixed equipment; buy utility at low cost
- Ideally you should spend enough on your bike and fixed components (that you don't remove when you park) so that your bike is the most practical, efficient, convenient, reliable and enjoyable way to get around. Unfortunately, the more expensive your bike the more attractive it is to steal.
- As a rule of thumb, try and ensure that your bike is not in the top 20% (by value, desirability) of bikes available to steal in the place you've parked it. For urban cyclists parking all around a city, this may mean your upper limit is as low as $300 or as high as $1000. If your bike is in the top 20% it is very likely a target of professional bike thieves and they have tools to break any lock. See: > How much should you spend on a utility bike?
- It may seem challenging to buy and equip a bike for less than $1000 that is practical, efficient, convenient, reliable and enjoyable to ride; however, you can certainly minimise the cost by choosing the lower-cost, "good enough" options. E.g. Quality bike gears can cost $100 or well over $1000; there's no need to lean toward the expensive end. Your saddle can be comfortable for $20, there's no need to get a Brooks saddle for over $150. I spent $380 on my current bike and only $155 on other equipment that is attached to it when locked up. See: > Actual cycling expenditures prove how cheap cycling can be
2. Use small, detachable equipment if fixed equipment makes your bike a theft target
- Some bike equipment (lights, expensive bike computers, attachments for carrying things) can make your bike more attractive to thieves if it is fixed or attached to the bike when parked. If you buy small/foldable and detachable equipment (e.g. lights) that you can take with you when you park your bike, you will make your bike less of a target.
- I take my lights (and anything else) with me when I lock my bike and the only detachable equipment left is:
(a) My $26 helmet (locked through the strap, so the strap would need to be cut to steal it)
(b) My $24 saddle bag
(c) My $13 bicycle computer
(d) My $10 bottle cage
(e) My $20 rear mudguard
(f) My stock saddle (estimated value is $15)
- None of the above have ever been stolen or damaged when I've parked my bike in Melbourne. Though if I left the bike for a few days in a high-risk area there would be a chance of equipment being stolen. Hence, if parking for extended periods, you should remove as much detachable equipment as practical.
- The low cost of my equipment is part of the reason I don't worry about leaving the above attached to my bike. If I had an expensive Brooks saddle I would be concerned about it being stolen when parked in high-risk situations. See: Actual cycling expenditures prove how cheap cycling can be
3. Always lock up with a quality U lock or heavy duty chain
- Cable locks are completely useless against theft so always use a U lock (aka "D lock") of proportionate quality to the value of your bike, the theft risk and your capacity to replace it. Also make sure your U lock has an attachment to your bike so that you always have it and use it. Mini U locks are much less susceptible to leverage attacks but do limit the size of what you can lock to.
> What type of bike lock should I buy? (I use a Kryptonite Series 2 U lock)
> The Sweet Home: The best bike lock
- Heavy duty chain locks (totally different from cables) also offer excellent protection. The best protection comes from using a high quality U lock with a heavy duty chain. Chains can be wrapped around the seat post when riding.
4. Use two locks when necessary; keep an extra lock permanently attached at your most common lock-up sites
- Use two locks if/when the theft risk is particularly high (e.g. you have an expensive/desirable bike and are locking it for an extended period in a place that isn't very secure). A mini U lock and a heavy duty chain lock (with its own locking mechanism) are the best combination.
- Carrying two quality locks is cumbersome so if you need two locks at a frequent destination you can often keep one permanently attached there - such as at work, outdoors at your home or at common, high-risk destination (e.g. bar/cafe).
- Bike thieves have to carry different tools or use different techniques to defeat different types of locks so the safest way to lock your bike is to use a high quality U lock and a heavy duty chain. E.g. This would mean that a leverage attack on the U lock would not work on the chain and a cutting tool would be needed too. See: Vocativ: Tips From a Bike Thief: How to Make Sure No One Steals Your Ride
TfL locking poster
- Melbourne doesn't have a lot of professional bike thieves so I have yet to need two heavy duty locks for any of my regular locking situations. However, when I rode to the airport and left my bike locked up for 2 nights I used my Kryptonite Series 2 U lock on the back wheel, frame and bike rack and my Kryptonite Keeper 11S U lock on the front wheel and frame.
5. Lock your bike with the proper technique
- The U lock should go inside a triangle part of the frame and/or rear wheel and the immoveable, impenetrable object you are locking to (e.g. bike parking hoop). If you can get the lock around the rear wheel and frame and object even better. If feasible, I also put my U lock through the holes in my helmet when locking up.
TfL locking poster
- The reason it is worthwhile locking your bike through the rear wheel (not just the frame) when feasible or in higher-risk situations is because: (a) Simple leverage attacks like twisting the bike are less likely due to damaging the rear wheel; (b) It means the lock has to be broken for the bike to be ridden away - it can't just be detached from what you've locked to; (c) It leaves less space for sophisticated leverage attacks within the U lock arms.
- See the below videos:
How to properly lock up a bicycle (Howdini)
How to lock your bike (Carlton Reid)
- Some cyclists lock the front wheel with a U lock as it is easier to get off (e.g. quick release) but, if doing so, make sure you also lock through the frame triangle. It is usually preferable to lock the rear wheel as it is more expensive and typically harder to replace so a bike thief has less options in trying to steal the bike without damaging the rear wheel.
6. Use a small U lock if feasible or lock in a way to minimise sophisticated leverage attacks on U locks (particularly if leaving the bike for more than a few hours)
- A quality U lock around the rear wheel and frame will protect at least these parts of your bike from theft in most situations. However, in the highest risk situations (e.g. leaving a desirable bike locked outside overnight in New York), professional bike thieves are equipped with tools like mini car jacks and bottle jacks. These can be slipped inside the U lock arms and defeat any U lock.
- Thus if you need to lock your bike in such situations you should apply the other locking tips (e.g. Using two heavy duty locks of different types - U lock and chain) but also minimise the risk from professional tools:
(a) Small U locks limit the space for jacks to be fitted inside. (See: Kryptonite lock vs jack)
(b) Lock the rear wheel, frame and object with a U lock in a way that minimises the space for jacks or other leverage or cutting tools to be inserted.
(c) Lock your bike in a tight or cumbersome space for bike thieves to operate. E.g. In the middle of a bike rack rather than at the end.
YouTube: How to break a U-Lock
7. Make sure the object you lock to is secure, permanent and not private property
- A weak tree can be broken. A small street sign with a sign that can be taken off may allow a thief to lift your bike over it. Some street fixings have bolts which are already loose or can be loosened easily so be careful. Wire fences can be cut with small shears. So make sure the object is secure but weigh it up against the risk and convenience too.
- Your bike may be cut off temporary equipment (e.g. metal railings at events) or private property if left for long periods, but for less than a day this is unlikely. Also, be careful never to accidentally (or deliberately!) lock to other people's bikes. They may cut the lock or damage your bike in return for your discourtesy!
cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Daniel Latorre
8. If no secure object to lock to, lock the rear wheel to your frame or a friend's bike
- If there is no convenient object to lock to it is more secure to lock your rear wheel to the frame than to just lock the frame to the insecure object (e.g. tree that could be broken or wire fence that could be cut). If the U lock is locked to the frame only, once free of the object it can be ridden away. Conversely, if the rear wheel is U-locked to the frame the bike can only be carried.
- Locking your rear wheel to your friend's rear wheel (including the frame if possible) is another good option when there is no secure object around. Bike thieves do not carry away two bikes locked together when people are around. There are always easier bikes to steal.
9. Keep your bike in your home or locked in a garage or secure area
- If you can keep your bike inside your house then do so, there are clever storage methods to keep it out of the way. If you keep it in your garage/backyard at home keep it locked - if not to another object then at least pass a U lock through the rear wheel and frame.
- At work, it's preferable to lock your bike in the most secure place, typically the parking garage. Even if there is CCTV/security or a bike cage you should use a proper U lock.
10. Lock your bike in a well-lit area where people will be around
- Parking your bike directly on some pedestrian zone pavements can have risks. E.g. Drunken youth passing by and messing with your bike or kicking it. But if you park it too far out of sight this enable bike thieves to work away on stealing it without observation. So try and find a zone of visibility to passersby but which is not at risk of damage. E.g. Just around the corner from a busy street.
11. Don't leave your bike in deserted areas or out overnight; Or use a beater bike
- If you have a desirable bike it will be a target for professional bike thieves and they have tools to break any type of lock - all they need is some time alone with your bike. My first $380 Fuji Declaration was locked (with a cable lock) outside a busy bar till 2am and not stolen. After the bar shut and that street corner was deserted it was stolen by the time I got back at 3:30am.
- So either move your bike to a busier area if the parked location gets deserted. Or if staying out late and it is inevitable the place you lock your bike will become deserted use a "beater/pub bike". This is a very cheap bike that is not desirable to anyone which you use for these high-risk situations.
- If you do have to keep your bike parked outside overnight occasionally or regularly keep one or more additional heavy duty locks permanently in that outdoor location.
12. If necessary, detach the front wheel or use additional locks
- If a single U lock isn't sufficient because you have a front wheel worth stealing on its own (especially if it has quick-release skewers) then you may need to use multiple locks. Carrying two U locks is cumbersome so you have two options:
(a) If the front wheel has quick release skewers you can detach the front wheel and include it within the U lock. Or, if your bike and wheels are very expensive and taking the front wheel with you isn't inconvenient, that may be worthwhile.
(b) Otherwise you can carry a chain (not cable) wrapped around the seat post or frame and pass the chain through the front wheel and the U lock.
- When buying/equipping your bike, choose parts that aren't quick release (e.g. wheels, saddle) as these are harder and more cumbersome to keep secure. However, if you do have quick-release parts that thieves may want to steal, then implement methods to secure them (binder bolts, small padlocks).
13. If your bike has been disabled while you were away, try to take it with you or secure it further
- As noted by the bike thief in this article, thieves may intentionally puncture the tyre of a bike they wish to steal later when the streets empty out. Another trick is to add another lock (often with their bike). Their aim is for the bike owner to leave the bike behind and come back for it later. If in this situation, take the disabled bike with you rather than leave it in a high-risk place overnight. If your bike has been locked with someone else's lock, take a photo, try and add another U lock (e.g. a friends) and leave a note asking to be contacted - in case it was an accident.
14. When buying a second-hand bike ask for the registration number to be provided and check the internet to confirm it's not stolen
- Bikes are mostly stolen to be re-sold, so if second-hand buyers were more conscientious about the bikes they buy not being stolen there would be far less theft. So don't buy second-hand bikes on the street - they are always stolen. And when buying a second-hand bike online or in a store (especially if cheap) always ask for (or check) the registration number (stamped under the bottom bracket where the pedals are attached). These registration numbers are unique and can easily be checked via a Google search to see if stolen.
15. At places/events with lots of cyclists lock up next to other bikes
- If your bike isn't one of the most desirable, you're using a quality U lock and have at least locked the rear wheel to the frame your bike is unlikely to be stolen. Most cyclists do not follow the advice here and so as long as there are more desirable bikes that are easier to steal than yours, this will work in your favour.
16. Don't rely on methods that don't stop your bike being stolen
- Anti-theft strategies that don't work are a waste of time and counter-productive if you use them as a excuse not to follow the proven methods that do. Ineffective strategies include:
(a) Parking your bike next to a more expensive/desirable bike (this is just gambling);
(b) Making your bike look unique (if the unique elements can be removed this doesn't help);
(c) Registering the bike or adding "protected" stickers (it'll still be stolen);
(d) Having your name/licence engraved on it (it'll still be stolen);
(e) Adding tape or ugly adornings to make it seem less expensive than it is (bike thieves know this trick so it'll still be stolen);
(f) Temporarily disabling the bike to make it harder to ride (it can still be stolen);
(g) Insuring your bike (this is usually a waste of money and it'll still be stolen);
(h) Most GPS trackers or other "innovative" lock systems (usually can still be stolen).
17. Assess the risks of bike theft in the areas you park your bike
- It's always worthwhile knowing where and when bike theft is most prevalent in your city so that you can take additional precautions when worthwhile. Below you can see the overall bike theft numbers in Victoria and the recovery rate. These are just the thefts reported to police; the actual theft rate is significantly higher.
Victoria Police Crime Statistics 2012/2013
- The bike theft map below compares theft rates and cars and bikes and highlights where bike theft is higher. However, what is more interesting are the suburbs where bike theft rates are very high. Melbourne CBD is by far the highest (which is expected) and is followed by Brunswick, St Kilda, Richmond and Fitzroy.
The Age: Thieves disappear with thousands of bicycles
Brian Miller: Bicycle Locking In New York City
How to lock a bike guide (Lock your bike UK)
The Proper Way to Lock Your Bicycle (lifehacker)
10 Ways To Prevent Your Bike From Getting Stolen
The Sweet Home: The best bike lock
> Your U-Lock Is Basically Worthless, but Don't Worry
> These 8 Depressing Bike Theft Statistics Show Just How Bad the Problem Is
SFPD Anti Bike Theft Twitter feed
What Happens to Stolen Bicycles? (priceonomics)
Safe Bikes - Recommended locking technique
Vocativ: Tips From a Bike Thief: How to Make Sure No One Steals Your Ride
London Cyclist: The three steps to a theft proof bike
> Thieves disappear with thousands of bicycles
The Marquee Moon: Bicycle U-Lock Makers - The Old Skool Awaits You
Locks and Lock Equipment
> Pinhead Locks
Bike East Bay
> BART + Bike East Bay Theft Prevention Program
> Theft Prevention and Stolen Bicycle Recovery