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How to make sure your bike stays safe wherever it's parked

It’s a gut-wrenching, awful feeling. You step out of a shop, cafe or pub and instead of your beloved bike there’s an empty space and the remains of a lock that, it turns out, just wasn’t up to the job. Here’s how to stop this happening to you.

Bike theft is a serious problem. The level of theft has dropped from its mid-1990s peak, but hundreds of thousands of bikes still go missing every year. According to the CTC, from April 2014-March 2015, there were 381,000 incidents of bike theft in England and Wales. 

Nobody wants to be a victim of bike theft. Here’s how to protect yourself and your bike.

Read more: Buyer's guide to bike locks

On the street

Always use a high quality lock. Look for at least silver and preferably gold Sold Secure rating. These ratings indicate that the lock can’t be quickly broken. They’re generally not cheap, but you can get Sold Secure Gold locks from about £20, a modest investment. Make sure you use it even if you’re only leaving your bike for a few seconds.

The best U-locks are incredibly tough. This one was bent but didn't break during a theft attempt.

The best U-locks are incredibly tough. This one was bent but didn't break during a theft attempt.

The best U-locks are incredibly tough. This one was bent but didn't break during a theft attempt. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by Alan (link is external) (link is external) (link is external))

Any lock can be opened by a sufficiently determined thief, but for the best locks 'sufficiently determined' means 'carrying a portable angle grinder'. That's not a cheap tool in itself, and while it's quick, it's also very conspicuous.

>>Read more: The best bike locks — stop your bike getting stolen with our selection 

Park in a sensible place. Use secure bike parking if it’s available. Even for a price, your bike will be far better protected from theft inside a designated secure location rather than on the street, no matter how well you think you’ve locked it up.

If there’s no secure parking, lock your bike in a place that’s as public as possible. If you leave it in a secluded location, it will give any would-be thief time to work on your lock undisturbed.

Lock it to a solid, immovable object. Look for something that can’t be moved and is hard to cut. Railings are good, as are sturdy street signs. The classic inverted-U Sheffield rack is decent as long as it’s in a public place. In some spots where these racks are away from constant view, thieves have cut them to steal bikes. Check any Sheffield rack for such damage as it may not be instantly obvious.

Protect the mechanism. The lock mechanism itself is often the weakest part of even a good U-lock. Position it so it’s as inaccessible as possible. Locking to railings helps with this as you can put the mechanism on the other side where it can’t be attacked. This also helps prevent a lock disabling attack. (See ‘Beware knavish tricks’.)

Use two locks. Put one lock round a wheel, the frame and your locking point, and one around the other wheel and the frame. If possible get the second lock round your solid object too. An alternative to stop a wheel being stolen is to use locking skewers.

>>Read more: Pinhead Security Four Pack review 

Fill the shackle. If you’re using a D-lock, then the more of the space inside the D is occupied, the harder it is for a thief to get something in there to pry the lock open. If you’re parking a bike for a while, consider taking the front wheel off and putting it in the lock. With the frame, rear wheel and whatever you’re locking to that should amply fill the lock.

Beware knavish tricks. If you come back to your bike and find it has a puncture, or the lock has been damaged or the mechanism filled with glue, find a way to take it home anyway. Thieves sometimes disable a bike so you’ll leave it and give them time to come back with power tools to break the lock. If necessary, break the lock yourself. Hiring an angle grinder will cost you about £20 for the day. Another trick thieves are now using is to cut through Sheffield stands and similar racks then cover the gap with gaffer tape - so beware of that ruse, too.

How to lock a bike with the wheel off

How to lock a bike with the wheel off

How to lock a bike with the wheel off, by (CC BY 2.0 Martin (link is external) (link is external))

Take accessories with you. Bike lights, tool bags and pumps are all easy targets for light-fingered toe-rags. Take them off your bike and take them with you.

Be a cynic. Lock your bike near bikes that are not as well secured. It’s like the old joke about not needing to run faster than a bear to be safe in the woods; you just need to be able to run faster than your hiking companions.

At home

Lock your bike securely at home too. Even better, bring it indoors. If you can’t, then invest in some serious security for your shed or garage such as a ground anchor or shed wall reinforcement.

Register your bike. A service such as Bike Register (link is external), will physically mark your bike with an identifying feature and link it to your identity on the police database. Certain councils and police constabularies offer free solutions, and there are alternatives to Bike Register.

Police tape (CC licensed by freefotouk on Flickr)

Police tape (CC licensed by freefotouk on Flickr)

Police tape (CC licensed by freefotouk on Flickr)

Report it if gets stolen. Police now take bike theft far more seriously than they once did. Reporting stolen bikes helps give them the ammunition to keep it a priority.

Hide messages inside your bike. Put scraps of paper in various places that say “This bike was stolen”, with your phone number or email address. Suitable places include the inside of the seat post, taped round the steerer column, inside the handlebar stem and taped inside the rim well. One day an inquisitive mechanic or police stolen goods recovery team might make your day.

Make your bike undesirable. If you have a round-town bike and you don’t really care about how it looks, paint it all over — wheels, tyres, gears, the lot — with cheap spray paint. Pink is the best colour for theft prevention according to road.cc reader Neil753 who suggested this tip. It certainly raises the suspicions of Coventry police who once apprehended a drug dealer because they suspected the pink bike he was riding might be stolen

Thanks to road.cc readers jasecd, Dr. Ko, The Rumpo Kid and obutterwick whose suggestions were included in an earlier version of this article.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

12 comments

Avatar
levermonkey [667 posts] 9 months ago
5 likes

Be aware of what you are leaving unattended. For instance

My Road Bike (My most expensive bike!) and my Downhiller are either in the house, locked to the roof of my car or being riden. They are never left unattended in the street.

My Commuter (Middle priced) on arrival at work gets either locked in a shipping container out of sight or is secured on my works pickup. Again it is never left unattended in the street. Obviously, if you work in an office then try and get it off the street.

Now we come to the bike that I do leave in the street if I can't avoid it - My Fixie. Yes if it got stolen I would be pissed off to F****, yes it would break my heart and yes I'd have to get home on public transport, but ... I've only lost £350 not £4500+!

Also. Leave your bike near something more desirable! Given the choice what would you steal?

The main job of your bike security measures is not to prevent your bike from being stolen - that's impossible - but to make the thief look elsewhere.

Learn to think like a Scumbag-Maggot!

Avatar
OldRidgeback [2627 posts] 9 months ago
2 likes

Get a scruffy old clunker with mis-matched wheels. A few big scratches and peeling stickers on the frame help, as do tattered bar tape. The components can be really good, as long as they are nicely covered up in road grime.

Avatar
giskard [63 posts] 9 months ago
0 likes
Quote:

If you come back to your bike and find it has a puncture, or the lock has been damaged or the mechanism filled with glue, find a way to take it home anyway. Thieves sometimes disable a bike so you’ll leave it and give them time to come back with power tools to break the lock. If necessary, break the lock yourself. Hiring an angle grinder will cost you about £20 for the day.

I doubt you'd be very successful trying to get your hands on a portable angle grinder when you've found your lock has been sabotaged at the end of a day in the office. And tool hire shops aren't exactly plentiful.

Apparently you can subvert the old superglue-in-the-lock trick by making sure you squirt plenty of oil in where the key goes. 

Avatar
bikebot [1976 posts] 8 months ago
3 likes
giskard wrote:
Quote:

If you come back to your bike and find it has a puncture, or the lock has been damaged or the mechanism filled with glue, find a way to take it home anyway. Thieves sometimes disable a bike so you’ll leave it and give them time to come back with power tools to break the lock. If necessary, break the lock yourself. Hiring an angle grinder will cost you about £20 for the day.

I doubt you'd be very successful trying to get your hands on a portable angle grinder when you've found your lock has been sabotaged at the end of a day in the office. And tool hire shops aren't exactly plentiful.

Apparently you can subvert the old superglue-in-the-lock trick by making sure you squirt plenty of oil in where the key goes. 

If there's superglue in the lock, go buy some nail varnish remover.   The remover is just acetone, which will dissolve cyanoacrylate.

Avatar
Dr. Ko [182 posts] 8 months ago
0 likes

http://innercitymobility.blogspot.de/2015/02/s-like-super-safe.html

Currently I use

a) the Granit with the front wheel placed between rigid object and frame

b) the combo shown in the last picture, with two different types of locks.

On a lighter note for inside security. 

Avatar
Big Softy [23 posts] 8 months ago
1 like

The scrotes are also nicking high-end shifters, brakes, etc.  Easy to flog and almost untraceable

You can prevent this by putting a ball bearing with a couple of drops of epoxy into any Allen head fixings.  When you need to do repairs you can prise it out with a small screwdriver.

It'll deter the average opportunist dirtbag.

Avatar
ron611087 [345 posts] 8 months ago
0 likes

Missed two tips:

1. Strong locks are heavy so if you park in the same place regularly, leave a strong lock at your destination point and carry a lighter lock for popping into the shops.

2. Use a recumbent bike  3 They're immune to opportunistic theft. If you can't ride it you can't steal it unless you have a van. And they're fun to ride.

 

Avatar
hampstead_bandit [614 posts] 8 months ago
0 likes

I used to work at a bike shop that had a working relationship with a professional lock smith who also worked for several London Boroughs, removing bicycles left on street for more than 3 months.  

This guy could remove any lock on the market in under a minute, and would offer to remove locks for legal owners of bikes (after checking ID and receipt of bike) if they had lost their keys

the heaviest D-Locks, motorbike chains, etc. nothing would stop his angle grinder - this was a cordless model with a special cutting disc and a small jig he used to stop the lock moving during cutting

his advise to the guys working in our shop was to NEVER leave any bike you value / want to keep locked on the street. he said thieves had the same tool he used. he also said he would cut locks in broad daylight in busy locations and no one would bat an eyelid. 

Avatar
nniff [66 posts] 6 months ago
0 likes

Beware of locking your bike to cast iron railings.  They are brittle and will shatter if given a good smack with a lump hammer.

Avatar
PhilRuss [390 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes
OldRidgeback wrote:

Get a scruffy old clunker with mis-matched wheels. A few big scratches and peeling stickers on the frame help, as do tattered bar tape. The components can be really good, as long as they are nicely covered up in road grime.

[[[[[  No! Don't do that! If you do, then MY bike's more likely to get nicked, innit.

Avatar
80sMatchbox [33 posts] 1 week ago
0 likes

I do the same. . I'll happily leave my fixie locked up for hours but not my good bike. I do sometimes lock it with a £5 lock but only within sight and for a minute or 2 when buying a coffee or a cold drink.

Avatar
Jimnm [144 posts] 1 week ago
0 likes

One of the first comments hit the nail on the head. Never leave your bike unattended. There is only you can steal it! Lol

Anyone caught stealing should have a hand cut off. Just leave them one to wipe their thieving ass!