Locking your bike – time for a spring security check

As a cycle advocate, it’s good to see an upsurge of people acquiring bikes as the weather becomes more bike friendly. It’s not so good when it’s people stealing other people’s bikes – which seems to be on  the rise, if Facebook posts are to be believed.

What can you do to secure your beloved bike?

We’re fortunate in Aotearoa that bike theft is less of a problem than some other places. I don’t think there are huge numbers of professional bike thieves roaming the streets with bolt cutters, freon cans, etc. My sense is that most bike theft is opportunistic – people grabbing a bike that has been left unlocked. Which brings me to the really important security measure:

Lock your bike

How you lock it is of less importance; there are usually enough unlocked bikes around that a thief is unlikely to target a locked bike. A quick scan of most bike racks will find a bike that is either unlocked or “virtually locked” – a lock has been used, but not in a way that secures the bike. Have a look at this example – the lock is just looped around the handlebars, and could just be lifted off and the bike ridden away.

example of bike locking: lock simply looped around handlebars!
“virtual” bike locking

At a minimum, your lock should go through the bike frame and a wheel; or through the bike frame and a fixed object (such as a lamp post or a bike rack). Better is through a fixed object AND the frame AND both wheels.

Even if you’re just leaving it for a moment

When I’ve talked to people who’ve lost bikes, a high proportion didn’t lock the bike, because  “I just popped into the dairy…”. So always lock your bike, even if you don’t think you’ll be long. It follows that your lock should be easy to use.

There are three types of locks: cable locks, D locks, and chain locks.

Cable lock: note the cable goes through the frame, both wheels, and a fixed object.
Cable lock: note the cable goes through the frame, both wheels, and a fixed object.

Cable locks: these are my personal preference, since they’re easy to use, and to get around posts, wheels and frame. But can be cut with bolt cutter.

example of bike locking
D Lock

D locks: regarded as the most secure, but can be tricky to get around a wheel, the frame and a fixed object. Heavy.

example of bike locking
Chain Lock

Chain locks. These are common in New York, the capital of bike theft. Supposed to be secure, but pretty heavy.

Locks can either use a key, or a combination. I prefer combination locks so I can lock my bike even if I forgot to bring my keys. I get ones where I can set my own combination, and use the same number for all my locks. Key locks are more secure though – I’m told a dedicated thief can feel the dials in a combination lock and figure out which ones release the lock.

That’s probably all you need to know, particularly

Lock your bike, even if you’re just leaving it for a moment.

But here are some more suggestions if you are really concerned:

  • Make your bike look unattractive – a few tatty stickers work wonders.  Think about putting your initials and/or phone number on the bike.  And use common sense: the $5000 carbon fibre is for the peleton ride, the $50 dunger for the supermarket.
  • Park your bike in places where it can be observed so that a thief will be less confident about interfering with it.
  • Use more than one lock type, e.g. a cable AND a D-Lock. They need different tools to break, and a thief is unlikely to be carrying both.
  • If you don’t have a lock, make the bike unrideable, for example by removing the seat, or the rear quick release skewer.
  • Keep a cable or chain lock tight, so it’s harder to apply bolt cutters. Make sure the lock can’t reach the ground, where a thief could cut it, for example with a hammer and a chisel.
  • Folding bikes can be taken with you, so may not need to be locked. But it’s a good idea to have a basic lock with you anyway. And make sure you have locked through a part of the frame that can’t be released by folding/unfolding.
  • Record the ID number of your bike (often underneath the bottom bracket), and take a photo of the bike. These will be handy if you do lose your bike.