Nobody wants to have their bike stolen. Perhaps it’s your pride and joy, perhaps it’s just a pub bike. Perhaps it’s worth many thousands, perhaps you got it for free. It doesn’t matter what bike your ride, nor how much it costs. What matters is that it’s yours, and obviously you don’t want it stolen, so let’s see what you can do to reduce the chances of your trusty steed being stolen.
Before we go any further, let me explain something: short of hiring large, mean, tough, muscular and armed security guards to protect your bike 24/7, the best you can do is reduce the chances of your bike being stolen. It’s important that you understand that there is very little you can do to stop a highly-determined thief from stealing your bike, if your bike is what they decided the absolutely want.
Your starting point is a lock. ANY lock is better than no lock, but all locks are definitely not the same. For starters, a cable lock takes all of 3 seconds to cut through, so you should never rely on a cable lock as your sole defence.
D-locks are far better, and far more secure, but again, not all D-locks are equal. Shop around, and get at least one that’s marked as Sold Secure Gold. Even then, you need to understand that a D-lock is no guarantee. There are bolt-cutters that will cut through most D-locks in a few minutes, and a cordless angle-grinder will make it even quicker to cut.
What you lock on to
As the photo only too clearly shows, what you lock your bike to is just as important as the actual lock you use. Be very wary of Sheffield stands that are covered in tape or stickers, as they’ve often been pre-cut, before being taped together, making stealing bikes locked to them rather quick and easy.
Some locks have built-in alarms, and while that’s an improvement, again it doesn’t mean peace of mind. You see, the alarm going off probably won’t attract any more attention than sparks flying off a D-lock, as it’s being cut with an angle grinder will. Besides, even if the alarm went off, what do you expect will happen? Do you honestly expect some random strangers to challenge a thief armed with an angle grinder? Would you, and if yes, you consider a bicycle more important than an arm?
Having said that, when cycle camping, especially when wild-camping, you might sleep a bit more soundly if your bike was locked with a lock that has an integrated alarm.
There are a number of other locks available, including steel belts, chains, unfolding segments of steel, and more. As a rule, they’re all equally ineffective against an angle grinder, though some offer better protection against bolt cutters.
As a final note on locks, consider carrying a small padlock, in addition. Use the padlock to go through the chainring, locking the chain to the chainring. The padlock will get oily and dirty, but it may also delay thieves a bit longer, as they may not be expecting a padlock there.
Sure, you could dial 999 and report a maniac armed with an angle grinder threatening members of the public. As that sounds (quite rightly) far more serious than “Help! Someone is stealing a bicycle”, you could expect armed police to respond, which is necessary, as an angle grinder can be a lethal weapon. It cuts through steel, so a human body stands no chance.
Just, whatever you do, don’t expect a normal copper, armed with only CS spray (which only works really close up) and an extending baton, to go up against an angle grinder. If I was that cop, I wouldn’t, as remaining attached to my limbs is more important to me than preventing your bike from being stolen. You can always get another bike, but I can’t replace my limbs on a like-for-like basis.
GPS tracking is no longer the realm of James Bond, and there are a number of GPS trackers you can use for bikes, starting with Sherlock. Vodafone has Curve, a combination tail-light and GPS tracker. An interesting option for those who ride either ebikes, or bikes with dynamo hubs, is the Velocate. GPS trackers use power, and the battery life of different devices vary, often significantly. With the Velocate, that problem is cancelled out, as it is charged up either from the dynamo, or the ebike’s battery. It also functions as a permanently-fitted tail light.
Trackers have disadvantages, too: usually there’s some sort of data connectivity fee involved, and of course they can lose signal altogether, in some areas. Most of all, they’re not theft-prevention, but rather theft-response devices, but useful to have, regardless. Also, GPS signal blockers are cheap, and freely available, which can vastly reduce the effectiveness of GPS trackers.
Bluetooth trackers are usually not worth bothering with, due to their extremely short range. Apple, however, has Air Tags, which are Bluetooth trackers with a difference – they only need to be within range of an iOS device that has Internet connectivity. As there are millions of iPhones out there, if you’re an iPhone user, Air Tag might well be a good option for you.
You are the single biggest help in keeping your bike secure, and that starts by applying common sense. For starters, lock your bike! Yes, even if you’re only going to pop into the shop for 30 seconds.
I use a cable lock and a D-lock. Often, I’ll ride with the cable lock around my waist, so it’s easily accessible when I need to lock my bike, and I view my cable lock as my “café lock” – to be used only when (for example) sat inside a café, within sight of my bike.
Lock your bike out in the open, where there are people. It’s even better if there’s visible CCTV covering the area where you lock your bike. Many companies hide the bike racks around the back, out of sight – avoid using those racks, as they offer thieves a safe environment to work in, and while you’re at it, avoid giving business to such companies.
Whenever possible, lock your bike next to a more expensive bike, with bonus marks if your lock is significantly better than that used to secure the more expensive bike. Yes, I am advocating that you try and prevent your bike from being stolen by making it obvious that stealing the more expensive bike is a better choice for the thief to make. Remember, we’re looking at what you can do to prevent your bike being stolen.
When you lock your bike, apply some common sense and don’t simply lock the front wheel! Especially not, if the front wheel secures with a QR skewer! You’ll come back to a still securely-locked front wheel, while the rest of the bike is gone. Use your D-lock to secure the frame of the bike, ideally the rear wheel too, to a solid object. Ensure the bike (and therefore the lock) can’t simply be lifted off whatever object you’ve locked to.
If you have multiple bikes, don’t ride your best bike when you know you’re going to have to leave it locked, but unattended. Consider “uglifying” your bike. Some wrap the top tube and down tube in old inner tube, which at once makes the bike look less desirable, while giving added protection to the frame.
Whenever possible, choose secure storage for your bike. At work, see if there’s somewhere secure inside the building you can store it. At home, remember that a wooden shed offers almost zero security at all, so consider investing in some strong ground anchors to lock to.
Finally, don’t create a market for stolen bikes! Do your utmost best to ensure you only ever buy second-hand parts, or bikes, from reputable sources, and go read my post about registering your bike!