Keeping your bike under you isn't rocket science. Rather, it's using your brain to limit your exposure.
There’s no such thing as a theft-proof bike: anyone with a set of $20 USD bolt cutters can get through a cheap cable lock in under a minute. Thicker cable? Thin chain? Yeah—that just requires a bigger set of bolt cutters for a few dollars more. And if a thief is armed with time, some privacy, and an $85 USD cordless angle grinder, they can typically cut through any U-lock in about a minute, Chains too thick for bolt cutters are more resistant to an angle grinder attack but can be unwieldy. Bottom line? You’ll always be at the mercy of a brute force attack on a bike lock.
What’s crazy is how little attention the police dedicate to bike thefts, especially given that a modern bike can be worth more than $5k USD and that a habitual bike thief can easily steal upwards of ten bikes a day in the right environment. And the chances of getting caught are microscopic: an analysis of 13,000 stolen bikes by the Portland, Oregon, ‘Oregonian’ newspaper showed only 2% of reported stolen bikes ending in an arrest and return of the bike. This statistic is reflected in most other major metro areas across the US, too—particularly those with a high substance abuse issue, like Seattle, Santa Cruz, etc. Additionally, on average, only one in six stolen bikes is ever reported as stolen. Basically, statistics like these equate to a license to steal, because bike theft is a property crime that the authorities simply don’t have time for, never mind the expense to the public. And it’s only gotten worse with Covid: many areas are seeing upwards of a 20% increase in bicycle theft.
So what’s a bike owner to do? Simple: limit opportunities for theft, make your bike difficult enough to steal that a potential thief will look for an easier target, and cover your ass with some simple proactive steps before you find your bike gone. In this article, I’ll go over some best practices to follow as well as some intelligent solutions for securing your bike(s) in all three situations. Documentation
But before we go to safe practices and security, the first and smartest thing you can do is document your bike. That’s as easy as snapping a few images with your iPhone: the serial # (usually on the underside of your BB shell), a pic of you with your bike, a shot of the drivetrain side, and a shot of anything unique to your bike.
Once documented, register your bike in at least one of three places: with your local police department (look online for a register your bike page), at bikeindex
. Or all three. Insurance
Secondly, are you insured? Insurance won’t prevent bike theft, but the right kind of insurance is inexpensive and equals peace of mind. If you have renter’s or homeowner’s insurance, your bikes are already covered against theft under your personal property clause. The only negative is your deductible—if you’ve got a $1000 deductible, that'll come from your pocket. But you can cheaply up your insurance game AND eliminate a deductible fee by scheduling your bike(s) individually. This will typically only add $100-$150 USD or so to your annual insurance policy and will sometimes (depending on your insurer) expand coverage for accidental damage (like driving into a garage with bikes on the roof). Or you can get an insurance plan specifically for your bike, possibly through your regular insurer, but definitely through Velosurance
whose policies start for as low as $100/yr—although a $7000 MSRP bike like an XT/XTR Pivot Switchblade will cost you $40/month. Safe Practices and Security
I’m not going to say a cable lock is useless; they have their role in keeping honest people honest in small towns and rural areas—any place that doesn’t have close proximity to a city or an area rife with substance abuse. But since a set of cheap bolt cutters will slice a 10mm cable in seconds, they're useless as a deterrent in a high-risk area. How about one of those fancy new folding locks? A bolt cutter will have a tough time with those (although it’s not impossible), but a properly deployed $15 nut splitter can defeat one in less than two minutes.
Your go-to for securing your bike outside unattended should be a short, thick U-lock or a chain lock with at least 10mm links—that chain size, while heavy, is something you can still carry relatively easily. Yes, a set of properly used heavy-duty bolt cutters can be used against a 10mm security chain if a thief can get enough leverage, but typically cutting both a high-security U-lock and a chain will require an angle grinder to be defeated (and the shifting links of a chain can cause the cutting disk to bind and explode, potentially injuring the user, which is fine by me). Plus, the locks on these kinds of U-locks and chain locks are difficult—but not impossible—to pick, pretty much eliminating your garden variety thief.
Even with a good lock, don’t be an idiot. 1) Lock it where you can see it. 2) Lock it in a brightly lit area with lots of traffic—thieves don’t generally like that kind of exposure. 3) Make sure whatever you’re locking your bike to isn’t going anywhere—cheap bike racks can be unbolted, small trees can be cut, and bikes can be lifted up and off of a street sign. 4) As shown below, use two locks: one for the frame/rear wheel and another one for the front wheel/frame—and keep the rear lock as tight to your chainstays and BB as you can; that makes it harder to get a good angle of attack to make a cut. 5) If you’re in an area like New York, Vancouver, Seattle, Santa Cruz, etc. your best bet is never to lock a bike you really care about unattended outside. Ever.
Proper lock-up involves two locks: one securing the bike's rear wheel and frame to an unmovable object, and another securing the front wheel and frame, ideally also to an immovable object. You won't make your bike impossible to steal, but the goal is to make your bike just difficult enough to steal that a thief will look for an easier target.
I’ve known people who’ve had an unsecured bike ripped off the back of their truck at a stoplight in Seattle and in Santa Cruz. Lock it or lose it. And that integrated cable lock found on many hitch racks can easily be cut, so while they’re better than nothing, they’re really only good for keeping honest people honest. Bottom line? If you’ve got a hitch rack and an expensive bike(s), only cables/chains in excess of 10mm secured with a high-security U-lock will work as a serious deterrent (although with time and an angle grinder they are still vulnerable. But remember: you’re just trying to make your bike security strong enough to send a thief looking elsewhere).
Best practices? Common sense. If you’re at a somewhat sketchy rest stop (broken glass on the ground is never a good sign), take turns using the bathroom.
Gas stop/coffee break/bar in a high-risk area (pretty much anywhere with rampant substance abuse issues): don't leave it unattended if possible, and park it where you can see it. Basically, don't be a dumbass: parking at a trailhead littered with broken glass and leaving your bike unattended for hours—even secured with chains—is basically giving it away.
First, the place most people store their bike(s)—the garage—is (sadly) pretty vulnerable. Particularly if you live in a “secure” building with a “secure” bicycle cage—even the ones with video surveillance. Many of those kinds of buildings forbid bikes in your unit—usually citing fire codes. And the video surveillance? That’s to protect the building owner against liability. More often than not, that video footage isn’t available to help recover your bike after a theft unless the police ask for it. Plus the cameras aren’t always positioned to capture a face (and with Covid, and people masking up, that facial footage is useless, anyway). And accessing this kind of garage is child’s play.
But let’s deal with security in your home garage to start with, then move onto a secure building’s garage.Home Garage
In your home/condo garage: 1) If you have an automatic garage door that you can “only” open with a remote or a coded PIN, disable the manual release ASAP. Why? Because anyone with a hook on a coat hanger can open most automatic garage doors from outside without the remote.
This cute little T-handle gives anyone access to your garage. Tie it off, remove it, or zip tie the manual release closed so it can't be opened except from inside. And if you live in a high-risk area, there's no such thing as overkill, just precautions to encourage a thief to look elsewhere.
2) Armor up soft entry points—a deadbolt on any outer door is good, but you should also reinforce that door jamb to make a brute force attack difficult. This can be as simple as swapping out the stock strike plate and deadbolt screws—typically only 2.5cm—for 7.5cm screws to get a deeper bite, or investing $20 USD into a lock and door reinforcing plate. 3) Paint over or use privacy frost on any windows so you’re not advertising what’s inside. Better yet, place a $50 USD grate on the inside with one-way bolts, which can't be unscrewed without a tap. Basically, think like a thief, and create counters for these and any other potential entry points. 4) Get a permanent ground anchor like the ones below and run at least a decent cable—something thicker than 10mm—through your bikes and secure that to your ground anchor with a high-security U-lock. In a somewhat risky area, use a 10mm or heavier hardened chain with a high-security U-lock. 5) If you’re living in a really sketchy area, use U-locks, etc to secure each bike’s rear wheel and frame a la the bike rack style. Yes, if a thief can get inside, an angle grinder will still defeat all of these precautions; but just like the other scenarios, all you’re really doing is trying to send a potential thief looking for an easier target.
The Kryptonite Evolution Ground Anchor ($69 USD) and the Abus Granit 100 ($65 USD) are two good Ground Anchor options with all the hardware included. Both have a hardened steel shackle in excess of 10mm, making a cutting attack the only option to defeat them. Warning: these are permanent once installed. Secure Building Bike Lock Up
Secure Building Bike Cages are pretty much a candy store for thieves: they’re easy to access, bikes are usually in a laughably secure cage—typically chain link fencing that’s easy to cut (with the same bolt cutters used to defeat cables and cheap U-locks)—so tenants may have bikes lightly secured (if at all), and the video camera usually isn’t being monitored, so the chances of a police response are about zero.
So how to secure your bike? First, beg ignorance and store your bike in your unit even if it’s against the building rules. Seriously. Make friends with your neighbors beforehand so they don’t turn you in. Got ratted out? Ok, treat this as a high-risk grocery store parking situation: get two heavy-duty chain locks or U locks and use them to secure your bike(s) to whatever can’t be unbolted or easily cut in accordance with locking suggestions in the “outside lockup” section above. Then cross your fingers.
Even if you follow these practices, your bike can be stolen. At that point, if you’ve done your homework, you can report it to the police (for a case number) and quickly post it to your LBS, Facebook, bikeindex.org, etc. to increase your chances of recovery. Failing that, you’ve documentation and a case number to make an insurance claim as painless as possible—trust me: insurance companies do not want to pay you unless they have to, and a case number along with simple documentation makes a claim iron clad.