Locking up your bike in a metropolitan city

What you should know to keep your bike safe

Photo by Author

1. Location, location, location

The bike rack and its surroundings

The part of town you’re in isn’t always the determining factor for safety. Sure, there are always areas having property crime being more common than others, but there are stories from all parts of town. The neighbourhoods where you “don’t get that vibe” might surprise you, for when you have that false sense of security, you may take unnecessary risks with preventable theft.

Location on the bike

Exactly where on your bike to place the lock is another important part. Many of us have seen the rusted front-wheel chained to the rack for months at a time but with no bike in sight. The front-wheel comes off pretty easily; always ensure that the frame is secured!

Figure 1. Inside the rear triangle. Image by Author

Indoors

When locking indoors, the only safe option is inside your actual house or apartment/condo suite. Not inside the garage, and not the “secure” shared bike room in your building. Every bike I’ve ever owned in life that wasn’t locked inside my living quarters has been stolen. This includes bikes locked inside the garage.

2. Length of time

Minutes

We’ve heard it all: “Only 5 minutes”, “just 2 minutes”, “I turned my back for literally 30 seconds”…but often, they didn’t lock it up. Well, some of them actually did, but only used a cable lock or have locked it improperly. This innocence and naivety, the trust of your fellow man, is what some people prey on. There isn’t a need to get cynical though; just be more prepared.

Hours

A few hours locked outdoors while you’re indoors, can be a risk, but if you’re a commuter or use your bike for errands this is a daily necessity. By exposing your bike more often than others, you need to balance that with due diligence.

Overnight

Unless you really don’t care, I wouldn’t recommend locking any bike outside overnight. Not that it’s guaranteed to be gone the next day, but every night is a chance and you can’t keep testing your luck and win forever. Being constantly outside can also rust it out much more quickly.

3. Your bike

Carbon bikes

These bikes are higher risk because they 1) are often quite the attention grabber, 2) are quite light and fast so the thief can make a speedy getaway, and 3) can be very expensive.

All other bikes

No matter what your disposable income is, or how much you paid for your bike, it is always a bummer to have it stolen. However, if it doesn’t cost more than a used car, you might be okay with leaving it locked up and unattended. For how long and where exactly, might vary depending on your attachment to it, or your faith in humanity.

The branding

Some buy the brand-names that are normally only associated with mid-range and high-end prices, and usually, these brands are so distinctive that you can recognize them from a block away.

4. Types of bike locks

Cable lock

Great only as a secondary lock to get your front wheel secured to the frame, while there is another primary lock securing the bike. Thieves might skip the bike that’s got two locks on it when there are easier targets nearby (unless yours looks worth the extra effort).

Chains

Chains vary in strength, shape and material. A bolt cutter would make quick work of chains with a smaller or medium thickness. A heavy-duty chain made from hardened steel with hexagonal links is apparently very strong against cutters. The downside is the weight.

U-shaped or D-locks

These locks can be good, depending on brand reputation and quality. A good quality one will have a warranty. More importantly, is how you use it. It may be very tempting to buy a larger one so you can fit it around larger shapes, but this can backfire. Leave too big a gap in the “U” section, and you will leave it vulnerable for tools to bust it open using extreme pressure. Try to fill that gap as much as possible and angle the lock so it is very difficult to use a tool on it.

Folding locks

These are pretty neat, as you can dynamically fit them around different sizes of posts and racks. A high-quality one might be as secure as a D-lock, but they have a similar weakness with gaps.

A thief’s toolkit

No matter how strong of a lock you have, there is always a stronger tool. A battery-powered angle grinder will get through the toughest of locks in minutes. While such a tool would attract attention, a thief might plan this out in certain areas with less risk of being seen or with an easy escape.

Do some research

Brand names, model numbers, lock lengths can have their weaknesses or disadvantages. Can the lock be picked, can the combination be hacked, can the locking device be forced open/apart? Just Google how to pick or break [lock name].

5. Registering your bike

Not only should you register your bike for warranty reasons, but you should also consider joining an online community like 529 Garage or Bike Index. If neither have a strong presence in your area, try checking with your local authorities or searching the local cycling community for theft recovery programs.

Conclusion

We have to face the fact that nothing is truly safe from theft. Though we shouldn’t let that make us give up, because diligence does pay off or at least puts your property less at risk to those looking for an easy target.

Professional geek. Wannabe cyclist.