Protect Yourself From Bike Thieves!

Stripped bike NYC style
Thieves will strip you bare, but this capable lock did indeed secure the frame.

Beverly Hills Patch recently noted that bike theft makes a frequent appearance on our police blotter. Indeed police blotters all over suggest that we’re exercising poor judgment when it comes to securing our rides. We secure an expensive bike with a cheap cable lock. We chain a bike in the alley where thieves regularly patrol. We stow a bike in a garage or carport, unwatched, and often unlocked too. Bike theft is a  crime of opportunity, so why make it easy?

Look at a few recent blotters in Beverly Hills. We’re a very low-crime city with lotsa police and (it hurts us to say) a relatively low rate of bike use, but still the incidents tell the story:

  • September 30th between midnight and 9:45 a.m., an unlocked $1,500 bicycle was stolen from a garage on the 100 south block of Spalding.
  • November 11th – 12th, a thief cut the padlock securing a $2,200 bike on the 200 South block of Hamilton Drive.
  • December 9th at 11:45 p.m., a bike walks off with an identified perp from an open garage on the 9600 block of West Olympic, who took the bike even after being confronted.
  • December 13th between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., a $1,100 bicycle is snatched from a rack at 9500 block of Wilshire (a high-traffic location);
  • January 11th at 1 p.m. a cable lock was cut to liberate a $2,200 bicycle on the 9600 block of South Santa Monica Boulevard.
  • January 15th at 11:30 a.m., a $3,000 bicycle left unsecured was stolen from an apartment walkway on the 9500 block of West Olympic Boulevard.

Folks – we’re making it too easy for thieves! We need make only a small investment in time and treasure to protect ourselves from a loss that often exceeds a thousand bucks and sometimes many thousand. For victims, that’s often a loss not compensated: renters live without insurance and homeowners might be reluctant to file a relatively minor claim. Your only recourse is to claim it as a loss on taxes. Boo hoo!

Consider Your Lockup Protocol

The best way to keep your bike safe is to secure it, and secure it properly. Use common sense: LOCK IT UP even if you’re running into the store for a quart of milk, and don’t leave it on your stoop even if you’re just running in for that thing you forgot. Always lock it, and always carry your lock with you (even if you don’t anticipate stopping en route).

Here are a few points to get you started:

Lock up in a conspicuous place
Lock up in a conspicuous place near where you're headed. These New Yorkers have it right!

First, lock your bike in a conspicuous location near a shop door, say, or on a busy pedestrian corridor. Always within eyesight if possible. No locking up in alleys, near dumpsters, or anywhere out of the way that gives thieves a chance to work unseen. That includes carports!

Second, always lock your bike to an immovable, secure object. That’s not as simple as it sounds! Street sign poles are bolted at their base and can be easily unbolted. Crappy bike racks can have loose fittings that can be separated by hand or with a wedge. A sapling or thin upright can be sawed. MAKE SURE your hitching post is secure and robust!

U-Rack unbolted
Even immoble fixtures like a U-rack can be made mobile with some determination.

Third, use a quality lock. I recommend a U-lock (by Kryptonite or On Guard). These don’t need to cost more than $30; double that and you’ll maybe have more peace of mind (but it also means carrying more weight – they’re bulky). Avoid cheap, off-brand U-locks. They can be sprung by using a stick as a lever. And I prefer a smaller U-lock, but big enough to get through both tires (front dismounted), the frame, and around a parking meter post.

If you choose a cable lock, make sure it’s hardened steel – really robust and snip-proof. It takes a prepared thief only a few seconds to snip a poor-quality cable or a lock. And opt out of the built-in cable locks; often they’re plastic. Your lock is only as strong as your weakest link, so eschew the cheap stuff. That goes for five-dollar locks. Use a case-hardened steel cable and bigger and better padlock. Better yet, use a U-lock PLUS a loop-end cable.

Last and most important, lock that bike properly! Always, ALWAYS lock though the frame’s main triangle or the rear stays triangle. I’ve seen cable locks looped around parking meters (lift and it’s gone) and U-locks that wrap around a front fork (release the front wheel and the bike’s gone). And be sure to lock anything of value (like your wheels if you have quick-release hubs). An expensive seat can be secured, too, with a lightweight cable.

For more fine points, see Streetsblog’s do and don’t guide; refer to Mass Bike’s visual guide; dig into details with Sheldon Brown; and Kryptonite, maker of the hard-to-crack NYC Fahgettaboudit U-lock, chimes in with tips too.

In Case of Loss

Sadly, there’s not much the police can do for you in the event of a loss. As countless victims have found, bike theft is simply not a day-to-day police priority. And without a centralized repository for registrations, including descriptions and serial numbers, cops  & shops can’t cross-check a suspect bike. Your chance of recovery under these circumstances depends on the effort that you invest.

Play detective. Look for your ride at a swap meet. Visit the many second-hand bike shops. Bring a photo (you DID take a photo, right?) of your bike to pin up in the bike shops.

Search online. Check Criagslist and Ebay for your frame and even individual parts that might be distinctive. (This goes double for vintage rides: the 1980s steel street ride with quality gruppo will be worth more parted out.)

Most importantly, prepare for the worst:

  • Note the serial number of your bike, which is usually stamped on the underside of the bottom bracket (where the pedal spindle is located);
  • Photograph your bike, its major parts, and unique details; and,
  • Take a few minutes to think about your lockup protocol – will it keep your ride safe, or will you find yourself in the next police blotter?

Are these precautions foolproof? Nope. A determined thief will win out. The objective here is to deter the causal crimes of opportunity and delay the experienced bike thieves long enough to make your bike less attractive as a target. Remember, it’s the weakest link in your lockup protocol that the experienced thief will look for. So make it tough for them.

In sum, take prudent measures. And let Better Bike know if you’re ripped off!