What is the single worst thing about being a bicycle owner? That’s easy, that the bike may be stolen while you’re stopped somewhere to use the bathroom or while you’re grabbing a morning or after-ride coffee. In fact, in an article by the Bike Snob over at the Outside website, he mentions that in addition to dealing with inattentive drivers and traffic, potential theft is the single biggest challenge that we as bicyclists face.
Bicycle theft has, in fact, been on the rise since 2007. And during the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, some cities (Dallas, Boston, etc.) saw a 30% increase in bicycle theft. Overall, in the United States alone, 188,500 bicycles are reported stolen every year.
And it’s not just in America where bike theft is rampant. In Europe “47% of cyclists in the UK, 64% in the Netherlands, and 65% in Germany” reported that their bikes were taken. With those kinds of statistics, should a bicyclist just chain the bike to his hip when he goes for a drink or restroom break? That may be a bit of an absurd proposition, but when one thinks about how frequently and how quickly most bike thefts happen, maybe it’s not such a bad idea.
In the face of all this theft of bicycles, what can a cyclist do to protect his two-wheeled friend? The answer to that question has become increasingly more difficult to solve as bicycle thieves have become savvier and brazen. Leaving your bike unwatched for a minute or locked in a high-traffic area with a weak lock is an invitation to theft.
As the Bike Snob points out, thieves “prey upon laziness and inattention.” If you are going to lock up your bike out of your line of view (even if just for a few minutes), make sure you take the time to lock it efficiently. He recommends a chain lock paired with a quality U-lock and to choose something thick and sturdy to which to lock the bike like a bike corral, a metal grating, or a railing.
The Bike Snob also mentions many bike thieves aren’t after just bike frames but are also keen to steal components like wheels, saddles, and even handlebars. Make sure to secure these items as well, and if you have a set of expensive wheels, install locking skewers, or just remove your wheels entirely.
If you are a bicyclist, then you are aware of thieves. Many years ago when I worked at a bike shop in Santa Clara, CA, a customer came in to quickly buy something. When he returned to his bike a few minutes later, it was gone. So, what do most bicyclists do to avoid theft? This graph illustrates what most cyclists do.
Other than using various locks and chains, fortunately, new technology is always being developed to help protect bicyclists and their investments. Alterlock uses a movement detection system that will not only make a loud noise but send a notification to the bicyclist’s phone.
Unfortunately, no system, be it the standards of chains and U-locks or something more high-tech, will deter most bike thieves. So, here are a few tips to think about when locking up your bike if you just cannot bring it with you:
- Avoid high areas with lots of pedestrian traffic or places where your bike is outside your line of sight.
- Remove your wheels and take them with you.
- If you have to leave your bike on the street, lock it to a firm structure and take time to wrap your chain firmly around the frame (maybe more than once) and wheels (that might require more than one chain lock), then U-lock to a railing or something similar.
- See if there is a designated space for parking bikes where you live.
- This might sound silly, but if you are primarily using your bike for commuting or errands, consider a folding bike.
Have you ever been subjected to bike theft? Do you have a system for locking up your bike that works all the time? Please like, share, and comment and let me know. I’d love to hear what works best for you.