Here’s a shocking statistic: every 30 seconds a bike is stolen in the world!
A skilled lock-picker using the right tools can pick MOST locks in under a minute and ANY lock within less than 3 minutes. Using the right tools, almost any chain or lock can be cut within a minute. This is bad news for us, bike owners.
The good news is, that most bike thieves aren’t skilled lock-pickers and the tools that can cut through or destroy chains and locks are usually big and/or loud.
The best way to lock a bike is by using a secure bike lock and by picking the right location and the safest object to lock your bicycle to. A safe lock is worth the extra cost and taking the time to learn some tips and tricks greatly reduces the chances of your bike being stolen.
As a bike commuter riding your bike is probably among your dearest hobbies. If you ever leave your bike in a public place and you want it to remain yours, you will need a bike lock. While no lock is completely theft-proof, it creates a barrier for the thief to overcome. The higher you raise the barrier the less likely it is for a thief to show interest in your bike.
Before we get to the nitty-gritty, if you’re looking for some of the very best bike locks available right now, here are my recommendations:
Chain lock: Kryptonite New York Noose
Folding lock: ABUS Bordo Granit X-Plus
Cable lock: THERE ISN’T A GOOD CABLE LOCK!
With some of the best options in various types of locks out of the way, let’s understand how bike-theft happens and how to remain on top of the game. This way you can protect you bike and drastically decrease the risk of it being stolen.
Here are some general common sense rules to never have your bike stolen:
- Never leave your bike unattended and unlocked
- Find the safest place to lock up your bike.
- Lock your bike to the safest immovable object.
There is a lot to unpack in detail, so let’s dive in.
What’s on the mind of a thief?
Thieves are opportunistic, and want to make as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time, trying to minimize the risk of being caught.
Don’t underestimate thieves! Thieves are smart. They know the price and value of the bikes and how long it takes to steal a bike. They know the different types of locks and the weaknesses of each, whether you left your bike in an area where they can operate safely, the chances of getting caught, etc.
Based on the above factors they decide whether they can handle the risk and steal your bike or not.
For example, if you leave your bike unlocked in a public area, even just for a minute, that is an easy win for a thief. All he needs to do is hop on your bike and leave. The easiest and least risky job.
A cable lock doesn’t give him a run for his money, as it can be cut within less than a second.
Use decent bike lock(s)
If you need to lock your bike securely in a public area you need a decent lock or several locks. Unlike overpriced fashion items, the more you pay for a lock the more secure a lock you will get.
How much should you spend on a lock? The 10% rule is a good rule of thumb: spend 10% of the bike’s value on locks.
For a bike worth $1500, a $20 cable lock is a sure signal for a thief to steal it. It offers almost no protection. A more expensive U-lock like the Kryptonite Fahgettaboutit or a beefy chain like the New York Noose will make the thief think twice or three times whether he wants to run the risk of being caught, especially if it’s combined with a second, cheaper lock.
On the other hand an expensive lock isn’t necessary for a $100 department store bike: thieves know the prices and value of the bikes and the risk they take with each lock.
If you have a nice commuter bike and you need to leave it in high risk areas where the chances of theft are higher you should definitely use more than one lock: one to secure the rear wheel and the frame, and the other one to secure the front wheel, especially if it has a quick release. In this case you should consider spending a little more than 10% on locks.
Locks can be divided into 5 different types: chain locks, U locks, folding locks, cable locks and frame locks. Each of these have pros and cons.
Safety: they are usually the safest locks if prepared with other locks in the same price-range.
Versatility: they can wrap around odd-shaped objects easily
Weight: a good chain is heavy (but can be left at the office)
Price: a good chain lock is usually starts at around 80 dollars.
What to be aware of:
Make sure that the links are at least 10mm wide.
Some weaker chains can be snapped with a bolt cutter
Don’t use a strong chain with a weak padlock
Security: they offer high security
Weight and portability: they are lighter and therefore easier to carry than chains (although I had issues fitting a new U-lock on my bike frame, so I had to return it)
Not flexible: because of their rigidity, it can be tricky to find an object to lock them to.
Not all have bike mounts, which means that you need to get one separately or carry it in your backpack, pannier or on your trousers.
What to be aware of:
Make sure that both ends of the ‘U’ lock into the cylinder. Many U-locks don’t have this feature, which makes them easier to cut open. If you’re more a visual type of a person, check this video, where the Lockpicking Lawyer picks one of them open.
Portability: as their name suggests, they fold up, which makes them very portable and easy to store on any bike
Security: despite having rotating hinges, higher end folding locks are very secure and have few vulnerabilities.
Flexibility: folding locks can be used on odd-shaped objects.
Weight: the most secure locks can be quite heavy.
Price: a good folding lock starts in the 80-90 dollar price range
What to be aware of:
Some cheaper folding locks can be easily opened with a nut-splitter, which makes zero noise.
Price: they are the cheapest of all locks
Portable and lightweight
Good additional locks: they can be used to secure your seat or accessories to the bike frame
Security: they can be cut easily
What to be aware of:
Don’t use a cable lock as your main lock, but rather as a second or third complementary lock.
Frame locks (aka cafe locks)
Always handy: these locks are attached to the bike frame and will always be available.
Weight: they add little weight to the bike
Security: no matter how strong they are, they only block the rear wheel. The bike can still be picked up and stolen.
How to know how secure a lock is
Manufacturers usually indicate how secure their locks are. They have their internal system that indicates this. To find out how secure a lock REALLY is, we don’t need to rely on the integrity of the manufacturers, as there are independent bodies that test locks made by various manufacturers.
To find out the security level of locks the independent grading systems of Sold secure and ART Foundation can help. Both entities test the different locks on the market and classify them according to their security level.
The Sold Secure security grading system uses three grades: Gold, Silver and Bronze.
The ART Foundation in the Netherlands uses another grading system ranging from 1 to 5 stars.
How and to what should you lock your bike?
A secure lock is essential, but it’s only the first half of the equation: you also need to learn how to use it well, which comes down to:
- Finding an object that you can lock the bike to
- Actually locking the bike in the safest manner possible
Pay attention where you lock your bike. With time, this becomes second nature.
The safest object to lock the bike to is always something that is cemented into the ground. Beware that some bike parking racks are only bolted into the ground and can be easily removed. These are commonly used in some cities.
Check the thickness of the rack also. Some racks are so flimsy that it is easier to cut them than your lock.
Sometimes it’s hard to find a proper rack to lock your bike to, and you need to use your common sense. Short of a bike rack try to look for something that’s immovable and sturdy enough. Don’t let the object you’re locking your bike to become the weakest link in the chain.
Avoid using trees as improvised racks as those can be cut down pretty easily.
Once you’ve found the proper object to lock your bike to, you only need to do a good job at locking up.
The most secure way of doing this is by locking the bike frame and the rear wheel to the rack with one lock and the front wheel to the rack or the bike frame with another one, especially if the front wheel has a quick release.
Here’s a good visual summary:
Location, location, location
If you’re familiar with what determines a brick and mortar store’s success, you know that the most important factor is location, the second one is location, and the third one is location too. Location is very important when it comes to locking your bike too.
If you have a chance of taking your bike with you behind closed doors, don’t hesitate. It’s the best way of keeping it safe. Even if it is a storage room or in a basement, you will keep it out of the public eye.
Folding bikes are really useful for indoor storage, because they can even fit under an office desk. They may be the perfect type of commuter bike for you depending on your circumstances (more on folding bikes in this post).
If you can’t keep your bike behind closed doors, you may be able to lock it up on your workplace’s premises. While not as safe as having your bike in the office or in the building’s basement, it’s still very safe. If this isn’t an option for you, your next best choice is a public area.
Make sure that it is well-lit and it’s busy enough with sufficient foot traffic. Thieves don’t want to run into people when stealing. A busy neighborhood with lots of passers-by is not a comfortable zone to operate in.
Keep in mind that your routine can be observed. If you ride an expensive looking bike, and arrive always at the same time, and you keep your bike always locked at the same rack, it is quite easy for a thief to figure it out and take advantage of your absence to take your steed. By changing the place where you park it, you further reduce the chances of theft.
If there are other bikes around where you want to lock your bike, check them. If they are damaged or parts are missing, it should be an alarming sign: you’d better look for another spot to lock yours.
Reiterating the point we’d made earlier, when locking your bike check if the rack or the improvised rack (whatever object you lock your bike to) is immovable, the right shape and size.
I’ve seen bikes locked to 4 feet high parking meters with a long chain lock, which is an open invitation for anyone to take it.
In search of the perfect parking spot you may end up finding one that’s private property or an area where bikes can’t be locked. Be sure to respect private property and local regulations.
Locking up at night
Don’t leave your bike in public places overnight even if you have a high security lock. Nights are the preferred “working time” of thieves as the risk of getting caught is much lower in the dark.
In fact, if a thief really wants to steal a bike and it seems too risky at daylight, he will damage the tire in the hope that the owner leaves it there overnight to fix it the following day. This gives them the whole night to take care of business, and makes their job so much easier.
Make your bike look unappealing
To minimize risk, at least from a financial standpoint don’t use a bike that’s too expensive. For commuting purposes you will not benefit much from using super expensive 6000 dollar bike. I wrote about this topic in more detail in this post where I lay out what is a reasonable price for a commuter bike.
An expensive and flamboyant bike with bright colors immediately stands out from the crowd and catches attention. If you manage to blend your bike in with the rest, you can stay under the radar.
If it has a visible logo and the brand name on the frame, you can cover it with some tape or sticker. If you want a more permanent solution you can cover the logo or brand name by painting it.
Bike theft has always been and will always be a world-wide issue. While you won’t be able to change human nature, there are a lot of things that you can do to make sure that your beloved means of transportation (aka your bike), remains yours for years to come.