How to: Beat bike thieves

Cyclescheme, 10.12.2015

How to: Beat bike thieves

Not 'with a big stick', although that's tempting. To protect your commuter bike, you'll need locks and tactics.

Bike theft is a kick in the teeth, robbing you of your transport and of any future salary sacrifice payments. It's not just bad luck, however. There's lots you can do to limit your exposure to theft. While a thief with enough time and tools can break any lock, a good lock is still an excellent deterrent. 

The risk of bike theft is related to where you live. You can view reported thefts online. Zoom in for clarity. Risk is also related to where the bike is parked. According to the British Crime Survey , just over half of bikes stolen are taken from a 'semi-private' place, defined as 'on your property but not in the home' – in a garage or shed, for instance. The next biggest category of thefts, around a fifth, occur 'on the street'.


In sight or indoors

The simplest solution to bike security is to keep your bike in sight or behind a locked door. That way a bike lock is optional. At home, the bike lives in your house – on a wall-mounted rack, perhaps, or a telescopic bike stand that fits between floor and ceiling. At work, your employer provides a lockable bike store. If your partner, landlord or employer isn't keen on you wheeling your bike over the threshold, a compact folding bike is a solution. Bag it if there's still some resistance.

Home security

Since most bikes are stolen from the owner's property but not from the home itself, any bike that doesn't live under your roof must be secure. A padlock on a wooden shed or a lockable up-and-over garage door isn't enough. Buy the best ground anchor you can afford (Abus, Squire and Pragmasis all do good ones) and fix it into a concrete floor or, if that's not feasible, a brick wall. Attach your bike to this through the frame with a thick, hardened-steel chain (Abus, Almax, Pragmasis, Squire, etc). You won't carry this chain on the bike, so weight doesn't matter. If you can't afford a security chain – remember: you can include locks in your Cyclescheme package - attach your bike to the ground/wall anchor with your D-lock, assuming it will reach.

Work security

Cycle parking at work depends on your employer. Those who offer Cyclescheme to their staff are cycle friendly by definition, so might have at least a covered area with Sheffield stands – those staple-shaped bike hoops you see in town centres. No? Collect signatures from fellow employees who cycle and ask for some. In the meantime, see 'locking your bike' below. You may be able to leave a heavy duty lock at work, locked in place. 

Portable locks

There's a strong correlation between how tough a lock is and how heavy it is. While any lock is better than no lock, cables aren't up to the job for commuting, where your bike is parked for extended periods. At the other extreme, chains that are thick enough to resist bolt-cropping – look for a Sold Secure Gold rating – are very heavy. A D-lock or U-lock is the best compromise between security and portability. Shorter ones are lighter and are harder to fit a jack into, but longer ones are easier to fix to street furniture. Again, look for a Sold Secure Gold rating. Expect to spend £50-£100. If you live in a high-crime area, it's worth using two different types of lock, such as a chain or folding lock plus a D-lock. That way, a thief will need more tools and time.

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Locking your bike

Lock your bike in highly visible place rather than down an alley. Lock it whenever it's out of your sight or further away than you can run in two or three seconds. That's all it takes for a thief to jump on it and ride off. Lock through the frame to an immovable object – and not one a thief could lift your bike over or easily cut the top off. If your lock is big enough, fit the frame and the wheel that's easiest to remove in the shackle. Lock either the down tube and front wheel or the seat tube/seatstay/chainstay and rear wheel. A second lock enables you to secure the other end. Some cyclists use one lock and remove the front wheel so they can get both wheels and the frame in one shackle, but that's a faff for daily commuting and makes your hands dirty.

Fasten shackle locks low down to limit leverage with pry bars, and aim to fill the shackle with bike/cycle stand/street furniture so a jack won't fit. Wrap chains so they're taut. It makes it harder to use bolt croppers. 

Protecting bits and pieces

Any component with a quick release lever can be removed in seconds. At the least, use Allen bolts instead. Seat collars and wheel skewers with these are inexpensive. The next step is to use security skewers, which require a special key. These are available for wheels, seat collar, stem top cap (to prevent fork theft), and more from Pitlock and Pinhead. Accessories that clip off your bike, such as battery lights, pump, and computer must go with you when your park your bike in public. 

When the worst happens

Stolen bikes are sometimes recovered by the police. To get yours back, you'll need to have reported it missing and prove ownership. Post-code it, write your name in indelible ink on the rim strips, or keep a date-stamped photo of you with it. Better yet, register it in advance through a scheme such as Bike Register.

Cycle insurance is essential. Check household policies with care: bikes may be covered only up to a certain value or in certain locations. A dedicated cycle policy may be a better bet. Get quotes from Cycleguard or from cycling organisations such as British Cycling, CTC or LCC. 

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