How to: Thief-proof your bike

Cyclescheme, 18.10.2016

How to: Thief-proof your bike

A few hundred thousand of bikes are stolen every year in the UK. Don't let yours be among them. Here are some tips to keep it safe.

Think like a thief: your bike is cash on wheels. Don't let it out of your sight unless it's locked or is in the care of someone you trust. It takes seconds to pinch an unlocked bike and scarcely longer to cut a feeble lock. You can't make your bike 100% safe, but you can swing the odds massively in your favour by making it too much trouble to steal.

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Shut the door on thieves

The best defence for any bike that's out of your sight is to store it behind a locked door. That's easy at home, where you can park your bike in your bedroom if you want (and your partner agrees!). Probably you'll want to consider other cycle storage solutions.

At work, a bike store with a lockable door is the best solution. If that's not available, ask the office manager if you can park anywhere else indoors. An unused storeroom? Get support for any bid for facilities from fellow cycle commuters. If nothing suitable is provided, you'll have to park outdoors (see below). You can't walk in with a bike at most places – not unless it's a compact folder. Then it can sit under your desk.

Don't lead thieves home

Be careful if you use ride-sharing apps or websites such as Strava. Logging your rides and making them public means that anyone can see where they start and end. That tells a thief there's a bike – or multiple bikes – where you live and work. If you've listed the brand and model of the bike, they'll even know what's there. Go to Settings > Privacy to set a GPS exclusion zone around your home and your office. Give your bikes names that give no clue to their value, such as 'road bike'.

Shiny attracts magpies

Any bike is stealable but thieves most want bikes that will command a decent price and/or can be easily sold. Expensive-looking road bikes and mountain bikes top the list. Roadsters and hybrids with practical features such as mudguards are less likely to be pinched.

A great way to prevent your best bike being stolen is to leave that at home and commute on something cheaper: a 'hack bike'. You can get a second bike through Cyclescheme once your first salary-sacrifice period has ended. Or you could get two bikes at the same time if the combined prices are £1,000 or less. How about a utilitarian £300 workhorse and a £700 thoroughbred? Alternatively, you can 'dress down' your better-quality bike to make it look more like a hack bike. Electrical tape or old innertube wrapped around the frame tubes to cover logos makes the bike look tattier and can deter opportunistic thieves.

Outdoors: lock it or lose it

Whenever you park your bike outside, even if it's only for a minute, secure it with a good lock. Lightweight cable locks are only useful for things like rural cafe stops, or to augment other locks. In high-crime areas, use two locks of different types: a D-lock and a chain. That forces the thief to take more time and use more tools.

Select a parking place in clear public view so any potential thief can't work unobserved. Lock your bike through the frame to a solid piece of street furniture. Make sure the anchor point a closed loop; it's no good if the bike can be lifted over the top of a post. With a D-lock, lock the frame low down and make the interior of the 'D' inaccessible. This makes it hard for a thief to use a pry-bar or jack. With a chain, wrap it repeatedly so it's taut. Loose chains are easier to cut with bolt croppers.

Parts and accessories

The wheels and seatpost (and thus the saddle) are vulnerable on bikes that employ quick-release levers. These can be undone in moments without tools – as can through-axle hubs. One option is to remove the front wheel, place it alongside the bike, and arrange the D-lock shackle or chain so that both wheels, the bike's seat tube, and the anchor point are all locked together. You'll have to carry the saddle and seatpost away, or cable that to the frame through the saddle rails. The removed wheel skewer goes in your bag.

A better option for any bike that will often be locked up outdoors is to use more secure fittings. Some bikes, such as singlespeeds and bikes with hub gears, already have axle nuts that can only be undone with a spanner. On other bikes, quick release wheel skewers can be replaced with hex-keyed Allen bolt skewers. Better still are security skewers from the likes of Pinhead  or Pitlock. These require a special 'key' to undo.

Anything that isn't bolted to the bike needs to go with you. For example: battery lights, computer, water bottle, pump, seat-pack, and any other luggage.

Getting your bike back

If your bike is stolen, the odds of getting it back are not great. Nevertheless, report the theft to the police. Should it be recovered, you need to be able to show that the bike is yours. At the very least, take a photo of the bike and make a note of the frame number, which is usually on the bottom bracket. Stamping or writing your post code on the bike can help. Make sure at least one of these marks is out of sight, for example on the rim tape in indelible ink.

A more modern and effective version of post coding is to register your bike on an online database, which the police can check, and then mark the frame to show it's registered – with stickers, etching, or UV microdots. BikeRegister is the best-known example.

Insure your bike so you can replace it if it is stolen. Household contents policies usually include pedal cycles, but the maximum replacement value and small print restrictions may not suit your needs. An alternative is to take out specialist cycle insurance from a provider such as Cycleguard.

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