According to FBI statistics, over 1.5 million bicycles are stolen every year. And it’s no wonder; we all know at least one person who got their bike stolen in recent times, or we’re that unfortunate person in the group.
Speaking from experience, I got two bikes stolen in my teens. First bike theft really hurt because it was a brand new Trek bike. I foolishly locked it to a relatively short pole and the thief just pulled it over. I know… but it was an IQ increasing event, that’s for sure.
My second bike got stolen because I had to hop into the store for 30 seconds and by the time I got out it was no longer there. This one didn’t hurt as much because it was an old bike. I kinda secretly wished it would get stolen so I’d have an excuse to buy a new one!
To secure a bike it’s important to secure the frame, wheels and… don’t forget the seat! A thick chain for the frame, secure wheel bolts for the wheels, and a double-loop security cable for the seat are the best solutions. Using common sense when locking to other objects goes a long way as well.
So here’s are simple ways for making your bike an anti-theft machine:
1. The perfect bicycle lock-chain
Long story short, those were the only major bike thefts I had to deal with. Recently someone REPLACED my bike seat with an older one. I laughed my ass off when I saw this. Can you imagine someone on a bike noticing you have a comfier seat and then making a switch? What’s even stranger is that I like their seat better than my old one. Go figure!
Having said that, I’ve had my current bike for about 5 years now, which is a record. What changed? I’ll tell you what – I bought a big-ass chain!! I call it “THE BLACK MAMBA” because it looks like a thick and intimidating snake. You can check it out on Amazon. In fact, people have even commented on a few occasions on its thickness and how impressive it looks.
There are some fancy frame locks you could use as an alternative, but in my opinion nothing is better than a thick chain. Especially because when it’s adequately lengthy, you can sometimes secure the frame and one wheel at the same time.
How do I know that my black mamba chain makes the difference? Because someone actually tried to cut through it but they weren’t able to! They ripped the cloth that covers the chain but the chain is waaay too thick to cut without having powerful tools at hand.
I always say that this chain was the best investment I ever made because it gives me incredible peace of mind. I can lock my bicycle anywhere, at any part of the day, without worrying about it going missing. If you live in a big city and your bike is your primary means of transportation, you know how important this is.
2. How to lock a bicycle properly
I cringe so hard when I see people who pull the chain/cable only through their bike wheel. That’s stupid! You need to place it around the frame, and preferably the thickest part of the frame. Then if the chain is long enough, you can also pull it through the wheel to secure it as well. If you pull it only through the wheel, a thief could just unscrew the wheel and take the rest of the bike without even cutting the chain!
I also recommend locking the chain a bit higher so that it dangles in the air. It’s harder to cut when it’s dangling in the air, as opposed to being firmly on the ground.
It’s also important to lock the bike to a stationary and immovable object that is thick, heavy and reliable. As I mentioned previously, my new Trek bike got stolen because I locked it to a relatively short pole. It had a light dome on top, but the thief smashed the dome and pulled my bike over it. So don’t underestimate similar factors when locking your bike. Thieves are by their very nature masters of improvisation.
So with just one thick chain, you can secure the bike’s frame and one wheel in some cases. But what about other parts, mainly the second wheel and the bike seat?
3. How to secure a bicycle wheel from theft
Securing a bike wheel is very similar to securing the frame. You can use different types of chains, security cables and locks. However, carrying more than one of these pieces of equipment can be exhausting and probably won’t feel like doing it most of the time.
A more convenient solution is a security wheel bolt. It’s pulled through and secured in the wheel’s bolt placement without having to use any special keys. The wheel bolts can be unlocked only if the bike is turned upside down. You can imagine that this is close to impossible if your bike is already locked with a chain.
4. How to secure a bicycle seat from theft
As you know by now, my bike seat got stolen (well, actually replaced by a better one) thanks to a strangely generous thief. But I don’t have any illusions that this positive outcome will repeat in the future. In most cases the bike seat just gets… stolen. Then you have to drag the bike home or risk developing some serious hemorrhoids by driving it.
Since bike seats are incredibly easy to steal, we have to secure them, otherwise we can only rely on the fickle goddess of Fortune and that’s not a good plan. The simplest way to do this is to use a double-loop security cable. One loop goes around the seat, and the other around the frame. This way the seat can’t be removed from the frame unless the thief cuts the cable.
As I said before, thick chains are better than security cables, but using a thick chain for this purpose would be really difficult and even unnecessary. Why unnecessary? Because having a bike seat leash, regardless of it’s thickness is an awesome deterrent. All bikes are locked in some way, but not many people secure their bike seat at all.
Just imagine yourself as a thief for a second. If you were hunting the parking lot for a comfy bike seat, would you really go through the extra work of cutting a cable if you could simply unscrew a seat on any of the other bikes? Furthermore, would you really want to steal a seat from someone who took the effort of securing it? It signals knowledge, experience and street smarts. Who knows what else a person equipped with these traits is capable of!
So leaving aside the practical security a double-loop cable provides, the effectiveness also rests in deterring the bad guys from even messing with your bike, since they can find easier prey anywhere they look. And the best part about this? – You only have to place the cable once to secure your bike seat forever. Once you’ve secured it to the frame there’s really no reason for removing the cable ever again.
5. Secure your helmet
If your head is smart enough that it deserves protection, you probably use a bicycle helmet. To secure it, simply pull the cable or chain you’re using through its in-built straps or holes:
6. Keep your bike indoors and locked
When at home or visiting someone, always try to keep your bike indoors if possible. Even if you do, also lock it to something reliable. Also lock the door of the storage room.
7. Make it dirty
If you just bought a new bike, the tires will look perfect and it will be squeaky clean. This will inevitably draw attention of the local crooks and others who are debating about stealing your squeaky clean bike or one that’s dirty. Make the tires messy, put some stickers on the frame or make a few scratches. This may sound a bit extreme, but I’m sure you can see the logic behind it.
8. Park in crowded areas
The best way to get your bike noticed by a crook is to leave it out it the open and without any other bikes around. If you must keep it out in the open, it’s better to use a bike parking area where there are many bikes, and possibly somewhere in between them if it’s crowded. Because there will be no room to operate a large chain cutter. Let alone to turn the bike upside down and remove the wheel.
Furthermore, areas where there’s multiple bikes pose a greater risk to the thief for getting caught so they tend to avoid them. Instead, they focus on lonely bikes ditched between two larger vehicles etc. That’s how I lost my bike seat!
9. Register your bike
In case your bike does get stolen (God forbid), having its unique frame number registered will improve your chances of getting it back. If you’re in US or Canada, you can use the National Bike Registry website to do this. Their missions is this:
National Bike Registry and the 529 Garage have joined forces to fight bike theft, creating the largest and most advanced online bike registry in North America.
If you’re in a different country, search the web or contact your local police station to see if they have any registry programs available. It’s also encouraged to take a photo of your bike and record details that could be used for identification, such as: the model, color, frame number, additional gear etc.
Once you’ve done this, make sure to TAG your bike in different places. You can use basic sticky tags for this. This will indicate where the bike is registered. It’s likely that the thief will strip off any tags he sees and even repaint your bike. So place one or two tags in less visible locations. For example, under the seat, inside the handlebars etc.
10. Personalized bike license plate
You don’t see many bicycles around with a license plate. Which only means that if you get one it will act as a major deterrent. Bike thieves like to get anonymous bikes, not those that are super-recognizable. Unless it’s a really expensive bike and the risk is justified. But a bike with your name or some funny text on it? No one wants to mess with the Joker! You’d ideally place it on the bike’s tail.
To make your unique license plate, you’ll need two things. First, a bike license plate like this one from Amazon. Second thing you’ll need is a license plate sticker/tag. I really like these customizable stickers:
There’s a different design for every country and you can order any text for the middle part. I think that leaving it at “YOUR TEXT” would be pretty funny on its own, but I’m often told that I’m weird so it’s up to you really.
11. Drill your name on the frame
Why not show your bike how much you love it by drilling your name on it? If you have a drill at home you can do this in 5 minutes. This is a bullet-proof way to keep your bike identifiable. If you drill a bit deeper, even thick layers of paint won’t be enough to conceal your love.
Final thoughts on bike security
I’ve suffered a lot of pain and humiliation when I got my bikes stolen. My colleagues and my family were constantly putting it into conversations to remind me how naive I am. I had real nightmares about my Trek bike for a couple of weeks. Now, maybe I’m surrounded by douchebags but I did feel like I let myself down regardless of their comments. Sure, you can’t be 1000% sure that your bike won’t get stolen, even if you do everything right. But you can definitely reduce the chance of that happening. Here is the list of priorities from top to bottom:
- lock the frame with a thick chain
- use secure wheel bolts on wheels
- secure the seat to the frame with a double-loop cable
- lock your bike to immovable objects in safe locations
- register your bike
- make it more identifiable with tags, license plate, drilled name or initials etc.
I know that all of this helps because I’ve been using most of these methods and my latest bike has been with me for about 5 years now. Actually, I’m secretly wishing it gets stolen at this point so that I have an excuse for buying a new one. But it doesn’t look like it’s gonna happen any time soon!
So if you’re a logical person, I’m sure you see the value of these methods, and I hope you’ll utilize them to make your bicycle more secure as well.