Bikes are fantastic machines, but in many cities, they’re also a target for thieves. Protect your lovely bike with a decent lock setup – and find out how to lock up your bike properly.
Find out about:
- What bike lock to buy
- How to lock up your bike
- Bike insurance and registration
What bike lock to buy
When maximum security is required, it’s most effective to use two different types of locks. If someone is totally determined to steal your bike and has power tools and equipment with them, it’s nearly impossible to stop them (there is no such thing as an unbreakable bike lock). But you can make it time-consuming and difficult to cut your locks and you can deter a thief looking to make a quick snatch.
One of the most effective locks available, U-locks are somewhat heavy but provide a high degree of security. They can be broken, but only with expensive, bulky and loud equipment. If you can only carry one lock, this is the best bike lock for you.
When you choose a U-lock, bigger isn’t necessarily better. Instead, find the U-lock size that leaves the smallest gap possible when you lock up your bike, so that a potential thief can’t use the power of leverage to crack it open. To carry your U-lock, you can mount a bracket on your bike or store it on your bike rack, pack or pannier. Small U-locks can even fit in some back pockets.
Cable locks are light and portable, but can be cut in seconds. These are not a secure choice as your only lock, but you can combine a cable lock with other types to create a bike lock system. For example, you can use a U-lock as the main way to lock your bike frame, with cables with loops at either end to secure your wheels and saddle.
Heavy-duty chains built for bike security have welded links that can’t be pried open, which makes them a secure way to lock up your bike – but they’re also often the option that weighs the most. The metal is usually hardened to slow cutters and saws. Their length lets you lock up to larger items. They are heavy and bulky to carry with you when you ride, but are a good choice for longer term storage in a parking garage or around your house. Make sure the padlock you use is as tough as your chain.
If you don’t want to worry about locking your wheels when you lock your bike, then replace your quick release or bolt skewers with locking skewers. They can only be opened with a special key (tip: carry this key with you in case of flat tires, and bring it with you when you take your bike in for a tune-up). You can also get something similar for your bike seat.
How to lock up your bike
- First, find a solid, sturdy object. Bike racks in a high-visibility area are good. Watch out for street signs that can be lifted out of the ground, or skimpy trees that could be cut.
- Next, make sure you have a good lock. The ideal lock system is a good U-lock (or heavy-duty chain) and a second lock, like a cable. Never use just a cable lock.
- If your wheels are quick release, remove the front wheel and put it beside the rear wheel and frame.
- Slide your U-lock through your frame and both wheels. This can help prevent thieves from using a jack to pry the lock apart, or from stealing your front wheel. Make sure you don’t only lock the wheel!
- With your U-lock, minimize the amount of space in the lock that’s not “filled” with bike. The open space makes it potentially tempting for thieves to pry open.
- Keep the lock keyhole pointing down. This makes it harder to smash or pick.
- If your seat is quick-release, loop a cable or chain through it, or take it with you.
- Take your bike lights or bike bags with you too.
Other bike locking tips
- Try to lock up with other bikes in a well-lit public area. If your bike is the most secured one in a group, thieves will most likely ignore it.
- Expensive bikes are a prime target. For city commuting, consider a cheaper, less theft-prone bike.
- Regularly locking a nice bike in the same place every day is asking for trouble. Try locking your bike in different places or moving it during the day.
Bike insurance and registration
If you ride a very expensive bike, there’s a good chance it’s not covered under your home or tenant insurance. Even if it is, there’s likely a limit on how much you can claim. Check with your insurance company. You may have to buy separate bike insurance to cover a bike worth more than a few hundred bucks.
When you get a new or used bike, take a photo of your bike, note the serial number (it’s often under the bottom bracket), and keep the original sales receipt. You can also engrave your driver’s license onto your bike or get the local police department to do it for you. Additionally, always keep the receipts for new or upgraded components. It will help you settle any insurance claims you make or re-claim your bike if it’s recovered by the police. If your bike does get stolen, report it to the police.
Consider registering your bike with a service that lets police and other bike riders in the area know that your bike has been stolen. Try Project 529 or contact your municipal police to see if they have a bike-theft prevention program happening in your town.