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How to prevent bike theft: Top tips to keep the thieves at bay

How to prevent bike theft
(Image credit: Abus)

When a bike gets stolen, it can feel like a real kick in the guts, regardless of whether it’s your brand new carbon fibre race machine or the clunker you liberated from a dumpster and have been riding around town ever since. The following article will give you helpful advice on how to prevent bike theft, so there's less chance of you having to go through the stress, inconvenience and financial difficulty that comes as a result of bike theft. 

Unfortunately, whether it lives locked to a rack outdoors, in a secure lockup, or your garage, there are no completely theft-proof options for keeping your bike safe from pilfering paws; however, there are a few steps you can take to make your bike more effort than it's worth to the would-be thief.

Of course, ensuring you're covered by the best bike insurance will help you recoup the costs should the worst happen, but below, we'll run through all the things you can do to help prevent your bike from being stolen in the first place, from investing in the best bike locks to knowing how to lock a bike.

 Make sure your lock is up to the task 

Image of a bike lock

(Image credit: Courtesy)

Though it may seem a bit on the nose, the best way to keep your bike secure is to have a good lock. Bike locks come in all shapes, sizes, and price points, and as a general rule of thumb, you get what you pay for: more durable materials and designs simply cost more than cheap options.

We would largely discourage relying solely on cable locks as some can be bested by a sharp pair of workshop scissors. U-Locks or D-locks are largely considered to be the most secure as they are made of hardened steel that will even give handheld angle grinders a run for their money. However, these are also the heaviest locks and may limit what you can lock your bike to based on their fixed size and shape. 

Chains are also a good option, but again you get what you pay for; a hardware store chain and the lock will not last long against a hacksaw or bolt cutters. Look for bike-specific locks from reputable brands such as Abus, Hiplok or Kryptonite; they not only use hardened steel for the chain links and shackle, they also have a sleeve designed to get tangled in the teeth of a saw, making it more challenging to cut. They are pretty heavy, but offer tons of security and add flexibility as to what the lock will fit around.

Foldylock Compact bike lock

(Image credit: Foldylock)

Folding locks have become a popular option for commuters because they are lightweight, compact, made from materials that are hard to cut, and allow you to lock your bike to something oddly shaped or with a large circumference, like a tree or signpost. Unfortunately, the folding lock's downfall is the mechanisms that enable this functionality, the pins, which can be bested with a small power drill, rendering your folding lock useless.

The best lightweight bike locks can offer reasonably good performance, but the super-lightweight options like the Otto Lock and Hiplok Z Lok should be reserved for areas where your bike remains in eyesight, such as quick cafe stops or a trip into a gas station for refuelling. These offer minimal security and will only slow an experienced bike thief down for a minute or two. In this situation, we'll also open up the wheel's quick-release levers too. 

Given that most bikes can be almost entirely disassembled with a 4 and 5mm hex wrench, and a thief can steal your handlebars and seat with just about any multi-tool. Security bolts like Hexlox work similarly to the locking wheel nuts used on cars, requiring a specialist tool to turn the bolt, rather than one readily available at every hardware store around the world.

 Use your lock correctly 

A correctly locked road bike, with D-Lock through around the rack, frame and rear wheel, with accompanying cable around the front wheel

(Image credit: Kryptonite)

Even the most secure D-Lock will be of no use if it's not used correctly. As no two bike racks, signs, or trees are alike, lock your bike according to value. The top priority is passing the lock through the frame, then the rear wheel and front wheel last. If your bike will be locked in an area known for bike theft, consider a second lock to secure the wheels to the frame and the primary lock to secure the frame (and possibly the rear wheel) to the rack. 

With any lock, you want to limit the amount of leverage a would-be thief can generate, so try and purchase one that only just clears the tubing on your bike and whatever you're locking it to and try to pass it through as many components on your bike as possible. We like to keep the lock as close to the bottom bracket as possible to make the lock awkward to get to. 

Also, think about the object onto which your bike will be secured. Could a thief lift your bike with the lock attached over the top of that streek sign or pole? Or break off that skinny tree? Always take into account how difficult it would be for someone to remove your bike with the lock still attached.

 Plan for the worst, hope for the best 

Bike Vault

(Image credit: Courtesy)

Despite your best efforts, bikes do get stolen, both the variety that lives outside and your more prized rides that live indoors. 

One of the most important steps you should take is to set up a privacy buffer on all of your fitness tracking apps. With every ride we do being recorded with GPS and posted online, you are essentially advertising to the world, 'I live or work at this address and have expensive bikes.'

Strava and other apps have privacy zones that will place your start- and end-points somewhere inside a radius around your address to anonymise your location without changing your total ride distance.

The next thing you should go and do right now (literally right now) is take photos of your bike - side-on, plus any unique components and the serial number which are usually located on the underside of the bottom bracket. 

Some local police stations will allow you to register your bike for free; that way, if it's stolen and located, it can be returned. Having this information also enables you to take advantage of programs like Bike Vault (Australia) that offer a database against which items can be checked against if they are eventually recovered by police or listed on online marketplaces like eBay, Craigslist or Gumtree. 

 Location location location 

Commuter

(Image credit: Cannondale)

A bike locked up in a secure lockup will be much safer than one left in a dark alley, simply by virtue of the location. If your bike is going to spend the night or workday outside, taking a moment to evaluate your surroundings could be just the deterrent needed to keep a scoundrel at bay. Does this area get much foot traffic? Is it well lit? Is there CCTV around? A bike parked in a poorly lit laneway is much more likely to be taken than one attached to a rack in a busy town centre.

It also never hurts to ask around, whether it be someone else at your office who commutes by bike or popping your head into the local bike shop to ask if there are any hot spots where bikes are regularly swiped. 

Alternatively, if you're not happy leaving your pride and joy out on the street locked up in the open, speak with local businesses and try to strike a deal. With a polite request, your local bike shop, garage or cafe might be more than happy to let you pop your bike in their storage room out back in return for a bit of cash or a packet of biscuits.

As the old cliché goes, you'll get more speeding tickets if you drive a red car; if your bike doesn't catch the eye of a thief, they will probably be less inclined to pinch it. The easiest way to do that is to remove all lights, computers, cameras, and anything else that can be easily taken.

Then there is the bike itself. While you may love an electric blue and neon green commuter, if it's locked to a rack next to a grey or black bike, what do you think the thief is going to target? If you're in an area where bikes are disappearing left and right, something more extreme like covering logos either with tape, or a once over with a rattle can just make your bike look the right amount of undesirable.