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Nobody wants the trauma of losing their beloved bike. So here are my top ten tips to keep your bike from being stolen.
Worldwide, more than a million bikes are stolen every year, and in most countries, only around 1% are ever recovered. Make no mistake; bike theft is big business. In many major cities, there are organized crime rings stealing and fencing bikes, especially high-end bikes. Make it your business to fight back, and keep your bike safe.
Tip #1: Try to Keep your Bike within Sight
In the summer, we often park our higher-end bikes right next to a pub patio, so we have complete peace of mind. Of course, this is not always possible. Also, I have often wheeled my bike into hospitals, doctor’s offices, dentists, banks … you name it. If you just do it, most times no one questions you. They just think you are staff, or a delivery person, I guess. In 20 years of doing this I have only once been harassed by a security guard. And it helps if you wear a high viz vest – people think you ARE security! No one can steal your bike if you’re holding it.onl
But for all those times when it’s just not possible to keep your bike within sight, read on!
Tip #2: Record all Details of Your Bike, including Serial Number – and Register Your Bike’s Details Online
This is a very important thing you can do to protect your bike, yet most people don’t do it. Of all the bikes that are stolen each year, only a small number are ever returned to their rightful owners. This is partly due to a lack of details about the bikes themselves. Keeping a record of your bike on file should help you prove to the police that the bike they’ve found belongs to you. And if bike theft is covered in your insurance, having these details on file will be very useful if you ever need to make a claim.
The Importance of Your Bike’s Serial Number
Admittedly, it can be hard to find the serial number – it took me 15 minutes with a powerful flashlight and a magnifying glass to find the serial number on one of my bikes. See below for instructions on how to find your bike’s serial number (also known as a frame number).
It is well worth the effort to find your bike’s serial number. If your bike is stolen, there may be no other way you can prove it is yours, even if you see it the very next day on Craigslist. Also, in many cities the police keep a database of stolen bikes, with their serial numbers recorded. If the horrible day ever comes that someone steals your bike, you will have more chance of getting it back if you can give a serial number to the police.
What happens all too often is that sometime, somewhere, the police recover your stolen bike, but they have no idea how to find you, so you never see your bike again. Here’s a photo of a huge amount of bikes recovered by the police – all unreturned, because the police could not figure out who to return them to.
How to Locate your Bike’s Serial Number
Most serial numbers are located under the bottom bracket where the two pedal cranks meet (no. 1 below). Just turn your bike upside down and look around. If you draw a blank, then check the headset at the front of the bike or the rear stays. The diagram indicates the most common serial number locations (credit: University of Texas).
If all else fails and you just cannot find your bike’s serial number, engrave your own number (such as your driver’s license number) onto the bike frame and take a photo of yourself smiling proudly next to your engraved bike. If the bike is ever stolen, you might want to post the photo and the serial number on Craigslist. Most people do NOT want to buy a stolen bike. This is a great way to at least make it hard for anyone to profit from stealing your bike.
Record ALL Your Bike’s Details
It’s also a good idea to keep a full description of your bike. The best way to do this is to take plenty of photos and note down the following details:
- Serial number
- Date/place of purchase
- Distinctive features
Register Your Bike’s Details with a Public Organization to Keep Your Bike from Being Stolen
There are all kinds of databases available to register details of your bike in the public domain. These are usually an online database system, often approved by the police, where you can upload your bike’s model and frame number, as well as a photo of it. They are almost always free to register.
Registering your bike gives you proof that the bike is yours. It also enables the police to locate owners. And it makes it possible for prospective buyers to check that the used bike they are planning to buy is not stolen. This last one is important because it is a way to defeat bike thieves. And note that if you do buy a stolen bike and the police or owner find it, you will have to give back the bike, and you won’t get your money back.
Related Post: How to Buy Used Bikes on Craigslist
Put a Sticker on It
Many of these registration organizations offer stickers that show prospective thieves that the bike is registered. This could deter some organized thieves.
Tip #3: Don’t Go Anywhere without a Really Good Bike Lock to Keep Your Bike from Being Stolen
Related Post: Our Post Comparing 7 of the Best Bike Locks in the World will help you to pick out the ideal bike lock for your specific situation.
Always, always lock your bike, even if you are only leaving it only for five minutes. Your bike can be gone in less than five minutes. And do NOT skimp on the lock. This graphic gives an overview of the different kinds of bike locks available.
As you can see from this graphic, if you are on a tight budget and can only buy one lock, then buy the best U-lock you can afford. Skilled thieves can cut through a cable lock in seconds with bolt cutters. They can cut U-locks too, but that requires power tools, as well as more time and skill. It also usually causes a shower of sparks – hard to be discreet about that!
Use More than One Lock to Keep Your Bike from Being Stolen
Also, use more than one lock if you regularly park your bike in public places. For example, have a cable lock AND a U-lock. This will take a lot of time, and at least two different tools, to steal. If your average bike thief has to choose between stealing your bike with two different thieving tools, or the bike next to it with just one snip, chances are he’s going to go for the other bike.
Here’s one of the justifiably famous Kryptonite bike locks. I like this set because it includes a U-lock for your main frame and a cable lock for your front wheel – a powerful combo at a great price.
Basically, what you want is for your bike to be the LEAST attractive bike to steal, so as to keep your bike from being stolen. Touch wood, I have always used this system, and have never yet had a bike stolen. Despite living in a city that is notorious for bike theft.
Bike theft is a quick, furtive crime of opportunity, so make sure your bike looks like a CHALLENGE, not an opportunity.
Also, ensure that your system of locks includes a cable going through the front wheel. Finally, at the risk of stating the obvious, make sure your strongest lock is secured to the bike’s frame. You don’t want to come back to nothing but a stout U-lock and a front wheel!
Finally, it is not enough to just have a good bike lock – it is also important to lock your bike to something appropriate. Here is a video with some great tips on that:
Tip #4: Think Carefully about Where You Park Your Bike
If you have a very expensive bike, it might be better not to park it outdoors at all to keep your bike from being stolen. Some cities now offer secure bike parking. If you can afford it, this is definitely your best option and will be well worth the money for the peace of mind. And more and more employers are starting to offer secure bike parking.
If you have no choice but to park your bike in public, do not park your bike in the same spot every day.
People running bike theft crime rings actually scout out expensive bikes, and either steal them themselves or send minions to steal them. If your bike is always in the same place, you are just making life easy for those kinds of organized thieves.
And however you park it, check that you are locking the bike to something secure.
I was once about to lock my bike to a solid-looking pole in a major city, when a helpful local showed me that the pole could be lifted right out of the ground. He probably saved my bike, because I was about to hit the gym for at least an hour.
Bike racks are of course the most secure things to lock your bike to. On the downside, bike thieves are known to target the areas that have the MOST bikes, so a bike rack with a hundred bikes may look like a (free) candy store to a bike thief.
TIP 5: If Your Bike is Stolen, Report the Theft to the Police
It might seem like a lot of trouble with no hope of getting your bike back anyway. But reporting the theft is the right way to go. And this, of course, is where knowing your bike’s serial number is going to come in handy! Some people do actually get their bikes back this way. It also helps to build up the databases of knowledge that show which areas are high bike theft areas, which is useful for cyclists. And if you have bike insurance, it is essential.
Tip #6: Look for Your Own Bike on Craigslist
If your bike is stolen, monitor Craigslist – thieves sell a lot of bikes on Craigslist. Of course, you should not show up alone to try to get it back, but you can alert the police if you are pretty sure you have found your bike. This is where having all your bike details and photos on a sheet of paper would be extremely handy. The police do sometimes send plainclothes officers to make arrests.
Tip #7: Make Sure You Don’t Support Bike Thieves Yourself
Be wary of sellers who want to meet you in public places, or who are asking what seems like an extremely low price (and will go even lower if you can show up at a transit station within half an hour). If the price is too good to be true, or if the seller gives you a bad feeling, just pass.
In the USA, there is The National Bike Registry, but inexplicably, it is very hard for regular people to access it (it is freely available only to law enforcement officers). As an alternative, you can look for your stolen-in-the-USA bike at this stolen bike registry set up by an energetic cyclist who hates bike thieves. This registry now includes Canadian bikes too.
Tip #8: Make Your Bike Unique so it’s Easy to Spot and Less Attractive to Thieves
You might not want to go quite so this far as the bike in this picture, but you could try something not quite so radical to keep your bike from being stolen. For example, if you were replacing your front forks, you could buy forks that are a completely different color from the frame, instantly making your bike recognizable and different. It might even look really good! Or if taping your handlebars, you could try to find a color that is not white or black!
Tip #9: To Keep Your Bike from Being Stolen, Be Wary of Quick Release Wheels and Saddles
These were invented to make life simple for bike owners, but sadly, they also make it really easy for bike thieves to steal bits of your bike. I was once offered a #100 saddle for $10 by a guy who looked like he needed to raise money before the liquor store closed (I was outside a liquor store at the time). This solved what had previously been a mystery for me: What good is a saddle with no bike?
You can use a skewer set or binder bolts to secure your saddle or wheels. If you cannot do it yourself, it costs very little to get your local bike store to do it for you. Or you can carry the bits with you, or make sure that anything quick-release on your bike has its very own lock to protect it.
Tip #10: If You Return to Your Locked Bike and Find you Suddenly have a Flat Tire, Beware!
True confessions from former bike thieves reveal that this is a technique used to delay you from riding off on your bike, while they go off to steal the right tool to steal your bike. This will probably only happen if you have an especially beautiful bike. So if you find you have an unexpected flat tire when you return to your locked bike, do NOT go off to fetch your car or your bike repair kit. Instead, unlock your bike immediately and push it away, to keep your bike from being stolen.
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