Real Advice: How to Lock Your Bike

Today we continue with our Real Advice series – hard-earned practical knowledge from real riders here at our home office. This week we hear again from Brian, a member of our content team, with some advice on how to lock up your bike. Brian lived in Chicago for about 10 years, and had more than a few run-ins with bike thieves.

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In the years I lived in Chicago, I had the following bikes— listed in no particular order—stolen: a black GT Pulse track bike, a beautiful emerald green Ciocc Enemy track bike, and a chromed-out Bianchi Pista track bike. I won’t even go into how many seat posts, saddles, and wheels I’ve replaced. Some may have said I got what I deserved for riding those bikes in a big city with a notorious bike theft problem. But after the tears dried, I came to realize that I was actually being taught the very valuable (and expensive) lesson that there is a right way and many, many, many wrong ways to do everything. Eventually, I got the hang of it, and haven’t had a bike stolen since.

So let me spare you some heartache by passing on a few tips you can learn at my expense. This is mostly advice for those of you in urban/suburban areas, college campuses and anywhere else that bike theft is a real issue.

1. Nail it down: So you’ve got your lock, but do you know how to use it? Here, I’ll lay out my Program of Bike Locking Excellence for you to follow:

  • Buy a strong u-lock, as well as both a thick and a thin lock cable (usually a 4-6 ft. cable is good). The basic idea is to lock anything that can be easily removed, such as the wheels, saddle and frame.

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  • First, route the thinner cable through the rails of your saddle by passing one end of the cable through one of the eyelets and cinching it down around the rails, leaving plenty of cable and an eyelet hanging down.

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  • Next, run your thicker lock cable through the rear wheel, and again pass one end of the cable through the eyelet, so the cable cinches around the wheel rim and the seat tube.

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  • Now, pass the thicker cable through the eyelet of the thinner cable.

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  • Position the u-lock shackle so as to lock the front wheel to the frame, and pass the shackle through the cable eyelet.

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  • Pass the u-lock shackle around the object you are locking to, replace the cross bar, and turn the key.

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  • When all this is done, double check that everything is actually secure.

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2. If you live in NYC or San Francisco: Disregard all of the above advice and buy the biggest, beefiest chain lock you can find on Performancebike.com.

3. Make it solid: Knowing how to lock your bike is only half the battle. To make sure your bike is still there when you get back, you’ll want to find the most solid, immovable thing you can (city bike racks, street lamps, parking meters) and lock your bike to it as securely as possible. To do this right, you have to think like a thief, which means you have to evaluate every potential locking location for ways it can be defeated. To wit, when my Ciocc was stolen, it was locked to a street sign pole outside of a bar. At the end of the night, my friends and I found the actual street sign on the ground and my bike nowhere in sight. The thief had somehow gotten up the pole, unbolted the sign, and then slid my bike—lock and all—up and over. That was a long walk home…

4. There are no quick errands: This seems obvious, but too many people just lean their bike up against a wall while they “quickly run into the coffee shop”. No matter how quick the errand, no matter how visible you think your bike is, or how many people are around, lock it up. It might seem like a hassle, but it’s worth taking the extra 20 seconds to properly lock up your bike. Because it takes even less time than that for someone to just hop on it and pedal away.

5. Safety in numbers: When possible, park your bike in an area where there are lots of other bikes. This won’t necessarily deter a thief in and of itself, but it waters down the chances of a thief targeting your bike. If possible, also try to find a bike that looks more desirable than yours and lock up next to that one. It may seem callous, but remember, you don’t have to be faster than the bear—you just have to be faster than the other guy.

6. Write it down: Let’s be honest here: there is no lock on earth that’s going to stop a very determined or experienced thief. If at all possible, bring your bike inside—especially overnight. Write down your bike’s serial number (usually found on the underside of the bottom bracket shell), and keep a detailed list and photos of your bike and components (take a new photo when you upgrade any parts). Most renters and home owner’s insurance policies will cover bike theft, so it’s a good idea to have proof of what kind of components were on your bike if you need to make a claim. Most lock companies like Kryptonite and OnGuard also offer a reimbursement program to help you buy a new bike if yours was stolen while using their product; inside your lock packaging will be instructions on how to sign up for this protection.

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