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.

15 Responses to Real Advice: How to Lock Your Bike

  1. Froze says:

    That locking method is too easy, cables can be cut in a matter of seconds, so everything will be gone except the frame and front wheel.

    Those lock warranties are entirely useless, they make you jump through so many loops that I’ve never ever heard of anyone who ever got reimbursed and I use to live in Los Angeles where bikes were stolen quite frequently; and they won’t release how many claims they have paid out over the years; that isn’t to say that locks from those companies aren’t any good, they’re the best available but don’t count on the warranty to protect you instead get it covered under the homeowners insurance.

    Here is a website that shows the best way to use a U (or D lock as some call it) lock to lock up a bike, it does require a longer shackle lock; see: http://www.missinglink.org/page/how-lock-bike

    Then if you are worried about certain components like the saddle, brakes, handlebar, wheels, etc PitLock makes a variety of locking devices for this sort of thing and you can have them all keyed the same.

  2. Neil says:

    You’ll Never Catch Me!”
    Several years ago, in the middle of summer, I locked my trusty single speed mountain bike with a Krypto cable. I ran in to grab a coffee and while I was paying, one of the coffee regulars yelled at me that my bike had just been ripped off. I ran out and saw the junkie furiously pedaling away. I gave chase and watched with amusement as the chain fell off the sprocket and the junkie went splat in the middle of the intersection. Several other couriers with me jumped on the guy and held him down until the police showed up (they had been called by our buddy at the coffee hut). A few war wounds on the bike, but I recovered it. Since then I have gone all out with my security system. I now use a 4 foot length of Grade 70 Transport chain with 3/8″ thick links. It takes a hydraulic cutter to snap these links and no bolt cutter will touch it. I pair this up with either an ABUS Discus lock or another lock I’ve got that is a little bigger (1/2″ thick shackle). The beauty of using a chain like this is you can wrap it around a lamp standard and secure your bike. To date, there have been many attempts to cut the chain, but it is futile to try. I once interrupted a thief in the garage and his 5 foot long bolt cutters had snapped at the pivot. A little scar on the chain, that was it. You can go to Home Depot or Acklands Grainger to buy the chain. Ask for Grade 70 Transport chain, 3/8″ thick links. Go to the lock section and ask for an ABUS or MASTER disc lock. Get the slightly larger one so both ends of the chain fit into it. I have seen many attempts to break these locks by hammers, punches, bolt cutters, etc., but no success in actually breaking them. You can buy a Kryptonite chain and lock, but who wants to spend $100+ on a lock. I spent about 35 bucks for mine…….. happy trails. Otto Vancouver, BC, Canada

  3. Yeah, I would lock the rear wheel with the U-lock (or heavy chain) to the frame and either use the heavy cable to secure the front wheel, or even better, remove the front wheel and secure it together with the frame and rear wheel. The rear wheel is typically the more expensive of the wheels to replace which is why it should be better secured.

  4. Brad says:

    I learned some good tips here. I like the eyelet methods. Thanks. I have heard of ways thieves open U-locks so I do my cable lock separate so thief has a second (separate) step and need more tools.

  5. Dave says:

    Never lock to the end of an old school rack, One bolt removed from the rack and the whole bike is gone. Proper way to use a u-lock, remove front wheel, secure front wheel, frame and rear wheel together to the rack.

  6. Lee Bilbro says:

    My question is how do you carry this stuff when you are riding? It’s gotta be heavy!

    • Froze says:

      First off I don’t take my good bike when I need to go somewhere and lock it up, I take an older “beater” bike instead so I don’t have to worry about using heavy locks because in reality any lock can be defeated. Some cities like New York and Los Angeles bikes with the best locks made are stolen rather frequently. If you’re truly worried about your bicycle being stolen it’s cheaper to buy a $250 or so bike and a $17 On Guard 15mm cable with a key lock from Walmart, then if by some odd chance that gets stolen you’re only out around $267 instead of $100 lock plus a $2,500 bike or a $500 to $1000 deductible on your homeowners insurance. I use my good bike for weekend training rides and after work rides, and an older less valuable bike to commute.

  7. Pingback: Real Advice: How to Lock Your Bike | Bikeboard.me

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  9. Check out http://www.velosurance.com for complete theft and damage protection for you bike.

  10. cyclist says:

    I have a Kryptonite lock on my bike as well as insurance from http://velosurance.com

    All bike locks can be broken. It is just a matter of time. Nevertheless a good lock can buy you tons of time.

  11. Pingback: 2013 Year in Review – From Cyclocross Worlds to How to Climb | The Performance Bicycle Blog

  12. Reblogged this on Running Rev. Collins and commented:
    This is a great article on ways to secure that bike of yours. I hope you enjoy.

  13. Pingback: Diamondback Interval Carbon Flat Bar Road Bike | The Performance Bicycle Blog

  14. Confidant says:

    Good article, If a thief wants your bike bad enough they can get it, the best protection you can get is a great insurance policy.

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