5 Steps to Effective Bike Security

At Bicycle Roots, the number one concern we hear from our customers is this: I’d like to buy a nice bike, but I’m afraid that it will get stolen. Bike theft is all too common in our area. It seems like bike thieves are just waiting for you to let your guard down so that they can steal your bike, bike parts, or accessories! What’s worse, a thriving black market allows thieves to quickly unload stolen goods, without any fear of the consequences. The result is a situation where too many cyclists spend too much money replacing stolen property. Or worse, where people don’t ride at all because they think it’s futile to buy a bike, since it will just be stolen anyway.

It’s a grim picture, indeed. But did you know that there are common sense steps you can take to protect yourself? If you lock your bike up correctly, thieves will pass it over and target a bike that’s less well-secured. And if you insure your bike, your insurer will compensate you for your loss if your bike is stolen after all.

If you’re a bike rider in a high-theft, urban area such as New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, or Baltimore, keep reading to learn how to improve your locking game.

The 5 Steps to Effective Bike Security:

Step 1: Store Your Bike Inside at Night

You keep you bike inside at night, right? And by inside, we mean inside your apartment. Not inside your building, unless your building is a private home. Not inside your front gate, or your back yard. We mean inside your residence. If your bike doesn’t share the same mailing address as you, you can’t keep it safe.

Right:

Bike Storage in a Small Apartment

The Delta Leonardo Bicycle Hook creates neat and space-efficient bike storage in any room. Image courtesy of Brian’s Bicycle Banter.

Wrong:

Bicycle locked up overnight

Locked up overnight, this bike is an easy target for bike thieves. Image courtesy of Roos Photo.

Of course, just because you shouldn’t lock your bike up outside overnight, doesn’t mean you can’t lock your bike up outside after dark. If you’re at a bar, at a friend’s house, or at work, it’s perfectly all right to lock your bike up outside for a period of time. “Overnight” really is the key word here.

Thieves know the difference between temporary locking and all-night locking, because thieves case out their victims. If you regularly park your bike outside overnight, a bike thief will know that he has all night to work on your lock. And while some locks are stronger than others, any lock can be broken with the right tools and enough time to finish the job.

So, here’s a quick run down of the places New Yorkers store their bikes:

  • On the street… Prone to theft.
  • In the front yard… Just as bad as in the street. You think that 3 foot fence is doing anything?
  • In the back yard… Not great. If you’re going to do this, make sure the bike is locked securely to a stationary object, and that your back yard is not accessible from the street.
  • In any common area of your building, such as a hallway… Bad idea. Do you know every one who lives in your building, and all of their guests? If you have to store your bike in a common area, make sure it is locked securely to a stationary object.
  • In your apartment… Yes! That is the correct answer!

You may be concerned that you don’t have the space in your apartment to store a bike, or that your bike is too heavy to carry into your apartment. These are all legitimate concerns. But there is always a way. If storage is an issue, install a bike storage hook or rack to reclaim your floor space. You can also create a custom, DIY bike rack in your apartment. If you have to carry your bike up a narrow stairway to bring it into your apartment, consider upgrading to a lightweight, modern bicycle that’s easier to carry.

Not only does keeping your bike indoors reduce the likelihood that it will be stolen, it will also cut down on bike maintenance and extend the life of your components.

Step 2: Park Your Bike Correctly

So you love your bike, and it sleeps inside your apartment just like you do. But if you’re an urban bike commuter, you probably have to lock your bike up outside when you’re at work, when you do errands, or when you go out to socialize. Remember that when your bike is locked up outside, it’s only as secure as the thing you’ve locked it to. Here are your parking options:

Municipal Bike Racks

Municipal bike parking racks are your best parking option. These racks are designed to repel bike thieves. The only problem with these racks is that there are not enough of them, making parking hard to find when you need it. If can find one, use it.

Municipal bike parking racks in New York City

Municipal bike parking racks are your friend. Image courtesy of dumbonyc.com.

Pro tip: Lock your bike on the side of the rack closer to the sidewalk, not the side closer to the street. The bike on the street side is that one that will be hit by an errant truck or car that backs up onto the sidewalk while the driver fails at parking.

Bus Stop and Street Sign Poles

Security camera footage shows a thief stealing a bike by lifting it over the top of a sign pole

This security camera footage shows a thief lifting a bike over the top of a sign pole. Image courtesy of the NY Post.

The poles that display bus stop signs, street signs, parking signs, and the like are far more common than municipal bike parking racks. These are usually safe to lock to, except when they’re not.

Be aware that an enterprising thief can steal your bike by unbolting the sign at the top of the pole and sliding your bike over the top, lock and all. That’s what’s going in the picture on the right.

If you are going to lock to a sign pole, choose a pole with two or three signs at the top of it, instead of only one. Never, ever lock to a sign pole with no signs bolted on to it, or a pole where the bolts that secure the sign are loose.

If you’re feeling extra paranoid, try this quick trick before you lock to a sign pole: Grab the pole and shake it, to check if the bolts at the top are rattling. If you hear rattling bolts, don’t lock up to this pole. It may be a trap, where thieves have pre-loosened the bolts to make it easier to unbolt the sign and steal a bike later.

Wrought Iron Gates

Wrought iron gates and fences are usually either Private Property or City Property. If you lock up here, the property owner may cut your lock to remove your bike. Don’t risk it.

Construction Scaffold & Sidewalk Sheds

Never, ever lock to a construction scaffold, otherwise known as a sidewalk shed.These structures are bolted together, and a thief can easily unbolt them to remove your bike.

Saplings

Another bad idea. When a thief cuts through through the sapling to remove your bike, you’ll lose your bike and the city will lose a tree.

Step 3: Secure Your Frame with a Heavy-Duty Bike Lock

Now we know where you are locking your bike, but what are you locking it with? Will you lock it with a U-Lock or a Chain? What brand of lock will you buy? The major brands marketing bike locks in the U.S.A. are Kryptonite, Onguard, Abus, Blackburn, and Knog. Each of these companies offers a diverse line of U-Locks, Chains, and Cables, at a wide variety of price points. The choices are dizzying.

With so many choices, it’s important to compare apples to apples. A $50 lock from one manufacturer will never be as strong as a $100 lock from another. When you pay more, you get advanced security features such as center-mounted lock barrels, pick-resistant lock mechanisms, armored shackles, and construction from heavy duty, heat-treated materials. Mid-range to high-end locks should also be certified by 3rd party standard, such as the Sold Secure accreditation provided by the Master Locksmiths Association, or the German and Dutch ART1 to 5+ standards. While buying an adequate lock can be expensive, clearly it’s better to pay now to secure your bike, than to pay later to replace it.

Here are some basic guidelines for choosing a primary bike lock:

1) Ditch the cable. In a high-theft area, a cable lock is never adequate security for your frame. Save it for a secondary lock. (More on that below.)

2) Use the smallest lock you can. A shorter lock means that thieves will have less room to manipulate the lock and try to break it. As a result, for most people, U-locks are preferable to chains. Make sure that whatever U-lock you get is long enough to pass through your bike frame and whatever you are locking to. That said, a chain is better in situations where you have to lock to lampposts, to lock multiple bikes at once, or to lock an unusually shaped bike, such as a cargo bike.

3) Spend 10% of the price of your bike on a bike lock. While this is only a rule of thumb, it really does make sense in the real world. By applying this standard, we recommend the following lock choices for the following types of bikes:

  • If your bike came from a department store, such as Target, or a mass-market retailer, such as Amazon.com, get an entry level U-lock, such as the Kryptonite Keeper.
  • If your bike is a 3-speed or 10-speed from the 1970’s or 1980’s, such as a vintage Schwinn, Raleigh, or Fuji, get a mid-range U-lock such as the Kryptonite Series 2.
  • If your bike came from a bicycle store or if it’s a vintage bike from the 1990’s or later, get a high-end U-lock such as the Kryptonite Evolution.
  • If your bike came from a bicycle store and it cost over $1,000, get a top of the line U-lock such as the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboutit.
A Salsa road bike secured by a Kryptonite Evolution Standard U-Lock and a Kryptonite Kryptoflex Cable

Expensive bikes require expensive locks, it’s as simple as that. Image courtesy of Baltimore Bike Party.

4) Get a lock that’s easy to carry. Most U-locks come with some sort of bracket for carrying the lock on your frame, but not all brackets are created equal. Our favorite is the Kryptonite Flexframe bracket, which is included with all Kryptonite U-locks except for the Keeper and the Fahgettaboutit. The Flexframe bracket is easy to install and holds your U-lock with total stability. You can also carry a U-lock in a cycling hip pack such as the Green Guru Breakaway Hip Pack.

If you have a short or mid-length chain, you can carry it in the Kryptonite Transit Tube-R Chain Carrier. Longer chains can be carried by wrapping them around your bicycle seat post, or by toting them in your backpack, messenger bag, or pannierNever ride your bike with a chain locked around your waist or your torso. While this may gain you style points, it can cause serious injury if you fall off your bike, not to mention the danger if you lose or break your key! You should also never ride with your chain wrapped around your bike’s top tube; this will cause the chain to rest on your rear brake cable, and prevent your rear brake from functioning.

Step 4 – Secure Your Components with Secondary Bike Locks

All those heavy-duty U-locks and chains we referred to in the previous section are well and good, but they’re not the be all and end all of bicycle security. A U-lock or a chain is long enough to secure your frame, and it may be long enough to secure one wheel as well.  But no one lock can secure your frame and both wheels simultaneously, unless you remove your front wheel when locking. In a bustling metropolis like New York City, bicycle components have serious street value. And that’s why a true New York cyclist always uses two locks, or more.

When you lock your bike, you need to secure, at a minimum, every bicycle component that could be removed without the use of tools, such as quick release wheels and seatposts. If you’re a savvy cyclist, you’ll go one step further, and lock up your wheels and seat post regardless of whether or not they are mounted with quick release hardware. And if you have high end componentry such as a carbon fiber fork or integrated brake/shift levers, it’s a good idea to lock these as well.

What follows is a list of commonly locked bicycle components, and your options for how to secure each one:

Wheels

1) The most basic way to lock up your wheels is by using a secondary lock, usually a flexible cable such as the Kryptonite Kryptoflex Cable, or a lightweight, entry-level U-lock or chain. All the cheap locks that are not strong enough for securing your frame? They’re perfect for wheel locking, when only a deterrent is necessary.

When locking your wheels, you need to deter thieves, but not necessarily to prevent theft altogether. The idea here is that most thieves will not be motivated to break a cable lock simply in order to steal your wheels. If they’re going to break your lock, they’re going to want to get an entire bike as a reward for their efforts.

In our neighborhood, we have found that this principal holds true, with a few exceptions: A thief may still cut your cable and steal your wheels if you lock your bike up on the street overnight, or if you have a flashy set of deep profile track wheels.

A vintage Nishiki road bike secured by a Kryptonite Series 2 Standard U-Lock and a Kryptonite Kryptoflex Cable

On this bike, a Kryptonite Series 2 U-lock secures the frame and the rear wheel, and a Kryptonite Kryptoflex Cable secures the front wheel. Image courtesy of The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

2) A more advanced way to lock up your wheels is by using locking skewers or nuts, such as those made Kryptonite, Onguard, Pinhead, Pitlock, Zefal, and other brands. Locking skewers, which replace quick release wheel skewers, and locking nuts, which replace conventional wheel axle nuts, both require that a thief to use a special key or mechanism to remove the wheel. While they can be broken with enough time and the right tools, in practice they are an excellent deterrent to wheel theft.

A track bike wheel secured by Pinhead Locking Axle Nuts

Pinhead Locking Axle Nuts secure the front wheel on this lovely track bike. Image courtesy of Huckleberry Bicycles.

Seatpost & Saddle

1) The same brands that make locking skewers for your wheels also make locking skewers for your seatpost. These replace the conventional quick release skewer or bolt that closes your seatpost clamp.

A carbon fiber seatpost secured by a Pinhead locking seatpost skewer.

A Pinhead locking seatpost skewer secures this seatpost to the frame. Image courtesy of Confessions of a Bike Junkie.

A Brooks saddle secured by a bike chain seat lock

The ol’ bike chain seat lock trick. Image courtesy of Brooks England.

2) If you really want your bike to be New York City proof, and gain some serious street cred while you are at it, skip the locking seatpost skewer and install a Bike Chain Seat Lock instead.

To install a Bike Chain Seat Lock, gather a length of used bike chain, a used inner tube, a scissor, and a chain tool. Use the chain tool to cut a length of chain long enough to loop through your frame and saddle rails, with a little length to spare. Then cut a length of inner tube about an inch longer than your chain.

Run the chain through the inner tube. Loop the chain through your frame and saddle rails, making a figure eight. Close the chain upon itself using the chain tool. Last, take the two ends of the inner tube and slide one into the other, so that the chain is covered completely by the inner tube. Voila! Your saddle is now theft proof!*

* Disclaimer: The Bike Chain Seat Lock device is actually theft resistant, not theft proof.

Fork

Fork theft is not as common as wheel theft or saddle theft, however, if you have a high-end bike, your fork may be worth hundreds of dollars, and it’s worth protecting!

As with the locking wheel and seatpost skewers we mentioned above, the same brands that make locking skewers also make locking top cap bolts for your headset. These replace the conventional headset top cap bolt that attaches a threadless fork to your bike. With a locking top cap bolt installed, a thief will not be able to loosen your top cap and remove your fork.

A bicycle fork secured by a Pinhead locking headset top cap bolt

A Pinhead locking bolt secures this bike’s fork. Image courtesy of Confessions of a Bike Junkie.

Shifters

If you ride a road bike with integrated brake/shift levers, the city really has it out for you. You can lock your frame, your wheels, and your seatpost, and still have a thief some along, and with a quick snip-snip of some cables and turn of a wrench, steal your handlebars and shifters. And replacing the cockpit of a road bike can easily cost hundreds of dollars.

This is why, if ride a modern road bike as your “lock up bike”, we recommend this one neat trick to secure your cockpit: Glue ball bearings into the heads of the bolts that secure your stem faceplate and your shifter clamps. The ball bearings will prevent a thief from inserting an allen key into the heads of the bolts that secure your components. You can also come into Bicycle Roots, and have us make this modification for you. Nothing brings us more pleasure than frustrating bike thieves.

Accessories

Your awesome quick release bike lights, that can be removed from your bike so effortlessly? Take them with you when you lock up your bike. Duh.

Step 5 – Insure Your Bike with a Personal Articles Policy

Did you know that you can purchase a Personal Articles Policy that will secure the full value of your bike for as little as $25 per year? The purpose of a personal articles policy is to protect one item, which is serialized, with no deductible. If you have an appropriate Personal Articles Policy for your bike, and it’s stolen or damaged, you insurer should provide you with a full reimbursement to cover the replacement or repair cost of your bike.

To get a Personal Articles Policy, you have to first have a Renters or Homeowners Insurance Policy in place. The Personal Articles Policy is then purchased as an add-on to the existing Renters or Homeowner’s Insurance Policy.

Renters and Homeowner’s Insurance Policies usually have a high deductible, which is appropriate, because break-ins and natural disasters are fairly rare. However, since bike theft is common, it makes sense for your bike to be the one thing you own that you insure with no deductible.

Here are some big-name insurance companies that sell Personal Articles Policies:

We’re not linking to Progressive Insurance because their advertising is catastrophically annoying. Listening to Flo sing? Shudder… But if you tune in to broadcast media of any kind, you already know that Progressive sells insurance, so they don’t need a link from us.

Conclusion

You love biking. The freedom to get from Point A to Point B, at any time, for free, under your own power. The exercise. The way it helps you sleep better, think clearer, and feel more full of energy. Don’t let a thief take all that away from you.

Sure, it’s painstaking to take all of the steps we have outlined above. But in a high-theft area such as New York City, it’s necessary to protect yourself. Secure your bike correctly, so that you can enjoy cycling instead of spending your time hunting for a new bike.


Bicycle Roots is a full service bike shop located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. We specialize in making life easier for urban bike riders. We sell bikes, locks, and all kinds of bike parts and accessories. Every bike we sell comes with a free bike chain seat lock, and every road bike we sell comes with free bolts-glued-into-the-stem-faceplate upon request. We hate bike thieves with a burning passion. For bikes, parts, accessories, repairs, and friendly answers to all of your questions, come visit us at 609 Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, New York. Shop Online 24/7 at BicycleRoots.com.

7 Comments

  1. Lucy

    Some really good advice here. It’s a really comprehensive article.

    I’m not sure about using a cable to protect your wheels if you have quick release though. If you’ve got quick release wheels, you should either replace them with hex bolt skewers, or get a smaller secondary U-lock. Yes, another lock is a hassle to carry around but it’s the only way to be confident you’re wheels wont be stolen. You can search for the lightest, useful secondary lock on this site which compares weights and security levels.

    I’m not sure about the Kryptonite Keeper either, no matter how cheap your bike is. You don’t need to spend much more to get a much more secure lock.

  2. Pat

    An employee of The Hotel on Rivington (Lower East Side) cut my Kryptonite lock off my bike this evening when I parked on the sidewalk shed out front for 15 minutes (not in the way of anything). They said they’d cut two other bike locks in the past week. They said they could do that because they could get fined for having anything interfering with the construction scaffolding, but the police who came had never heard of anyone cutting bike locks off of a sidewalk shed.

    Do you know if there are laws prohibiting bikes being locked to construction scaffolding on the sidewalk? Have you heard of anyone cutting bike locks off? Thanks.

    1. BicycleRoots Post author

      Hi, Pat. That’s a *serious* bummer, and I’m so sorry that you lost your lock. Did the Hotel Rivington employees at least hold your bike for you?

      The only information that I could find with regard to locking your bike to a construction scaffold in NYC was from Transportation Alternative’s “Biking Rules” website. To wit: “[When locking to] private property (scaffolding, fences, railings, awning posts), it is up to the property owner/manager to allow or disallow bike parking.” Sadly, this is ambiguous, especially when property managers don’t post a sign to warn you not to lock to their property.

      Finding a place to park in Manhattan can be murder. Better luck next time!

  3. Harry Silver

    I’ve just lost my bike the other day. I’ve locked it in my front yard and… Ohhh, I wish I had read this post earlier. Anyway, thanks for your great post.

  4. Young Hayes

    Great tips. I often lock my bike at my back yard and luckily it hasn’t lost. From now on I’ll never lock it there. I’ll lock it in my house. Thanks for your useful tips!

  5. Kim

    I “secured” my 29er full suspension with a Knog this morning. It was gone in the 15 minutes I was gone. Cut right through that thing. I’ve only had my bike for one week. Best security? Don’t ride your bike in town. Keep it for trail riding and when you’re ass isn’t in the seat, take off all the components and lock them up separately.

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