Bicycle Theft and How to Choose the Best Bike Lock

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Bicycle Theft and How to Choose the Best Bike Lock 1

Whether you ride your bike down to the grocery store or you cycle to work every day, you are bound to need a premium quality bike lock. They ensure that your bike is safe from theft whilst you run your daily errands, providing peace of mind and security.

There are a large variety of bike locks available on the market, making it near impossible to know which lock is going to best protect your bike. However, there are a few simple qualities to look for to ensure your pride and joy is secure and protected.

I’ve done the research, testing, and interviewing for you. Now, there’s no more guesswork; you can simply pick the perfect lock and get back to riding!

Why do people steal bikes?

I’m a strong believer that if you want to catch a thief, you must think like a thief. Since I’m not a thief, I had to ask myself why people steal bikes in the first place. After some digging, this is what I found.

One of the biggest reasons is to turn a profit—which is no surprise to anyone, I’m sure. They steal a nice-looking bike that’s been well cared for, then they turn around and sell it. What they do with the money, who knows?

The only thing we care about is the fact they stole the bike just to get some money. Obviously, they’re not going to make the same amount of money selling your stolen bike as you put into it, but they really don’t care. To them, your awesome and beloved bike is just another quick buck.

I was shocked to learn that bike thieves actually view it as their job to take your belongings. They call themselves “professional bike thieves”; it sounds ridiculous, but it’s common.

Some bicycle thieves even end up with a reputation. And I don’t mean a reputation down at the local police precinct. Other shady types go looking for these professional bike thieves and place orders!

On the rare occasion it’s not about money, bike theft is because whoever stole it actually needs transportation. Maybe they can’t afford a car or bus fare and they need to get to work to feed their six kids.

Theft is still a crummy way to go about things, but that makes them less of a piece of human garbage since they’ll actually be using the bike and not stripping it for parts. That doesn’t help you much though, does it?

As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one interested in why thieves go around stealing bikes. Here’s an interesting article on the economics behind bike theft and what happens next.

How many bikes are stolen each year?

The next stop on my exploration of bike thieves was finding out how many bikes are stolen each year. The number is simply shocking.

According to FBI statistics, bike theft is on the rise. That certainly makes sense. We’ve already looked at the reasons for bike theft, and we already know that more and more people are choosing bicycles over cars or public transportation.

But what’s the number? How many bikes go missing every year?

While it is impossible to get an exact number because not everyone reports their bikes stolen, there’s an estimate of 1.5 million stolen bicycles each year. It’s hard to wrap your head around that big of a number.

It was even more shocking to learn that the majority of bike thefts are happening on college campuses. It’s not like college students have a lot of money, to begin with, and then someone comes up and just snags their bike. It’s despicable.

You’re going to hear this a lot in this article, but it’s worth repeating: it is every bike owner’s responsibility to secure their bike. Honestly, if you can afford a bike, you can afford a bike lock.

How to prevent bike theft

Whatever an individual thief’s reason for stealing, bike thieves are a real menace to honest citizens. This is especially true in highly populated areas where driving isn’t practical. Not to mention it’s a hell of a sting to your good nature when you choose to ride a bike to help save the environment, then some punk comes and steals it.

Regardless, it is clearly up to bike owners to properly secure their bicycles to prevent theft. If you don’t have a bike locker, a garage, or other fully secured building where you live, work, or go to school, then it’s up to you to find a suitable bike lock for your situation.

I’ve even made it super easy for you. Come on, people. No excuses!

I’ll cover some more in-depth and actionable ways to keep your bike from being stolen, but let’s talk about locks for now. You must know your tools before you learn how to use them, right?

Best Bike Locks to Prevent Theft

Before I dive into specific locks, let’s take a look at the features you should consider before purchasing. Think about your needs, your finances, and your location. How will a lock help you? Where will you be parking? What time of day will you need to lock your bike up? All of this is important to choose the right bike lock.

What to look for in a bike lock

Weight:

One of the most important qualities you should consider in a bike lock is the weight. Generally, the heavier the lock, the tougher it will be for a thief to steal your bike.

Before you go and buy the biggest, heaviest, behemoth bike lock you can find, be sure to consider how the weight of the lock will affect your ride. Heavier locks are often more cumbersome to transport. Adding to your overall weight will slow you down significantly.

If you use your bike all the time and will be locking it up for hours at a time, unattended, go for a bigger lock.

If you’re only using your bike to duck into the coffee shop on the weekends, you might be able to afford to skimp on the weight of your lock for something lightweight and more convenient to use.

Material:

Traditional bike locks are usually constructed of chain covered by plastic tubing. However, there has been a flood of unique, high-tech bicycle locks hitting the market.

Many companies are coating their locks with silicon to prevent bicycle damage whilst also protecting your bike from theft.

You should aim to purchase a bike lock made from hardened steel, or, if you leave your bicycle chained up for long periods of time, I recommend titanium. Both materials are impossible to cut by using bolt cutters.

Unless your thief manages to use an angle grinder in the middle of a busy street, your bike should be relatively secure.

Style:

The most effective style of bicycle lock is a U-lock or D-lock. It’s a simple, rigid ring in the shape of a U or a D.

Next is the chain lock, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Not only are these locks made from material that is virtually unbreakable, they are also easy to use and can be adjusted to secure your bike to a range of anchors.

Other styles include cable locks, wheel locks, locking skewers, disc rotor locks, and smart locks that use Bluetooth technology.

Best Bike Locks

Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Bicycle U-Lock:

Bicycle Theft and How to Choose the Best Bike Lock 2Kryptonite produces some of the most durable and sturdy bike locks available on the market.

Made from hardened steel, the New York Fahgettaboudit U-lock boasts an 18mm max-performance steel shackle that is completely resistant to bolt cutters and leverage attacks.

The Kryptonite Fahgettaboudit also features a high-security disc-style cylinder accompanied by a double-sleeved crossbar reinforced with hardened steel.

Finished with a layer of protective vinyl coating, a sliding dust cover also prolongs the cylinder life, leaving you with one of the world’s most secure bike locks.

Although kryptonite locks are expensive, setting you back well over $100.00 on Amazon, investing in a good quality bicycle lock instead of a cheap cable lock will inevitably save you the cost of replacing your entire bike should it ever get stolen. Check the latest price here and see their fantastic reviews for yourself!

Kryptonite Evolution Chain:

Bicycle Theft and How to Choose the Best Bike Lock 3Another innovative bike lock from Kryptonite, the Evolution chain is perhaps one of the most convenient and flexible bike locks available on the market. Each chain link is made from six-sided manganese reinforced steel.

This impressive chain will never become a victim of a hacksaw! Reinforced with a Kryptonite shackle with a four-cylinder design, the Evolution chain rivals even the most high-tech bike locks available.

The chain comes encased in a soft, nylon fabric, protecting both the links and your bike from damage. Not only is this chain super-strong, it is also flexible, so you will have no problem fitting your lock around any awkward anchors while you run your errands.

The biggest downfall for this incredible lock is its weight. It weighs in at a whopping 7 pounds. No matter your strength, the Evolution will weigh you down significantly. However, this quality lock will most likely outlive your bicycle and will guarantee your bike will be ultra-secure, making the extra weight worth it.

Another thing to look out for is wet weather. According to some reviews, the lock mechanism on the Evolution chain can become sticky when wet. Be sure to keep the lock oiled if this becomes a problem.

This durable lock is a little cheaper than the Kryptonite U-lock, costing just under $100 on Amazon. If you don’t mind carrying some extra weight on your ride, this lock is the best option for you. Check the latest price here. Another lock with fantastic reviews.

Tigr Mini Lightweight Bike Lock:

Bicycle Theft and How to Choose the Best Bike Lock 4This ultra-strong bike lock will save you both time and energy due to its lightweight titanium make. Although it only weighs around 0.9 pounds, your bike will have never been more secure. Including a high security, disc-style lock cylinder, the Tigr mini is virtually impossible to penetrate, pick, or cut through.

The material itself appears flat and thin, however, this will prove a hassle for any thief. Bolt cutters are rendered useless against it. Furthermore, the small size does not affect the security of this lock, adding an extra layer of security by limiting the amount of space a thief has to work.

Coated with PVC to ensure your bike remains unscathed, the Tigr also comes with a convenient mounting clip, allowing you to easily store your lock while you ride. (Check out the movie above to see how it works as it really is a cool design)

The Tigr mini is ART certified and is accompanied by two keys. Locking up your bike has never been easier: simply push the lock-in and your bike can be secured to almost any anchor without having to fiddle with your keys. Find the Tigr Mini on Amazon for an affordable price.

Locks Our Readers Recommend

I’m not the only rider looking to keep their bike safe. We have some great suggestions from our loyal readers. Check out these locks from our readers’ suggestions.

I’m now using what I saw many people using in Amsterdam last time I was there. I figure Holland is a good litmus test since bike theft is a real problem there and defeating locks is practically a national past-time. The lock is a 10mm hardened chain (available from Cothron’s etc.) and a nifty lock made by a company in Italy called “Viro.” I ordered their 4230 model from a store in Canada called Canaropa. The enclosed design of the lock and lack of leverage all around makes it very unlikely someone would go after it with any kind of saw, crowbar, hammer, drill or bolt cutters…. or I guess a Bic pen for that matter.

The caveat is: this solution is expensive (~$90) and heavy (~6lbs). But for me, when I depend on my bike for daily transportation, it isn’t overkill. I haven’t really noticed the extra weight and I got a great deal on a used chain (the majority of the cost).

– Travis Weller, MI

“I can’t deal with carrying that much extra weight around. I use a Specialized Hard Lock Wrapper (the thick version) for daytime lockups and a Kryptonite New Yorker for overnight. Since I almost always lock up my bike on the bike rack at home, I just leave the New Yorker lock there, attached to the bike rack all the time. The Hard Lock Wrapper comes with a plastic holder which allows you to conveniently attach it to the frame just above the water bottle holder and is extremely lightweight (the core is Kevlar rather than steel, which is actually harder to cut through using standard bolt cutters).

This lock – the Wrapper – also did fairly well in the Bicycling magazine theft test, where they hired a former professional bike thief to try and get through various bike locks using only tools he could carry with him in a bicycle messenger bag. This guy was able to get through most U-locks in 7-15 seconds. The HLW took him 37 seconds, and the only lock he was unable to defeat was the New Yorker.”

– Patrick Goetz, PA.

How to Keep Your Bike from Getting Stolen

As promised, I’ve given you some awesome locks to look into, We’ve looked at why thieves do their thing, but now let’s explore some specific ways to keep your bike from becoming the next victim.

Get a U-lock!

First and foremost, I’m going to repeat myself: get a U-lock. The overwhelming majority of stolen bikes were locked with a cable or chain or weren’t locked at all. The cheapest U-lock is better than the best chain.

Locally, Home Depot carries entry-level U-locks for around $14. Online, you can get U-locks from Bike Nashbar or Amazon for around the same price or slightly cheaper. (See above for links to Amazon for the locks we recommended and use) Higher quality locks are also, of course, available at bike shops and sell for anywhere from $25-80. Remember, a bike being unlocked is a bigger factor in whether it gets stolen than how expensive the bike is.

USE your U-lock!

Of course, this sounds like a no-brainer, but I can’t count how many people (myself included) have lost bikes that they left unlocked “just for a minute”. I once had a bike stolen from my front porch that was only out there for twenty minutes after I got home.

Lock your bike religiously. Make it part of your routine, like putting on your pants.

If you’re at a store and there’s nothing to lock your bike to, at the very least lock your bike to itself. That is, lock the frame to a wheel. That way, someone can’t ride off ON your bike, although they could still throw it in the back of a truck and drive off with it.

Locking method

Put the U-lock through the frame, not just through a wheel. If you lock just a wheel, a thief will simply remove the wheel and walk away with your bike frame.

For best protection, put the lock through BOTH the frame and the front wheel when locking your bike to something.

Watch the bike racks

Be careful about the ends of bike racks. Some bike parking racks are constructed with simple nuts and bolts on the ends. If you park your bike on the end of one of these racks, a thief could disassemble the end of the bike rack with a wrench, then slide your bike off it.

By the same token, also check to make sure that the part of the rack you’re locking to is solid and not broken at the top or bottom.

Traffic signs

Don’t park on traffic signs overnight. A determined thief can take the sign off the top of the pole and then slide your bike over the pole. It’s not as much of a Herculean feat as you might imagine. Remember, some bike thieves actually think of this as their job!

Public parking

Don’t park your bike overnight in public if you can avoid it.

If your bike is expensive and you have to leave your bike parked in public overnight or for a long time, consider getting a second, less expensive “beater bike” for those times. That way it’ll be less likely to be stolen, and if it is, you won’t be quite so heartbroken.

Note, though, that a poorly-locked cheap bike is often a bigger target than a well-locked expensive bike. The smallest target is a well-locked cheap bike, of course.

Paint over expensive brand names or scratch them off. Simply adding stickers won’t fool a thief into thinking your bike is old or low quality, although it may make it easier to identify if it IS stolen.

How To Get Your Bike Back if it IS Stolen

If your bike is expensive enough to have a serial number, write it down now. I’m not kidding. Go do it right now. I’ll wait.

Even if your bike has its own serial number, add your own numbers to it as well.

Engrave your state ID number into two places on the frame, such as under the bottom bracket and on the down tube. You can get a cheap engraver at a hardware store.

The reason you’re engraving into two places is that if a thief is smart enough to try to file your numbers off, he might NOT be smart enough to think that there could be a second set of numbers after he’s found the first.

Some local and campus police departments will stamp your ID number onto your bike for free. They may even put a registration sticker on the down tube. Sure, the registration sticker would be easy for a thief to remove, but the point is that when thieves even SEE the registration sticker, they may avoid stealing your bike because they know that it’s registered and has your ID number stamped into it, so it’ll be harder to sell.

Note that some cyclists are wary about having their bikes registered. They worry that if they get harassed by the police for any reason, the police could ID them with the state ID # etched into their bike.

Get free insurance with a U-lock.

Most U-locks that cost $30 or more come with a guarantee that works like insurance. If your bike is locked properly and gets stolen anyway, the lock company will pay you for the loss of your bike.

Yeah, your bike is gone, but you’re not out any money.

Register with the National Bike Registry

This is a database run by a private company, but police nationwide use it to try to find stolen bikes. Registration is just $10. Isn’t your bike worth ten bucks?

Take a good picture of your bike for your files

This is one time I’m all about selfies. Not only should you get a good picture of your bike, but get a few of you on it. This proves it’s your bike and it helps identify the bike should it pop up for sale.

How To Recover A Stolen Bike

Don’t go all Liam Neeson on thieves. You’ll just end up in jail. Instead, call the police and file a report.

If your bike didn’t have your ID # on it, it’s extremely unlikely that they’re going to find your bike. But if you’re going to try to collect on a U-lock maker’s guarantee, they’ll require that you filed a report with the police.

Also, you may be able to look through the police warehouse of confiscated bikes to see if yours is among them.

If your bike was stolen from a college campus, call the campus police and file a report. Campus police are sometimes a lot more actively involved in recovering stolen bikes than the local police. That probably has a lot to do with the epic levels of bike theft on campuses.

Go to pawn shops in your area and let them know your bike has been stolen. Give them the registration # and a copy of your photos.

Notify local bike shops who buy used bikes.

If you got the insurance that came with your U-lock, file a claim with the lock company.

Report the theft to the Stolen Bicycle Registry.This is a database of stolen bikes maintained by an individual (not by the police).

You can help other bike owners, too. With some due diligence, you may be able to reunite a victim of theft with his or her bike.

When buying a used bike, check the bottom bracket to see if it’s registered and if so, make sure it matches the ID of the person trying to sell you the bike. If you suspect the bike may be stolen, notify the police.

Yeah, this doesn’t help YOU get your stolen bike back, but it could help someone else. And what good is it going to do for your bike to be registered if nobody bothers to look for the registration number when buying?

Basically, I’m saying you should be the good guy here. Just check the numbers – it’s not that hard.

Summary

Finding a strong and durable bike lock is imperative if you want to keep your bicycle secure and safe. Although a good-quality bike lock may seem pricey, the quality of the lock is unmatched, particularly compared to cheaper alternatives.

Ultimately, a small investment into a good-quality bike lock now will save you thousands of dollars in the future and the grief of losing your prized possession.

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