How to lock a bike guide
As a regular London cyclist, I constantly see the remnants of bike locks lying on the floor where a thief has spent no more than a couple of minutes relieving it of the precious bike it was tasked with securing.
Cycle theft is a big problem around the country, with nearly half a million stolen every year. Hopefully you will avoid becoming a statistic with the help of this guide.
No lock is unbreakable
One thing you should always keep in mind is that if a thief wants to steal your bicycle, they will always be able to given enough time, the knowledge needed to break your locks and the right tools.
There are a number of steps you can take to help keep you and your trusted steed together:
- Buy the best locks you can afford
- Avoid the bad locks
- Use two locks
- Choose a good location
- Attach your bike to a solid, immovable object
- Understand the tools and techniques thieves use
Buy the best locks you can afford
Many guides suggest spending 10% of the value of your bike on locks. I suggest if you can afford to spend more, do so! If your bike only cost £250, a £25 lock won’t last very long if a thief takes an interest.
Take a look at this video showing how a range of locks costing around £25 each can be broken in seconds (dutch with english subtitles).
D-locks (also known as U-locks), are generally regarded as the best protection you can buy for your bike. However, be aware that not all D-locks are created equal.
In tests where locks are subjected to breaking techniques commonly used by bike thieves, some performed outstandingly, others failed miserably.
Make sure you have at least one of the best rated bike locks below.
The best bike locks
The best U locks (D locks)
The best bike chains
Almax Immobiliser Series IV
Avoid the bad locks
It’s difficult to recommend cable locks because they are absurdly easy to cut through – even the big name brands. Check out this video which demonstrates how bolt cutters make easy work of a big brand product.
Chain locks also suffer from this problem– and it’s often a matter of seconds rather than minutes before the thief hears that satisfying snap. Almax Security Chains have tested big name chains and all but their own failed (perhaps slightly biased!).
Use two locks
If you are locking your bike up for more than a few minutes, use two locks to secure the front wheel and frame and the back wheel and frame to an immovable object.
Choose a good location
A crowded and CCTV-heavy area is always a good spot for securing your bike, but don’t rely on this being a deterrent for bicycle thieves. Want proof? Check out this video of these guys stealing (their own) bikes in busy parts of New York – nobody bats an eyelid!
A good place to secure your bike is amongst others. If you’ve followed this guide, there will most certainly be an easier target for the thieves to take close by.
There will also be less room for a thief to manoeuvre themselves and their tools around. Other cyclists may be arriving or returning throughout the day and even if they refuse to challenge any suspicious behaviour, their presence will help deter thieves.
Don’t leave your bike somewhere which suggests it will be there for some time – for example, outside a train station, a cinema, an office block or a university. If you are attending any of these or similar places, consider riding a little further up the street and parking outside a shop or café; this way it looks as though you’ll be returning any minute rather than in five hours’ time.
Along with the new ‘Boris Bikes’, London is also trialling secure bicycle parking (currently at London Bridge and Finsbury Park), where, on receipt of a day pass at the entrance, you can leave your bike in a manned area for £1.50 a day. You receive a day pass for entry.
Attach your bike to a solid, immovable object
Make sure you lock both the frame and the back wheel to your anchor point. Also lock the frame and front wheel to your anchor point with a second lock.
If using a D-lock, ensure that it is a tight fit: the more space between the bike and the anchor point, the easier it will be to break the lock.
Make sure your lock can’t be lifted over what it is attached to or even that the whole thing itself can’t be stolen – it’s not uncommon for thieves to remove the sign off a short signpost – and it’s not too difficult to remove the entire post itself if you have the right equipment!
Try and keep the lock away from the ground, as this helps prevent leverage and hammer attacks.
If using railings, thread your lock(s) through as many as possible, as they can be easily cut through.
Face the locking mechanism downwards to make it difficult for the would-be thief to spray liquid into it or to drill through it.
Use a Cyclehoop if they are in your area. These devices transform a lamp post in to a secure bike locking anchor point. They are currently being trialled around certain London boroughs.
Remove all accessories
Removing your saddle, lights, speedometer and any bags to not only prevent these from being stolen but also make your bike a far less attractive target.
Understand the tools and techniques thieves use
Apart from opportunist thieves who tend to carry around a simple pair of bolt or wire cutters and an allen key for pinching seat-posts and the like, most professional outfits are going to be carrying around huge pairs of 42” bolt cutters that will make ribbons out of most metal. Some thieves will also utilise a mini bottle jack, known as a ‘stubby’. These nifty devices can fit in between the space of a D-lock and smash it open using their powerful hydraulics in a matter of seconds. The image below shows a bottlejack in action.
For this reason you should always make sure that there’s a minimum amount of room in this space – fill it with your frame, the wheel spokes or as much street furniture as you can.
And again, any truly experienced and determined thief will eventually get through your lock. What you need to do is make their task as protracted and difficult as possible.
Register and tag your bike
Bikes have a frame number, usually found on the underneath of the frame. These numbers can be registered with property databases such as Immobilise and Bike Register which are used by police forces around the UK to check if property including cycles have been reported stolen. Whilst the chances of a police officer stopping someone on a stolen bike and checking it against these databases are slim, registration is free so you have nothing to lose.
These registration services also offer radio frequency (RFID) tags which you fit inside your bike frame, hidden from the thieves. These tags contain your bike information should the thieves rub off the frame number (which they often do). Should a stolen bike be scanned with an RFID scanner by the police, the bike can be identified.
These tags cost between £15-£20. It may help you recover your bike if stolen, but perhaps best of all are the stickers you get to put on your frame to show you have taken the time to register your bike which could act as a further deterrent for a would-be thief.