Unconventional ways of preventing your bike from being stolen

bike wheel lock

My first time was outside my college when I was 16. I remember it well. Everyone remembers their first time. She was beautiful. The most gorgeous mountain bike you have ever seen. Sure it was just a £200 bike from JJB Sports but I was young and I was in love. I looked around at the exact spot where I had left it but it was nowhere to be seen.

I’m sure a lot of people can recall their first time. Now we all know how to lock our bikes but maybe some times in takes more than that. Maybe it takes a little bit of thinking outside the box. A little bit of “blue sky thinking” if you will.

The first way to achieve this enlightened state of mind is to step into the shoes of a criminal. In my criminal heyday I stole a packet of cigarettes and maybe a few sweets from the local shop. The packet of cigarettes was a long time ago and the sweets was last Sunday. I’m kidding, they were both a long time ago. So, I’m not exactly what you may call a criminal mastermind. Yet, despite not been a criminal mastermind this is where I come across my first obstacle to unconventional prevention ideas.

If I was a thief and I liked stealing things what I would not steal is beat up old bikes. Yet, both my bikes that have been stolen were not worth more than £50 second hand. This puts a major dampener on my first unconventional idea: making your bike look ugly.

So if making your bike look undesirable isn’t a guaranteed solution what is?

My second idea is removing parts of your bike when you leave it locked. For example taking off the front wheel and locking it in a separate location? Then Mr Thief comes along, sees a bike with a missing front wheel and thinks: “unless I’m the king of wheelies there’s no way I’m stealing that”.

I don’t think this is such a bad idea. Though of course it is a pain having to find a location to leave my bike and then another location to leave my wheel and then having to rejoin the two. Even with a quick release it still takes time.

Another idea which may work well is to personalise the bike. When research was done into which wallets were returned and which were not they came to an interesting conclusion. Putting a picture of a baby in your wallet greatly improved your chances of being reunited. Perhaps this could also work with bikes. Perhaps I should print a picture of a baby and put it on my bike. I would certainly get some funny looks. Though a funny idea, I would presume a bike that had been heavily personalised would not be as sellable. So maybe you should litter it with stickers? The obvious downside to this is I don’t particularly want to make my bike look silly.

However, this is good, were definitely getting somewhere with our unconventional thinking. Let’s take it to the extreme level.

What if bikes were so cheap there was no point stealing one? What if everyone in the world was automatically given a bike for life as soon as they are born? What if we banned selling of second hand bikes? What if all bikes were fitted with GPS tracking? What if your bike wouldn’t move without finger print identification?

Okay, let’s cut back on the extreme thinking a little. For a start whilst the price of bikes may continue to fall, the most desirable bikes will no doubt remain expensive and thus there will still be a market for them. Banning second hand bike sales would be unworkable and wasteful and GPS tracking would no doubt be expensive. A bike for life could potentially work and would be very interesting.

Throwing these ideas around is a good thought exercise but one day I’m hopeful our bike theft problems may eventually solve themselves. If the number of cyclists continues to increase then maybe one day a bike will become such a commodity that we don’t even think about it. It would be like someone trying to steal your vacuum cleaner.

For now I’ll continue locking my bike with two different locks, in well lit areas, near to other bikes but I just might add a few personal touches.

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21 Responses to Unconventional ways of preventing your bike from being stolen

  1. david 16/11/2009 at 11:01 am #

    A ban on the sale of 2nd hand bikes might not be workable, but a license for people selling 2nd hand bikes would be workable. When my bike was stolen, everyone told me that if I were to go down to Brick Lane market on the Sunday, that I’d probably be able to buy my bike back. If the sellers down there were licenced, and police were able/willing to take down the serial numbers of these bikes, it would quickly become apparent which of these sellers are selling on stolen bikes, and which were genuinely 2nd hand.

  2. Murray 16/11/2009 at 11:06 am #

    I covered my crappy old bike in stickers of punk rock bands. Completely covered it all over. It was still stolen…

  3. Andreas 16/11/2009 at 11:06 am #

    Not only on Brick Lane but also on Gumtree and Ebay – there is a petition you may wish to sign: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/bikesecurity/index.html

    Tracking serial numbers is a very good idea and theoretically very workable.

  4. Andreas 16/11/2009 at 11:07 am #

    Murray: There goes another one of my ideas then! Maybe you should of gone for baby pictures!

  5. david 16/11/2009 at 11:21 am #

    Thanks for the link to the pentition Andreas. Have added my voice to the many others.

  6. Andreas 16/11/2009 at 12:07 pm #

    No problem David, hope it comes to something!

  7. Adam 16/11/2009 at 8:52 pm #

    If the theory that bikes will be stolen less when more people own them were true then surely no one would steal cars now as so many people already own them?

  8. Andreas 16/11/2009 at 10:08 pm #

    I was going along the example in Copenhagen where I believe they don’t suffer from many bicycle thefts. I guess it is because the bike becomes so common and so easy to obtain that no one bothers to steal it. Also the type of bikes they ride around are not worth much so it’s not like you are stealing a £1000 carbon frame.

    How many cars are stolen these days? I thought most were broken into and had radio stolen or any possessions in there.

    • Calanish 31/07/2010 at 1:40 pm #

      I wish that were the case in Copenhagen, bikes and parts do get stolen.

      My son even had his saddle stolen from the Bike store in the basement bike park which is inside a couple of locked doors.

  9. Murray 17/11/2009 at 8:34 am #

    I have, however, been to the Netherlands many, many times and seen people leaving bikes unlocked. But, yes, these were cheap or old models. New ones were locked. In this country, though, even knackered old bikes get nicked…

  10. Andreas 17/11/2009 at 11:00 am #

    Yeah, seems to be something pretty common in this country. I recon as per usual its probably like 20% of the bike thieves steal 80% of the bikes so if the police could target them it would solve most the problem.

    In most other countries I have visited people will leave a bike locked with a tiny chain lock and it won’t get stolen.

  11. James 17/11/2009 at 3:41 pm #

    There is of course an even more unconventional approach: to use the absolute cheapest lock you can get your hands on. Then simply allow this fact to dominate your strategy regards cycle parking.

    I think it’s the best way to secure a prized bicycle:


    • Amoeba 07/03/2011 at 8:30 am #

      I disagree, by all means choose your location as if the bike wasn’t locked, but use a good lock anyway, just in case!

  12. david 17/11/2009 at 4:23 pm #

    James, wouldn’t that mean that you would only park the bike at home? Or given the number of people who’ve had their bike nicked from their home, maybe you’re suggesting not having a bike at all, which would surely be the ulitmate way of ensuring you don’t suffer from having a bike stolen. Unconventional, sure. Unconvenient, definitely.

    Give me a good lock, some insurance and something sturdy to lock the bike to anyday.

  13. James 17/11/2009 at 4:36 pm #

    You can weigh up the mild inconvenience of only leaving your bike in 100% secure locations, or in those where you can see it, with the greater convenience of a bike that is never stolen, and worry that is never had.

    It requires a philosophical shift that takes place long before you leave the saddle.

    Every day I see cycle couriers pop into company receptions leaving their bike unlocked outside. This looks like madness, but it means they do not dally and will keep an eye on it from the window. But park it round the corner with a mid-range lock, and spend a leisurely 5 minutes delivering a letter, lo and behold the bike is gone.

    The better you think your lock is, the less attention you will pay to where you use it, and vice versa. I think it’s a sliding scale.

  14. Andreas 17/11/2009 at 5:13 pm #

    I personally think that it is essential you have a good lock. CCTV is not enough to put people off from stealing it. For all you know the operator may not even be there watching the camera, the camera could be turned off etc etc.

  15. LondonLover 18/11/2009 at 3:43 pm #

    I read on the Transport for London site this morning, that they recommend securing your bike with two different types of locks. So that not only will a thief have to break two locks, but they might also need two separate sets of tools to combat each device, which is theoretically not an attractive prospect for them. Anyone think this might work?

  16. Andreas 18/11/2009 at 4:08 pm #

    Absolutely LondonLover, two locks is a major deterrent to bike thieves. They rarely carry around two different types. If I’m leaving my bike for a long period of time in a high risk area I put three locks on my bike.

    For more bike locking tips:
    http://www.londoncyclist.co.uk/secure/how-to-lock-your-bike/ – includes the one to have two different types of lock

  17. dukiebiddle 24/11/2009 at 12:52 pm #

    I read that the Netherlands has a horrible problem with bike theft, to the point where police will periodically stop bicyclists to make sure their serial numbers have not been filed off.

  18. Emo 07/03/2011 at 12:58 am #

    my opinion: get a beater bike you’re willing to have stolen. in this day of highly sophisticated cycling, one needs a bike for every occasion and it’s just not worth having your carbon or touring jobbie ripped off. it offers an excellent chance for cheap revivals and conversions of older mid-grade bikes, as well as pushes toward the common bike idea, thus making them easily accessible. the biggest problem over the years is the breadth of parts and parts makers, making it so difficult to restore because of all the varying equipment sizing, etc. there really is no short term solution outside government regulation for curbing bike theft on the macro-scale, so for now, I say ride a beater to lock at the train station, heck lock that bad boy twice, and triple lock your good bike even if it’s just during an afternoon at the street fair.

  19. SteveP 10/10/2012 at 12:00 pm #

    London is a fantastic city where you see £100,000 cars – sometimes three or four to a block – parked on the street. It boggles my mind.

    OTOH, even cheap bikes get stolen regularly. I think it may be a different class of criminal…

    OTOOH, I know a guy who had two cars stolen off his drive after crooks broke in and stole the keys. They had to reverse the “station car” out onto the street first. It was an old Mondeo and they just left it there, with the keys in it, and no one touched it…

    Some thoughts on the post and the comments:

    -If you consider the “broken windows” psych theory and the resulting policing action (NYC), leaving your bike without its wheel or seat might “signal” that it is abandoned and uncared for (sort of the opposite of the Baby Picture Effect). Especially if it looks ratty.

    -No one seems very specific about the “two different locks” approach. Other than two locks better than one, how is a U-lock and a cable lock better than two U-locks? If the crook has a portable angle grinder, you’re done for. If he has bolt cutters, two U-locks would be better. A set of extendable bolt cutters will cut most anything up to (say) 10mm steel. So how would two 14mm U-locks not be better than one U-lock and a (say) 8mm chain and padlock?

    -Bikes get stolen in different ways. Sometimes, it’s by someone who “knows” you. So leaving it in the same place all the time is risky. Other times it’s just opportunistic theft. Like the PM’s bike. Wrong locking at the wrong time.

    -CCTV s for catching crooks, not stopping them

    -Any lock is better than no lock

    -A “weird” lock (not a common style) might put off an experienced thief (why fuss with something odd when you have the tools and knowledge to steal something else already?)

    -Why don’t people write their names in indelible ink on their fancy Brooks saddles? (OK, maybe not that visible on a black one)

    -Buy a decent used bike from an LBS for city commuting. Get Pitlocks for the bits that come off and a decent U-lock (or two – carry a small one and leave the big one where you have to leave the bike daily).

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