What a bike thief can teach you about locking your bike

Excessive locking?

Don’t forget to lock the front wheel too!

Stolen Ride recently interviewed a reformed bike thief about his old trade in Cycling Weekly. It makes for some scary but not unprecedented reading. We thought it would be useful to pull together some new and old tips for securing your bike that will give you the best chance of returning to it intact at the end of the day. Some of these points are mentioned briefly in the interview but we will give you more detail and some extra suggestions.

Lock type

We recently updated our bike lock guide to help you find the best lock for your needs. Generally, you want to look for a gold standard d-lock with as small of an aperture as possible. I have been using the Knog Strongman which is nice and small. If I have access to a regular rack this works well to secure my frame to it and leaves little room for tools to get leverage.

Bike locked with Knog Strongman

The interview refers to Kryptonite locks not being a good idea as they have barrel locks. This is not true anymore and the Kryptonite New York lock is one of the best around and one we here at London Cyclist frequently use around town.

Locking technique

How you lock your bike is as important as what you lock it with. Multiple locks are a good deterrent as it takes longer to get your bike free. If you can carry two around, or you have quick release wheels, then you should use one to lock the rear wheel and frame to a rack or other secure object (as pictured below). The second lock should be used to secure your front wheel to the bike frame.

Bike locked through the rear wheel

Try to avoid locking your bike to a signpost as a determined individual can remove the sign and lift your bike over. You should also avoid locking your bike to thin railings as these can be cut or removed, sometimes easier than getting through a good lock.

Bad Bike lockPitlock

Use component locks like Pitlocks, Pinhead or similar. It won’t stop your whole bike from being stolen, but you can stop parts being taken from your bike, particularly wheels which are probably the most expensive single item on your bike after the frame. You can also use a small cable lock but this will only stop someone without wire cutters.

Sad piranha-ed bike

Finally, not something mentioned in the Cycling Weekly article but something was reported on recently is intentional damage to bike racks themselves. There are some bike racks around London which have been cut and then covered up with tape so the thieves can simply slip the bike lock off and take the bike away. Therefore, it is always worth checking the rack you are using too.

Location and time of day

To be honest, there is not much you can do about this based on the information in the interview. Interestingly the interview said that secure bike parking areas were not safe. I guess it is like building security – lots of people get in as people are coming and going all the time. CCTV also didn’t put the thieves off and is hard to get hold of in the event that the locking location is covered. It also mentioned that they didn’t target specific bikes, rather stole opportunistically. However, I don’t see how it can hurt to vary your locking location (unless you forget where you locked it of course!).

Leaving a bike overnight, especially on the weekend, in a central location seems to be a big risk factor. The guy in the article mentions that this is when they got most of the bikes and it makes sense that bike theft is easier in the dark. If you are intending to go out after work and not ride home, it might be worth not riding at all that day rather than leave your bike out, particularly on a Friday.

A similar interview I read with a different reformed bike thief has suggested that they sometimes puncture tyres to disable a bike. This may force you to leave your bike over night when they have more time and privacy to break a lock. Therefore, it is always worth carrying a patch kit or spare tube to give yourself the chance to get your bike home rather than leave it out.  At the very least you might want to move it a few blocks.


Ultimately a determined thief is going to find someway to get your bike. Really your goal is not giving them an easy opportunity and to be hard enough to steal that they move on elsewhere. This may sound harsh for your fellow cyclists, but it is the sad reality.  The above tips can help keep your bike safe.

In addition to following these tips, it might also be worth thinking about getting insurance for your bike. You could also think about getting a folding bike if you have a safe area inside your office to leave it. It also solves storage problems at home and means you can bring your bike inside and not leave it out or in an insecure hallway. Finally, bike marking by the Bike Register is a must as it is free and takes about 5 mins.

It may seem like a hassle and it is certainly unfair that we have to go to so much effort to keep our bikes secure, but it is worth it in the long run.

What tips do you have for keeping your beloved bicycle safe? Share them below!

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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

14 Responses to What a bike thief can teach you about locking your bike

  1. brainycyclist 18/05/2016 at 8:02 am #

    I think my best tip ever is to get a folding bike!

    • Tom 18/05/2016 at 12:50 pm #

      Well, not everyone see the reason for paying £1000+ for a bike with 3 gears only… Let’s face it – Brompton or any other folding bike are commuters only.

      • dave 20/05/2016 at 11:26 am #

        …and bikes used for commuting are exactly those most at risk from thieves. As an aside, the quality of a bike is not measured by the number of gears it has.

      • Barry Hearn 20/05/2016 at 9:11 pm #

        Of course they’re not have look on YouTube you’ll see that loads of people tour on Bromptons. I never go anywhere without mine, and I’ve been all over the world, without it being stolen. I’ve had the same bike for 6 years.

    • Paul C 06/07/2016 at 8:00 pm #

      Yes, that’s what I did, I got rid of my commute bike and got a Brompton instead, so much less hassle, never leave it outside and it’s in the boot of an Uber if the weather turns. I’ve ending up using it far more than my previous.

  2. Mark 18/05/2016 at 8:06 pm #

    Point about the locks – it actually says “Don’t be fooled by Kryptonite locks, they’re not as tough as made out to be.
    ……..ALSO D-bars with tubular locks, never use them”

    Tubular locks are not really sold as much nowadays, but many people still use old locks, so good awareness!

    Read more at http://www.cyclingweekly.co.uk/news/latest-news/bike-thief-reveals-tricks-trade-stunningly-candid-interview-225130#Ac0sdIkETp8tQifw.99

  3. DDC 19/05/2016 at 1:53 am #

    Or ride a twenty-year old undesirable (but well-maintained) ’90s mountain bike. Park that next to something more attractive and it’ll never get stolen.

    • Henri 27/05/2016 at 10:40 am #

      That didn’t work with me. I bought an old and ugly-looking bike on purpose to leave daily outside the station overnight. There were a few other bikes locked there over night too.

      One Friday afternoon, in my rush to catch the train, I completely forgot to lock the bike. First time this ever happened to me. Later CCTV showed that the bike got stolen 1 hour later, still in daylight.

    • Alehouse Rock 10/06/2016 at 4:15 pm #

      [[[[[ It will be the 2nd one to get stolen!

  4. Roger 24/05/2016 at 5:26 pm #

    Abus x-plus 540 230mm
    Abus 401 mini
    Solder in some key Allen bolts
    Plastic bag over the seat
    A few stickers to personalise your bike

  5. Alehouse Rock 01/06/2016 at 7:58 pm #

    [[[[[ Very interesting.

  6. Phil Roberts 02/06/2016 at 3:07 pm #

    If people had their cars stolen as often as their bikes, would boroughs take stronger action?

  7. commuterjohn 06/07/2016 at 7:51 pm #

    Where I work we have staff and pupil bike racks for about 50 bikes. It is covered by CCTV and I am asked on times to view this as a bike has been stolen.
    The main points I have noticed over the years is that CCTV means nothing to a bike thief wearing a hoody jacket.
    Under that jacket will be small bolt cutters or wire croppers and a cable lock will be opened faster than you can use your key. They do not hang about but want to go quickly.
    The other way is a cable locked bike with one lock picked up and twisted until it snaps, about 20 secs.
    As Barry Mason used to say, 2 good locks, one a D lock and your bike will be as safe as it can be from opportunistic thieves. Cables are useless.

  8. @caute3 01/08/2016 at 8:49 pm #

    I’m surprised that the article does not mention Smart Water. This is well known to prevent thefts, particularly when stickers clearly state that the bike is marked.

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