March/April 1992, p.10-11

Locking Your Bike - Do's and Don'ts

By Brian Kilpatrick

Almost once a day for 5 years (and sometimes 2 or 3 times a day) I have listened to some unhappy person who just lost a wheel, a seat, or their entire bicycle to New York City thieves. I've heard some imaginative and some scatter-brained methods of securing bicycles, from lacing twine through the spokes and frame ("Just while I get some coffee!") to expensive articulated-arm motorcycle locks.

Five years ago it seemed a simple U-lock by itself was adequate. But with changing social circumstances, such as the proliferation of crack, the failing economy, more cyclists commuting, police apathy toward bike theft, and the refusal of individuals who buy stolen bicycles to believe they share responsibility, more care is needed to help you keep your urban steed.

Following is a list of methods - successful and not so successful. I say successful with reservations because nothing is absolute. But the following advice should at least help you to better your chances. Good luck!

Locking Up

1. Don't lock your bike by one wheel only. Do secure both wheels at all times. Either remove the front wheel and take it with you, or use a second lock, or lock the front wheel together with the rear wheel.

2. Do use two locks - even if you take your front wheel with you. Many people grumble at this - "Oh the cost!" But even if your bike is trashy and only worth $50, consider the inconvenience of losing your transportation, the cost of carfare until you replace your bike, the cost of new locks, and the time lost. Also, isn't it worth it to give the thief the hardest time you can? If it looks like too much trouble hopefully he'll move on.

3. Don't use a sign post with no sign on top - your bike can be lifted over it. Also make sure the post is cemented securely in the sidewalk.

4. Do secure your seat - especially if you have a mountain bike with a quick-release seatpost. A bit of bicycle-drive chain passed through the seat rails and the frame and wrapped with tape (to make it difficult to use a tool on it) is usually sufficient. Also remove any clip-off items - pump, water bottle, light, saddlebags, etc. If you don't, someone else will!

5. Never leave your bicycle outside for "just a minute." The speed advantage the thief on your bicycle will have over you on foot will change your mind forever about how quickly you can react when you're standing a few feet away buying coffee.

6. Don't leave your bicycle in the care of doormen or security guards. They will not leave their posts if someone runs off with your bike. Thieves know this.

Locks

U-locks by themselves are all but useless. Any U-lock can be broken with a 2-by-4 or a pipe in less than a minute. If you use a U-lock, back it up with a chain or cable. The best method is to use two fundamentally different locks, thereby forcing a thief to spend time using more than one tool - thus making him more conspicuous. (Most thefts occur in broad daylight, so this method depends on the concern of onlookers, if any.)

Cables are also ineffective - even the thickest can be easily cut with an ordinary wire cutter. Use cables only as backup.

Your best bet is a fat case-hardened chain, or better yet, a through-hardened chain. Use it with the finest quality padlock you can find; this will cost $25-$50 but it's worth it. Arrange the chain as high off the ground as possible and as tightly as you can. The idea is to keep the lock away from the pavement - don't give a thief an anvil to smash your lock against.

There are at least five different ways to break Cobra and Cobra-type locks - all in under five minutes. If you're already committed to one, keep it tight and high above ground level.

Try to lock where you can see your bicycle. Don't keep it there for hours on end if you can avoid it. Thieves will remember a tasty tidbit that's in constant sight and return.

If you must lock up your bicycle frequently, wrap it with inner tubes or tape to make it less appealing. Some riders go the opposite way, painting their bikes with personality schemes - polka dots or zebra stripes, for example - to make them easily recognizable and therefore unattractive to a street buyer.

As I've said before, there are no absolutes. Good luck may be as valuable as the best locks. Still, I hope you've gleaned some worthwhile information from this article and can keep your wheels under you for years to come!

Brian Kilpatrick has managed Bicycle Habitat's Lafayette St. store since 1987. Brian rode for Chick-Chock Messenger Co. from 1982 to 1987.