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Jan 29, 2017

Avoiding Bike Thieves Thievin' Ways

Bicycle theft is a huge, and growing problem in cities all over the world, including our fair city, Calgary Alberta. We've seen double-digit increase in theft for the last few years and the trend line does not seem to be leveling off.

Sadly, bike theft is also not a problem that police in this city are willing do to much about either. While they'll do their best to look through online sale listing to see if they can see any reported stolen bikes listed, they are not actively trying to catch thieves - through a bait bike program for instance. This means the safety of your bike really relies on you, your lock choice, and the strategies you employ to try and keep it safe.

So, in the interest of doing what we can to help our community, please consider some of the following strategies that we use in our own lives to keep our bikes safe. We would also like to encourage you to leave a comment if you have any advice or strategies to offer to help keep your bike from being stolen.

It Wont Happen To Me Syndrome

This debilitating condition is encountered very often in our shop and is oh so very sad to witness. Symptoms often include a strong desire to purchase the cheapest cable lock possible and is often accompanied by a sense that the person is somehow impervious to bad things happening to them. When the person speaks, it often sounds like a sad trombone. Don't fall victim to this terrible syndrome: buy the best lock you can afford.

What Types Of Locks Are Best

Before discussing lock styles, there is one thing to consider first: when purchasing a lock, a good rule to start with is this: 10% of your bike's value should be spent on a lock. This is the MINIMUM you should spend and depending on how important your bike is to you, you may want to spend more. A lot more. One style is not necessarily better then another as the quality of these locks can vary by brand, security level, and locking technique. Here are some lock styles to consider:

U-LOCKS - This style of lock was first developed back in the 80's by the brand Kryptonite and has since become quite popular in the decades since. They are generally sturdy and come in many shapes, sizes, and security levels. One of the drawbacks of this style of lock is they can limit where you can lock up and what you can lock to. Transporting these locks can sometimes be a pain if the (often included) carrying bracket doesn't jive with your bike's design, with most people carrying them in a pannier or in a backpack.

CHAINS - Chain locks have been around since the introduction of the bicycle. They can be found pretty much anywhere and the good ones are often as safe as a comparable u-lock. Like everything else in life - you get what you pay for. One of the benefits of chain locks is their ability to work around odd locking situations and/or lock multiple bikes together. The main negative thing about chains is transporting them: you basically have the choice of wrapping it around your bike somewhere and risk scratching and clanging about or you toss it into a bag/pannier.

CABLES - In our world, cable locks aren't really locks on their own - they're a convenience item. Often cheap. Often insecure. They are the easiest locks to attack and they are they best lock to have if you want your bike stolen. Seriously now: DON'T TRUST A CABLE LOCK ON IT'S OWN! However, a cable lock used in combination with another, more secure lock like a good u-lock or folding lock can be a good deterrent to all but the most determined bike thieves. The only time we'd recommend a calble lock is for use in a very low threat environment or, again, in combination with another, better lock.

WHEEL/SEATPOST/STEM LOCKS -  These specialty locks are a great addition for people with bikes that have quick release mechanisms on their wheels and seat posts. All they do is make it difficult for thieves to rip components off your bike and can be a great secondary lock to go with your main, high quality u-lock or folding lock. One of the only drawbacks is to remember to have the special security key around when you need to pop the wheels out for service or if you have flat tire. Beyond that, they are pretty much a "set it and forget it" type product and are quite secure. One of favorite brands is from and Edmonton based company, Pinhead.

FOLDING LOCKS -  Easily our most favorite lock design, and the type we consistently sell the most of, folding locks are the newest kid on the block in the lock world and have just recently popped onto the bike security scene in North America - although they've been popular in Europe for decades. As the name implies, the lock unfolds for use and folds up for storage/transport. Most designs come with a sturdy "holster" that can be easily attached to any bicycle and most of these locks start in the mid-range of the security spectrum and go up from there to the premium security level. With the functionality of a chain lock and the security of a u-lock - these locks offer the best of both worlds. Be aware: like everything else, not all folding locks are created equal and if you are considering purchasing one, try to buy one from a European brand - like Abus or Trelock - as they have been making them for decades.

Bike Locking Strategies and Things to Think About

So, you've purchased a fancy lock that weighs a ton and cost more then you thought reasonable - CONGRATULATIONS! There is something really important to know now: determined bike thieves can still steal your bike if they want to - no matter how much you spent on your lock. WTF? you say?

This is where strategy comes into the picture.

The #1 bike security strategy to employ is to not lock your bike at all and instead bring it inside with you. Obviously this doesn't work for everyone, in every situation, but the truth is - it is about the only thing you can do to really secure your bike from theft. Even then, bad people can do bad things and may even break into your inside storage so if you are storing your bike in a garage, "secure" bike cage, or "secure" bike room, always lock it as well. The reason we use quotes around secure is these secure spaces can often times be secure spaces for thieves to work too. In fact, for serious bike thieves, secure bike lockups are their honeypots and it is not uncommon for entire bike rooms to be cleaned out by thieves in one night.

If you must lock your bike up outside, make sure of the following:
  • ensure your wheels are secured either with standard locknuts or with Pinhead-type aftermarket locks
  • remove anything of value that can be easily stolen: lights, bags, bottles, computers, etc
  • DO NOT lock your bike up in exactly the same place every time: change it up a little, use a couple different spots to lock up. This can help prevent a thief from "casing out" your bike and returning later with the appropriate tools to steal it 
  • use more then one lock and ideally they should be different styles: u-lock + cable, chain + u-lock, folding lock + cable - you get the idea. The reason is that often thieves will only have tools on them for certain styles of locks (some thieves carry all their tools though)
  • always try to lock up in places that have lots of walk by traffic and are well lit but still remember this isn't a magic bullet
  • lock up beside the bike that has locks that are crappier then yours
  • check that the bike rack or pole is secured to the ground: some thieves will loosen bolts on these, will steal your bike, and work on the lock in a secure location away from other eyes
  • look at the actual rack and make sure it hasn't already been cut - this is happening more and more
  • do not lock to trees or chainlink fences - both are easily compromised and more importantly, trees can be hurt by pointy bike parts
  • RECORD YOUR SERIAL NUMBER! and store the info in a secure location, perhaps with your other important documents
  • take a picture of your bike and better yet, customize it in some way to make it really your bike and save those pictures somewhere safe
What to do if your bike is stolen -

Step 1: Report it to the police. Be sure to include the serial number and anything that makes your bike special

Step 2: Report it stolen through all the social media channels you use as well as the local advocacy groups in your area and don't be afraid to repost it every few days

Step 3: Have a cry, smash something, be angry, swear lots - whatever makes you feel better

Step 4: Check your insurance policy and see if you can (or if it's worthwhile) make a claim

Step 5: Stay positive and don't give up hope that your bike will come back to you

Do you have anything to add? Secret tips and strategies? Please feel free to share by leaving a comment.

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