(Properly) Lock your bike.

A while ago, our own staff writer Elizabeth shared this video on Facebook. It’s a good primer for learning how to lock your bike up, and Hal has a great personality. He’s really looking for just a few things: Your wheels and saddle should be well-secured, and the frame itself should be securely held to a large stationary object with a heavy-duty U-lock or chain. He has some other tips, too. Watch this:

I do risk analysis and other security-type stuff for a living. In the suburbs, some of this stuff can be a bit overkill. San Francisco, LA, Detroit, Chicago and NYC have some pretty mean streets where the traditional axiom is that it’s not a question of if you will have a bike or parts stolen, it’s when it’ll happen. Bicycles are a commodity on the street. Pretty much any working bike can be traded for $25-$50 worth of… *ahem* “goods” and “services” on the black market. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bike-shaped-object from the department store or a high-quality cyclocross bike with fenders, racks and lights. That being said, knowledgeable thieves are willing to put a lot more effort, risk and planning into really nice bicycles that can be parted out or sold to a fence for a bigger payday.

Hal’s comment on quiet streets generally holds merit. Thieves prefer to hide in plain sight, and chaos is king. They can thrive on predictable activity as well if they’re sure they have plenty of time to work on your bike without being noticed. Make sure your parking spot isn’t too far out of the way.

Cable locks are okay for holding your wheels or saddle together, or for quick in-and-out errands, but totally useless if you will be leaving your bike unattended for more than a few minutes at a time. Hal said that you can’t steal a bike when the owner’s right there watching it, so being able to wheel your bike right into your office is the best policy, but a lot of us don’t have that luxury. I bought a length of heavy-duty towing chain that required a 36″ bolt cutter at the hardware store to chop it from the spool, then passed it through an old mountain bike inner tube so it doesn’t scratch up my frame. It’s probably 10 pounds worth of chain, so I leave it at work, and I lock it with a quality lock that has a shrouded, shim-proof hasp. It’s long enough to pass through both wheels, the frame, and a bike rack.

Security is hard, though, and thieves’ motives are hard to predict. It’s true that security devices only buy you time. I’ve experimented with almost every kind of bicycle lock imaginable, and all of them can be broken in just a few minutes by someone who has been casing your bike. Usually, thieves are looking for something easy to steal so they can sell it or trade it quickly to get what they really want. If your bike is more secure than the bikes around it, you’re probably safe. If someone really wants your bike specifically, it’s pretty hard to keep it safe. Maybe it’s the only bike around. Maybe it’s the nicest one on the block. Maybe they want the challenge, or maybe they’re your evil twin whose mission in life is to foil your bicycle commuting adventures.

Regardless, if you ever thought that no one would want your bicycle, or that you could leave it unlocked and unattended for just a bit, you’re probably wrong.

Editor’s note: we have a couple of other security strategy articles that may be of interest to you. The first covers lock considerations — the real gold is in the comments area. Take a look at it by clicking here. Also, thanks go out to dedicated reader/curmudgeon Raiyn for reminding me of this article in the comments area below.

The other article covers wheel security and retention strategies…wheels can be incredibly easy to steal and the loss of just one wheel will, of course, leave you stranded. Check out that article here.


  1. Raiyn November 28, 2010 2:00 am 

    I’m feeling a bit gluggy from all the turkey etc this weekend so I’m just going to link to a previous thread and add some homemade copy pasta for my standpoint on this. http://www.bikecommuters.com/2008/12/03/just-ask-jack-lock-considerations/

    Now for the copy pasta (my own recipe)

    The best “How to Lock Your Bike” site belongs to a old BikeForums colleague of mine and can be found HERE. http://www.mechbgon.com/lock/index.html

    I grew up in a tiny little town where a good cable lock would almost certainly be overkill, much less a U-lock, but then again we’re talking about a town where people generally don’t lock their doors at night. These days, I live in a city where the population is easily 100 times greater, and even the best cable lock wouldn’t protect a used Huffy for long.

    Unfortunately, we can’t all live in small tight-knit communities, bike thieves do exist beyond opportunistic snatch and grab artists, and, in truth, people do prey on the ill-informed.

    Now before you get the wrong idea, I don’t steal bikes. (Not that it would be hard for my evil twin 😉 ). One thing I will suggest is deliberately parking near someone who has locked with an inferior lock (or has a nicer bike) because it increases the odds that your bike will still be there when you get back. This logic is based on an old story we used to tell in my small northern MN hometown:

    So, there are these two guys from the Cities camping in the woods. Late one night they are woken by a noise outside their tent. The first camper peeks outside the tent to see a large black bear sifting through their supplies. With horror he turns to the second camper and explains the situation. Obviously the bear is hungry, and once it is finished with the supplies it will surely turn on the two campers.

    “What are we going to do?” asks the second camper.

    “We can make a run for the car.” whispers the first camper.

    With that the second camper begins to put on his running shoes.

    “What are you doing?” asks the first camper frantically “You can’t outrun a bear!”

    “I know,” replies the second camper, “I don’t have to outrun the bear – I have to outrun you.”

  2. BluesCat November 28, 2010 1:36 pm 

    My two commuter bikes (my two most expensive bikes with the most accessories on them) are either parked in the house or in a locked conference room at work.

    My grocery getter is a stripped down mountain bike which I park right out front of any store I’m visiting (I chat with the store greeter or security guard as I head inside; making sure they associate me with the bike.). I loop a braided cable through both wheels, the frame and the bike rack, lock the ends with a hardened padlock, and then I remove the computer and headlight and even quick release the seat and take it with me, too: http://i17.servimg.com/u/f17/13/57/05/78/specha12.jpg .

  3. JustAnotherCyclist November 28, 2010 6:16 pm 

    I always use the “leave the keys in the car and the car running” test. Basically, if I would leave my car running, doors unlocked with the keys in the ignition, it is safe to leave my bike leaning up against a wall unchained.

    I’m not sure where I would leave my car running, though…

  4. Raiyn November 29, 2010 1:40 am 

    @ Blues
    I think I’ve mentioned this before, but if I was a thief and I wanted your bike I’d have it in less than a minute simply due to the cable. You can have the best padlock in the world on there and it’s not going to stop me from attacking that cable at the swage where it’s most vulnerable. As for the seat you could actually leave it on the bike using a section of old bike chain and an inner tube. Simply break a length of old bike chain (LBS’s throw these out all the time if you don’t have one lying around) that will fit around one or both saddle rails and around either the top tube or one of the seat stays depending on what makes sense for your rig. Then cut an old tube to cover the chain so it won’t rattle or damage your paint. I tnd to use a couple of zip ties strategically placed to immobilize the looped chain further. Now unless your thief has a chain tool (or bolt cutters @ which point he’s got your bike as mentioned above) he’s not getting your saddle.

    Side note @ the powers that be: It would be helpful if the comment window would scroll to allow folks like me to see what we’re typing on these longer comments. I had to copy / paste this from notepad in order to avoid typos.

  5. Doug Jesseph November 29, 2010 12:41 pm 

    Good stuff.

    I have the luxury of keeping my commuter in my office, which means it’s safe enough that I can ride a reasonably expensive bike (Surly Crosscheck, domesticated with rack & fenders).

    For grocery pickup, trips to the local bar or restaurant, etc. I use only a cable, on the theory that I won’t be long or am sitting where I can see the bike. Upon reflection, I should probably spend a few bucks on a decent U-lock. I find the extra weight annoying, but it’s better than losing the bike.

  6. Ghost Rider November 29, 2010 1:38 pm 

    @Doug, or you can do like me and stash u-locks around the city at my “regular” lockup points. Cuts down on my need to carry a lock to the grocery store and such…

    I’m lucky that I can bring my bike inside my workplace, too. But it still gets locked up with a big chain to keep pesky coworkers from pranking me.

  7. Iron_Man November 29, 2010 3:00 pm 

    This smallish town midwesterner cracked up at the “quiet street like this one” statement.

    In these parts bikes are more likely to be stolen from open garages than anywhere else.

  8. BluesCat November 30, 2010 10:09 am 

    Raiyn – Oh, yes! You’re exactly right. If I was going to leave even my cheapest bike (the grocery getting Hardrock) locked up in a location where there wasn’t a friendly eye on it, and I was going to be gone for more than ten minutes or so, you can bet that I would invest in a well-rated U-lock (to attach the seat tube and rear tire to the rack) and a small length of heavy-duty chain and padlock (to attach the front wheel to the frame).

    I’d still take the computer, light and saddle with me. I figure a thief who happens on the bike would look at it and think maybe it had already been vandalized/looted and steer clear of it.

  9. Raiyn November 30, 2010 11:53 pm 

    @ Blues
    I still say you’re going overboard with taking the saddle off especially when it’s so easy to secure it as is – not to mention I’m not a big fan of having random crap / moisture in my frame both of which you leave yourself open to with your method. I simply can’t justify taking a bike apart just to lock it for “10 minutes”. Lights and computer? Heck yeah. Saddle? 4^(< no.

    @ Ghost
    Curmudgeon! LOL

  10. Microzen December 1, 2010 1:58 am 

    The 1st A bike lock is an old Kryptonite NYC lock & chain. I wouldn’t give it an A as it is the old style lock that was found to be easily opened with a pen.

    The 2nd A bike was pretty solidly locked, but the rear reflector under the seat was missing. Could it have been stolen while everything else was locked tight? Possibly. I’ve had that happen to me before.

  11. BluesCat December 2, 2010 9:35 am 

    Raiyn – Yeah, if I lived in a wetter climate I might affix the saddle to the bike as you have suggested. I do always carry a couple of extra ziplock sandwich bags with me, and on that RARE day in Phoenix that it rains and I’m out on the Hardrock (I can remember ONE this last year) I pop one of them over the open seat tube.

    My taillight is mounted on the seat stem, so taking the saddle allows me to take the taillight with me, too; two birds with one stone. Also, I’ve mounted the clamp for the taillight at the exact seat height for me. When I return to the bike I simply slide the seat stem down until it meets the bottom of the taillight clamp, then turn the seat until the seam on the clamp is in the center of the quick release gap and … voila! … the seat is instantly adjusted!


  12. Raiyn December 2, 2010 9:48 pm 

    I just can’t see removing a properly greased seatpost as often as you do.

  13. Me April 29, 2011 3:29 pm 

    I tend to believe that maintaining good working relationships (or at least decent ones) in the community is the best protection you can have. After that, the best thing to do may be to simply avoid certain situations.

    I say this because it appears that investing alot of time and effort in security sounds like a pain, especially where the money is concerned. Why shell out so much for a bulky, heavy, $60 U-lock nobody can cut through if a person can unlock it so – quickly.

    How does this link sound, just as a primer?:


    Six Steps for Resolving Conflicts
    by Naomi Drew, M.A.

    By the way, how come the Danes don’t seem to lock their bikes at all? I was browsing thru Denmark with Google Maps and was kind of amazed.

  14. Raiyn April 30, 2011 12:07 am 

    I think you’re living in a fantasy land

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