Dear Annie, 

My girlfriend is constantly on my back because I’m using a cable lock on my bike and haven’t bothered to register it. The bike is a complete piece of junk that I paid $50 for at a garage sale. It gets me to class and around campus and that’s it. Why should I buy a lock more expensive than the bike – no one’s going to steal it!

– Constantly Reminded And Pressured On Locking Again


Your situation and logic is not unique. In fact, at registration events we’ll often discourage folks from using cable locks when we spot them, even on low-priced bikes. Often the discussion generally goes something like this:

Us: “You should really consider losing that cable lock and replacing it with a U-lock.”

Them: “But no one will steal this bike, it’s worthless!”

Us: “So, why are you bothering to register your bike with us today?”

Them: “Because I’d be devastated if someone took it. I rely on this bike almost daily and I love it!”

That’s the rub, and something that we often remind police departments that we work with. The monetary value of the bike is just one thing – the value of the bicycle to the owner is often a different equation.

Bikes are a healthy and inexpensive way to get to school, work and errands. They’re easier to park near crowded destinations and they are good for the earth. Once you become a cycle commuter, then the alternatives all start looking more expensive and inconvenient. In that transition, your bike becomes more valuable to you. 

Given the choice between a more valuable and less valuable bike, all things equal, a thief will generally choose the more valuable bike. However, if your $100 bike is cable locked next to a $1,200 bike that has a sturdy U-lock on it, chances are, your bike will disappear. Why?

First, bike thieves are generally doing other crimes (like theft-from-auto) and using the bike as a “getaway vehicle”. Second, even an inexpensive bike is worth some $$$ on the street. Third, why throw sparks if you can avoid it? Now, that inexpensive  bike might not be sold intact online, but they might use parts from it to disguise other bikes that they do sell intact.

While no lock is theft-proof, the jump from a cable lock to a U-lock is definitely worth the difference in cost. We usually recommend the ABUS 410 as a good entry-level lock for consideration. Costing less than $40, it’s a meaningful improvement over a cable lock and costs less than replacing the bike and the inconvenience a theft can cause. Check out my post on picking a bike good lock for more thoughts and ideas on the topic.

And remember, take the five minutes to register your bike today if you haven’t already. It’s the best way to help law enforcement get your bike back to you if it goes missing.

– Annie

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