When you purchase a new bike, we know the last thing you want to think about is it getting stolen. Typically you are just excited to get out and ride it and go on adventures. It’s easy to forget that bikes are frequently stolen, and unfortunately there’s possibility that it could happen to you. A bike is stolen about every 30 seconds in North America (and at similar rates throughout the world), which greatly puts your bike at risk whenever you leave it locked up. Having your bike stolen is a horrible feeling, and it’s not always about the money. Bikes have a lot of sentimental value, or be a critical form of transportation for you.
So, how do you keep your bike safe from theft? Well, there are more ways than you might think, and in this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know. We will also speak a little about what to do if your bike unfortunately gets stolen and the steps you will need to take improve your chances of getting it back.
Register and shield your bike
The first thing we highly recommend you do to proactively help with recovery if it does get taken is to register your bike. Registering your bike with the 529 Garage app from Project 529 should be the first step as soon as you buy your bike. If you are buying from a bike shop, ask if they can register your new bike at checkout.
Registering with the 529 Garage will record the bike as yours and also makes identifying it much easier if it is stolen. You will need the bike’s serial number for this, which you can typically find on the bottom of the bike’s frame under the bottom bracket (here are more suggestions if you can’t find it. If you still can’t find it, try checking with your bike shop.) Be sure to capture as much information (and lots of photos!) about your bike as you can in your registration, so that if you do need it, you’ll be able to be really specific in identifying it… if all you know is “it was a blue Trek”, you are not likely to get good results.
You may also going to want to get a 529 Shield and place it on the bike in a visible place to show thieves that if this bike were to be taken, a whole community would be after it. 529 Shields are tamper-resistant and weather-resistant decals. It’s not easy for the thief to remove it, and it makes it more difficult for them to sell the bike as it will be registered as a stolen bike on the database. Criminals know you can’t sell stolen bikes easily when they’re registered with a large database, and we’ve seen proof that bike thieves will tend to avoid shielded bikes.
Keep them secure at home
Most people keep their bikes in a shed or an outbuilding at home, or if you are in an apartment complex, the building’s bike cage. This is the obvious choice as bikes can get very dirty, and dragging them through your house means cleaning tire marks off the walls and stairs can be very challenging. However, sheds, outbuildings and group bike cages are very easy to break into, and people are less alarmed when they see strangers near them.
If you have the space inside the house or in a secured garage, that’s a much better place for bikes. But if you don’t have enough room, we recommend upping the level of security where you store them. Make sure you lock the bike to something permanent with a high quality lock. Also, there are many modern-day solutions, such as CCTV systems and dummy cameras, to deter bike thieves.
Lock your bike
Bike thieves are always looking for an opportunity to take a bike, and leaving your bike unlocked is their lucky day. It might sound very simple, but so many cyclists tend not to lock their bikes up as they think they will only be in a shop for only a minute, and it will be ok. This is particularly true when you have your bike on a bike rack on your vehicle! It literally takes a second for bike thefts to happen.
Locks are such a valuable tool that so many cyclists neglect because they might be a nuisance to carry or even add weight to the bike. If you’re going out and won’t leave your bike at any point, a lock isn’t needed, but if you do plan to leave your bike, even for a minute, then always you have a high quality lock with you.
Use a good standard of bike lock
A good lock comes in various standards, and the better the standard, the harder it will be for the thief to get it off. Depending on where you are from and the company, you typically have two different types of standards for a primary lock. You have your bike lock rating, which is a number from 1-10. A 1-6 rated lock would be for short café stops, and a 7-10 rated lock will be a very secure lock and used if you are locking a bike up somewhere for a considerable amount of time.
The other standard lock manufacturers refer to are bronze, silver, and gold standard locks. Bronze is for café stops, and silver and gold are for longer periods of time. Locks are rated in the thickness of the metal and also the design. Some insurance companies will require you to have a lock of a certain standard depending on how much your bike is worth, and if you claim and can’t prove you have the lock, they typically won’t pay out.
Lock your bike up properly
So, you’ve got a great lock… but you still need to ensure you’re locking your bike up properly. Definitely do not just lock a wheel to the bike rack! We see this all too often (check out our bike parking report card on Portland). You want to make sure the lock goes through the frame to protect your bike. We like this modified Sheldon Brown method of locking your bike where you lock through the rear triangle. This can prevent bike thieves from taking parts off your bike when you leave it unattended. If you buy your lock from a local bike shop, we highly recommend asking them to show you the best way to lock your bike securely to help prevent bike theft.
We also highly advise you to lock your bike to a bike rack and not a street sign, fences, or someone else’s bike. Criminals can steal bikes much easier when they are not in a proper bike rack. If you can’t find a bike rack, always use an immovable object.
Keep it visible
Thieves love not to be seen, and when they get seen, they get caught. Keeping your bike locked in a place in the view of lots of people and CCTV will have a huge impact on deterring bike theft. A bike thief will not want to be in a very public place with bolt cutters messing with cable locks. A very common place where bikes are stolen is in lockups and bike cages because thieves cannot be seen tampering. We highly recommend if your bike is not at home safe, have it in a busy place where you know a bike theft will struggle to operate, and if you see any would-be thief hanging around a bike rack when you go to lock up, consider going elsewhere.
Make your bike unique
Bike theft is easy when all bikes look the same. Typically brands, when they release a bike, will only bring it out in two colors, which means that you are likely to see many people riding the same bike as you. This makes your bike a target for a thief because it becomes very easy to claim it’s theirs and blends in with bikes that are the same model. Giving your bike a unique marking or making it stand out is a great bit of advice.
We have seen cyclists before spraying their bike frames different colors to make the bike completely unique. Others like changing certain parts such as handlebars, seat post, saddle, bar tape, grips, and even tires to unique stand out colors. Unfortunately these can easily be swapped out. Making unique modifications to your frame is the best way to go. Doing this does make a thief stop and think about taking it because the bike will be very easy to recognize in person and on sites like eBay.
Be sure to take photos of what is unique about your bike and add those to your registration!
Don’t use tracking applications
A very common mistake a lot of cyclists make is when they go out riding. They as soon as they leave the house, they start a tracking application such as Strava, Komoot, or Map My Ride and stop it when they get home. These are great ways to see how far you have ridden and how many calories you have burnt, but they do make your routes public and can tell thieves pretty much exactly where you live, so they know where they will find your bikes.
The way to combat this is to go into the applications settings and either not post your ride publicly or put on a privacy ring that doesn’t show within a couple of miles where you started and where you finished. This means thieves can’t use your data to find your bikes, and they stay safe at home.
Don’t advertise where your bike is on social media
Nowadays, where we share a lot about our lives, it’s easy to share a little too much sometimes. Taking pictures for social media of where your bike is locked up and where you leave it each day can open opportunities for bike thieves to come and collect it when they know you are not busy. Making sure you don’t share too much will ensure your bike doesn’t get stolen. Save the bike pictures for the epic rides out where you tackles mountain, and the views are more impressive.
What should I do if my bike is stolen?
If you are one of the many unfortunately victims of bike theft, here’s what we recommend doing. It’s vital to act with a sense of urgency because the longer you take to follow this process, the less chance you have of getting it back.
- Check-in case a family member or friend has borrowed it
- If not, report it on the 529 Garage as a stolen bike
- Ring the police and file a report. This not only increases the chance your bike will be returned, but it also helps police have a greater understanding of how bike theft impacts their community.
- Get a case number from the police for your insurance. You can also add the case number to your registration for your records.
- If insured, call your insurance company and explain the situation
- Share details on social media and even consider posting in local groups
- Check eBay, Gumtree, Craigslist, OfferUp, Kijiji, Facebook Marketplace and other selling sites for the stolen bike. If you do find your bike on an online marketplace, take a screenshot of the post and contact the police in your area for their recommendations. Many police agencies will help you setup a sting to retrieve the bike if you can prove that it is yours.
- Ring round any local Pawn Shop asking if they have the stolen bike
- Many people offer rewards for stolen bikes, and you could consider this
Don’t give up hope if your bike has been stolen. Act quickly with these steps and continue to monitor online market places, and you’ll greatly improve the chance of getting your bike back. We see bikes being found and returned to their owners everyday. The more we can stop thieves, the less chance of stolen bikes being in circulation, and the more we can prevent bike theft in the future, and bikes can stay with their rightful owners.
Each week 529’s very own Annie Rhyder answers your questions about bike theft and bike security. To get your question featured, drop her a line at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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