Top 5 Tips for Bike Theft Prevention

Learn how to keep your bike safe and secure

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Teal bicycle locked to metal pole with a cable lock on a European street
Locking your bike on a busy street can prevent it from being stolen.

Cycling is a fun, cost-effective, and sustainable way to get around the city, so it’s growing popularity is no surprise. Unfortunately, bike ridership isn’t the only statistic on the rise. Bike theft has become shockingly commonplace – studies suggest that nearly half of all active cyclists have had their bike stolen!

It’s time to reverse the trend. Keep your bike safe by following these simple tips.

1. Make it Visible

A bike is much more likely to be stolen when the theft is easy to conceal from onlookers. An ideal theft opportunity is one where there is a low risk of being caught in the act. The more unobserved, or innocent-looking the theft, the better.

The obvious defense is to make your bike as visible and distinctive as possible. Your bike should be an attention-seeker! Give it some personality – bright colors, reflectors, fun decorations, and unique stickers are all a good way to stay visible.

Find a bold décor scheme that reflects your personal style. It’s fairly easy to steal and ride away on a boring bike without attracting unwanted attention. It is much more difficult grab your bright pink, reflective, stickered bike without arousing suspicion.

A distinctive appearance can do a lot to deter theft, but it won’t help much if your bike is in a dark area or obstructed from view. Always choose a well-lit, open area to park your bike.

2. Make it Secure

Predictably, a bike is more likely to be stolen if it is easy to steal. Make yours hard to steal by locking up.

What’s a good bike lock?

A good bike lock needs to be easy to secure and hard to cut. The most common options are U-locks and cables.

Cable locks can be used as extra security, but they should never be relied on as the primary lock. A prepared thief can cut through a cable lock in seconds.

U-locks are widely accepted to be the more secure of the two. A quality brand is nearly impossible to cut through; however larger U-locks can be pried open with enough leverage – choose a smaller model that is more difficult to force.

It isn’t enough just to have a good lock – you need to use it properly. You should at least:

  • Secure your back wheel and frame with a U-lock
  • Always secure your lock to a designated bike rack.

For more inspiration, check out our photographic gallery of bike locking styles.

According to a Bike Census by the 529 Garage (a Portland-based bike registration and recovery service), a surprising number of people don’t lock their bike securely. Over 15 percent of the parked bikes assessed were very easy targets, requiring only a pair of bolt cutters to remove. Another 60 percent of bikes were locked with a quality U-lock, but with only one wheel or the frame secured!

Securing a lone frame or a single wheel allows thieves to disassemble your bike and take off with whatever parts they can access. Secure the back wheel and frame with a U-lock instead. That way, both parts are secured directly to a rack, and neither can be removed.

Bike wheel left behind after bicycle is stolen
Always lock at least both the frame and a wheel to a bike rack to prevent thieves from stealing parts from your bike.

If you lock up to a fence, tree, or post, a thief can bypass your lock altogether by damaging or removing the object you locked it to.

An improperly locked bike is just as easy to steal as an unlocked one. It’s important to do it right every time.

Nearly any security measure can be overcome eventually by ingenuity and grit, but at a certain point it just isn’t worth it anymore. A secure bike isn’t impossible to steal – it’s just so difficult to steal that few thieves will go to the trouble.

3. Make it Unavailable

What isn’t there can’t be stolen. The most foolproof way to prevent bike theft is to take your bike or bike accessories off the street when they don’t need to be there.

  • Use an indoor wall rack to store your bike at night
  • Remove valuable accessories and take them with you
  • Avoid extended parking in high-risk areas

Obviously this method can’t be used all the time. If you actually use your bike it will need to be parked outside in a public space eventually, but you can make it less ‘available’ to thieves by keeping that time to a minimum.

4. Make it Hard to Sell

Many bike thieves are profit-driven. They don’t steal bikes to own or ride – profit-driven thieves want to sell stolen bikes for cash. The faster they can turn over their ‘inventory’, the larger the profit.

Thieves are looking for bikes that they can sell as quickly and easily as possible, so making your bike hard to sell is a strong deterrent.

There are several ways to make your bike unsuitable for illegal sale.

Give it a well-loved appearance.

Even if your bike and accessories are new, it doesn’t always pay to keep them looking that way. This isn’t to say that your bike can’t look nice, but some engraved initials and a few pieces of tape in strategic places can lower the perceived resale value, discouraging theft.

Personalize it.

In addition to making your bike more visible, having bold decorations that reflect your personal style make it much harder to sell. A unique bike is easy to identify and has few potential buyers.

Visible deterrents like personalization make your bike less disposable, but they can only go so far. A careful bike thief may decide the effort of finding a buyer and disguising the bike is worth it; without a way to track and identify stolen bikes, the risk is still fairly low.

Bicycle painted various colors parked on the street
Personalized bicycles are less likely to be stolen—or more likely to be recognized and returned if they are taken.

5. Register

The best way to interfere with illegal sale is bike registration.

Registries like the Bike Index and 529 Garage have popped up in response to the widespread sale of stolen bikes on internet forums. They give police, theft victims, and potential buyers a way to ID stolen bikes and contact their rightful owners.

Many bike registries offer tamper-resistant stickers to let thieves know your bike is registered – some thieves will avoid registry-marked bikes because they are much more difficult to disguise as a legitimate sale.

If, even after all your preventative steps, your bike is stolen, being registered will make recovery more likely. The bike Index alone reports dozens of successful recoveries each month. Those rates are expected to rise as registries are adopted by the wider cycling community.

Registration has the potential to reduce bike theft rates dramatically. When registration numbers hit critical mass, selling stolen bikes will become risky business, and many potential thieves will think twice before attempting it.

Until then, we can work together to make cycling safer and more secure. Protect your bike and others by spreading the word about secure locking and bike registration.

5 tips to prevent bike theft 

The most important tips to prevent your bike from becoming a target are:

  • Locking it somewhere visible
  • Securing it properly
  • Parking it indoors for extended periods
  • Creating a unique, hard to sell look 
  • Registering your bike

Bike thieves are usually looking for an easy win in an area they won’t get caught. Making it difficult for them makes it much less likely you’ll become a target.


How available is secure bike parking in your community? Reliance foundry offers high quality, secure bike parking for community centers and commercial spaces.

IMAGE CREDITS

  • Recovered Bicycle: Pal-Kristian Hamre, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr
  • Personalized flower bike: Hans Splinter, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr
  • Unsecure bike lock: Tom Ipri, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr
  • Secure Bike Parking: Tom Ipri, CC BY 2.0, via Flickr

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