The Chainlink

How to Prevent Your Bike from Getting Stolen

By Brett Ratner

We did it! We survived another winter. For those of you who soldiered though single-digit temps, ice and snow, well done! For those of you pulling your bike out of the basement, oiling the chain and inflating the tires, welcome back!

But along with bike riding weather comes thievery, so we here at The Chainlink decided to dig up this helpful article published last year, and add a few tips where possible? Why? It's hard to ride your bike if it goes missing!

(Originally published in spring of 2015)

Summer means MOAR of all things bikey and rides, trips to the Chicago Botanic Garden, leisurely pedals to brunch and so forth.

But unfortunately, it can also mean an uptick in something a lot less awesome: bike theft.

I could bore you with statistics, but I think this map on the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry speaks loudly enough. I mean there are so many red dots on the map (each representing a bike theft), it's hard to see the actual map.

So what can we do about it? Well, as they say, knowledge is power!

In an effort to empower his fellow Chainlinkers, Michael Brosilow recently got the conversation started by posting this thread. Included within were some helpful nuggets definitely worth sharing:

Knock on wood, but over the course of 10 years of Chicago cycling, I've somehow managed to maintain physical possession of my bikes. I'm in no way an expert, but in addition to the resources listed above, I've gathered some tips and tricks over the years that can hopefully help you deter potential thieves. And as always, we welcome your suggestions, opinions and corrections in the comments section at the bottom. If you know a better way, we want to know too!

Lock to an actual bike rack if you can.

There are sign posts aplenty in Chicago, but lots of them have dirty little secrets; they're not attached at the bottom. Savvy thieves will purposely remove the bolt that connects the post to the base, allowing for quick and easy removal of the post (and then your bike). They simply lift and go.

Notice the missing bolt? That lets thieves slide the pole out and relieve you of your bike. You'd be wise not to lock up to this pole.

If an actual bike rack isn't available, try to be mindful of what you're locking to, ensuring it's secure...regardless if it's a pole or a fence or a decommissioned parking meter.

Lastly, I haven't seen it often, but I HAVE occasionally seen bike racks that aren't securely bolted down. Bike thieves are smart. You have to be smarter.

Locks can only deter theft...they can't prevent.

Several years ago, I spent a summer working at a local bike shop. One night, after the shop closed, we played around with an angle grinder and a top-quality U-Lock that was rendered useless because the owner had lost the key. I don't recall the exact time it took, but let's just say that it surprised all of us how quickly the angle grinder sliced through a lock that retailed for more than $100.

In my opinion, the best defense is minimizing the time where your bike is physically vulnerable to thieves. This means trying to lock it within eye-shot of where you're sitting, avoiding locking up in high-risk areas if you can, and storing the bike indoors, particularly overnight. And this might sound selfish to say, but conventional wisdom suggests that a thief will go for the easiest target. So if you can inspire a thief to pass over your bike in favor of another, easier target, there's really no shame in that.

Don't forget that wheels, accessories, and parts are easy to steal too.

Those quick release straps on your blinky lights are just as convenient for thieves as they are for you. At $40 a pop, I think it's worth the extra few seconds to pull the lights off your bike, as well as any other easy-to-steal accessory.

Wheels and saddles can be secured using locking skewerscableschains and/or by carrying an extra U-Lock.

Here is the U-lock/cable setup I've used for 10 years. If a skilled bike thief really wanted my bike (or wheels or saddle), they'd have it in no time. So my main strategy is doing what I can to lock up in low-risk situations, hopefully minimizing my vulnerability to theft.

The quick-release straps on your blinky lights are quick-release for thieves too. Remove lights and accessories when you lock up.

On the rare occasions I need to lock up in higher risk areas, I go with two U-locks and a seat cable. (By the way, these fancy, decorative bike racks look nice but SUUUUUCCCKK to lock up to.)

With U-Locks, bigger does not necessarily mean better.

As the video suggests, the smallest, thickest U-lock that will secure your bike to a rack is probably the one you should choose. The smaller the lock, the less room a thief has to insert a crowbar, and even if he can manage to find room to work, the more force it will hypothetically take to defeat the U-lock.

Running a U-lock through the frame and both wheels is a tried-and-true approach. Based on the video, however, this cyclist could achieve an even higher level of security by using a smaller and thicker U-lock.

Avoid leaving your bike on your deck, porch, or in your garage.

You might have a little more leeway with this in rural areas, but in the city, it's always best to bring your bikes inside. I personally know someone who had a bike stolen from his deck in a secured back yard while putting his groceries away (the bike was left there on his deck for less than five minutes). I've also seen people get stuff stolen out of shared garages (like when a neighbor forgets to close the door), and out of common areas (like laundry rooms and basements) in apartment buildings. 

Cables are for extra protection, not primary protection.

If a thief can cut through a premium-quality U-lock in minutes, they can defeat your cable in seconds. In instances where you don't feel like carrying two heavy U-locks around, cables can be reasonably effective for preventing casual theft of wheels and seats. But don't lock your entire bike with one. Heck, I'd even bet some thieves specifically target bikes locked with a cable. 

Don't be "that guy."

How many times have you seen a lonely, bikeless quick-release front wheel U-locked to a rack. Seriously, use your brain and lock the frame.

Don't lock your bike up by the front wheel, unless you want this to happen.

Try not to be predictable.

This might be unavoidable depending on your circumstances, but I'd imagine that if every Monday through Friday you lock your bike to the same rack at 8am and come by to unlock it at 5pm, there's an increased chance of losing your bike. Trying to break your routine could make a thief who's casing your bike less confident in your schedule. Better yet, tell your HR department that this is 2015 and real companies offer secure, indoor bike parking for their employees.

Register your bike.

Local police departments recover bikes all the time. If the bikes go unclaimed, they generally get auctioned off or donated. Registering your bike enables police departments to identify the rightful owner (you) and get you reunited with your wheels.

I hope this helps! Again, if you have suggestions on ways to improve the strategies outlined above, we'd love to hear them!

About the author:

Brett Ratner ( has been a professional journalist for more than 25 years. He has contributed to dozens of publications, including The Chicago TribuneThe Nashville TennesseanThe Nashville SceneGuitar Player and Musician. Brett began commuting by bike in 2005. Shortly thereafter, his interest in cycling expanded to century rides, bike camping and trail riding. The competition bug bit in 2012 and nowadays he races cyclocross, track, mountain bikes, criteriums and gravel for The Bonebell.


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Comment by Chicago Bike Tuner on April 11, 2016 at 12:15pm

Thanks Brett, this is EXCELLENT information on how to reduce the risk of or deter having your bike stripped or stolen. Chicago streets are mean enough without the fear of losing your beloved ride!

Other suggestions: IF you leave home with only a U Lock, choose to lock your REAR wheel AND frame to the nearest secured bike rack. Front wheels, albeit priceless to a wheel set, are usually MUCH less expensive to replace than a rear wheel with a cassette or single speed free-wheel attached. 

Also, if possible, ditch the factory quick-release skewers in favor of pinhead skewers. Pinhead nuts are also available for solid axle single speed and fixed gear bikes. Pinhead also sells seat post, head set and stem locks as well. Again NOT impervious, but a great deterrent to the criminal looking for opportunity to make quick $$ stripping your ride! 

Chicago Bike Tuner

Comment by Yolo Perdiem on April 9, 2016 at 12:48pm

I think a better headline for this story might be "How to minimize the chances of your bike getting stolen."

Here's a a sensationalist headline but with good reasoning in the story itself:

Comment by bk (aka: Dr. Mambohead) on March 26, 2016 at 1:18am
Buy a vintage bike with 'Urban Camouflage"!!!!!

stickers and bits of rust deflect theft!!

The Budda says allf suffering comes from desire.

A seemingly undesireable classic chrome-moly frame will be floating around the Moon when the Earth is broken and all the carbon fibre nonsense is ground to dust.
Comment by Jason Pearl on March 24, 2016 at 12:10pm

Good stuff. I learned about "dummy poles" the hard way and I've been spreading the word ever since. An alternative solution is to have a really shitty bike...

Comment by mweerd on May 14, 2015 at 12:49pm

If you look at the Chi Stolen Bike registry - the biggest no no's are: using a cable lock and storing in a garage or porch.

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