The Art of Bicycle Locking

There are several methods for bike locking, but it all comes down to asking a few questions:

  • How long does it take to defeat my lock(s)?
  •  What can I afford to lose?
  •  Does the other guy’s bike look easier to steal?

When locking your bike, you are basically buying time. The goal of any bike lock is to increase the time needed for someone to defeat it and also increase the conspicuity of the person who wants to steal it. For you engineers and business majors, this is just a simple maximization optimization equation. Your goal is to maximize the time, effort, and risk involved in stealing the bike to the point where it’s not economical for the thief to do so.

Locked Bike - Improper missing wheel

A high-end bicycle lock is only as good as the thought process of the person who locked it. photo: flickr/salim

Consider the locking location factors
If you are locking your bike outside at night, you need to take into account that there will be many hours where no one is in the area, and thieves have plenty of opportunity to take it. While being locked at a distant rack probably increases the likelihood it’s attractive to a thief, off campus folks in quiet neighborhoods still need to remember that your porch does not have a magical force field that prevents people from walking up to it and riding off with a bike.

If you are locking your bike during the day while going to class or grabbing lunch: you have lots of witnesses, good lighting, and it’s likely you’ll be returning pretty soon, so you might not need to spend 15 minutes setting up a complicated lock set up.

Make sure all valuable parts are locked.

Proper Locking Job

Note the two different type of locks, a heavy duty secure chain and an auxilarly cable lock. The frame, wheels, and seat are locked to a solid bike rack. photo: flickr/krackowbicycles

There are two ways bicycles are stolen: as whole bikes, and as parts.

The first goal is to make your bike undesirable as a whole bike – lock the frame securely, and it’s difficult to ride off with the bike.

After that, you need to look at the wheels/tires and your seat post and saddle. Do they have quick releases? Do they have any intrinsic value?  If you can’t afford to replace your wheels, you need to keep them locked. If they aren’t particularly valuable, switching your wheels’ quick releases for a locking skewer or using a DIY clamp will make it that much harder for a thief to grab: but still entirely possible. If there is a chance that someone wants your wheels, you need to make sure you have a u-lock or heavy cable through them to make it that much more difficult.

Lock Your Bike to a Secure Object

Poorly locked bike
This bike isn’t actually locked to anything, though the owner did drape a $30 lock over flickr/juicyrai

Your lock is only as good as the object to which it is locked. Many signs can be disconnected from the ground with a $4 wrench. Chain Link Fence is really easy to cut. A thing hollow aluminum pipe can easily be cut. Make sure that you actually lock your bike to something that can’t easily be removed, or expect to find both your bicycle and the thing you locked it to gone when you get back. Also, make sure you don’t accidently lock your bike to someone else’s at a crowded rack.

Park Where Thieves Must Think Twice
I like to park where people see my bike. There are bike racks all over town that hide in corners, behind dumpsters, and in places no one goes. I don’t park there. Park in front of the Police station, or near a high traffic corner, choose places where people are often out and about on foot. Thieves don’t want to get caught, so do what you can to increase the risk that someone will notice them trying to steal your bike.

Learn How to Lock Properly

Hal is a bike mechanic. Hal is also a character. Hal wants you to lock your bike:

Sheldon Brown really loved bikes and were he still with us, he wouldn’t want yours to get stolen. So read his advice on bike locking.