Locking Strategies

Bike theft is on the rise, and as thieves use more sophisticated methods, we bicyclists need to respond with ever better deterrents to thwart their efforts. Following are a few of the things we’re doing to keep our bikes safe.

For locking out in public where the bikes are most vulnerable, we take the security-in-numbers approach by using a U-lock on the frame and a heavy duty cable lock threaded through the wheels and frame. Since it takes a pry bar to break a U-lock and it takes a set of high-quality bolt cutters to get through a heavy cable, right off the bat we’ve effectively eliminated the thieves who aren’t carrying both, and we’ve slowed down the thieves who came prepared.

If we’re loaded with multiple bags, we may also carry a smaller, lightweight “accessory” cable lock to thread through the bags. This doesn’t ensure the bags are 100% theft proof, but it’s probably enough to keep the random opportunistic thief from running off with the low hanging fruit.

It may seem obvious, but it’s important to lock up to something that’s immovable and at least as strong as a U-lock; there’s no sense in locking up to a little tree that can be snapped in half.

It may seem obvious, but it’s important to lock up to something that’s immovable and at least as strong as a U-lock; there’s no sense in locking up to a little tree that can be snapped in half. Also, locking up to a pole is ineffective if the bike can simply be lifted over the top of the pole. It’s surprising how often I’ve seen both of these methods employed.

We always avoid leaving a bike outside overnight regardless of what kind of lock is employed; giving a thief that much time to work on a lock is asking for trouble. We also avoid locking a bike in a location completely hidden from public view, particularly if the bike is going to be locked there on a regular schedule.

For bike commuters, parking a bike outside, regardless of what type of locking strategy is used, is nowhere near as secure as indoor bike parking. Unfortunately, the building where I work no longer admits bicycles of any type (including folders). As an alternative, the City offers bike parking “bullpens” (fenced parking areas) and a limited number of secure bike lockers. Neither are ideal, but both are preferable to simply locking a valuable bike on the street all day and hoping it’s there when you return.

I’d love to hear what others are doing to keep their bikes safe.

29 Responses to “Locking Strategies”

  • HHF3 says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and am quite a fan of your photography and your enthusiasm about cycling. Thanks for posting this about locking up- I was actually going to ask what you two did for that, since you have such nice bikes and have so many bags on them. Luckily for me, despite living in a higher crime area, I can leave my bike inside at work, but anywhere else and I have to pretty much strip my bike of its removable parts like headlights and bags.
    Thanks and keep up the good work! Anything to promote cycling. :)

  • Julie says:

    All of the above..at home, it’s locked to a bike rack, inside my locked garage (no room for it inside)

  • Bob Gong says:

    fortunately, my current employer has bike lockers available on a 1st come, 1st serve basis. The only day(s) I typically can’t find an open locker is in May for Bike to Work Week, so I actually dread that week […just me being selfish :-) ].

    I’m curious: for the building you work in, what is the rationale for not even allowing folding bikes in the building? That strikes me as very odd….

    Granite Bay, CA

  • Alan says:

    Hi Bob,

    The building was completely remodeled before our company moved in and the landlord is fearful that bikes will damage the new carpet, mark up the freshly painted walls, etc., consequently they’re very strict about the no bikes policy. Regarding folding bikes specifically, they’re choosing not to differentiate between various types of bicycles, citing “fairness”.


  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    We keep our bikes indoors, despite the cramped state of our apartment. We just don’t want to take the chance and have them stolen or mutilated. Luckily, we live on the ground floor, so there is no hauling up the stairs involved. We are trying to design a creative solution where bike storage indoors = interior decorating.

    At work, my husband has a secure enclosed bike parking area. I work abroad, or when I am not traveling, from home, so for me this is not such an issue.

  • ksteinhoff says:


    This isn’t particularly pretty, but it was a good solution for me for less than $60.

    It holds up to six bikes, takes up about four square feet of floor space and is on wheels.

  • James says:

    I store my bikes inside at home…well, most of them…a few are out in the garage. When I ride to work though, I have to lock my bike to the racks outside. I work in a pretty low crime area, so I don’t worry too much about my commuter bikes being stolen. I lock the frame and front wheel with a U lock and feel like that is pretty secure for this area. I do always bring my trunk pack inside, but that is mainly so I have access to the contents and so it doesn’t get faded sitting in the sun all day.

  • Celeste says:

    After having two bikes stolen within two years (curse you DC!) I’m now one of those overly cautious two $80 U-Locks and a hardcore cable cyclers. I take any bags with me and pretty much the only thing that isn’t bolted down is my rear light (which still makes me nervous!)It’s a bit of overkill but better safe than sorry. Luckily my job let’s me use an empty storage closet that’s locked and conviently located next to an exit door (I’m the only biker). At home, they stay inside.

    Love the site!

  • Simon N says:


    Folder + Bag = What They Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Them :)

    On locking – a few things I’ve learned:

    1) Leaving a bike overnight is generally a bad idea. Opportunities increase and therefore so do crimes of opportunity. Wheels disappear, or get kicked in by drunks, saddles are taken or slashed – it’s not pretty.

    2) Technique Tip: Run the u-lock through the rear rim and seat tube and around a fixed, closed-ended pole with the barrel side against the bike and not the pole. This prevents insertion of a bottle jack or crowbar between the u-lock shanks, keeps the barrel of the lock away from surfaces against which it can be bashed, and secures the rear wheel in addition to the frame. I’ve seen a lot of attempted robberies perpetrated by idiots where a bike (locked in the simple ‘top-tube-only’ manner) has had the u-lock placed against the ground and smashed with a brick. When that fails, they try to twist the u-lock off using the frame as leverage – damaging the top tube in the process. I’ve rescued an abandoned Hallmark 3-spd from that fate, and have seen a Kona Paddywagon share a similar one.

    2) Cable locking the front wheel is good, but is no more hassle than a nutted axle. It all depends on the tools the person carries. Having a non quick-release wheel (plus a cable lock and a u-lock for the fame/rear wheel) means a potential thief needs three different tools to ride your bike away. The more tools needed, the more chance they’ll move on to something else.

    3) Don’t park your bike by itself if you can help it – the safest bike is usually the best secured in a group of bikes. Also, the more bikes, the more returning bike riders the thief has to worry about.

    4) Old chain through an old tube passed through the saddle rails and the seat stays and then rejoined is an effective way to secure your saddle to your frame – just be sure to keep it clear of the seatpost or your LBS will hate you (won’t clamp into a stand properly).

  • Andy K says:

    Good tips!

    U-lock, locking rims, and seat post, 2-cable locks. The locking nuts on the rims make me feel safer.

  • Ron says:

    Howdy, Alan–

    Do they make you take your shoes off too? Those darn scuff marks are hell on a building. Are the walls gilt, as to be more valued than the occupants?

    Surely they can establish some policies and guidelines, even deposits and fines, which would be more rational than zero tolerance.

    I hope you’ll excuse my venting, as this is obviously your problem, not mine, but I’m sure this list would be willing to help, if you wanted it. Just post the building superintendent’s email, and he’ll spend the next two days hitting the delete key.

    Okay, that probably wouldn’t help, but judging from the helmet war, people would sure have fun with it.
    Happy Trails,
    Ron Georg

  • Madness says:

    WAY TO SHAME ME INTO GETTING A U-LOCK. I keep my road bike in the garage and never leave her anywhere when I ride her — I once walked her into a bathroom stall — but my commute bike . . . if you have undercover photos of her locked to a meter I’LL DENY IT. Good info, Alan, no matter how much shame I feel.

  • Alan says:


    “Just post the building superintendent’s email, and he’ll spend the next two days hitting the delete key.”

    There’s this thing about feeding the family and paying the bills that keeps coming to mind… LOL.

  • Alan says:

    Sorry Madness, but someone has to speak for the bikes… ;-)

  • Ari Hornick says:

    I remove the front wheel and put the U-lock around both rims and the frame. If I had pitlock, I prob’ly wouldn’t worry about the front wheel. If I’m on a diamond frame, I use a saddle leash. I feel comfortable leaving a bike outside as long as it’s locked to something secure. I’ve even been known to leave a bike locked outside overnight, but only rarely.

    At home, they’re locked in the garage.

  • cafn8 says:

    I am able to bring my bike into my office and my house, so rarely have to lock it up. When I do, I attach the frame (at the seat tube) and rear wheel to a secure object with a U-lock, with a thick cable around the front wheel.

    I’d also like to point out that no bike rack should be taken at face value. This weekend I was in the next town over from where I live doing a little shopping. This is a town with lots of cute, expensive shops, scarce and/or expensive car parking and an active local bike advocacy group (in which the mayor is involved), so I was confident I would find convenient bike parking. I found a handful of decorative green bike racks at the end of the block where I intended to shop. All were unused when I rode up. Before I locked my bike to one, however, I gave it a little nudge. It wobbled easily. I grabbed the top of the rack and pulled upward to find that it was securely attached to the paving blocks that it rested on, but nothing held them to the ground. The rack and its few captive paving blocks lifted easily out of the ground, with gravity as the only resistance. Baffled by how insecure those likely expensive racks were, I locked up to a nearby bench. Looks like I have some email to write.

  • Croupier says:

    I’ve known a few former bike thieves and they’ve all told me that they can spot a quality lock from a mile away. If you drop a hundred dollars on a Fahgettaboudit you’re basically assuring yourself that whatever part of the bike it is securing will not get stolen by any thief with more brains than dope in their head.

  • Simon Kellett says:

    My tip is not to use a common lock manufacturer. I have no evidence but my theory is that local thieves best know locally common locks make. Ideally import one, or find a local distributor if a foreign lock.

  • ZeeGeezer says:

    I work in a high-tech office block in the heart of Silicon Valley and our landlord has the same rule – no bikes inside, no exceptions. Arrived at work one day to discover my lock was broken and wouldn’t close. Not allowed to bring my bike in by the Jobsworth at the desk. So I biked home again.

    The building has bike parking – a chain-link cage with racks for 10 or so bikes, discreetly hidden away from view and unlocked. But this is a very low bike-theft area, so I park there with a 6-foot cable lock threaded through both wheels and the frame and don’t worry about it too much.

    I think there’s a lot of bicycle antagonism on the part of property management companies. They probably think that a lot of bikes lowers the tone of the building. What they really want around the building to let them keep their rents high is a lot of BMWs, not LHTs.

  • Alan says:


    “What they really want around the building to let them keep their rents high is a lot of BMWs, not LHTs.”

    Yup, you called it!

  • Leon Webster says:

    I persuaded my boss to start bicycling to work. After one of my co-workers had a bike stolen, she decided that it is perfectly appropriate to bring one’s bike up in the freight elevator and put them in our cubicles.

    You are right. lack of a secure storage facility hinders commuting.

  • DeltaTrike says:

    I have a recumbent trike with an AeroTrunk, ZZiper fairing, and a canopy. I use 2 large coil cable combination locks for the front wheel and both rear wheels and they are connected to one another and the fixed object by a much heavier 6′ cable. I also use a much smaller cable lock to secure the Aerotrunk to the seat and 2 more to “secure” the fairing and the canopy. I realize these smaller ones only by time and my hope is that the thief would just say forget it and move on. I have found on my daily commute that this locking is really a pain, but unfortunately it is unavoidable. I am in a temporary commute mode and hope to find a secure inside storage when the job site becomes permanant. A good video to get you thinking about locks, locking strategy, and theft prevention can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Den2TJcbPf4 – Death to Bike/Trike thieves!!

  • Tamia Nelson says:

    Very useful, educational discussion, Alan. I live in a rural area, and cyclists (and others) often think this means Lake Wobegon. Not so. Even locks might not keep a bike form being vandalized. My husband securely locked his Dawes roadie to a telephone pole off a side road when we were canoeing. He intended to use the bike to retrieved the car at the end of the trip. When we got downriver to the bike, it had been smashed into a pretzel by who knows who. I’m guessing they smashed it with pipes. The bike was a total write-off. The bike was still securely locked to the pole with a heavy duty chain and padlock.

  • Stephen says:

    I recently put Pitlocks on the wheels of my Heron commuter, and everything else is fastened with Allen bolts and nuts. Although I manage our buildings six-unit bike locker (installed at my insistence), I lock the Heron inside under an employee building entrance stairwell. (It won’t fit easily into the bike locker with the wide handlebars.) Several other people also keep their bikes in the stairwell, which is a spillover area for those who don’t have a locker space outside.

    We also have bike racks on both ends of the building. They get used, but only by members of the public. Good bike parking is critical to me, and it allows me to ride my boutique bicycle to work. I also use a cable lock when I go to lunch, but I always park my bike in a visible location, and never for very long.

    I learned about the need to security when I lived in Germany. They don’t have much crime compared to the U.S., but they lock things up pretty tight.

  • beth h says:

    My niece has had three bikes stolen in five years. The reason? None of the places would allow her to bring her bike indoors at night. (All were typical shared-housing, multiple-roommate situations where one tenant is also the owner of the house.) At her last house she locked her bike to the porch railing — the only place the bike was allowed, since the homeowner had stuffed the garage to capacity with years of accumulated junk. One night thieves sawed through the [8″ diameter] support beam of the porch overhang and took the bike. That side of the overhang fell down and my niece was given an eviction notice the next morning. The owner advertised the subsequent opening in her house with the words “NO BIKES OR BIKE OWNERS, NO EXCEPTIONS”. My niece has since found housing where she can hang her bike in her bedroom above her bed, the only place she now feels it’s safe.

    Mora? If you can’t bring your bike in, it’s probably not worth being there in the first place.

  • Mohjho says:

    Here in Chico Ca, we have what we call “chico bikes”. Spare bicycles that we get old and cheep so we are not afraid to leave them locked in town. There seems to be a kind of cheep bike culture that is fostered here. The bicycle has to look rundown and not worth stealing, but have a kind of retro coolness to it. There is a fine line between an acceptable junker and a piece of junk; a line we do not cross. Cruzer bikes do well here.

    This is an old university town so we get hundreds of bikes parked all day long on campus and in town. We see what happens if you leave the bike locked overnight, it gets kicked in. Just the way it is and no locking system can prevent this.

  • Samuel Steinmetz says:

    Well, everyday I get off the DC Metro, and hope my bike is fine. There are a few things I do to make me feel better during the day. I arrive early at the Metro (I’m about 2 miles from it, so I bike to it), and get a spot on the bike rack that is closest to the end where everyone walks by, and it is at its most visible. I use a U-Lock on the back tire, frame, and place it around the rack (the back tire is the most expensive). I then run a cable lock through the front tire, and back around the rack and my frame. I then have a pullover bike bag that covers my entire bike to protect it from rain, but it is also a tight fit, so it takes some time to get off (yes, I realize someone could just cut it off, but it would be pretty noticeable). All of that, and I just feel okay until I come out from the Metro and see my bike still there, in one piece. I have to admit though, I have never thought about locking my bike in the garage, but realize it would probably be smart. The biggest thing with bike thieves is that they like to move quick. The harder, and thus more inconvenient you make it for them, the less likely they are to attempt to take your bike, and move on to one that is less secure.

  • biggest dummy says:

    I have never had a bike stolen while locked up with my Swiss-made security chain and lock. I use 10 ft of 10mm security chain with the matching lock. The company name is Weisenfells(sp).
    The security chain looks like the Kryptonite NY series chain only thicker. The lock has no hasp. There are only two ways to get through this setup and the LARGEST bolt cutters OR a hacksaw are not either. A hacksaw will not even scratch the chain after a full day of sawing action. When trying use ANY size bolt cutters, the jaws and head will simply shatter rendering the expensive bolt cutters useless. The cross section of the chain links is sort of a bulging square. This lends itself to spitting the chain link out of the jaws of a bolt cutter. Doesnt matter though as the 10mm chain will destroy a 48″ pair of cutters. Most thieves use 24″ or less as to conceal in a backpack. Cost for this chain and padflock was 150 dollars plus. drawback is that it weighs 15pounds. Pro: whatever you lock up will be there when you return.

    I would avoid a cable locking method if possible as the Swiss company FELCO makes cable and wire cutting shears that will cut through FASTER than you can say melted butter! I have seen thieves with these Felco shears and that is scary.

    knowledge is power

  • Sgt Taylor says:

    My solution

    1. Get rid of the expensive bike. I was so afraid of losing my Rivendell Atlantis that I wouldn’t lock it for more than 20 minutes. So I didn’t ride it in the city I live in and like. So I sold it. If your bike is worth more than a school teacher makes in a month, get a cheaper bike.

    2. Bought a used Surly LHT on CL (cost = 30% of the selling price of the Atlantis). Since we have very discerning bike thieves and I am trying for a low profile here, I scraped all decals off of the bike. (Surly does not clear coat over their decals like most fancy frame makers do, so this is easy. Use a hair dryer, an old credit card, and a bit of alcohol). Not sure if your basic lowlife urban crackhead actually prefers decals, but I don’t, so it works out.

    3. Put Pitlocks on wheels, seat, and stem. Grease and do not overtorque. With these, a single lock is enough — Pitlocks are very hard to defeat. I lock Sheldon style with a mini-evo Kryptonite. See http://www.sheldonbrown.com/lock-strategy.html. The mini minimizes the leverage available for twisting or prying. Lock it bolt side out, as mentioned earlier and illustrated by our departed mentor above.

    4. Bags are a challenge. Solution #1: use a basket. Thieves could cut the zip ties, but they rarely bother and Wald baskets are both dirt cheap and perfect anyway. BTW, both Wald and Rivendell make bags with trigger clips that fasten to the sides of a basket. Good security solution, since the bag neither stays on the bike for thieves to grab nor pops off when you don’t want it to.

    5. Solution #2 is more adventurous. Thread a 3mm cable through the bottom of a large rear trunk bag, weave it through the rack braces and loop the ends over the rack struts at the seat stays. The cable is barely visible, no lock is needed and the bag cannot be removed without destroying it. Epoxy the heads of the rack bolts (the epoxy is easy to dig out with tools thieves don’t carry).

    6. Solution #3 to the bag problem is to get rid of bags, although I am fond of them. Keep a your repair stuff in a small bag: (a tube, tire irons, a seat cover for rain if you ride leather, a tiny pump, a backup light, an energy bar, and a multi-tool) and toss it in your backpack, briefcase, or messenger bag, which goes in the basket with your lock.

    7. I consider tires a part of bike security, since getting a flat in a dodgy part of town is not a treat, especially for anyone who looks vulnerable: notably people of the especially young, old, female, or small persuasion. Invest in Schwalbe Marathons or the equivalent. Ride 32-37mm wide tires in cities. Flats suck — it is worth sacrificing some speed to not get them.

    This approach appears to work here in Oakland, CA, where bikes are stolen a lot. I can leave this rig locked in a visible place during the day in most parts of town without any real worries. I would not leave anything but a beater bike out overnight. Your mileage will vary of course. In many burbs, this is overkill. In NY or Amsterdam, you’ll carry heavy metal: a chain or a Fuggedaboudit, not a normal U-lock.

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