Each year, somewhere between 800,000 and two million bicycles are stolen. Bike theft is “big business,” worth as much as $50 million per year. It’s impossible to determine the actual number of stolen bikes since many bike thefts are not reported. Less than 5% of stolen bicycles are ever recovered.
Most bike owners don’t think about protecting their bike against theft until it’s too late. Learning and applying what you will read here might change the odds in your favor.
If your bike were to disappear today, what documents would you take with you to file a police report? If your bike is recovered, can you prove that you’re the owner? If you haven’t established a file for your bike, this is a good time.
At minimum you want to have the serial number of your bike. We highly recommend you also store the following:
- Pictures of both sides of your bike and the picture of the bottom bracket, showing the serial number.
- Copies of purchase receipts. If you do not have a receipt but purchased your bike new, the store should be able to generate that receipt for you.
- If you purchased your bike used and do not have a receipt, copies of service or repair receipts from a local bike shop could serve as proof of ownership.
- If you added or replaced components of your bike, make sure to track down those receipts as well.
Papers tend get misplaced, we recommend you make a digital copy of all the paperwork by scanning or taking clear photos.
How bikes get stolen
Many stolen bicycles are thefts of convenience, taken because they were not properly secured and thus were available for the taking. Stolen bikes mostly end up stolen for one simple reason – they were left unattended, even if “only for a moment.” Training yourself to lock the bike when it’s out of sight is the most important thing you can do if you want your bike to remain yours.
Surprisingly, the most common place for a bike to be stolen from is your home, and generally from the garage. A thief only needs a few seconds to walk into your opened garage, grab an unsecured bike and ride off while you’re putting away groceries. Securing your bike inside the garage might seem overly cautious, but it takes only a few seconds and prevents the most common theft.
Another popular place for bikes to be stolen is from car bike racks. This scenario plays out like this: you’re coming back from a ride with your bike “securely” on the rack. You stop at a gas station and run inside for refreshments while filling up your car. A pickup truck pulls up next to you, the driver gets out, takes your bike off the rack, throws it in the bed of the truck and drives away. Even if you saw the theft happen from inside, you don’t stand a chance catching the thief, even if you wanted to. Fortunately, a simple cable lock securing your bike to the rack can prevent this situation.
Regardless of where your bike is kept, it should always be locked to an immovable object. Do not assume your bike is safe when it is not locked, especially when your bike is in your car, at home, or on campus.
Which lock should I buy?
Selecting the right lock can be overwhelming. There are countless locks available to consumers. Some of these locks are specified as bike locks, while others are not. It’s important to remember that not all lock are created equal and a good lock is all that stands between you riding home or walking home.
A light cable or a light chain lock is not good security and are seen as easy targets, even for an amateur thief. The best option is a hardened steel chain and a massive hardened steel lock. A second option is a strong U-lock with a flat key. Round key locks are more easily broken. While you may feel comfortable using only one lock, keep in mind that when it comes to the security of your bike, more is better. Use a chain, cable and a U-lock, or even two U-locks, when protecting your bicycle.
Another factor to consider when selecting a lock is the actual fit of the lock. Make sure the lock is not too big or the thief will use the loose area to leverage the lock. A snug lock makes it more difficult to get tools inside the lock to attempt stealing your bicycle.
Check lock reviews online and buy the lock with the best reviews. While it may seem unnecessary, securing your bike with locks is a part of your bicycle theft insurance.
Where can I leave my bike?
Whether your bike is kept in a garage, on campus, or at your home, it is imperative that you keep the bike locked up in a secure place. Take the proper precautions so that your bike is not susceptible to theft. Always lock your bike in visible, well-lit areas and be sure that it is locked to an immobile, public place object, such as a bike rack that is affixed to a building or concrete pad. By making it more difficult to steal your bike, you are giving the thief a good reason to move on to a bike with a weaker lock or a bike left in a place that is not visible to other people.
Give love to your bike by combining hardened chains, U-Lock(s) and a cable to secure all parts of the bike. There is little sense in locking the frame to the bike rack if the wheels can be removed.
Always angle the keyway of the lock down to the ground, as this makes it more difficult for the thief to damage the keyway.
- DON’T ever leave your bike unlocked. Protect your new bike because it has the value that thieves search for.
- DON’T lock your bike to things that can be cut.
- DON’T lock your bike to anything movable. Thieves could just carry everything away, bike included!
Securing bike components
Once you properly lock up your bike you might feel safe walking away from it. You might be surprised to return to your bike that’s still securely locked up but has parts missing. It only takes three commonly available tools to remove the seat, handlebar, cranks, derailleurs and the brakes. In other words, everything but the frame and the wheels. Component theft is not as common as bike theft, but just like bike theft, it’s a theft of convenience. If you make it difficult for a thief to snatch your components, he is likely to move on.
Most of the components on your bike are attached with mechanisms that allow easy maintenance but also make it easy to for the thief to remove them, for example the wheels are secured with quick-release skewers and the saddle is secured with a quick-release clamp. Other components, such as handlebar and derailleur are secured with common hex or Torx bolts. If you constantly leave your bike out of sight, replacing these “insecure” mechanisms with more secure ones that require a custom tool to remove them is a good idea. Companies like Pinhead Locks offer high-quality replacement bolts and skewers that require a custom tool and prevent stripping. When met with that level of security, the thief will simply move onto another bike.
Securing the accessories
There are usually two accessories on your bike that are quite easy to walk away with. It just so happens that the most expensive one is also the one that’s easiest to steal – the bike computer. Modern bike computers, specifically the advanced ones like Garmin 1000, cost up to $700 but are attached to the bike with a simple mount that’s actually designed to make it easy to install and remove – it only takes a second. If you have one of these devices, make sure to remove it from your bike when walking away from it.
The second accessory is rarely stolen simply because it’s not that valuable – your saddle bag and its contents. The saddlebag is usually attached to the saddle and the seat post with Velcro straps that are easily undone. Consistently installing and removing a saddlebag will get old quickly and might only make sense if you’re locking your bike for extended periods of time. Nevertheless, if you find yourself shopping for a new saddlebag, consider one with a mounting system that makes attaching and removing it easy. SciCon saddlebags have a Roller system that’s similar to Garmin’s Quick-release, that makes installing and removing the saddlebag extremely easy. It also comes in handy when you actually need to use it to repair your bike.
What to do if the bike is stolen?
If you use a good lock and consistently follow proper locking techniques you will significantly lower the possibility of your bike going missing. There are too many poorly locked bikes out there for a thief to waste time on yours. However, if your bike is stolen, you will need to take certain measures if you hope to recover it.
The first thing you should do is notify law enforcement and file a police report. The documentation you’ve prepared will come in handy. You will need to provide the police with the serial number and photos of your bike. If the theft took place in a busy area, ask nearby businesses if they have surveillance cameras that could have captured the theft on video. You should notify the business owner immediately and ask them to retain the footage from the security system. Most security systems keep the video for only 24 hours so if you wait too long, the footage might get erased.
Next, you should begin your own search for the bike. Look on sites such as Craigslist and eBay. Stolen bikes tend to quickly migrate out of the area where they were stolen so make sure your search is geographically broad. It’s possible for your bike to appear “on sale” a few towns away.
Drop off a photo of your bike and a copy of the police report at pawn shops in your area. If the thief tries to pawn your bike, the shop will notify the police. If the shop has already purchased the bike, you will be legally entitled to recover it.
Vigilance against bicycle theft is equally as important as insurance. However, not all insurance does a good job covering high-value bikes. Some policies only cover the bicycle at the insured home and then only for fire and theft and almost all home insurance policies deduct value as the bike gets older. To guard against the depreciation of value and damage or theft away from home you have the option of a stand-alone bicycle insurance policy offered by Velosurance. With premiums as low as $8/mo and a stated value policy with no depreciation, insuring your bicycle starts to make sense.