Bike theft

Spring has sprung and the university police just reminded me of the dangers of bike theft. Here are their tips:

  • Lock it up: secure the bicycle frame and wheels to a sturdy, fixed object like a bike rack or a metal post. Or store it in a dedicated, secure bicycle locker.
  • Get a good lock: we recommend a quality ‘U-style’ lock. Chain and cable locks are easily cut in seconds by someone with the right tool.
  • Invest in the lock — not the bike: we suggest spending your money on your lock, and not on the bike. There’s a thriving illegal market in stolen high-end bicycles and parts — so don’t tempt thieves with your $4,000 racing bike. A $50 garage-sale bike secured with a $100 lock is a good recipe for retention.
  • Register your ride: while it’s no longer required to register your bike in Madison [ed. note: It’s no longer possible], it’s still a good idea and can help with recovery if it’s ever stolen.  [ed. note follows] There are national bike registries. My bikes are registered at two and here are the links to register yours:

Both services request a description of your bike(s), serial number, and photos. Project 529 specifically asks for a photo of the serial number. Bike Index asks for distinguishing characteristics. You can register as many bikes as you have, and it takes only a few minutes.

I would add a couple of tips/modifications to the police guidance. Their advice re: a $50 bike vs a $4000 bike specifically refers to leaving a bike unattended on campus. If you have a $4000 bike, my advice is: keep it locked inside of your house when you’re not on it. If you transport it with a motor vehicle, transport it inside the vehicle. If possible, conceal it. Make sure the vehicle is locked. If you have to transport it on the outside, lock it to the rack, which should be locked to the vehicle, and keep it in sight. It’s harder to steal a bike from the roof than from the bumper.

Locks slow thieves down. They are not foolproof. Another way to slow them down is to loosen the rear wheel quick release. If someone tries to ride away, the wheel may jam itself into the bottom bracket shell or against the seat tube and make it unrideable, if you have horizontal dropouts. Or it just may slow the thief down, maybe annoy them enough to steal a different bike. (If you do that, just be sure to tighten it again before you ride off.) There are times you will want to leave a bike for a few minutes and don’t have several pounds of lock with you. There are light and transportable locks that will slow someone down. If I were in a cafe, I’d sit by a window near the door if I were using this sort of lock. The police here use “Bait Bikes”, which are left out and monitored to catch thieves. They also make available (or did, in the past) stickers that say “This may be a Bait Bike”. With that on enough bikes, it makes it harder to know which ones really are bait bikes. See if there is a similar program in your area.

Airtags can be concealed on a bike. (There are a number of products designed for this.) They won’t prevent theft but may make the bike easier to track.

I’ve been riding for 65 years and have had one bike stolen. It was in an office but unlocked. The office was staffed all day. That person went to the bathroom and (weeks later) told me she heard someone come down the stairs and wheel the bike out while she was in there. I got that info too late to do anything about it, but I know who had access to the office at that time. Live and learn.

Bikes stop a thief.
Good advice.