How to make a new bicycle look too crappy to steal

About a month ago, the little red-haired girl’s bike was one of the 50 bicycles stolen every hour of every day in Germany – more than 400,000 every year. It wasn’t the best bike you can buy but it did cost about €400 and she used it every day to get to school, visit friends, go to horse-riding and clarinet lessons – to get everywhere that was close enough to home, anyway.

We didn’t have a convenient place to park it inside overnight, so we bought what we thought was a decent lock and stored it back of our place. Didn’t take long before it was gone.

It took a while to find a replacement, but we finally found an adult’s bike with a small frame that we hope she’ll grow into. And this time, we’ve gone all out to reduce the chance of getting this one stolen, too.

Number one is making sure she has a place inside to store it overnight.

So I bought a heavy wall anchor that is now permanently installed in the concrete wall of our basement space, cleared by throwing out junk and re-arranging other stuff. Whoever buys our place one day is going to inherit that thing, because I had to smash a ball bearing with a heavy hammer into each allen key hole so that it can’t ever be unscrewed from the wall. OK, I suppose a jack-hammer might do it, but that’ll wake up the neighbours.

We – that means I – now have to lug the bike downstairs and back up every evening and morning, but despite the hassle, the peace of mind is worth it.

It’s still not 100% safe, of course. During the day when it’s parked at school or at the bus stop the chances of it getting stolen are less than if you lock it outside overnight, but bicycles get stolen anytime.

So after Pete from Couchtrip suggested in a comment that I get these stickers to make the bike look so crappy, a thief passing by wouldn’t think of stealing it, I said what the hell, give it a shot – and ordered three packages from the website of British artist Dominic Wilcox for about €15.

The stickers really do look pretty authentic, even before they’re on the bike. You get 15 shapes per card – rust stains, chipped and peeling paint, a straight-edged rust strip you can wrap around a tube joint – enough to get you started I suppose, but really, you should go all out and get three. That way, it really looks crappy. Oh, and he’ll drop the postage charges if you get three.

We whiled away a pleasant half-hour on the balcony a couple of days ago sticking them on. I was a little unsure at first, but after looking at them for a couple of days I have to say the bike does look abused and neglected. The little red-haired girl says they blend in too well to the grey paint, but I think that’s what makes them work. Because the colouring in on a clear background, they show the background paint through the edges to look like real scrapes and rust spots.

OK – maybe not up close. I suppose if a thief were hanging around the bike checking it out, he’d see through the ruse; the handlebars are still shiny, the rims and hubs are pristine, and the stickers aren’t perfect.

But if it’s enough to deter the wrong guy at the right time often enough, odds are that normal wear-and-tear will catch up with it and it’ll get a chance to start looking its age in a few years’ time while still in her possession.

Insurance tip:

Another thing to seriously consider when you buy a new bike is insurance. Because the possibility it might get stolen had crossed my mind, we bought an insurance policy via Wertgarantie. (link goes to site in German only)

Their complete coverage package really does cover everything. They’ll pay for all parts and labour for repairs due to defects, vandalism, rough handling, wear and tear – everything. They’ll replace the bike full cost if it’s stolen while locked around an immovable object with a lock on their approved list. The lock is also insured and replaced if damaged. They’ll also replace parts stolen off the bike.

I went for it because even though the cost of the bike will be paid again over four or five years through the monthly fees, the time I save in not having to do any repairs at all during that time is more than worth it.

When the time came to report the theft they were friendly and helpful with all my questions both by phone and email. We found a new bike for about €600, but all we did was pay the €200 difference. They reimbursed the dealer the €400 for the old bike.

This is not a paid post, btw! I just think it’s a good deal – and was really pleased with the service they gave me when I actually had to make a claim.

11 Responses to “How to make a new bicycle look too crappy to steal”

  1. 1 J
    October 10, 2008 at 9:42 am

    “You get 15 shapes per card – rust stains, chipped and peeling paint, a straight-edged rust strip you can wrap around a tube joint”

    Ha! Who needs stickers for that! My 18 year old bike looks that way anyway.

  2. October 10, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Yeah, but would it get stolen if you left it outside overnight locked up?🙂

  3. October 12, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    Hi –

    I read of your site on Lorelle’s site – met her at WordCamp Dallas earlier this year. My wife and I are moving to Hamburg in December – she’s being transferred and I’ll be trying to transition my practice to a remote services model (and trying to learn German!)

    It is good to see an active WP user group in Hamburg – maybe we’ll meet there at some point. Good info on the bicycle – all new things to learn about as we prepare for a move to Germany. Can’t wait!


  4. October 13, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    Great to see the stickers in action. And I’m impressed with your security planning. I’m sure your über-dad ratings just went up😉

  5. October 24, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    That is the best idea ever! I am thinking about getting a bike, and that is massive problem here in Hungary, too. Almost every friend I have with a bike had it stolen, but they all had nice new foreign ones. I am buying a used one, but I think I want these stickers,too. Thanks for the tip!

  6. October 26, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    Hi NWY – thanks for dropping by and leaving three comments! I hope you let the sticker man know where you came across them – he might send a thank-you note.🙂

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