This is for Yelli in Berlin, who, like the best two of the three of us, had her bike stolen.
Remember how we made the little red-haired girl’s bicycle too crappy to steal? We sent away for some stickers that make a new bike look all rusted and splotchy, so that a thief passing by wouldn’t give it a second look.
Last time I looked, she still had her bike, so it must be working.
But a bicycle that we thought really did look too crappy to steal got ripped off sometime after we came back from our lovely weekend of cycling along the banks of the Elbe.
It was my wife’s bike and we’d bought it the week we moved to Hamburg after leaving Hong Kong in mid-1997.
I wonder if this is a sign of the times, a signal that things are getting so dire even for thieves that they’re willing to steal any bike that doesn’t have weeds wrapped around a rusty chain. I mean, the bike was 12 fucking years old! It did have new parts on it, but not many, and the frame looked scratched up and sloppy.
Sometimes you hear a story where a stolen bike is found for sale on craiglist and somehow recovered, or like the commenter whose neighbour called out for Chinese food and was astounded to see the delivery guy riding her own bike which had been stolen a year before, but those are huge exceptions.
Most stolen bikes are never recovered, so how can you make sure you can lessen the chances of having your bike stolen?
In my opinion the best way is to make sure you have a damn good lock – or two – and no matter what you’re using, never leave it outside overnight.
So which lock to buy?
I’ll tell you which one not to buy, and that’s any lock with a wire cable like the one in the photo. Even the best ones can be snapped through with a set of bolt-cutters. We were dumb enough to assume my wife’s old bike wasn’t worth stealing, and so only had an Abus security level 8 cable lock on it, the same kind of lock which had been snapped through six months before on the little red-haired girl’s new one.
The U-shaped locks made famous by Kryptonite are perhaps the best choice, but they have their limitations. They’re heavy, you can’t put them around both wheels unless you remove one, and they’re awkward to work with.
That said, the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit U-lock rated highest in security in a Slate.com survey. Bikeradar.com also raved about it, saying the small size makes it nearly impossible to lever apart.
Though they are probably less secure I prefer a chain, especially the Abus line, because they’re easier to work with. Abus grades its security on various levels from 1 to 25. A level 25 lock is the heaviest and made for securing motorcycles, but cyclists can also use them for locking them up overnight inside if you’re careful not to bend spokes working it through the wheels. This chain is extremely heavy though, and not meant to be lugged around on a bicycle. It’s also really expensive.
The next step down is the one I have – the Citychain level 15. It’s a good compromise between ease of use, weight, price and security. I bought one for home and one for the office. I leave one at the office locked up around a post and one at home so I don’t have to haul it back and forth.
If you have a place in your building to install one, pick up a wall anchor, because simply locking even the best lock around the frame and wheel is no good. The lock must be around a fixed object – especially if you have insurance on it, which I’ll get to later.
You need a decent hammer drill to install the bolts, but once it’s in, it’s in for life. I suppose you could remove it with a jackhammer, but if a thief is going to use a jackhammer it’s going to attract a bit of attention.
For those who can’t avoid locking up their bike in a high-traffic area, it helps to have two different types of locks. That way, a thief who specialises in breaking open a certain type of lock will pass yours up, unless he has both the expertise and the tools to break into the combination of locks he finds on yours. Worth thinking about if you really value your bike.
Another thing to seriously consider is bicycle insurance, because you can practically forget everything you’ve read up to now. ALL bike locks can be broken into.
A very short clip:
In Germany you can insure your new bicycle against all perils including vandalism, misuse, breakage, wear and tear, sheer stupidity, and of course theft. The monthly rate you pay is based on the retail price of your new bike. As long as you buy a lock worth at least 20 euro – which seems to me like a rather cheap lock – and the bike is locked up to a fixed object through the frame, the bike is insured 24 hours a day. The price is based on a sliding scale according to what you paid for the new bike and lock, which is also insured.
It may look expensive to pay, say, 15 bucks every month for insurance, but when you consider how much it costs even to get a blown tire repaired at a bike shop, let alone replace worn brakes, chains, sprockets, bearings and chainrings, it’s probably worth it in the long run. And you have the peace of mind that if the bike is stolen, something that seems to be happening way too often these days, you can get it replaced no problem.
And with someone else doing all the repairs, no black grease to clean off your fingers anymore, either.
PS: There is simply no end to the debate over which lock to get. Check out the bike forums and get spoked.