Lock it or lose it

An insurance comparison site quotes the average number of bicycles stolen in Australia every year at around 200,000. An accepted streetwise “average” contends that one in 10 cyclists will have their bike stolen at some stage. But whatever the statistical average, there is one reliable fact – it’s too many.

A modern twist to the problem is the boom in selling online, which has been blamed for the increasing incidence of bicycle theft in recent years.

Acting Sergeant Shaun Hill of Victoria Police’s bicycle patrol unit says the number of bikes stolen each year is increasing dramatically, and it is a trend reflected across all states. Police say that 80% of all bikes stolen are left unlocked, that half are taken from the home, and the vast majority are never returned. So if you want to avoid adding to the statistics, a bike lock is an essential.

However, it needs to be stated from the outset, and many sources of knowledge in this area confirm this fact – a bike lock is no guarantee your bike won’t be stolen.

Grant Kaplan, managing director of MC Cyclery in Maroubra, says the important thing to remember is that the main intention of a good lock is to increase the time it takes for a thief to do his dastardly deed. “A lot of people misunderstand that, because eventually anything can be broken or got into,” he says. “It’s just that some locks require a lot more time than others, or a thief has to be a lot more obvious about it.”

Ease of use for the cyclist but maximum inconvenience for the miscreant seems to be the magic balance in choosing a bike lock. And of course price. “If someone says they’re just going to lock their bike while they duck into the shop for two minutes, you can offer them a much lighter, and cheaper, lock than someone else who might say they work in the city and park their bike all day,” Kaplan says.

In his experience, it is still common for someone with a good bike to want to spend very little on a lock (all the while tiring of saying that a good lock is cheaper than a new bike). “This inevitably leads them to something like a cable lock,” Kaplan says. While these might be very suitable for some uses, he says they are ineffective by themselves for longer-term bike parking as they can easily be cut with bolt cutters.

“The best locks you can get are D-locks,” Kaplan says. “Combine that with a strong cable, with loops on each end so you can secure it in the D-lock, and that’s the best all-round protection.” This combination means the sturdy D-lock can hold bike frame and cable ends to an anchor point securely, with the cable going through both wheels.

Another tip is to also use threaded axles instead of the quick-release hub skewers (although a thief can carry a spanner as easily as a cyclist), however there are anti-theft skewers available, which come with a unique “key” to undo them, and there are also some that only release when the bike is inverted. Kaplan says using these with a D-lock is a great combination.

Bike locks, says Kaplan, are definitely a case of you get what you pay for. “I wouldn’t recommend a cheap lock,” he says, “even though these are fine if your bike is never out of sight. But there’s a big difference if it’s overnight or while you’re at work.”

A high stress rating is something to look for, he says. And as far as brand of lock goes, Kaplan says Abus or Kryptonite are the best on the market. His judgement concurs with recent research by Choice magazine, however the consumer research body’s tests also confirmed that nothing will stop a really determined bicycle thief. Tests reported by Choice found that D-locks survived the assault of jemmy bar, hammer, hacksaw and bolt cutters, although none survived the final assault of an angle grinder.

The following are a sample selection only, and are arranged in order of recommended retail price, as advised by distributors. If you type “review” and the lock’s name into your web browser you should be able to find a review to help you decide if a lock is suitable for your uses.

  • Kryptonite Retractable Cable Lock $21.95
  • Kryptonite Kryptoflex Cable $39.95
  • Kryptonite Krait $39.95
  • OnGuard Pitbull $65.00
  • Evolution U-Lock Mini $89.95
  • Abus Steel-o-flex Raydo 1460 $99.95
  • Evolution U-Lock LS 4 $109.95
  • Abus Varedo 47 $120.00
  • Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit U-Lock $129.95
  • Kryptonite New York $139.95
  • Abus Granit Futura 150 $149.95
  • Abus Steel-o-flex 1025 X-plus $209.95
  • Abus Granit XPlus 230 $224.95
  • Abus City Granite 110 $269.95

Tips and tools to make your lock more effective

• Always lock your bike to a fixed, immovable object, but not to a post that is low enough for it to be simply lifted off (yes, it has been done). And be careful with street signs such as Stop or Give Way signs; some are just slotted into a hole in the footpath and held in place with an easily removed bolt or steel peg. And avoid cyclone mesh fences as the wire can be easily cut.

• Lock up in a visible and well-lit area, and preferably where a lot of other bikes are parked (hopefully yours won’t be the most vulnerable looking, and also don’t be shy about parking next to a bike that looks like an easier target; thieves are notorious opportunists).

• The best protection is to use two locks, such as a D-lock and a cable. The longer a thief has to work, the less likely your bike will be targeted.

• Try to use up as much of the “D” area within your D-lock as possible. The tighter the open space a thief has, the harder it is to use tools to attack your lock. Also try not to position the lock too close to the ground, as this just allows more surreptitious skullduggery.

• At home, keep your bike inside or out of sight, and even then consider locking it.

• Even when ducking into a shop, use your lock. Or at least discourage opportunistic “grab-and-ride” crime by clipping your helmet straps through a wheel, or lift a portion of the chain off the chainring if you have a derailleur. In these situations it’s also good to keep your bike within eyesight.

• Mark your bike for identification, just in case it is recovered. Police advise engraving your driver licence number on the underside of the frame, preceded by a letter to indicate which state (Q for Queensland, V for Victoria, etc).

Tricks of the thieving trade

Bicycle thieves may be the lowest of the low, and a lot of us might feel like introducing their face to the footpath, but they’re not stupid. Here are some tricks of their devious trade.

• Carry bolt cutters in a gym bag. There will be a hole in one corner so the thief can manoeuvre the business end onto the lock, and also operate the cutters out of sight from inside the bag.

• A lot of D-locks can be “popped” by a small hydraulic jack placed between the arms.

• Embrittle a lock with liquid nitrogen. Mythbusters may have something to say about this, but there have been reports of locking mechanisms (not the arms of a D-lock or chain links) being cracked this way.

• Some cheaper D-locks have a pin under the plastic covering of the cylinder that can be exposed and tapped out, allowing the locking mechanism to be removed.

• Even the busiest street empties at some time. If a thief thinks one bike has better resale value than others, they may damage a tyre in the hope the owner will leave the bike overnight (most of us can fix a punctured tube, but probably won’t carry a spare tyre).


This article first appeared in Australian Cyclist magazine