Portland, Oregon was recently ranked 5th in Kryptonite’s list of top 10 cities for bike theft. Here is a quick primer on how to act accordingly:
Always lock your bike.
…even in your backyard or on your porch. I used to pity friends who lost bikes this way, but after hearing story after story of unlocked bikes disappearing from porches, back yards, open garages, and apartment building hallways…my compassion has been tempered considerably. Once you get used to it, locking your bike up will be a fast and mindless activity.
When you are scoping out a spot to lock up, consider the following: always lock to the most sturdy object you can find. If you can fit your u-lock around the tree…it can be cut down real fast. If it’s a sign post, consider how hard it would be to rip the signs off and lift your bike over the top. These scenarios aren’t unheard of. When you are selecting a location, you are buying time. The longer and more awkward it is for a thief to get your bike, the better the location. That’s why you should also lean towards well-lit, heavily trafficked areas. It’s also wise to lock up where there are other bikes. Chances are, if you’re an expert locker, other people’s stuff will be stolen first.
Don’t use cable locks.
Police reports show that almost all of the locked bikes that get stolen in Portland are locked with a cable lock. Using a cable lock is like assuming your bike is safe unlocked on your porch. Get a U-Lock or a hefty bike-specific chain. Little U-locks are great to carry but generally mean that you can’t lock up as much stuff or to as many different things. Your call. Keep reading to better understand how lock size might make a difference.
(Other locks you shouldn’t trust: locks with cylindrical keys, cheap hardware store chains, big thick expensive cable locks that seem like they should be secure…but aren’t.)
Lock up the expensive stuff.
It’s tough to lock up everything on your bike, but you should at least lock up the bike itself as this photo illustrates. When locking up, prioritize the items you want to keep. That usually means the frame and at least one wheel. Don’t forget about those lights, pumps, and cyclecomputers, either. Lights, with their handy AA and AAA batteries, tend to disappear very quickly downtown.
Beware of quick releases.
Quick-releases — those little levers that make it easy to remove your wheels and seatpost — are great if you find yourself removing your wheels and seatpost frequently. There’s a reason, though, why most European city bikes don’t have them: they make it really easy for thieves to steal your wheels, seatpost, and saddle. Consider replacing your quick release “skewers” with a secure system like the one made by Pitlock. It’s easy and worthwhile to replace the seatpost quick-release with a bolt (see photo above). Otherwise, plan on locking up your wheels or risk having them stolen.
A note about bolt-on wheels.
Many bikes, particularly cheaper bikes, cruisers, BMX bikes, european city bikes, and fixed-gear bikes have their wheels secured with 15mm nuts. On cheaper bikes, it’s generally considered safe in Portland to consider these wheels “locked up,” but in reality, all a thief needs is a 15mm wrench. I carry one in my bag. They’re not hard to find. So if you’ve got a hot new track bike with a $2000 wheelset, before imitating a messenger and locking up just the frame with your mini u-lock, keep in mind the fact that most messengers don’t leave their bikes locked up for long during the workday. If you want those wheels to stick around, you should lock them up.
Which wheel to lock up?
Some say you should lock your front wheel because it’s “easier to steal.” Others say you should lock the rear because it’s worth more. I fall decidedly in the latter camp. With quick releases, front wheels take 6 seconds to remove while rear wheels take 7 and they’re more difficult and expensive to replace. What’s more, it’s easy to lock up a rear wheel and frame with even the smallest u-lock (see next entry). Note in the picture above: the bike on the left’s rear wheel has been stolen and the front wheel has been released, but it’s locked. Interesting to note that the bike on the right only has its frame locked despite the obvious evidence of wheel thieves operating nearby.
Locking up a lot with a little.
In the picture above, the u-lock only goes around two things: the bike rack and the bike’s wheel. If you think about it, though, it’s locking up the frame as well. This is because it is impossible to remove the frame when the rear wheel is locked within the rear triangle of the frame. Unless a thief wants to cut the tire, tube, and rim, this is a secure way to lock up your rear wheel and frame with even a very small lock. Note how much room is left. Extra room around your u-lock is actually a bad thing as it gives thieves room to fit tools. But if you want to lock up both wheels with one lock, this space comes in very handy.
These extra inches come in very handy when you are locking to something thick or if you have big tires and/or fenders. It is possible, though, to lock up a skinny-tired road bike this way using a mini-u-lock.
If you want to lock up both wheels but don’t want to be taking one off all the time, consider pairing a cable with your u-lock. Most bike shops sell cables with loops on the ends for this purpose. Cables, as we’ve established, are not thiefproof, but if they are only locking up a wheel, most thieves will seek lower hanging fruit. Just be sure to lock the frame with the u-lock.
Know the serial number for your bike.
Write it down. Now. Grab a pen and paper, step away from this computer, go to your bike, peruse the frame around your bottom bracket for the serial number, write it down along with the make and model of your bike, and then put it someplace you’ll never forget (like your freezer) and email the info to yourself. You can even write it down on this nice City of Portland form. Without this information, it is nearly impossible to get a stolen bike back through the police.
Tips and resources