At Varsity Bike & Transit, we take bike locks and security very seriously.
The most important rule of bike security is ALWAYS LOCK YOUR BIKE. This includes anywhere your bike is not directly connected with your body. In your garage, office, house, apartment, or even in the bike corral at the end of a race or event. If you want to keep your bike, lock it.
Most bikes are stolen because owners do not lock their bikes. Always carry a lock if there is any chance you will be leaving your bike. That includes the one minute run into the coffee shop, store, or a friend’s house.
Lock your bike to something permanent. Free locking, i.e. locking your bike wheel to the frame, and not to something immobile is the next easiest way for someone to steal your bike. They can toss it into a truck, van or other vehicle and be off in seconds. Then they have all the time they need to defeat even the best lock.
It is always sad to see the seat or wheel of a bike locked to a rack because the rest of the bike left with a thief. Lock the main frame to a permanent object that is either extremely heavy or solidly mounted to the ground. Test what you are going to lock your bike to. Some signposts can be loosened so they can be pulled out of the ground easily. Bike racks sometimes are not cemented into place or bolted to the ground. Trees can be cut through. Be respectful of the environment and other people when locking up your bike. Locking to a tree is not the best for the tree. Locking up at a bus stop might get in the way of people loading the bus. And, do not lock to another bike unless you know them. A well-lit and highly traveled spot is the best place for locking up.
Some cities like Minneapolis have bike lockers for rent. These add another layer of protection for your bike. But even in a locker, your garage, or inside your house, locking your bike will make it harder to steal.
Once a good spot has been found to lock up, proper use of your lock can make a big difference in making it harder for your bike to be stolen. One of the most common tools used to steal a bike is a large bolt cutter. To get leverage, the thief will rest one end of the bolt cutter on the ground and put their weight on the other end to quickly cut the lock. If you lock your bike high enough, like on the top tube, then the thief cannot use this technique.
To make it harder to break the lock, fill up as much of the lock space with the bike. Another way thieves steal bikes is by using a small car jack to break the two pieces of a U-lock apart. By using up as much space in the lock, there is not room to use a car jack.
Though some people might suggest leaving a lock if you always park at the same rack, we do not recommend this for several reasons. It could encourage you to violate the first rule of bike security: ALWAYS LOCK YOUR BIKE. You might want to stop somewhere and then you do not have your lock. Additionally, locks left out in the weather for long periods of time are much more prone to freezing up because the internals can corrode. Any lock should be lubed with the same lube you use on the chain once a month to keep rust away.
The type of lock to use is very important. The best styles of locks are U-locks and hardened chains with a high-quality lock. Cable locks are a good secondary lock for wheels and seats but do not rely on them except in very low-risk areas. U-locks have the advantage of being less expensive and come in small sizes. Hardened chains are flexible so some lock breaking techniques do not work on them. Two locks of different styles, for example, a U-lock with a cable lock or a U-lock with a chain lock gives you the best protection.
There are many different brands, styles, and prices of U-locks. The easiest rule of thumb is the price. Generally, the more expensive the lock, the stronger it is. A basic $20 U-lock can be easily cut with a bolt cutter or broken with a hammer. The steel is not hardened and the internals will be made out of nonstainless steel which can corrode and seize up so you cannot open the lock. Better U-locks in the $40 range have stronger steel and the internals will be brass for less corrosion. These locks will come with a guarantee and a registration to keep track of your key number for lost keys. The next step in U-locks at $60-$80 have even better and/or thicker hardened steel shackles, a better guarantee, and stronger internals. The highest priced U-locks at $100-$150 have the thickest best steel and the manufacturer will even guarantee the lock in New York City. You should buy the smallest size U-lock that will work for your bike and where you park it. The smaller it is, the harder it is to break.
Unless you want to spend $100 or more, do not get a chain lock. The cheaper models are the easiest locks to cut with a bolt cutter. The more expensive ones are built out of hardened steel and come with a lock that is equally strong.
Hopefully, by locking up in the right place with a good lock correctly, your bike will not get stolen. If your bike does get stolen, however, registering it can make it much easier to recover. First, make sure you have a picture of your bike and the serial number which is located on the underside of the frame on the bottom bracket. Keep a record of the picture, your serial number, make, and model of the bike. It’s a good idea to keep a copy of the original receipt which should have most of this information on it. If you can license or register your bike locally, that is the best way. Then the local police will have your bike’s information for recovery and, in theory, it should not be able to be sold to a pawn shop. If you do not have this information, the police cannot return your bike to you if it is recovered. There are also national registration sites for free like bike registry or paid ones like national bike registry.
There are devices that can be installed on the bike so it can be tracked. They start at $100 and the battery needs to be periodically checked. Then you need to decide what to do if your bike is stolen and you track it down. Some police departments will help.
Unfortunately, you not only have to worry about your bike getting stolen but also the parts off of it can be pilfered too. The most commonly stolen parts are bike wheels and seats held on by quick releases. If your bike has any quick release parts they should be secured with an additional lock or cable. The quick releases can also be changed out for a bolt on type. These products come in two main types. The less expensive type $20 and up can be taken off with a standard Allen wrench like most of the bolts on your bike. The other type is more expensive $35 and up but needs a special tool to remove the seat or wheels.
Finally, what to do with all those parts that can be easily removed with just one or two tools? Your handlebars can be stolen in a matter of seconds with a wire cutter and an Allen wrench. It will cost at least $100 for a new stem, handlebar, shifters and brake levers. You can do things to make it harder to steal parts off of your bike, like fill in the Allen wrench tool holes with silicone or duct tape over them. Your bike shop will not love it, but it makes it harder for thieves to steal the parts off.
Sadly, this is the point where you must realize no matter what you do someone can always steal your bike or the parts off it. Your best protection for your bike, however, is simple: ALWAYS LOCK YOUR BIKE!
Varsity Bike&Transit Lock and Security options:
OnGuard Doberman Cable with key 6’x12mm $21.99
OnGuard Akita Cable 4′ x 10mm Cable without lock $8.99
OnGuard Akita Cable 7′ x 10mm Cable without Lock $11.99
Sunlite Standard U-Lock $19.99
Kryptonite Keeper $27.99
Entry Level U-Locks
Kryptonite KryptoLok series 2 STD 4″x9″ U-Lock $49.99
Kryptonite KryptoLok series 2 LS 4″x11.5″ U-Lock $44.99
Kryptonite KryptoLok series 2 STD 4″x9″ with cable U-Lock $54.99
Kryptonite KryptoLok series 2 mini 7 3.25″x7″ U-Lock $39.99
OnGuard Bulldog U-Lock ATB 5″x9″ $37.99
OnGuard Bulldog Mini DT U-Lock with Cable: 3.5 x 5.5 $29.99
Higher Security U-Locks
Kryptonite Evolution U-Lock Mini 3.25″x5″ $59.99
Kryptonite Evolution U-Lock STD 4″x9″ $69.99
Kryptonite Evolution U-Lock LS 4″x11.5″ $74.99
Kryptonite Messenger Collection Mini 3.75″x6.75″ $67.99
Kryptonite Messenger Collection Mini Plus 3.75″x6.75″ $76.99
Kryptonite Kryptolok Series 2 955 mini $54.99
Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Mini U-Lock: 3.25″ x 6″ $99.99
Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Chain & Disc Lock: 3.25″ $124.99