Five DOs and DON’Ts to Keep Your Bike From Getting Stolen

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September is Bike Commute Challenge month, and that means it’s time for a refresher course on how to lock your bike so it doesn’t get stolen. Anyone who’s had a bike stolen knows that sinking feeling when you see a big empty space where your bike used to be. Don’t let it happen to you.

Here are five things you can do to keep your bike safe and secure and not miss a chance to log those bike trips.

Photo by Joe Mabel

1. DO always lock your bike. 

I know this sounds simple, but even in places where it seems like it would be okay to keep it unlocked — like in your backyard, the hallway of your apartment building, or your porch — there’s a chance of getting your unlocked bike stolen.

When you stop in somewhere, and you can’t take your bike inside, always lock it up. Even if you are going to be in for a minute. If you don’t have anywhere to lock it up, you can lock the front wheel to the frame to keep someone from running off with it. In the worst case scenario, if you are forgetful like I am, and don’t have a lock, but you have to be gone for just a second, put your bike upside down, or take off a wheel if you have a quick release.

Bottom line: get into the habit of locking your bike, you will begin to do it automatically without even thinking about it.

If you have a really nice bike, even the strongest lock might not deter a thief from stealing it. If you have to park your bike outside for long period of time during work or school, consider investing in a cheaper bicycle to ride on those days. It’s not a good idea to spray paint your fancy bike to make it look less valuable. A thief with a good eye will still be able to recognize it.

2. DO lock it to something solid. 

Always lock to the most sturdy object that you can find. Small trees that a bike lock can fit around can be cut down. If you lock up to a signpost, it is possible for a tall thief to take the top of the sign off and pull your bike over the top. (It has happened before.) Ideally, you would lock to a bike rack, but in our less than perfect world, you have to make do.

When your are scouting out a location to lock your bike, consider locking your bike in a well lit, high traffic area. If you can, lock up where there are a lot of other bikes.

3. DON’T use cable locks.


Cable locks are flexible and can make it easier to lock your bike in awkward situations, but they can be cut quickly with bolt cutters or a hacksaw. They may keep honest people honest, but are little deterrence for someone intent on stealing your bike.

Get a U-lock or a hefty bike chain. With the U-lock, lock it with the keyhole facing down as it will make it more difficult for someone to break the lock.

4. DON’T assume your bike accessories and quick release wheels are safe just because your frame is locked up. 

Take your easily removable items with you like lights-which disappear quickly when left in a high traffic area, pumps, quick release wheels, seats, and cyclecomputers.

You want to lock your wheels if they are quick release. Quick releases, which are those little levers that make it easy to remove wheels and seatposts are great if you remove these when you leave your bike. If you don’t, they make it really easy to steal your gear. Consider replacing the quick release on your seatpost with a bolt.  Also, think about replacing your quick releases on your wheels with security skewers. These have a unique shape that requires a special key to loosten. This makes it very difficult for a thief to steal them unless they have the key that comes with the set.

Wheels with 15mm bolts are less likely be stolen on cheaper bikes, but if someone wants to take your wheels, all they need is a wrench, which is pretty easy to come by. If you have expensive wheels that are attached with a bolt, you should lock them up.

What if you can only lock up one wheel? Some people say that you should lock up the front wheel because it is easier to steal, but others say that the back wheel is more expensive, harder to replace, and just as easy to steal, so you should lock up the back one instead. You can lock up the rear wheel easily with a small u-lock.

With this larger U-lock, you can lock up your rear wheel within the frame triangle and have room to lock up your front wheel with it too. Although your frame is not locked up, it would be very difficult for a thief to get it, because they have to cut your wheel and spokes to get to it.

A friend of mine who is an avid bicycle rider doesn’t like the idea taking your front wheel off to lock to the back. He says that it causes a “broken window effect” because your bike looks all sad with the front wheel taken off, and it will cause it to be more of a target. If you want to lock up both wheels but don’t want to be taking off the wheel all the time, you can get a cable lock to lock up your wheels. Most bike shops will sell cables with looped ends for this purpose. Although thieves can cut cables, when they see two locks, they will usually look for something easier to steal.

5. DO write down the serial number for your bike.

Write it down, put it somewhere you won’t lose it, and email it to yourself. It can usually be found on the bottom of the bottom bracket.  Also, you can put a piece of paper with your information inside of the handlebar grips, in case you come across it someday on the street. Also, consider taking photos of your bike so that you can post it on the internet so that others can help you get your bike back if it gets stolen.

The City of Portland also provides this form that you can fill out. This information is important because it may help you get your bike back more easily.

If your workplace lacks secure bike parking, why not try to rally your co-workers together to ask for an area where you can keep your bike secure?

Thanks for Carl for providing inspiration for this post. Here are some more tips on your bike secure.

Tips on how to lock your bike, with pictures! – bike theft resources 

Howcast video on how to not get your bike stolen




Comments (12)

  1. Dan O Permalink  | Sep 04, 2012 03:54pm

    Good article, and yeah a good U-lock goes a long way (I like the Kryptonite Evolution Mini), but…

    … even locked, “there’s a chance of getting your bike stolen”.

    Sounds simple, but don’t let it out of your sight in any insecure place.

    (That’s not one of the old “Kryptoloks” that open with a Bic pen, is it?)

  2. Dan O Permalink  | Sep 04, 2012 09:13pm

    … By the same token, I can leave my bike unlocked anywhere here in Mayberry no problem.

  3. Alexis Permalink  | Sep 05, 2012 07:59pm

    I love my security skewers, but here’s a protip: don’t forget to leave the key with the bike shop when you take it in!

  4. ENNELL Permalink  | Sep 05, 2012 08:27pm

    I was glad to see recommendations, and pleased to find I already follow all of the guidelines you listed. However, I ALWAYS use both a cable lock and a U-LOCK, and make sure the cable goes through both wheels. I don’t trust either of them individually. I know how easy it is to cut the cable lock, and I was disappointed to find on YouTube several videos showing how easy it is to open a U-Lock–in some cases as easy as using a Bic pen.
    I keep hoping a better lock will show up, but I haven’t found it yet.

  5. Eric Permalink  | Sep 06, 2012 07:34am

    Regarding opening a U Lock with a pen, Kryptonite had a recall because of that. The new ones are suppose to be much better. I was able to send my old one (20 plus years) in for free and received a new one. If you have one 5 years and older you may want to see if the recall is still valid.

  6. Christine Bierman Permalink  | Sep 06, 2012 06:17pm

    Thank you, Carl, for these valuable tips. I never thought of putting my bike upside=down in a pinch, or locking the U lock with the keyhole down. In Gresham, where I live and work, I often don’t find bike racks around malls or public places. Or, for example, at Kaiser in Rockwood, the bike rack, while covered, is distant from the building–far from an easily-visible place, or where people come and go all of the time. Perhaps the BTA can campaign for more bike racks; maybe they, like public art, can be required for new (large) buildings?

  7. indy Permalink  | Sep 07, 2012 12:23pm

    The best way to keep your bike safe is to keep it out of the public eye. If it’s visible to the public, it’s a target, regardless of whether it’s locked up or not.

    Don’t both locking up your bike in public after dark falls in this city. You are seriously playing with fire unless you keep a sharp eye on it.

  8. Melissa York Permalink  | Sep 20, 2012 08:50am

    The ‘form’ link does not work correctly. Can you please give me the correct link to city of Portland’s form?

    The City of Portland also provides this form that you can fill out. This information is important because it may help you get your bike back more easily.

  9. Margaux Mennesson Permalink  | Sep 20, 2012 08:57am

    Melissa, the link has been fixed.

  10. Bryan Hance Permalink  | Nov 27, 2015 12:26pm

    Another tip missing from this list – register your bike (free!) over at, the free online bike registration system. BikeIndex has a very long track record of stolen bike recoveries, and it only takes a few minutes to add your bikes.