Bike theft is a crime of opportunity. Thieves are looking for low-hanging fruit, especially bikes that are left unlocked or locked inadequately. Follow these best practices to help deter bike thieves.
Not all bike locks are created equal—tougher is better. U-locks and heavy-duty chain locks are harder to cut and offer greater protection.
A cable lock is not secure enough to be your primary or only lock. They’re comparatively easy to cut with concealed tools, which is why bikes locked with cable locks get stolen so often. However, you may wish to use a cable lock to secure a wheel or seat to your U-lock.
And yes, U-locks and heavy-duty chains cost more than cable locks. But when you compare the additional expense to the cost and headache of replacing a stolen bike, spending on a solid lock is a smart investment.
PRO TIP: Some lock manufacturers offer low-cost anti-theft insurance to help you replace a stolen bike. Look for it when you’re shopping for a lock.
Different styles of bike racks offer different levels of security.
The most secure styles—the inverted U, A and post and loop styles, as well as the Stanford rack (designed at Stanford University)—allow you to lock your bike frame to the rack in a secure manner. (Sacramento-based company Ground Control Systems manufactures a variant of the Stanford rack called a ‘bike dock’ used for City of Sacramento bike corrals and in campus settings.) All these styles offer two points of contact for your frame, which helps to keep your bike stable.
You’ll want to avoid locking to anything that can be easily cut, broken, dismantled, or carried away, such as shrubs or chain-link fencing. And keep handrails clear for pedestrians with limited mobility.
Even though you can lock your frame to a wave rack, this style of rack doesn’t provide much stability and it’s hard to park in the interior spots when the end spots are in use. And wave racks are often installed incorrectly in ways that make them harder to use. If you have to use one, position your bike parallel to the length of the rack, for stability, and lock to your frame.
Bike docks at R & 10th
Right lock + wrong technique + wrong rack = FAIL
The old-school comb and toast styles (sometimes called “wheel benders”) are designed for locking your wheel only, which is never secure. Avoid these racks! But if one of these is absolutely your only parking option, park across the end of it and lock to your frame.
WARNING: Bikes left out overnight on the street usually disappear or get dismantled, even if locked correctly with a strong lock to a secure rack. There’s no way to adequately secure your bike overnight on the street, no matter which neighborhood you park in!
Visibility is key to bike security. Locking your bike in a visible, central location, such as near a busy building entrance, puts more eyes on your bike, which discourages all but the boldest thieves. At night, that spot should be well-lit, too.
If you’re lucky, there’s a bike rack where you want to leave your bike. If there isn’t one, or it’s not visible and central, you’re better off locking to a tall sign post or metal fencing in a visible and central location.
PRO TIP: If there isn’t adequate bike parking at your workplace or a routine destination such as the grocery store, ask your employer or the manager or owner to install a bike rack or upgrade what’s there. Be prepared to show them what you mean — if they don’t ride a bike, they may need to be educated.
In these classic videos, a New Yorker tells it like it is about the right and wrong ways to lock a bike: Hal Grades Your Bike Locking, Hal (and Kerri) Grade Your Bike Locking and Hal Grades Your Bike Locking 3: The Final Warning!