How to keep your bike safe from thieves

James Witts shares his top tips for preventing bike theft…all learnt from bitter experience

Credit: Getty Images

I’ve had bikes stolen. Too many bikes. Several from home. It’s upsetting, making you and your family feel vulnerable. But the latest, at the end of last year, was almost comical. 

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In early winter I noticed something different in our garden. There was something missing. Something I couldn’t quite my finger on.

 “Ahhh, that’s it,” I realised. “Our shed door’s missing!”

Yep, some nefarious individual – probably individuals – had entered our garden, unscrewed god knows how many screws from said door, cut the locks, and ridden off with my son’s and my mountain bikes. “I’ll kill them if I find ’em,” my angered (understatement) son proclaimed. He did neither.

A COMMON THEME

We’re clearly not the only ones. According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales victimisation survey, there were an estimated 288,000 incidents of bike theft between April 2017 and March 2018. From my experience, this is probably an underestimate with many not bothering to inform the police or insurance companies.

We’ve had bikes stolen from our house before. But also at work and outside Bristol library. Each time, we’ve contacted the police. The first time was not long after moving into our suburban damp Victorian cottage on the outskirts of Bristol. It was late 2008 and, once again, the shed was broken into. We called the police and, to be fair, they were great. Two officers came around that day, checked the scene of the crime, comforted us, gave us leaflets on ways to prevent future break-ins (that we clearly didn’t adhere to enough) and gave us a crime reference number.

Come the latest break-in, 11 years later, whether it was the police cuts or a rise in bike theft, the response was less useful. “Sadly, we don’t have the resources to look for your bike,” said the officer at our local station. “But here’s a crime reference number.”

No investigating, no metaphorical arm around the shoulder, no house visit. In short, if your bike’s stolen, the chances of being reunited with your pride and joy are limited, to say the least. Though there are steps you can take. Steps which I took. They didn’t result in discovery but they certainly spread the message…

  • Hit social media. I posted news of both thefts to my Twitter account and asked followers (albeit just over 1,000 of them) to forward on.
      
  • Report your bike stolen on www.stolen-bikes.co.uk. This website searches bike adverts from all the major UK classifieds including Gumtree and eBay. Just keep checking back in to see if, in the case of my bike, a Genesis Tarn mountain bike had appeared anywhere for sale. It didn’t but it’s a great source of potential discovery.

How to thief-proof your bike store

But this being, I think, the sixth and seventh bikes we’ve had stolen in 10 years, I realised it was time to crank up the security to keep the burglars out. (Or at the very least, make their ‘job’ harder.) With that in mind, these are the future-proofing steps I took five months ago (that have thus far paid off)…

1)    Replacing the shed door. In actual fact, not replacing the door, which didn’t have a mark on it (the thieves were extremely tactile!), but replacing the unscrewed screws with anti-theft screws that only tighten. Our shed is a two-door affair so I replaced the screws on the solitary-standing door, too.

2)    Finally phoned the electrician to install a security light I’d picked up years ago. “It’ll either act as a deterrent or help the burglars see,” said my wife. Thankfully, the former holds true at the moment.

3)    Bought a shed alarm. It’s a simple affair that goes off within 5secs of the doors opening. It’s called a Defender Magnetic Contact Alarm with Keypad. I bought it for £15 from Amazon and it did the job… for about a month. Then a wet spell highlighted its frugal nature, with water ingress leading to a permanent beep, beeping. Replacing the batteries helped but I’m now in search of a better-quality alternative, as this – when working – gave real peace of mind.

4)    We embraced nature by not cutting a particularly thorny tree at the bottom of the garden. It’s now reaching out along our fence and so providing a beautiful stretch of barbed wire. 

5)    When our new bikes arrived, I immediately registered them on the national cycle database at www.bikeregister.com. Here, you input your bike’s details, upload a photo but, more importantly, add your bike’s frame number. Your bike’s registration number’s the swiftest way to retrieve your bike if it’s found. It also does no harm when it comes to that insurance claim.

I also went mad with bike locks, purchasing gold-standard locks from Litelok  and Kryptonite. The former’s light for a gold-standard lock, so that’s my on-the-fly option. For home security, well, Shed Witts now resembles Alcatraz. At the heart of the defence is Kryptonite’s New York lock that’s forged from 16mm-hardened steel. It’s solid and connects two of the five bikes we have together.

Strong flex cable loops through the D-lock to connect all five together. The other three are connected via an old motorcycle lock I dug out from the attic. It’s industrial and looks like it anchored the Cutty Sark in place. I also took possession of a Kryptonite Strong Hold, which is an anchor point that you drill into concrete. Our shed’s a wooden floor so this proved redundant, until my son bought a moped. His moped’s now the safest moped in Bristol (touch wood!).

All of this information is anecdotal. I’m no qualified expert but, sadly, I’ve had to pick up tips and advice based on too much experience of nefarious bike activities. However, the plethora of security tips that follow are from a professional – namely, Daryl Slater, brand manager for Kryptonite UK. Follow Slater’s advice, learn from my many mistakes, and hopefully your bike will remain as locked down as we are just now. Stay safe…

ON THE ROAD

Kryptonite always recommends a hardened steel lock such as a D-lock or chain. However, we understand when on a ride, carrying a heavier lock isn’t always an option. But this is the ideal, certainly when commuting.

It’s best to keep your bike in sight and near you at all times when not riding. 

Carrying a cable is helpful to attach your bike to an immovable object, or another road bike, to prevent grab and dash theft, but remember it’s only a deterrent.

ON BIKE RACK OR TRUCK BED

Always lock your bikes while in transport.

With some variation based on travel location, and duration of stop, we recommend using ultimate security products when possible (D-lock or chain).

Make sure to lock to the most immovable object available. Installing a ground anchor, like the Evolution Ground Anchor, in the bed of a truck or trailer can work as a great immovable object.

AT HOME

Locking your bikes at home is crucial, especially with high-value road bikes. Garage doors aren’t as secure as you may believe and are easily violated whether you’re at work for the day or on holiday for a few weeks.

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We recommend an Ultimate Security Chain such as the New York Fahgettaboudit or New York Noose locked to an immovable object.