About Bike Theft and The Best Ways to Protect a Bike From It

February 11, 2023

Bicycle theft happens to everybody

I have had three bikes stolen, a pair of them during an especially painful summer. No wonder, bicycle theft is a common problem for cyclists, as bikes are often targeted by thieves for their ease of resale and portability. Well over 3.000.000 bikes get stolen in the EU alone every year.

First of all, let's compile and explore the methods thieves usually use. We are not talking about joyriders prowling on careless bike owners and their unlocked bikes, but more serious offenders.

Bike thief's techniques

There are several techniques to steal bicycles. The technique an offender uses will often be directly linked to the cyclist’s locking practices (i.e., the type of lock the cyclist uses and the way he or she applies it). When the bike is unlocked or poorly secured, little skill is required.

Lifting - Thieves lift the bike and lock it over the top of the post to which the bike is secured. If it is a signpost, then the thieves may remove the sign to lift the bicycle clear. Sometimes the post itself is not anchored securely and can be lifted clear of  the bike and the lock

Levering - Thieves will use the gap between the stand and the bike left by a loosely fitted lock to insert tools such as jacks or bars to lever the lock apart. Thieves will even use the bike frame itself as a lever by rotating it against the stand or other stationary object to which it is locked. Either the bike or the lock will break. The thief doesn’t mind which—after all, it’s not his or her bike!

Striking - If a cyclist locks a bicycle leaving the chain or lock touching the ground, thieves may use a hammer and chisel to split the securing chain or lock.

Unbolting - Thieves know how to undo bolts and quick-release mechanisms. If a cyclist locks a bike by the wheel alone, then it may be all that is left when the cyclist returns. If a cyclist locks only the frame, then a thief may remove a wheel or wheels. In this case, if a cyclist leaves a wheelless bike with the intent of picking it up later, then the thief may return before the cyclist returns and remove the rest of the bike.

Cutting - Thieves are known to use tin snips, bolt cutters, hacksaws, and angle grinders to cut their way through locks and chains to steal bicycles.

Picking - For locks requiring keys, thieves can insert tools into the keyhole itself  and pick the lock open

Factors contributing to bike theft

It's all about understanding the risk specific to your environment so you know what has to be done to minimize the chance of crappy bike theft, let's say experience.

Anyways, understanding contributing factors can help you frame your local analysis questions, determine good effectiveness measures, recognize key intervention points, and select appropriate responses.

Your local bicycle theft problem can take many forms, and you will need to determine the specific nature of the problem to produce an effective response. It may be limited to, or a combination of, thefts from in or around victims’ homes; thefts from public spaces; or thefts from particular areas such as university campuses or transit hubs. Knowledge of the location, facilities available, and types of bicycles stolen will aid in identifying conditions that might contribute to the problem.

This knowledge can also help you identify who is committing the offenses, and why. For example, where the quantity of stolen bikes recovered is high, a high proportion of  offenders are probably joyriders. Preventive efforts for such offenders will differ from those for offenders who sell bicycles (acquisitive/volume offenders).

Why are bikes so popular with thieves?

“In the Ellensburg study, it was found that police were less likely to recover expensive bikes than to recover cheaper ones.”

Bicycle theft is a good example of an opportunistic crime. Some of the reasons for this are encapsulated by the acronym CRAVED, which outlines why bicycles are attractive targets for theft. It is because they are:

Concealable - Most thieves will look inconspicuous riding away on a stolen bicycle, which effectively makes the crime concealable. In addition, offenders steal many bikes from public places where passersby conceal the theft.

Removable - If poorly locked, bicycles are easy to take and ride away. In other cases, quick-release features such as wheels or seat posts that are not appropriately secured require little effort to steal.

Available - Increased bicycle ownership and use provide more opportunities for theft and a greater demand for bicycles and replacement parts. In addition, poor locking practices by cyclists ensure a constant supply of available targets.

Valuable - Bicycles are not cheap, some costing thousands of euros. In the Ellensburg study, it was found that police were less likely to recover expensive bikes than to recover cheaper ones.

Enjoyable - Many thieves steal a bike simply because they want one. This may be to replace one that was stolen from them, or just for pleasure. Analysis of  British Crime Survey data showed that the risk of theft for “sporty” bicycles such as mountain bikes or BMXs was twice as high as that for “ordinary” bicycles.

Disposable - Thieves can easily sell stolen bikes, either “whole” or “piecemeal,” to a fence or through other outlets (such as online auctions). Evidence suggests many thieves want to sell stolen goods quickly to reap a financial profit.

Abundant “buyer’s” markets for stolen bikes may therefore provide an incentive to steal. Regrettably little is known about the market for stolen bicycles, but the proof-of-ownership problem suggests few bicycles could easily be identified as stolen, which aids the sale of stolen bikes and reduces the risk of apprehension and identification. Moreover, offenders can disguise stolen bicycles by painting different parts, altering components, or scratching any property-marking etchings, making identification harder.

Creative home bike storage

So what can be done about bike theft?

Take preventative measures to protect bikes from theft. This includes investing in high-quality locks, securing their bikes to immovable objects such as poles or bike racks, and registering their bikes with local police, where this option exists. Cyclists should also be aware of their surroundings and take extra care when leaving their bikes unattended, especially in high-risk areas.

The point is, that fortunately, there are several ways to protect your bicycle from theft and increase its chances of recovery if it is stolen. Here are some of the best ways to protect your bike:

  • First and foremost lock your bike securely: Use a high-quality U-lock to secure your bike to a fixed object, such as a bike rack or pole. Make sure to lock the frame and wheels, as thieves can easily remove just the front wheel and take the rest of the bike. Consider using two locks, such as a U-lock and a cable lock, to secure different parts of the bike.
  • Lock in a visible and well-lit area: Locking your bike in a visible and well-lit area can deter thieves and make it easier for authorities to recover your bike if it is stolen. Try to lock your bike near a busy area or in view of a surveillance camera if possible.
  • Register your bike where possible and keep an accurate description of the bike: Registering your bike with your local police department or a national bike registry can make it easier to recover if it is stolen. Make sure to take a clear photo of your bike and keep a record of the serial number and other unique identifying features.
  • Invest in anti-theft devices: There are several anti-theft devices available that you can use, such as wheel locks, frame locks, and GPS trackers and alarms such as BikeFlare VISIO, that can add an extra layer of protection to your bike. Consider purchasing one of these devices if you live in a high-risk area or plan to leave your bike unattended for extended periods of time.
  • Be aware of your surroundings: Be aware of your surroundings when you lock your bike and keep an eye out for suspicious activity. If you see someone tampering with your bike or a nearby bike, report it to the authorities.

There’s a chance the pro is staking out where your bike is stored and taking notes on how it’s secured. They probably have specific tools to break open locks. They’re in and they’re out, and they know what they’re doing.

You should still keep your bike locked and secured properly, preferably in areas with lots of pedestrians if you’re in a city. Remember to only lock your bicycle to a secure bike rack and give it a once-over before leaving it unattended.

Do not use crappy bicycle locks, ever!

Research on motor vehicle theft demonstrates the crime-reduction effects of improved locks, particularly immobilizers. While it is uncommon for security features to be integral to bicycle design, locks may reduce the vulnerability of parked bikes. The type of lock a cyclist uses is paramount. Weak locks are unlikely to deter offenders, so it is important to determine whether the types of locks victims of bicycle theft typically use could be part of the problem.

The effectiveness of a lock is also dependent on the type of bike thief. Bike thieves can be divided into three categories: “joyriders,” thieves that steal for money, and those who steal by volume. Joyriders, usually people under the age of sixteen, simply take a bike because “it is there” and they want to go for a ride. Those who steal for money are often looking for a quick profit to purchase drugs or alcohol. Those who steal by volume intend to sell the bikes, often as “used” bikes, on the gray market. A lock will very easily deter the first category, which various studies have indicated make up a significant proportion of all bike thefts. A lock can also deter the second type, especially if they are in need of cash quickly. It is estimated that if a lock takes more than five minutes to remove, the thief will move on. Bicycle locks do little to deter organized bike crime as there have been cases where entire racks have been stolen with the bikes still attached. While a lock remains the most effective way to prevent theft, it does little to aid recovery.

  • U- LOCK: Since the problem of bicycle theft is not new, there have been numerous methods, both technological and social, that have been implemented and tried over the years to prevent it. A simple and very effective method of preventing theft on the individual level is the bike lock. The basic design has not changed significantly in the past 40 years, though materials and quality have improved. Invented in 1972, the U-Lock has remained the most secure type of bike lock. Consisting of two components, a U-shaped metal bar, and a lock, it is very simple and robust. When closed, a D is formed.
  • RING LOCK: Due to the solid bar, the lock is very difficult to remove, but the trade-offs for this level of security are bulk, weight, and difficulty to transport. The ring lock is smaller and fixed to the bike. Instead of locking the bike to the rack, the ring lock prevents the rear wheel from turning - immobilizing the bike. However, such a lock still does not prevent the entire bike from being picked up and carried away. As a result, the cable lock is often also used. Similar in function to a U-Lock, the rigid bar is instead replaced with a steel or composite cable. The result is a lighter, more portable lock, but it is easier to cut.

Despite how strong it may be, a lock is only as effective as the structure it is attached to. A bike locked to a metal bike rack is generally safe.

By following these tips, you can significantly reduce the risk of your bike being stolen and increase its chances of recovery if it is. Remember, the best way to protect your bike is to take preventive measures and be vigilant about your surroundings.

My bike got stolen, now what?

Well, in that case, you better hope to have detailed information about your bicycle. The main way bikes are recovered is via a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) linked to an owner. This concept is not new, however, it is severely hampered by the fact that people often do not know the VIN number on their bikes and do not have it recorded anywhere. The sad reality is that not many bikes return to their owners. Even more so for expensive bikes that are the prey of professionals, and in this situation having a bike GPS tracker can be very useful.

Unfortunately, while a lock remains the most effective way to prevent theft, it does little to aid recovery. Hopefully, you would not be one of 80% of victims that do not report the theft to the police. Most bike thefts never get reported, the principal reasons being the same for decades:

  • The theft was the victim's fault,
  • The victim didn't think the police would find it.
There is a lot of truth in the second point as UK media Telegraph reports that the investigation suggests the national average for a suspect being identified and charged was just 1.4 percent in 2020. Just 1.4%.
BikeFlare VISIO tracking module

Bike GPS tracker

Bike tracking devices, such as BikeFlare VISIO can help during and after the theft. The device is hidden and integrated into the handlebars and can help deter theft with its integrated sound alarm or let you know when and where the bike was taken.

Read more about the topic :

The Problem of Bike Theft in Europe and the USA and Ways to Improve the Situation

Bike Thieves and Most Common Bike Theft Areas

Choosing the Best Bicycle Tracker and Alarm  

What Types of Bikes get Stolen Most Often

What Is a Proper Bike Lock?


Bicycle theft research project: report to the State Bicycle Committee of Victoria

Bike thefts left unsolved in nearly 90pc of neighbourhoods - The Telegraph

Bike Theft - U.S. Department of Justice

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