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Bike Security & Locks For Bicycle Touring


A lot of people are concerned about having their bike stolen while on tour but it’s really not much to worry about.

“Not much to worry about???” we hear you cry, while imagining every cycle tourist’s worst nightmare – a holiday spent in a police station filing reports, rather than enjoying the open road.

Yes, true, you might experience a repeat of the Great Mongolian Bike Robbery but it’s unlikely.

REASONS NOT TO WORRY

Bike Theft Is Rare.
Bicycle tourists tend to stay with their bikes most of the time and are drawn to rural areas instead of high-risk big cities. You don’t find many ‘model offenders’ out in the countryside as a general rule. The most common bike thieves are young men under 20 who do it for the thrill or to make a quick buck for drugs or other goods. (See source)

If you’re worried about your bike in places where poverty is relatively common we have one word of advice: relax.

We had no bike security issues when we cycled through some of the world’s poorest countries. The people there were among the most hospitable of our trip. In general, they would not steal a bike because the traveller is an honoured guest and also because your bike would be very obviously something stolen, when compared with local bicycles.

If your bike is taken in these countries, you may find community leaders will launch a search to find the offenders! Often the thief is known to the community and has taken things from locals before.

Theft Can Be Minimised

  • Get a decent lock (more on that later)
  • Cycle with friends so there’s always someone to watch the bike for short excursions (grocery shopping)
  • Budget for hotels in city locations so you can sightsee without leaving your bike in the street
  • Lock your bike better than the other bikes around it
  • Attach your bike to something secure (not a flimsy fence or a pole that the bike can be lifted over)
  • Make it look undesirable (cover brand names with tape, pack the top of your panniers with dirty underwear, string your laundry across the back of the bike to dry)You won't lose this bike in a street!
  • Put it somewhere very visible and not down a dark alley
  • Ask a shopkeeper to keep an eye on it
  • Bring it inside at night or, if camping, by securing it to something like a tree
  • Take extra care when using public transport. Be responsible for loading your bike into the luggage vans of trains. Lock it inside the carriage if possible or take off the seatpost and turn the handlebars so it can’t be just driven away.

You Can Prevent Bike Theft

Make sure you do a good job locking up your bike. See what happens when you lock only part of your bike (there’s more by the same author on the Lock Your Bike blog).

Remember that if you use a cable lock and a U-lock or D-lock then that’s 2 sets of tools the no-good thief has to use to steal your bike. Even if you’re not worried at all about theft, locking up your bike is good practice because your insurance won’t pay out if it was just left unsecured outside a shop.

LOCKS FOR BIKE TOURING

 

Now that we’ve convinced you to buy and use a bike lock, which one should you spend your hard-earned cash on? It’s a good question and the topic of a continually heated debate among cyclists. Here are some of the pros and cons of various locks:

cablelock.jpegCable Locks such as the Kryptonite KryptoFlex ($13.45 from REI) or £10.99 from Wiggle).

  • Typical Use: Good for low-risk areas and short breaks off the bike (supermarket shopping, for instance)
  • Pros: Lightweight. Cheap. Easy to carry. Long and can stretch around bulky things like telephone poles and all your bags.
  • Cons: Easily cut through by a thief. Cheapest ones are totally useless. All cable locks are easily cut through by any determined thief. Not for big cities without at least one other type of lock.

cablelock.jpegWheel Locks such as the ABUS 4850 LH NKR. Read our full review of wheel locks.

  • Typical Use: Common in the Netherlands and Japan. Fits around the back wheel of your bike. Super handy for quick stops and very effective when combined with one other lock.
  • Pros: Always on the bike (attached to the frame) so you can’t forget it and don’t have to store it anywhere special. Uncommon and in an unusual place on the bike, so not very easy for a thief to break.
  • Cons: Can be heavy. Won’t fit all bike frames. If not used with another lock, a thief can just roll your bike away.

ulock.jpegD-Lock or U-Lock such as the OnGuard Bulldog Mini ($21.93) or Kryptonite U-lock (£44.99)

  • Typical Use: Essential for cities and anywhere you are concerned about leaving your bike.
  • Pros: More secure than a cable lock. Looks very offputting to the casual thief.
  • Cons: Heavy to carry. Can be expensive. Its restrictive shape means it might not fit around all objects you want to lock your bike to.

chainlock.jpegHeavy Chain Lock

  • Typical Use: Usually only seen in cities, on very expensive bikes.
  • Pros: Very secure. You can sleep soundly with this on your bike!
  • Cons: Expensive, heavy and bulky. It’s overkill for most bike tours unless you have a top-end bike and are going to many cities.

zefal-lock-n-roll-wheel-skewer-set.jpgWheel Skewers such as the  OnGuard Locking Skewer ($44.95) or Zefal Skewer (£26.99)

  • Typical Use: Often used by bike tourists. Like the cable lock, it’s great for short stops.
  • Pros: Easily fitted. Always on your bike. Weighs virtually nothing. Not too expensive. Prevents wheels being stolen.
  • Cons: The thief could just carry your bike away, so another lock is probably needed.

dog anchor.jpgDog Anchor Screw

  • Typical Use: Ideal for tenting and wild camping.
  • Pros: Can be screwed into the ground when there’s nothing else to secure your bike to. Prevents a bike locked by your tent from just being carried away. Cheap. Widely available.
  • Cons: Bulky and a little heavy. Still depends on a good lock. Useless if the ground is too hard.

Bike Alarm

  • Typical Use: Makes a loud noise for a ‘scare’ factor.
  • Pros: Attracts attention. Creates surprise. Very light. Cheap.
  • Cons: Some alarms aren’t sensitive enough to movement. Others fail after being exposed to a lot of rain. Kids see the alarm as a game, and like to try and set it off. Also, will anyone pay attention? Look how many people ignore car alarms.

See a good test of various locks to help make your decision.

WHAT WE DO

 

We have both a cable lock and a D-Lock.

In most scenarios we just use the cable lock to stop the passing Mr. Bad Guy from taking our bikes but in busier places, if we must leave our bikes, we use both locks for peace of mind.

Mostly we leave our baggage on the bikes. It looks disheveled and faded enough now that we think it’s pretty unattractive. But we always take our handlebar bag with us, which contains our money, passports and camera, and we often take the bag with our computer and other electronic gadgets along as well. That way, even if the bikes are stolen, we haven’t lost the things that are most expensive or hardest to replace.

If carrying all those things is too much of a burden (at an archaeological site, for example, where there’s lots of walking), we arrange the bikes so that Andrew’s back bag with the computer in it is against a wall or in a corner or other hard to reach spot. Then we put Friedel’s bike against Andrew’s bike so the most valuable things are the hardest to reach. We try to do all this next to the ticket booth or security office, where people are the least likely to cause trouble.

75-Wild camping in Syria.jpgIn cities, we tend to get a room in a hostel or budget hotel so we can see the sights without feeling like we have to lug our bags around or find a secure spot to lock our bikes. Often the hotel will have a storage room where you can leave your bike or they will let you take it into the room. If they won’t give you a place where you feel comfortable leaving your bike, find another establishment.

When camping in big towns and cities, we tend to leave the bikes locked in the campground, store valuables at reception and use public transport to get around.

210-Bikes and Queen Charlotte Sounds.JPGWhen wild camping, we try to find somewhere discreet anyway for our own security. The idea is that no one should know we are there, which leaves no possibility for anyone to attack us during the night or steal our things. However, this doesn’t always work out as planned, particularly in the Middle East and Central Asia where there are a lot of open plains and wandering shepherds! We always felt the risk was quite low but locked our bikes to each other and tied a few strings of the tent to the bikes, just in case someone decided to try something funny.

One effective technique we’ve seen is to get a length of fishing line and attach several bells to it. Once your tent is set up, run the line around your tent using nearby trees and bushes, at about knee-height. The idea is that if anyone comes during the night and tries to approach your tent, they will trip over the wire and fall, causing lots of commotion and ringing bells and alerting you to the problem. Hopefully they will be disoriented and shaken enough to run away! The downside is that the bells can also shake in the wind or if an animal passes by, which might unnecessarily startle you.

Finally, if the worst happens we have recorded our bike serial numbers and we have good photos of them to help the police. But hopefully, we’ll never need to use this information.

What Next?
Related Pages
 

5 Responses to “Bike Security & Locks For Bicycle Touring”

  1. Hi!
    I’m planning a RTW bike tour beginning next year. I’ll have to buy most of my gear in Europe (bike, panniers, tent, sleeping bags including) because we don’t have all the equipment here in Brazil plus what it has is very expensive and I’m kinda concerned about locking our bikes.
    I have your “Bike Touring Equipment List” in a Word file sharing my the 2nd computer screen with an Excel spreadsheet so I can check all gear I’ll need to buy.
    I would like to know if you carry 2 D-Locks or just one. If it’s just one for both bikes, is it the 10.25″ one?
    Kind regards,
    André.

  2. scott says:

    You have done this really well, folks! We have been touring on and off for 30 years, and endorse your words heartily.
    I use a substantial-looking, thick but rather innocuous cable lock which is long enough to secure both bikes. It looks really messy and complicated. I keep the actual lock out of sight and in an awkward place… the theory being that if it LOOKS difficult to steal a thief will probably take a simpler mark.
    But in reality, one person guards while one shops… and when sight-seeing we always try to find some place/person secure to put our bikes.

    That being said, brother in law Joe had his motorbike stolen despite it being locked witrh a chain that would have secured the Queen Mary… and they took the post with it!

  3. pjd says:

    all-time best method is just hooking a bungee cord discreetly from the back rack to a spoke. the bike will be totally immobile if a thief attempts to ride off with it.

    a variation on this can be done when camping too. good idea when camping is to lay the bike down and get the drive train underneath the rain fly (keeps it dry if it rains). then use a bungee cord and discreetly tie up a wheel to a tent pole. anyone trying to grab the bike will take the tent with you inside it.

    chains and locks are mostly useless (and heavy) and draw immediate attention to a thief carrying the tools to break them. but a bike that weighs too much fully loaded to pick up and carry away, and the wheels for some reason wont turn (because of a discreetly hooked bungee cord) will turn off a thief instantly.

    the bungee cord trick comes from Touring On Two Wheels by the great Dennis Coello.

    i’ve also got more ideas on security and wild camping selection on my touring blog.

  4. Gaz says:

    A tip that I don’t think I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere. For use when camping.

    Get a personal attack alarm, which is activated by pulling out a pin. Like this one here http://www.cctvalarmshop.co.uk/images/products/%27wgmk001%27.jpg (it will need a loop connected to the pin and a loop connected to the main body).

    When you go to sleep, attach one loop to the bike and one to a tent peg or a hoop on your tent (Make sure it’s pretty secure). If someone tries to take your bike the pin will be pulled out and cause the alarm to sound. It might deter the thief. It WILL wake you up.

    Like most other suggestions, it’s best combined with a good lock. It will add very little to the weight and cost of your gear.

  5. Spyros says:

    Recording the serial number and photographing the bikes, doesnt help. The police in many countries won’t spend more than 5 minutes with your lost bikes. They will just register the steal and that’s it. They are just not interested.

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