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
- Ways To Prevent Bicycle Theft
- Locks Suitable For Bike Touring
- Our Personal Technique
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.
- 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)
- 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
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Heavy 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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
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.
In 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.
When 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.