I came off the twelve hour ferry from north Cyprus, tired, a little crumpled from the lack of sleep. I made my way to the station as I was about to cheat to make haste, wanting to catch the apricot harvest and spend three days at Cappadocia before shooting east, pretty much non-stop over the mountains and into Iran to be part of the action unfolding. The bike was just behind me and in plain view while I went to get the ticket. Turned around -GONE! –Keith Hallagan
Don’t worry too much about your bike being stolen. Although it’s every bike tourist’s worst nightmare, this is one thing that honestly is very unlikely to happen.
Bicycle tourists tend to stay with their bikes most of the time and are drawn to rural areas instead of high-risk big cities. Also, a loaded touring bike is a fairly obvious thing. It’s not easy to ‘fade into the crowd’ or make a quick getaway with such a big, weighty bicycle.
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 because your bike would be very obviously something stolen, when compared with local bicycles. Also, if your bike is taken in these countries then community leaders are likely to launch a search to find the offenders! Often the thief is known to the community and has taken things from locals before.
The biggest chance of your bike being stolen is when you leave it unattended for ‘just a second’ in a town or city. “I’ll only be a minute. It’ll be fine,” you think but that’s all the time an opportunistic thief needs to hop on and ride away. It’s in these situations when you need a lock to secure your bike so it’s there when you return.
Here are some of our favourite locks:
1. Cable Lock
A good cable lock is perhaps the most useful type of lock for touring. It’s relatively lightweight, not too expensive and can be stretched around anything from bike racks to telephone poles. Make sure you get one that’s long enough (over 1 meter) and don’t go for the cheapest one. The very thin, flimsy cable locks that tend to be sold in supermarkets won’t slow a thief down at all. There are many types of cable locks. We like two locks from the Kryptonite KryptoFlex range: the 1007 Looped 7’ cable and the 815 Combo Cable Lock. Both can be used in combination with a U-lock or separate padlock.
Two locks from Kryptonite: the 1007 Looped 7’ cable (left) and the 815 Combo Cable Lock (right).
2. U-Lock or D-Lock
These locks are effective and secure but very heavy to carry on a bike tour. It’s up to you, whether the extra security is worth the added bulk. If you plan on passing through a lot of cities on your tour, a big lock like this may be worth it. For many bike tourists, however, a U-Lock is probably overkill. We like the Kryptonite Evolution Series 4 U-Lock.
If you’re going to get a U-lock go for a heavy-duty one that will be of use to you in high-risk areas such as cities.
3. Wheel Lock
This type of lock is known by at least 4 names: o-lock, ring lock, wheel lock or frame lock. It’s standard equipment on many bikes in Europe. The varying names all refer to the same thing: a lock that attaches to your frame. You put the key in and push down on a lever so that a metal ring slides between the spokes of your back tire, locking the bike.
We love wheel locks because they’re so darn convenient for quick stops while on tour. Coupled with a cable lock, they also make for a fairly secure setup. Our current touring setup includes the ABUS 4850 LH NKR wheel lock, plus a compatible cable lock that slots into the wheel lock.
In addition to buying a good lock, there are several things you can do to make your bike more secure:
1. Tip a local shopkeeper $1-2 U.S. to be your ‘bicycle security guard’.
2. Get a hotel room when staying in a city (instead of staying at a campground or in a hostel dorm room) and keep the bike in your room.
3. Lock your bike to something secure in a highly visible place – not down a dark alley.
4. Make the bicycle look undesirable. Cover brand names with tape and string your laundry across the back to dry.
5. When wild camping, lock the bike to something solid like a picnic table or tree.
6. On trains and buses, take responsibility (where possible) for loading your own bike into the cargo area. On a train, lock it inside the luggage car or take off the saddle and turn the handlebars so it can’t be easily ridden away.
For a humorous look at bike theft, read this story about a bike being dragged away by horses in Mongolia.