Saturday, March 7, 2009

Guarding against Bike Theft

Rita Coolidge said, "Many of us have heard opportunity knocking at our door, but by the time we unhooked the chain, pushed back the bolt, turned two locks, and shut off the burglar alarm--it was gone." Never let fear spoil your bike trip.

Some people
never take
While theft is a legitimate fear, there are usually much bigger concerns on any bicycle journey. Obviously, in high crime areas you should not leave your bike unattended, and these areas are best avoided unless no alternative exists to your objective. My experience from over thirty-five years in the bike business is that the overwhelming number of stolen bicycles are stolen when left unlocked. The environs of certain bike theft zones, like NYC and Boston, certainly being exceptions but with good locks millions of cyclists park their bikes and find them where they left it when they return every day.

Bike theft can be a problem anywhere, and bikes priced well into four digits USD are not unusual nowadays. Locking it where you can keep and eye on it, and asking shopkeepers, waitstaff and others to "please keep an eye on it" while you attend to the needful will go a long way (it is nice to travel with a pal sometimes). When exploring a new environ, a local bike shop will typically be glad to store your bike for a few hours. I always buy supplies when visiting a local shop, as a practical token of good-will.

Even a minimally loaded touring bike (especially one with drop bars) is not much of a theft target compared to a shiny new department store mountain bike. Even a stupid thief is going to figure that the owner is close by a bike loaded with gear, and how wise is it to tangle with a hundred-mile per day cyclist fresh off a break? A good lock used religiously (I know it is a pain) will go a long way to preserving your bike.

Asian model

A theft-proof lock is of no value if it is too cumbersome for you to engage consistently while traveling. One solution is a type of frame lock that, while de rigueur in Europe and Asia, has not caught on yet in the United States. This lock conveniently mounts on the seat stays, and quickly secures the bike by means of a rectractable circular shaft that immobilizes the rear wheel, preventing "ride off" thefts. For additional security, a simple vinyl coated wire-rope can be looped around a bike rack, through your helmet, pannier loops and frame and finally secured to the same shaft. We carry a very nice German made model. Should you venture to the Far East, you can pick up the less beefy Asian equivalent for spare change on many urban street corners.

An empty holster slung over the handlebars and a conspicuously discarded Winchester box can send a message too.

"If I had only known,
I would have
been a locksmith."
—A. Einstein

Take valuables with you and keep a stash of emergency cash and credit cards in more than one spot. A burn wallet with your daily cash needs is a good idea when venturing into a place where you might be robbed by confrontation. Being bike-less and penniless in a strange town is much worse than being just bike-less.

There is always insurance--renters, homeowners, special sports equipment or travel policy. Mark sure it is a replacement cost policy. Insurance companies have tables that will make anything purchased yesterday worth nothing when you file a claim--the miracle of voodoo depreciation. Make sure it covers your gear too, as gear might exceed the cost of the bike. Find out details of how to file a claim, and the conditions and meet them, before your trip, not after.

As Jenny Jones of London Parliament says, "Part of the joy of cycling is the ability to stop off where you want, nip into a shop, have a quick coffee and do all those little things along your route that are more awkward when traveling by bus, Tube or cab."

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