You know what sucks? Getting your pride and joy stolen. You know what’s easy? Keeping your bike safe. But doing so isn’t so much a case of fitting an alarm or buying a lock, it’s more a way of thinking and a system of practices you need to learn to live by. Like good riding, it’s just a skill you have to learn if you’re going to be a lifelong motorcyclist. Don’t worry, we’re here to help.
The basic theory
Here’s the thing. If a determined, skilled thief decides he wants your bike, there’s really nothing you can do to prevent him from taking it. There’s no chain that can’t be cut, no alarm that can’t be defeated, no garage door that can’t be opened. But, what you can do is make your bike less desirable to that thief by making it take more time to steal than his potential profit merits. You can make your bike less appealing than others on the same street or in the same area. You want any potential thief to pass your bike over for an easier or more desirable target.
The best way to achieve this is through layers of security. A single lock, even if it’s a good one, presents only a single obstacle to a would-be thief. A well-lit parking space, covered bike, alarm and locks on both wheels, however, combine to make yours a less inviting target.
How and why thieves steal bikes
Very few thieves are looking to ride your bike away from the scene of the crime. Unless, that is, they’re simply responding to a target of opportunity such as an unattended bike with its key in the ignition. Instead, they’re likely stealing to order and using a van or truck for the getaway. That order? Parts, not a whole bike, meaning they don’t mind damaging it in the theft. Using a truck or van also means the theft need take only seconds; they just snap whatever lock you’re using, then pick it up, throw it in the back and drive off. No need to take time with a ramp or tie-downs, your baby is lying on its side.
Because they’re looking to sell parts, thieves are also looking for common bikes that are commonly damaged and that have expensive components. Sportsbikes, mainly Japanese ones. They’re simply the biggest market for things like swingarms, frames, engines and other components. That means the easiest deterrent is simply to avoid advertising.
If thieves looking to steal a specific bike or a specific type of bike don’t see that bike, they won’t know it’s there. Sounds simple, but there’s still non-obvious methods.
You garage your bike, so you’re good, right? Not so fast. Do you routinely park that carefully garaged-at-night bike out on the driveway or street during the day? If so, people know what’s inside. Does your garage have windows? Can you see through them? So can thieves.
A simple, plain cover could be enough to divert the eyes of a casual thief cruising for potential victims. The same goes if you’re street parking or sharing a parking structure. Simply reducing the number of people that know which bike is where is a basic counter-theft strategy that can be achieved cheaply and easily. As a bonus, thieves won’t know what security you’re using on the bike, so it’ll be harder for them to show up armed to attack your specific locks.
Locking it up
It stands to reason that locking your bike will help prevent it being stolen. But, many riders use locks inconsistently, inadequately or improperly.
In an ideal situation, your bike would always have strong locks on the front and rear wheels connected to some sort of immovable object. But, that’s hardly a reality in most parking spaces and transporting bulky chains and other devices can be difficult. The goal here is to make it as difficult and complicated as possible for someone to get at your bike.
There’s also the question of what you can connect the chains to. Wheels are easily removable, but a bulky chain isn’t going to fit between a modern aluminum beam frame and engine. Sometimes, an exposed trellis, as on a Ducati Monster, can accept some locks. Just make sure the tradeoff between what you’re passing the chain through and the strength of that chain doesn’t compromise security.
Same goes for whatever immovable object you’re locking the bike to. Is it really immovable? A $400 chain is all well and good until you loop it through a cheesy chain link fence that can come apart in seconds.
At a very minimum, aim to make the bike as difficult as possible to move. Sure, two strong guys can pick up a sportsbike, but can they maneuver it awkwardly into a van without any rolling? A simple disc lock or padlock clamped around a brake disc can help. This should be treated as the most basic layer of security. If your bike is out of your sight, even during the day, for a short period of time in a populated area, have the steering lock on and something immobilizing at least one of the wheels.
With chains, it’s really not worth using one unless you’re locking the bike to something. In many cities, you’ll frequently be unable to park on the sidewalk or in the vicinity of one of those immovable objects, but there’s still a potential solution. Parking next to another motorcycle, if it has a chain fitted, you can lock to it. Because you’re just looping chains, either party can choose to disengage at will. This should be the kind of common, courteous practice all of us do regularly, both bikes become safer and neither party is inconvenienced.
If you do find something solid to lock to, you need to get that right too. Remove slack from the chain by doubling it around the anchor or whatever you’re locking it to on the bike, keeping the chain from resting on the ground where it can be attacked with a hammer and chisel. Less slack and as little distance as possible between bike and object will also make it more difficult to attack with an angle grinder or bolt cutters.
A chain around one wheel, connected to a solid anchor, plus a disc lock on the other wheel is about as immobilized as you can make a bike if you’re parking away from home.
Know the old adage about wearing a $100 helmet only if you have a $100 head? Well, the same goes for locks and bikes. What’s better insurance, an on-paper policy that costs you thousands and will inevitably be disputed, have payment delayed and cause premiums to rise should your bike be stolen or a $500 lump of strong metal that you can rely on? I trust things I can see and understand and I can see and understand a strong lock.
The best chains in the world are made by Almax which is unfortunately a UK-based company that doesn’t have a US distributor yet. the Squire padlocks they sell alongside are available in this country though.
In general, you want a security specific chain and lock that can’t be attacked with liquid nitrogen. The padlock should enclose as much of the shackle as possible to prevent bolt cutters from being able to clamp on it. Check out how much of this Squire’s shackle is concealed, once attached to a chain, there’s virtually no way to get at it.
The way that thieves will then try and attack the padlock is by drilling the lock cylinder out. Look for locks where the cylinder rotates freely or is otherwise resistant to this type of attack.
It’s also a good idea to seek out a non-common type of locking mechanism and lock brand. Kryptonite, for example, makes pretty good bicycle locks, some of which could do double duty on a motorcycle. But, they’re common as muck. Anyone who’s stealing things in America knows how to attack them and can likely do so quickly and easily with tools they have on-hand. Searching for an uncommon brand or bringing something home from a European holiday can totally befuddle xenophobic criminals.
On the chain, girth, shape and materials are key. It stands to reason that very thick links will be stronger, but pay attention to the alloy they’re made from (you want boron, carbon and manganese in the steel) and whether or not the shape is made to turn bolt cutters. The largest Almaxes, for example, are simply too large for any commonly-available bolt cutters, even hydraulic ones, to fit around. Never just buy one from a common hardware store, if they can cut it to length with a pair of croppers, then you’re not getting much security.
Which disc lock? These are less important. As that initial layer of security, its mere presence is the most important thing. You’re simply looking to add a small level of difficulty as simply picking up the bike is the likely work around for thieves. Even a simple padlock will do. Just put a big rubber band around the brake disc or use a similar reminder so you don’t ride off with it attached. Securing the disc lock flush with the caliper (top or bottom dependent on which way you’ll roll), can also prevent damage.
Here’s where the real fun begins. You’ve got yourself some strong locks, but what should you be locking your bike to? Out and about, you simply need to find a mix of security and convenience. At home or at work you can install a specific device aimed at preventing theft.
There’s many in-ground or in-wall anchors available. Find one that works for your situation and install them in solid concrete instead of asphalt foundations, where possible, to ensure max strength and apply the same lessons you learned about chains and locks to which anchor you choose. There’s even large metal shoes out there that wholly enclose the front wheel and spindle, preventing its removal.
If you’re like us and rent an apartment because you live in a city, then a good alternative to a permanent anchor is a big rubber trash can filled with concrete. Not only is it unlikely to piss off landlords of violate contracts, but once chained to your bike, a good couple hundred pounds of rock is going to make that bike exceptionally hard to steal.
To make an anchor like this, get a large rubber trash or horse feed tub, an appropriate length of scaffolding tube and a nice, long chain. Stick the scaffolding in the middle, poke holes for the chain at wheel level and run it around the pole so the ends dangle outside the tub with plenty of room to go around a wheel and tire. Fill the thing with concrete and you’re done. I’ve successfully used this method for years and never had a landlord complain nor a bike stolen.
A lot of bikes rely simply on an alarm as their primary security. The appeal is understandable; with some upfront cost, they’re simple, sexy devices. Click a button and your bike is secured. No dirty hands, no heavy locks onboard. But relying on only an alarm is false security. How many cars do you hear going off every single night? Two, four, eight? That’s probably just on your block. Have you ever lifted a finger or even twitched a blind to see if they were really being stolen? No one does. An alarm’s only value is in alerting those who know its sound and care about responding. Thieves are no longer scared of them.
There’s also the question of some greasy-nailed tech intern hacking into your lovingly robot-crafted OEM wiring harness to install a device that’s going to run down your battery and be subject to radio wave interference, potentially costing you even more money and hassle.
Instead of expensive, fragile onboard alarms, we instead use simple, cheap Xena alarm disk locks. Not only does that give us two layers of security from one easily stowable product, but they’re cheap to replace, simple to use and just as effective as something that comes with a remote keyfob. Just take care to keep a charged battery installed.
Disc lock alarms work just like their underseat counterparts. A sensor detects motion and goes into a warning beep cycle, if it’s not disarmed by inserting the key, it emits a 120dB bleep that should be enough to wake you up from inside your house or at least annoy your neighbors.
Your bike is off the street, hidden from view, double locked and secured to something reasonably immovable. If anyone touches it, they’ll set off an alarm. What now? How about preventing people from getting so far as to touch it?
If you’re like literally every other person in America, your garage is secured only by a padlock or by the automatic opener. Remember that commonality is a thief’s best friend, it makes things nice and predicable for them. If the goal is to make your bike less appealing a target than your neighbor’s, then what about making your garage a fortress? Bars on the windows, if you have any, are obvious, but what about that pesky garage door? Forego some convenience and install a lock that securely connects it to the concrete floor. Bonus points if this lock is only accessible from entering through your house. Thieves are looking for an easy target, not houses full of sleeping children, dogs and gun-toting freedom lovers.
If your house alarm doesn’t cover your garage, Xena also sells simple, battery powered area motion detectors that would also work in sheds and similar spaces. Again, simple, cheap and loud. Don’t rely only on an alarm.
If your bike’s locked in a yard or on a patio then a simple motion-sensor light of the kind available at every hardware store is probably a good idea. That’ll keep the cats off it too.
Remember, the concept here is layers of security. The more layers you use, the safer your bike is.
Location, Location, Location
Ok, we’ve covered gadgets, but now back to most fundamentally basic principal of security. Like buying real estate, where you park your bike is key. You’re going to be limited by the static location of destinations — you’re meeting a girl at a cafe, you need to park by that cafe. But, is the convenience of a free-to-us multistory parking garage real or perceived safety?
Again, I trust what I can see and if I can see my bike, I know it’s safe. Know common practices of revenuers in your area to know what kind of illegal parking you can get away with. I can park on a sidewalk on the north side of Franklin, but I better not try the same on Hollywood and Vine.
If you are using a parking structure, think about who it belongs to. One connected to a fancy condo building and full of BMWs and Mercs is likely to be staffed by more careful, less corrupt attendants than one connected to a WalMart. You can take advantage of the security the yuppies are paying for.
At night, streetlights and populated areas, such as outside a popular restaurant, are your friends. Going somewhere near a club? Park near the bouncers.
Basically, take advantage of your environment. Do that with as many layers of security as possible and your late model Japanese sportsbike should be safe. Or, just buy an old piece of shit you can afford to forget about.
How do you keep your bike safe?
A note about safety: riding with large bits of hard metal attached to your body is a terrible idea. If you land on them in a crash, they’ll penetrate, braking bones, rupturing organs and doing all sorts of nasty stuff. Never ride with a disc lock in your pocket or a chain around your waist or shoulders. Instead, try to fit them under your seat or in a secure tail pack such as those sold by Kriega.