You know what blows? Getting your pride and joy stolen. You know what is 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 you learn how to keep your motorcycle from getting stolen.
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.