Ask a Motorcycle Thief
When in doubt, ask an expert
Some time back the guys over at ReddIt had an idea: solicit a motorcycle thief to do one of their Ask Me Anythings, better known as a Reddit AMA. First answered by a cop in London and later an actual bike thief from the United States, the results are positively illuminating. Here, we’ve edited the material into something linear and easily digestible. It’s a must-read if you don’t want your bike to get stolen.
The original Ask Me Anything request reads:
- what type of motorcycles did you target and why?
- what's the best type of security system we can get for our motorcycles?
- how and where should we position chain locks on our bikes so you don't take bolt cutters to them? how easy is it to cut high quality locks?
- what deters you the most? as in when you see a motorcycle and analyze it for a steal,
- what makes you go "no, not that one."
- what does a gallon of bleach taste like after you swallow it?
Let’s look at the responses from the cop first:
“The thing is security costs money. Its not a 100% guarantee but it gives your bike a fighting chance.”
Types of motorcycles: “The most popular bikes for thievery are sports bikes and those bikes which you see around more commonly. Reason being in an age of trackers, HPI checks and people knowing much more about how to be smart when they buy a new vehicle (so as not to buy a stolen one) its much simpler for the thief to break the bike up into parts and sell it for parts. In fact only a few weeks ago we raided a house and found 5 motorcycles in various stages of being stripped down.”
Best security: “The most common way of stealing a motorcycle is by lifting it off of the ground and loading into a van. Quick, easy, quiet, once the bike is in the van its invisible, riding it comes with a greater risk of being caught. Plus you don't even need to know how to ride it. No need to override the ignition. It couldn't be simpler. We have seen them in the past put a scaffold tube under the front forks and under the back of the bike near the shock and lift it between 4 of them. Even a big sports bike at 200kg is only 50 kg each.”
“For this reason your first priority must be to stop it getting off the ground. Only a good chain, lock and ground anchor will stop this. Ideally you need something which is hardened and 16mm diameter plus. Otherwise they may well be able to cut it with bolt cutters. Which for them is ideal because its quick and very quiet. A good lock is one which is hard to pick and very hard wearing. We don't see many picking attacks at all, in fact I don't think I ever have but for peace of mind I use an abloy on my bike.”
“Another good tip, always lock it off tight, don't leave a lot of loose chain on the floor. If you do the the chain is vulnerable to freeze and sledge hammer attacks.”
“A decent ground anchor should be very solid indeed. The ones which you sink into concrete are best but not realistic for most people unless you're putting concrete down anyway. A strong bolt down is mostly very efficient. Some are better than others. I've got a hardie ground anchor because you can lift a lorry cab up with it and it won't break. Another great thing, disc lock alarms. I've got two, one on each wheel. If the bike starts moving they go off and make a right ruckus, just what the thieves hate. Also things like alphadot, smartwater, with visible stickers are deterrents too.”
“Ideally garage your bike. If its on a driveway then get one of those PIR security lights. The thieves do not want a "and by the light let your good work shine" type scenario. A dummy CCTV camera is good to, because a lot of thieves will be put off even if they think its a fake.”
“In terms of decent locks the very best padlock that I know of is the Abloy Protec 362. Its what I use. Its got a 15mm boron steel shackle, very heavy duty. Its military grade, used in bank vaults. The Squire 65CS is another good one, although not as hard to pick as the abloy. In fact the abloy is yet to be picked I believe. The abloy is very pricey. Look out for them on ebay. It will be a significant saving for you. Those locks are both very hard to bolt cut. The squire hides the shackle (shrouded). Makes it hard to get any sort of grip on it with bolt cutters. Often you can't even see enough of it to put cutters on it. The weak point is normally the chain. A lot of manufacturers make lightweight chains you can use around town but are bolt cutter resistant, not proof.”
How to lock up: “Ideally not through a wheel. A wheel is easy to remove. Its great having a really secure wheel but like I say a lot of the time they get sold as spares so through the frame is great. You can't do that with my bike so I've put it through the gap between the engine block and the down pipes then through the front forks which is either going to be quite time consuming (likely set the disc lock alarms off) or very noisy. Lock the chain off tight. What I mean by that is it shouldn't have much slack between the bike and floor at all. You may have to make a cut in the chain sleeve in order to be able to do this. But its really worth it. If the chain is loose on the floor its much more vulnerable to sledge hammer attacks, freeze attacks, wedge attacks and bolt cutters.”
How to deter a thief: “The biggest deterrent is a secure motorcycle. Reason being there are lot of insecure ones out there and they will go for the low hanging fruit every time.”
“Remember what a thief doesn't want is to be caught. Being caught is the biggest hazard in their line of business. Business is how most of them see it. Make your bike more risky than other bikes and they'll go for easier pickings. Reminds me a while a go I was on foot patrol and saw a lovely Ducati 916 with a chain through the back wheel, not attached to anything. I did give the owner some advice and it was heartening to see that he did take it on board. Ultimately your goal should be making getting caught in the act as likely as possible and the maximise the time it would take to steal the bike.”
“The point is, the more trouble the thief has to go to the longer its going to take. The vast majority of thieves got for the low hanging fruit. This is about not making your bike the low hanging fruit.”
And here’s what the thief has to say:
“I'm not exactly sure how I ended up with this life. I was basically a normal American kid who was very shy and did well in school. My best friend was basically a dirtbag and he made it seem cool to be a dirtbag. I started off dropping him off at bikes to steal, then scouting out bikes for him to steal, then helping him steal bikes, then stealing them together.”
“I figured out quickly that the guys we sold the bikes to made more money and assumed far less risk so I saved my money so I could get on that end of things.”
“I considered myself small time but I was involved in the scene for over 10 years. While my name was brought up in investigations I was never charged with a crime related to this business and I never "informed" on anyone. I quit when I felt the risk exceeded the reward. Maybe it was the guilt, the shame, maybe I was just finally growing up. I lived a lie for a long time and even if no one knew it I was painfully embarrassed inside because of the life I had been leading. I love motorcycles and I was the man responsible for that sickening feeling you have when you wake up to realize your baby has been stolen and I was responsible for it A LOT. Towards the end I would sleep in sweat pants and a hoodie because I knew any day my door was going to be kicked in and I wanted to be comfortable as possible in jail.”
“I've been out of it all for 4-5 years and I still am trying to figure out how I became that guy.”
Types of motorcycles: “Mostly supersports. They are the most commonly crashed and generally the easiest to find (left outside in nice apartment complexes) Next would be Harleys and for a brief moment in time the high dollar choppers.”
Best security: “Never, ever, never never never, NEVER leave your bike outside at an apartment complex. Especially one with a gated parking garage. The gated parking garage in a mid to high rise apartment building in the nice part of a large city is the number one place for bike thieves to go ‘shopping.’”
“As far as passive devices go I like the NYC fughetaboutit chain/lock from Kryptonite, the thicker of the two. It needs to go through something like a braced swingarm whenever possible. If you absolutely have to put it through a wheel put it through the rear wheel. It takes much longer to swap than the front wheel. Any $100 disc lock will work well, again, rear wheel, locks on the front are more easily defeated, take my word for it. Cheaper disc locks can be quietly, well, we'll leave it at that, cheap ones can be defeated in silence.”
“Lo-jack and Lo-Jack w/early warning are pretty good at recovering the bikes from amateurs and semi-pros, but someone who knows what they are doing will remove the lojack system quickly after clearing the area. Still someone even more professional (surprisingly rare) will have somewhere to check/store/breakdown the bike that is rf shielded. The problem with lo-jack is that it doesn't keep someone from stealing the bike. Even if you get it back in one piece without the police crashing into your bike to catch the thief you'll still likely have a broken upper triple, damage to the neck of your frame (Steering lock), damage to your ignition, damage to the tank lock, possible damage to the tank itself (rareish) possible damage to the trunk lock , and then your insurance company might fuck you too. It's much better to not get the bike stolen in the first place. So in addition to lo-jack you want some sort of VISIBLE passive devices to make the thief move on. The paging alarms are somewhat effective, but they aren't linked to the police. Removing electronic devices is obviously more of a mental challenge than a physical one. The quality of the install is a huge factor here. Hide the lo-jack or alarm in or under the airbox and all the wiring within the factory looms and you'll have a good set up. However, almost NO dealer tech is this thorough. It's not his bike, why would he go the extra mile?”
Best locks: “Of the dozens of [thieves] I knew over the years I only came across one like this, but I knew someone that had a pair of bolt-cutters that weighed a lot, more than a 45lb plate at the gym, and had replaceable cryogenically hardened teeth. They cost several hundred dollars. The high dollar chain lock sets $150+ are worth it. Even the high dollar braided cable locks are good. They can be cut, but it's a pretty time consuming process.”
What makes you pass over a bike? “Personally, if it's rashed up, looks cosmetically rough, but mechanically sound. Say grips are worn, been dropped on both sides, but the chain is clean and well-adjusted, tires worn hard on the edges, has any signs of safety-wiring for the track etc. It's lack of value isn't what I'm looking it. It would remind me of myself once upon a time. I think that's probably all he's got, his whole world, it's not pretty, but he rides the piss out of it. He gets a pass.”
“More for most people, just what takes time. I've known very very few stone cold guys that can sit there for an hour working on a bike. Most people will give it a few seconds, maybe a couple minutes, and if they can't get it they are gone. What is only seconds feels like an eternity when your freedom and life are on the line. Quality disc lock on the rear wheel, quality chain and lock, lockable bike cover and theft coverage on your insurance. For me, lo-jack isn't worth the cost. It's more expensive than theft coverage and after a thief has had his way with the bike I don't want it back. All can fit in a back pack and aren't much of a hassle to carry. Never leave it outside very long day or night.”
Security tips: “If you're temporarily parked outside somewhere a good little FREE anti-theft trick, bring a stubby flathead with you and remove your clutch lever. No clutch lever and they aren't riding anywhere. Of course if you do this every night outside your apartment they'll just come back with their own clutch lever.”
“LOCK YOUR FUCKING STEERING - DON'T LEAVE YOUR SPARE KEY IN YOUR TRUNK. I can open your trunk with a butter knife, don't leave me your fucking key in there, jesus. Happens more often than you think. Also, don't leave your TITLE in the trunk, i've seen this too often too. Steering locks aren't that hard to bypass, but they aren't THAT easy either. Sometimes you get the freak one that doesn't want to break and you'll need to come back with a second person. In that time maybe the owner sees the bike and the thief doesn't get it. Had it been unlocked the bike would be gone.”
“Again, if you park outside of an apartment and your bike gets stolen, rent a fucking garage or self-storage unit near by to use as a garage. The thief is just going to wait a couple weeks for insurance to replace your bike and come back to check. If someone tries and fails to get your bike the same thing applies. Move it, they WILL be back.”
How much do you earn per bike? “It varies depending on yr/make/model/condition. About 10-12 years ago there was an out of state buyer we used to crate bikes to that had the ability to create titles for them who paid $3500 for near new 1000cc supersports. 1,000-1,500 is more typical for super sports. Harleys vary quite a bit depending on model and options, from 1,000 for a basic late model sportster to several thousand for a highly optioned fat boy, road king etc.”
Ride ‘em or van ‘em? “There is this common misconception that a few guys load bikes into trucks and vans. The people who get CAUGHT load bikes into trucks and vans. Your career will be very short if you're loading a 185mph rocket (that likely has a tracking system) that will outrun the police into the back of an 85mph van that will take you to the scene of your arrest. If you can't start the bike and ride off then you damn sure can't find and remove lojack."
"In 10-15 years I've known a couple dozen thieves and only one that was foolish enough to load bikes into a truck or van for any length of time. He learned to wire them after he was caught, twice, lol.”
“I was taught to never ride a hot bike anywhere you didn't absolutely have to and to ride strictly by the letter of the law. You don't get it if you don't have somewhere to take it, you don't ride like a jackass and risk your money/freedom, it's not a bike, it's a job, and it's payday. Generally you got the bike, rode it straight to your destination, and broke it down.”
A final word: “The majority of thieves aren't that smart and half of those are on drugs, please don't be dumber than they are.”
Original story was published on May 4, 2013 by Wes Siler
Cover photo by Abus Security Tech Germany