From A Reader: Protecting Your Bike From Theft

Today I got an email from Kat, a student at OSU. She writes:

I go to OSU and have been using a crappy 12year old mountain bike from walmart for a while and just recently bought a new giant hybrid commuter bike because I planned to bike the 4.5 miles downtown every day when I start my job. But now I'm petrified to leave my bike anywhere. I've got two locks including one I just bought, a heavy duty on guard one and will get that in the mail. I also have wheel and seat locks from on guard. I keep reading on the internet that I should uglify my bike, but its just so hard to do considering I now think of it as my baby. Do you have any suggestions or maybe know what would make it look less desireable, but not in a permanent way? I thought maybe duct tape but wasn't sure how preventative that was and whether if ever get it off, etc.

Sorry for such a long question. I'm just so excited to begin riding it more when it gets warm and don't want to lose it in the first few outings.


Great question, Kat. Here's the advice I wrote back to her.

The two locks idea is the best that I know of, that's what I do. I'd make sure that the locks are different types - perhaps one U-lock and one chain lock. Thieves rarely walk around carrying an arsenal of tools to steal bikes, so if they see your bike is too tough to get loose then they'll go on to some other less-guarded bike. Also, keep in mind that they're probably not picking the locks, they'll have hacksaws or lock-cutters to do the work, so the bigger and stronger you can find the better. Kryptonite makes some great locks.

Also, when you park, keep your bike out of sight as much as possible. That's hard when the bike racks are right out front, but do what you can.

If you can take your bike into your building and put it in an office, back room, closet, etc. that's the best. I've found it's best to just do it, and not to ask permission first. If someone has an issue with your doing that, they'll let you know, and then you're not any worse off than if you'd asked in the first place. And if they don't ask, you're all set. :)

As far as uglifying the bike, that's a technique that a lot of folks use to make their bike less-desirable, as you pointed out. Getting some old grips, putting tape around parts of the bike to make it look old, that sort of thing, all those work well. Another one that I've heard is to find some old bike tubes and cut them to wrap around your top tube or the seat post, or what have you. It'll come off, and it'll hide some of the bike's newness. I've personally not done that and I've never had an issue. But I'm able to park my bike in a parking garage so it's out of sight.

Make sure you register your bike. Columbus has no bike registry program, but National Bike Registry exists which is a network of bike registry programs and that'll give you an extra layer of security in case someone does make away with your baby.

If you want some good advice on this and other urban biking tactics may I suggest this book: Urban Bikers' Tips and Tricks. This is the book that got me started and I carry with me on my commutes everywhere. It's not expensive, and it's full of great information for riding in a city.

Also, make sure you visit Yay Bikes - the best bike advocacy group in town - and their forums. There are lots of great riders there who'll help you answer questions.

Hope this helps. Feel free to ask me anything, and I hope to see you out riding some day!

If you have questions, feel free to ask at, via Twitter, or at my Facebook page.

People, not speed.


  1. How about trying a new solution like the new Yike Bike that is going comercial this year? Looks really fun to me.

  2. That's a great comment, Aaron.

    Kat was specifically talking about her new mountain bike, but a bike like the YikeBike and the plethora of available folding bikes are also great. Take them into the office and stash them under your desk, if you have that kind of job. Keeping your bike with you is the best security.

  3. I'm not sure out-of-sight is good if it gives thieves a chance to work unnoticed. I like parking in a high surveillance area. I have a hard time imagining a thief using a hacksaw to steal a bike on High Street with thousands of people walking by each hour.

  4. Good point, John. The out-of-sight location is only good if it helps your bike.

    As far as thieves using hacksaws to cut through a bike lock on High Street... watch this video. It could most certainly happen.


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