Preventing Bicycle Theft: Tips Every Cyclist Should Know

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Bike theft is a constant problem in San Francisco, and while more and more people are traveling and commuting by bike, many of them still don't know how to lock their bikes safely and securely. According to the SFPD, bicycle thefts are "crimes of opportunity," and "a thief's worst enemies are time, light, and noise." This means that if you are knowledgeable, aware, and prepared for locking your bike safely and correctly, you'll never have to worry about losing it.

See also:

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Bryan Banducci

















On December 10, the SFPD hosted a free bicycle theft prevention workshop at Google's San Francisco offices. Station Investigations Team members discussed how bike theft is investigated, SF Safe covered garage door security, and mechanics from Valencia Cyclery demonstrated how to lock your bicycle on the street and recommended the type of locks to be used. Bert Hill, chair of the San Francisco Bicycle Safety Committee for the Board of Supervisors, also spoke on preventing bicycle theft, and Valencia Cyclery and Sports Basement gave away highly rated U locks (the best, strongest and most theft-proof) for a limited number of attendees.

Bay Area cyclist and advocate Jenny Oh Hatfield was among many in attendance at the workshop who have experienced bicycle theft firsthand. After living in the bicycle theft capital of the world (NYC) for 13 years, she moved to the Bay Area, where she has become quite involved in the bicycling community. Aside from helping organize the Supermarket Street Sweep (an annual benefit bicycle race inspired by Cranksgiving in New York), she runs a blog that she uses along with other various forms of social media to spread the word about stolen bikes.

"After my Ibis MTB was stolen and recovered, that inspired me to try and educate others about what I learned through the experience," Jenny said. "I also created a Google group, Flickr group and use my Facebook page and other social media outlets to spread awareness."

Jenny will proudly be serving on the 2013 Board of Directors for the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, and the position is well deserved -- she's passionate about bikes and keeping them safe. Her efforts to help recover stolen bicycles are pretty extraordinary. She's hoping to help get a city-wide bicycle registration program implemented soon to help make it easier to find stolen bicycles and return them to their rightful owners.

"I'd say the key points for prevention are locking up your bicycle properly; home invasions and garage break-ins are on the rise so securing bicycles indoors is important as well; avoid locking up your bicycles in known hotspots; befriend police officers who are cyclists/cycling advocates as they'll be more willing to assist you if/when the need arises; spread the word far and wide if your bicycle is stolen as it'll increase the chances
of getting it back. Social media is a powerful too these days, especially if you have good photos to help identify it," Jenny said.

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SFBC

Downtown San Francisco and the Mission District are areas particularly known for higher numbers of bicycle thefts, and for good reason -- these places are flatter, commuter areas with high bike traffic every day. Most people know better than to leave a bike outside in the Financial District, but many people don't think of the Mission District as an unsafe area for bikes. Over 60 stolen bicycles are reported stolen in the Mission every month, an average of over 700 a year, which is far more than the Mission Police Station can handle on a case-by-case basis.

Jenny's excellent write-up about the SFPD workshop outlines many of the problems and concerns related to bike theft, and we're going to give a few quick tips that everyone who rides a bike should know:

  • Use a U lock and and a cable lock through the frame and wheels (see diagram above). This tried-and-true method makes stealing a bike nearly impossible when done correctly.
  • Lock up to a bike rack or a sturdy pole -- and if you do lock it to a pole, make sure the bike can't be lifted up and off over the uncovered top of the pole!
  • Don't leave a bike locked up overnight. EVER. The longer your eyes aren't looking at it, the greater chance that someone else's eyes will be looking to steal it.
  • If you find yourself with only one lock, lock up the rear wheel through the frame's rear triangle. This secures both the frame and expensive rear wheel, leaving only the cheaper and easily replaceable front wheel vulnerable.
  • Saddles and seatposts are one of the most common losses reported (particularly expensive Brooks saddles which are a hot Craigslist item). Deter a quick theft by wrapping an old piece of bicycle chain through an old bike tube, then looping it through a saddle rail and then securing it to the frame. Doesn't look pretty, but it works surprisingly well.

Bottom line, if you're smart about locking up safely, your bike can survive life on the city streets. For more information, check out the SFBC's bicycle theft information as well as the Stolen Bicycle Registry. Ride safe (with a helmet and lights, you knew that already right?) and don't forget to lock up!

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF (follow Bryan Banducci on Twitter at @BryanBanducci) and like us on Facebook.

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3 comments
don_odorico
don_odorico

Excellent article filled with great advise and interesting fact of bike theft in the Mission District.  I completely concur with withak on having the U-Lock going through the back wheel and bike frame.  Good catch withak!

withak
withak

That u-lock in the diagram would be more effective through the rear wheel and the frame, if it fits.  The way it is shown here gives the thief both tires with one snip of a cable.

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