On a mild fall evening two years ago, I biked downtown for dinner, just as I had done innumerable times before.
Spotting an available bike rack on a busy thoroughfare in front of a bar, two restaurants and a rock club, I pedaled over, wrapped a looping cable lock around the bike's center tube, spun the key-code dial and walked away.
When I returned an hour later, the combination I'd used for years didn't work. I tried and tried, spinning the dials and re-entering the familiar number to no avail. Knowing that leaving the bike overnight was the best way to ensure I'd never see it again, I borrowed a cheap hacksaw from a nearby business and began to cut, as dozens of people streamed by or sat just feet away. No one questioned me. Toward the end of the sawing session, a Marine offered to hold the frayed ends steady.
With a blade just thicker than a few sheets of construction paper, it took less than 15 minutes to steal my own bicycle. The next day, I bought a solid steel U-lock, one step in making sure your bike remains yours.
REGISTER YOUR BIKE
There are lots of places that you can register your bicycle so that, if it does get stolen, you have the information necessary for rescue and recovery. The largest is the National Bike Registry, used by law enforcement since 1984. For students, colleges often provide an on-campus registry. You'll need your bike's serial number, located on the underside of the bottom bracket, where the pedals connect to the bike. Most registries charge a small yearly fee, so if you prefer a more DIY approach, you can "register" your bike by storing your serial number and a description of the bike in a safe place. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition suggests keeping this information in your freezer, and even provides a handy template for doing so at www.sfbike.org.
HOW TO BUY A LOCK
Cable locks can be used for quick stops where your bike remains in view. For everything else, go with a U-lock, a steel shackle held in place by a locking bar. U-locks provide the highest security relative to portability, since they cannot be cut without specialized tools. Remember that bigger isn't always better; the larger the lock, the more room a motivated thief has to use a pry bar to pop off the bottom bracket. And, since they're made of steel, larger U-locks can be cumbersome to carry. Invest in the most expensive lock you can afford; one rule of thumb suggests spending 10 percent of the cost of your bicycle on security.
HOW TO CARRY A LOCK
Many locks come with mounting accessories that attach directly to your bicycle. You can store most U-locks in the open space underneath the top tube or with a clip that attaches to the seat post. Additional coil locks can be wrapped around the top tube of your bike. New folding locks, like those made by the German company Abus, offer the flexibility of a coil lock with the strength of a U-lock. Though it may seem silly to pile hunks of steel atop a svelte carbon frame, you'll feel worse walking around on your boring old feet, plastering "Lost Bike" flyers on signposts.
HOW TO USE A LOCK
The League of American Bicyclists recommends locking your bicycle through the middle of the frame and at least one wheel. Some parts of your bicycle—the seat and wheels, for instance—are designed for quick removal. If you're parking in a high-traffic area, run a cable lock through the spokes of each wheel and then secure everything with a U-lock between the frame and rack. The same rule of removability applies to things you can't lock, like lights, GPS monitors and water bottles. Get into the habit of slipping these into your pocket. If a proper rack isn't available, attach your bike to something that cannot be moved or cut, but don't block walkways or entrances.
BUT IF MY BIKE IS STOLEN?
Once you've moved on from the cursing and the crying (or even if you haven't), file a police report. Consult local online resources, like the Stolen Bikes Raleigh group run by Oak City Cycling Project, and run a Craigslist search with your bike's description. Some lock manufacturers, including the popular Kryptonite, offer anti-theft guarantees. As with traditional insurance for renters or homeowners (whose theft policies may also apply), these claims must be submitted within a week. Take this time to invest in a solid U-lock and try your best to enjoy shopping for your new ride, which you should really remember to register, OK?
This article appeared in print with the headline "Guarding spokes"