Lock it Right
Bike security is made up of a simple equation:
(Apparent Ease of Taking) + (Value Possible) = (Incentive to Try)
If a bike looks easy to take, it probably is. Slip the lock up and over a pole? Easy. Tiny cable lock? Just use cable cutters.
If a bike looks like it is a quick $100+ sale (regardless of the actual value of the bike), it’s a reason to grab it and sell it quick to anyone online.
Make it easy, and make it look valuable, and you’ll find thieves are highly incentivized to try to take the bike.
On the other hand, if you make it look hard, and if you make it look less desirable, you’ll see few, if any, attempts to steal your wheels.
Make it Hard to Take
Step 1: Get a Good Lock
The first thing to do to make your bike hard to take is to have a good quality lock. A rule of thumb is to spend ~10% of your bike’s value on a quality lock. The newer the lock, the better. As thieves figure out quick work-arounds to the locks, they have needed to become more sophisticated.
So please don’t use your mom’s 80’s era u-lock, it can probably be defeated with nothing more than a ballpoint pen. Seriously. Spend the $40, and get a decent one from your local bike shop.
Step 2: Lock it to Something Sturdy
When I was studying at University, someone backed a box truck up to a section of bike racks, lifted an entire bike rack into the back and drove off.
For this reason I always, always check that the bolts of the rack (or pole, or whatever) that I am locking to are 1) there and 2) look generally tight. Sometimes I’ll give the rack a quick tug, just to be sure.
Similarly, if you’re locking to something that’s thinner than your lock is, I would reconsider. Your bike is only as secure as whatever it is locked to. Modern bike racks are thick and sturdy, much older ones tend to be sections of thin rebar – something that can probably be cut quicker than the lock itself, allowing thieves to port the bike away to somewhere quiet to work on the lock itself.
Step 3: Lock it up Right
The best way to lock your bike is to lock it through the rear triangle and wheel, with the front wheel removed and added to the lock. That way, no-one can make off with the most important pieces.
The next best way to lock your bike is just through the rear triangle, catching your rear wheel. This works great if you have locking skewers or a cable to go through your front wheel – as long as you don’t have a quick-release for easy removal.
Locking just your frame is sufficient for keeping your frame – there have been plenty of examples of frames stripped bare, still locked to the rack.
Don’t lock just your wheels.
Don’t lock just your frame – you can always grab at least one wheel in the lock.
Additional Security Options
Your seat post might have a quick-release clamp on it. This makes it easier to adjust on the fly, but also means that someone can walk up, flip the lever, and walk away with your seat. Not because there’s much value, but simply because they can.
Because of this, locking skewers (which replace the quick release components) are really, really useful. Typically found as sets – front wheel, back wheel, seat post – they’re great if you don’t want to worry about locking those things. You’ll need to keep the key with you at all times, however, in case you get a flat or want to adjust your seat.
Foot Traffic Around Your Bike
I don’t have any data to offer, but it seems that higher traffic areas tend to be safer – mostly because of the perception of being watched. Putting your bike in a place where a lot of people walk by often will keep timid thieves from attempting to steal the bike.
If at all possible, bring the bike inside for the night. Long periods of unsupervised time allows ample opportunity to nick a bike.
Riding a bike is great fun and great exercise. What a sad experience to come out to your bike, only to find it gone, or to find only parts of it there. Locking your bike right means you’ll maximize the likelihood that you’ll continue to have your bike for years to come.
Register your bike proactively on Bike Index, a community bike database.