Tuesday, May 4, 2010

“But I Parked It Right Here!” How To Keep Your Bike From Being Stolen

Remember that great bike you used to ride? The one that got stolen? Here’s how to keep your new bike from joining it.

The bad news is that no lock, chain, or alarm is going to stop a truly determined thief from stealing your motorcycle. The good news is most thieves are lazy opportunists who, like lions on the prowl, go in search of the weak or unwary members of the herd—unlocked bikes, bikes parked in dark alleys—and feed on them instead of wasting energy chasing down the alert, healthy ones. You can tilt the odds in your favor by making your bike a harder target.

Rick Stern, Progressive Insurance’s motorcycle product manager, says there are no “ah-ha!” secrets to foiling thieves. In fact, some of the most effective deterrents are the most obvious. “The first thing we always tell people is don’t leave your key in your bike,” he says, adding it’s surprising how many people do just that.

Beyond that, the trick is to know the enemy. “Thieves are basically lazy, so to discourage them from taking your bike, make it harder to do so. If you have a big lock they’re really going to have to work on, chances are they’ll go looking for easier prey.”

Thieves are not only lazy, they’re shy, because in their line of work drawing attention can lead to doing time. “If you’re parking during the daytime, park in an area where your bike is highly visible not just to you but to people walking by,” Stern says. “That way someone who’s playing around with your bike will be that much more conspicuous. At night do the same thing, but make sure you’re in a lighted area.” If there’s a security camera mounted on a nearby wall, that’s even better.

 “A lock won’t stop someone from stealing your bike, but it’s a deterrent,” Stern says. Even a locked bike can be picked up by three or four bad guys, tossed in the back of a pick-up truck, and whisked away, a process that even rookie thieves can execute in under a minute. Stern says that’s where a length of stout chain comes in handy. “If you’re riding with somebody else and you have a big chain, you can always lock your bike to theirs. Even better, chain it to a post.”

A lock’s effectiveness as a deterrent is measured not only by how hard it is to break, but how easy it is to see. In fact, an easily seen lock has two distinct advantages, says Donna Tocci, marketing manager of Kryptonite, maker of motorcycle and bicycle locks. “One, you don’t forget it when you’re using a disc lock. And two, the thieves see it so they don’t get on the bike and try to ride it away, possibly damaging your rotor or caliper.”

Locks aren’t just for when you’re out and about, either. A locked garage isn’t enough to keep a bike from being stolen from your home. “At home the bike should always be locked, even if it’s in a garage,” Tocci says. In addition to a disc lock or a U-lock, she recommends a permanent ground anchor, like the Kryptonite Stronghold, which is attached to the cement floor of your garage.

While locks are essentially passive, alarms are active, but how well they work depends on the ability of the rider, or the willingness of anyone else if the rider’s not around, to respond to them. But think how often you’ve heard car alarms blaring away in the night, and how seldom anyone did anything about it except curse their owners and go back to sleep.

“Oftentimes these alarms go on for 10 minutes, then they shut themselves off,” says Progressive’s Rick Stern. “If I were a thief, and nobody had come running over to the bike in 10 minutes, I’d wait for 10 minutes and 30 seconds and I’d get on the bike and ride it away.”

What happens if you pile on all the locks, chains, and alarms you can afford, and your bike still gets stolen? That’s when the emphasis turns from prevention to recovery. One of the best-known stolen-vehicle recovery systems is LoJack.

LoJack’s Paul McMahon says recovering a bike soon after it’s stolen is critical because most stolen bikes are quickly disassembled and either sold a piece at a time online, or used in conjunction with a legally bought new frame to build a new motorcycle. The LoJack kicks in as soon as you notify the police your bike’s missing.

“You report the theft to police,” McMahon says. “When they enter that report with your VIN into their crime database, the database interfaces with LoJack, resulting in the automatic activation of the LoJack system in your vehicle. The signal gets sent out from a radio tower and activates the unit in your bike. Police have trackers, and if they pick up that signal they can recover the bike.” LoJack supplies law enforcement with the tracking devices in areas where LoJack operates, which includes most parts of the country with large populations and high vehicle-theft rates.

The LoJack signal can penetrate vans, roofs, and walls. “We’ve had recoveries from shipping containers, houses, apartment buildings, and warehouses,” says McMahon. This feature makes LoJack a favorite of insurance companies, too, including Progressive’s Rick Stern. “Because this is a completely passive device and people don’t even realize it’s hidden on the bike,” he says, “oftentimes the police will track the stolen bike to some sort of storage shed and not only will they find the one they’re looking for, they’ll find five or six others that have just been stolen.”

The ugly reality is that you can lock your bike to a pack of starving Dobermans and wire it with an alarm loud enough to rouse the ghost of J. Edgar Hoover, but if some bad guy wants your bike badly enough, he’s probably going to get it. While there’s probably not much you can do to stop the professionals, there’s plenty you can do to slow down the amateurs. Lock your bike, chain it to something, install a good alarm, and for cryin’ out loud don’t leave the key in it.Jerry Smith


  1. Good info. I was always told by the cops that if the thief wants you bike bad enought he is going to get it. So the trick is to make it harder to steal your bike than one near it so they steal the other on instead.

  2. One item of importance (for me at least) is a cover. That bright red Italian rocket hiding underneath a dismal grey cover is less likely to be spotted as such than one without.