How (not) to beat the bike thieves

This article was published in 2018, in Newsletter 137.

A bike I still have: two locks and now a registration sticker.
Image as described adjacent

When I ride into town to go shopping, I usually use an unremarkable bike that has a frame lock for the back wheel, and a good D-lock always present in its mount. I lock up where there is surveillance, even if that means a longer walk to the shop. So far, that’s kept the thieves away.

However, one day last summer I made a comprehensive set of mistakes. I took a different bike. It was dressed with mudguards and lamp brackets and nothing particularly attractive at first glance, but a ‘professional thief’ would have been able to see that it was a cyclocross bike: strong but light frame, special tyres and brakes, and so on. As a lightweight bike it was equipped with a lightweight cable lock from a well-known brand, not a D-lock.

Thinking I would be quick, I locked up at a street-side Sheffield stand close to the shop, though I did carefully thread the cable lock through the frame and through both wheels. I wasn’t quick. The thief had plenty of time to choose a target and assess the lock. When I got back: no bike, just the remains of the lock on the ground. That at least told me that what had looked like a strong cable wasn’t: wire about 4mm diameter, encased in a thick plastic outer. It would have been easy meat for bolt cutters.

Yes, I reported the theft. The police would look at CCTV recordings – but as far as I could see later there are no cameras, official or private, nearby. Closing the stable door, I registered my stolen bike online and recorded its full details, so that if it was found then ownership could be established. In so doing I discovered another mistake: this was the one bike for which I didn’t have up-to-date photographs. I subsequently added full details, with photographs, of my other bikes. There’s no cost associated with doing that much, but I opted to pay a little for security stickers. Each one has a QR code linked to the register entry, and I like to think that the simple presence of the sticker will deter at least some thieves. I also fetched the ‘product catalogue’ (lock security test results) from, to learn about and then to buy some more locks, so that I’d always have a good one whichever bike I used. One of them is a small D-lock that will be easy to carry even when I don’t expect to need it. Do use a good lock, do think about where to lock up, do record full details at, or an equivalent site!

Ken Warner