Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Bike Security: Locking Up a Cargo Bike

Thousands of bikes are stolen every year in the city of Vancouver alone. As cargo bikes become more popular, thieves are learning that they are a valuable target. A question I see a lot in the Vancouver Family Biking Facebook Group is, "How do I lock up my cargo bike?" Once we've invested all that money in the bike, we really want to make sure it doesn't get stolen. Over the years, I've collected a number of tips from my own experience & various other sources, so I though I'd share them all together in one place here with you. While I talk about cargo bikes specifically, most of these tips are applicable to any bike that you want to keep out of the hands of thieves!

  1. Do not use a cable lock. Please! Cable locks, particularly the ones thinner than your finger, are ridiculously easy to snip through with bolt cutters. Bike thieves often carry foldable bolt cutters around in a backpack. They can whip them out, unfold, snip your cable lock, & ride off in literally less than a minute. If you want to use a cable lock as a secondary lock, along with a sturdy U-lock or heavy chain, that's reasonable, but do not use a single cable lock as the only thing keeping your bike safe.
  2. Use more than one lock. I've heard a good guideline is to spend 10-20% of the value of your bike on locks. Note the plural. All locks are fallible, but if you only use one & a bike thief has the right tool to get through it, they can be riding off with your bike in under a minute. Depending on where I'm locking up & for how long, I use up to four locks of different types. I'm a big fan of frame locks for cargo bikes as a secondary lock, plus a chain to reach those awkward racks that are not very big bike friendly, & a U-lock for solid security. A noisy angle grinder can get through pretty much anything, but the quieter tools like bolt cutters, pneumatic jacks, & other prying devices tend to work on one type of lock, so if you have a few, it may make your bike just unattractive enough that the thief will walk on by. More on the locks in this bike lock roundup post here.
  3. Secure your wheels & your frame. Make sure with whatever combination of locks you use, one goes through each wheel & the frame of the cargo bike. Besides preventing the wheels from being stolen, this immobilizes the wheels, so the thief can't just defeat the lock that attaches to the rack & wheel the bike away, they'll have to carry it, which is not exactly easy with a heavy cargo bike.
  4. Lock your bike to something immobile & check it first. Bike racks are usually a good choice, but make sure the rack is properly bolted to the ground & there are no breaks or cuts in the loop that you attach to. This is a trick I've seen--some thieves cut through the triangle part of the rack so that the lock can be slipped through the gap & the unsuspecting bike owner's ride can be stolen later. If there's no bike rack, parking meters or poles may not be a good choice, as bikes can potentially be slipped up the pole & over--cargo bikes are heavy, but if there are two bike thieves, it's theoretically doable. Sign posts are sometimes just bolted into a base at the ground, & can be easily unbolted & slid out of the lock as well. 
  5. Lock up where the bike is visible. If you're stopping at a cafe, or somewhere with windows to the outside, try to park your bike where you can keep an eye on it if possible. A place with a lot of other people around is generally good too, if you have a choice between a rack in an out of the way place & one near, say a cafe entrance or busy bus stop.
  6. Store your bike out of sight. Sound like I'm contradicting my last tip? What I mean is the places you're keeping your bike for longer periods of time, like all day at work, or overnight at home, particularly places that you keep it on a regular basis. Theoretically, this is where the more organized bike thieves are going to attack--they'll figure out that your valuable cargo bike is usually locked up for eight hours outside this office building weekdays, or generally sits in that back yard every night, then come back when they've got the tools to steal it. If your bike is in a shed or garage or even just in a less visible area of your yard, it's less likely to be spotted & targeted. 
  7. Don't leave any accessories on the bike. I thought a cheap cargo strap wasn't a theft target, so I left one velcroed to the front rack of my cargo bike a month or so ago. Nope. It was gone the second day I had it on there. Not a huge loss, but it was a reminder that thieves will literally take anything that isn't bolted down. If you have a valuable saddle or child seat, consider adding an extra lock to secure it when you leave your bike behind.
  8. Register your bike with Project 529 (or whatever registry is well known in your area). In the event your bike is stolen, you have a much higher likelihood of recovering it if you've registered it. The Vancouver Police Department use Project 529 & if they come across your bike, they will be able to connect it to you with the sticker number or serial number immediately. 

I hope these tips help you keep your cargo bike safe. Do you have any questions or tips to add? Leave them in the comments below!

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