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      Buy a good [~10% of bicycle value] lock

      I give this same advice to new bike owners (who are likely to underspend on their lock), but this advice now really grates on me. I own a seven thousand dollar bike (bikes that are friendly to people with disabilities aren’t cheap 😞). How do I protect it when I’m away from home? $700 bike locks aren’t really a thing, and if you if you thought bike insurance rates on “cheap” bikes were bad…

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        Compared to a typical $7k bike, I’d guess that yours is far more difficult to fence. I hear that a stolen bike is usually chopped up for parts, and you have

        • an asymmetrical wheel set in two unusual sizes
        • no stem or handlebars
        • a frame not compatible with typical wheel sets

        So perhaps it has the theft appeal of an inexpensive bike? (Despite how cool I think it is :)

        I would still downgrade or lock your rear seat, though!

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          This comment is a really insightful addition to @calpaterson’s threat model. Even Powertool Percy’s fences might be stymied by, say, a penny farthing. (Or at least, I really hope that’d be the case.)

          Due to COVID, we haven’t had a situation in the past year where we’ve left our bike outside unattended for any amount of time, but I expect our eventual theft-mitigation efforts will be some combination of:

          • locks, and more locks
          • paint the bike to be more distinctive
          • embed a gps tracker (or two?) in the frame
          • remove the steering pin when leaving the bike unattended
          • insure the bike (ugh)

          Despite how cool I think it is :)

          It’s awesome. Totally has ruined “normal” bikes for me. The ability to easily maintain conversations with someone on a long ride is a game-changer in itself!

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        Obviously seven $100 locks. /s

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        That’s a really cool bike! Unlike a normal recumbent bike, I’m not seeing anywhere for the rider in front to hold onto with their hands. Is there a seatbelt or some other solution so that the rider in front doesn’t fly off during an emergency stop?

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          There are handles beneath the front seat! You can also order a seatbelt as an accessory, but the font seat feels very secure—even during abrupt braking!

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          a normal recumbent bike

          No such thing. An “ordinary” bicycle frame is actually a high-wheeler. The typical diamond frame design is a “safety”. Anyway, USS has been one school of recumbent design since the 1970s at least.

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        How do I protect it when I’m away from home?

        The obvious first choice is to bring it into your home. If that’s not an option, maybe you can rent space in a neighbor’s garage or at some nearby storage service? There is no safe way to lock a bike up outside for multiple hours (see Percy, from the article).

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          There is no safe way to lock a bike up outside for multiple hours (see Percy, from the article).

          Given a thief with an angle grinder, there isn’t even a safe way to lock a bike up outside for multiple minutes! Of course, I can keep the bike safe at home, but at some point it’s more furniture than bike.

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            Ah, I read your “when I’m away from home” as “when I’m away and the bike is at home”, which, in hindsight, doesn’t make much sense, oops. Sorry.

            When I drag my bike into areas where theft is seemingly high, I get very unshy about taking my bike into the building and stashing it next to the receptionist, cashiers, etc. Most of the time they don’t seem to care, but I suspect this could be different if you’re in an area where cyclists are looked down on more than they are here..

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        $700 bike locks aren’t really a thing


        I bought some of the products from Stephen Briggs (I think was a founder together with his wife Sarah. Company name was Pragmasis), this was about 9-10 years ago or so.

        I am overall very happy with product, and the quality of interaction I had with Stephen. Thankfully, the chains (I bought several, as had different needs for different weight/length configs) – were not tested.

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      My theory is that the rise of scooters / city bike share is mainly due to cities being unable or unwilling to combat bike theft

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      What about bicycle insurance? It’s fairly expensive here in the UK, usually 10-15% of the bicycle’s value annually and insurers typically only pay out when the whole bicycle is taken.

      Also. For more expensive bikes, keeping them running is an ongoing investment (gears, crankset, sprockets, etc), and in my experience even specialized bike insurers don’t really get that. The insurance paid out for a stolen 3-5 year old bike is very low compared to the total amount of ongoing money been paid into servicing.

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        Isn’t it the same for cars? Payouts drop off for most cars quickly after the first year or two, it doesn’t seem like the sunk costs play into that amount, but I could be wrong..

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          Could be! I never owned a car (european) :D

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            With cars, the insurance payout for a stolen one generally tracks some multiple of its secondary market value. So if I could sell my car for $1000, my insurance probably pays me $850-ish if it gets stolen. That is really unrelated to what it costs to maintain the car.

            Does bicycle insurance not pay on a similar basis?

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      My go-to solution is to simply pop the front wheel off, and then lock the bike with a U-lock. This has worked pretty well for me in London thus far; I guess it (a) makes getting away with your stolen bike significantly harder, (b) makes it look like someone else has already gotten to it, and (c) makes someone tinkering with it to try and angle-grind the lock look even more suspicious.

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      The sad truth is that the Percys of the world are common enough and resourceful enough that a bicycle worth over a thousand pounds isn’t really safe anywhere in a large town.

      This is basically true. I’ve biked in SF for 12 years now. I had 2 bikes stolen early on, but learned my lesson and have now been riding the same bike for 10 years. So the solution is really to buy a $300-400 used bike off craigslist, and spend some money at a bike shop to upgrade and maintain it.’

      With proper setup, it can easily ride as well as a $1000 or $2000 bike you buy new. Almost everything that determines the ride quality can be changed (the pedals, seat, etc.) Don’t get an expensive seat either – I had that stolen as well.

      So if you actually want to ride every day with no hassle, don’t buy an expensive bike. You don’t need it, and the fear of getting it stolen will limit your freedom.

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      I really enjoyed this, thank you.

      Either type of lock can be defeated, but each requires a different large, bulky tool which is useless against the other.

      I wonder if Sheldon was assuming here that a U-lock is typically defeated with a portable jack?

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        Sheldon Brown died well before portable angle grinders became common.

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        I’m glad you enjoyed it and thanks for saying so.

        I agree that he’s probably referring to an airjack. It could be that was common practice among thieves when the article was originally written. All the thefts I have personally heard of in the last few years have used angle grinders - obviously you can tell by looking at the remains of the lock what was used.

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        I’ve bust open (my own) D-lock with a bog standard car jack - makes a satisfying bang when it blows. Interestingly, I did this on a busy Saturday on Slough (a notoriously rubbish UK town) high street, and received no attention whatsoever..

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      Even though I agree with the outcome of the analysis, I’m confused by the specifics.

      I was under the impression that U-locks were widely known to be the worst locks - they can be opened by twisting them with a metal bar for some leverage.

      I’ve had the pleasure of using an angle grinder on my own chain lock (a proper one, not the flimsy plastic things in the video). It works, but it’s not a quick or a fun process.

      I used to be acquainted with someone who regularly ‘acquired’ a new bike; he would simply lift one from the street, take it home, and use the angle grinder. A combination of ‘No-tools Nigel’ and ‘Powertools Percy’, perhaps.

      My personal recipe is to use two locks, one of which is a proper chain lock, on a bike that doesn’t look particularly valuable. And to chain it to something.

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        Here are some examples I found via google to support my impression that U-locks are most commonly recommended:

        So, if you’re looking for a lock you can carry around every day, usually a good U-lock is better than a portable chain lock. U-locks offer more security, at a better price, without sacrificing too much practicality.


        Kryptonite Fahgettabouit [a u-lock]: The most secure bike lock


        U-locks are heavier than most other types of locks, although they’re the most secure.


        I personally use a chain lock and horseshoe lock (which is a bit of hypocrisy as the rear wheel isn’t directly attached to the stand) and of course you do need to chain the bicycle to something but at least where I live very, very few people chose the lock the bicycle to itself. I know that is common practice on the continent but I think most sense that you can’t away with that in the UK.

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          The first two articles (haven’t read the third) seem to be very focused on a supposed trade-off between weight and security. Which makes sense in the US, I think, where cycling is considered to be a form of exercise.

          In the Netherlands, most bikes weigh upwards of 20kgs, making the ‘cost’ of a few kilograms for a proper chain lock negligible.

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            There’s an old saw: “All bikes weigh 40 lbs. A 20 lb bike needs a 20 lb lock; a 30 lb bike needs a 10 lb lock; a 40 lb bike doesn’t need a lock.”

            As a long time bike commuter (who’s never been a “sport” rider) in a US city with a high bike theft rate, I have had several bikes stolen before I honed in on the proper balance between high functionality, low fence value, and security (I use a $45 U-lock, it’s fine).

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          I live in Manchester, UK, and leave my slightly expensive (£200 resale, maybe) bikes locked for weeks in public areas without issue. I think an important factor to add to the analysis is the location of storage. I usually leave my bike in reasonably high-traffic areas with cameras and close to loads of other bikes. My bike blends in and is anyway often not the most expensive bike there. I always lock the frame to something, but usually the seat and one or both wheels are unlocked and removable with quick-release bolts. I’ve never had them stolen.

          And when I leave it at home (the most common place to have bikes stolen from), its security is purely from a fence and the fact that it’s not visible from the street.

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            Location is definitely a factor. I left my unlocked ~$600 bike in downtown Palo Alto overnight by mistake and it was still there by morning. After that, I decided to run a social experiment, and never locked up my bike again. I would lean it against the nearest street sign for hours at a time, and overnight several more times.

            I did this daily for 18 months, before my bicycle was eventually stolen from my open garage at home. Apparently everyone in downtown Palo Alto is too rich to bother stealing a $600 road bike.

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        I was under the impression that U-locks were widely known to be the worst locks - they can be opened by twisting them with a metal bar for some leverage.

        Just like other forms of security, locks are a deterrent to certain types of threats balanced against practicality. U-locks, good ones (ex. Abus) used properly (tight to the anchor, through the frame and wheel, little to no room to move without damaging the frame), are fine. They’re even better coupled with a second kind of lock and a heavy cable (different attack, more time) but the practicality goes down. There’s a joke that all parked bicycles weight at least 40 lbs so that $200 bike has a $20 combination cable lock and the $4000 bike has multiple shackles, cable, and an octagonal chain.

        Going off into the weeds and looking at the implementation and the attacks: Notoriously bad shackles (not necessarily cheap… looking at you Kryptonite a few years ago) have a lock that can be defeated with a piece of tubing or hammered to fall out (on the street, it’s unlikely anyone would take the time to pick). A cheap/poorly-designed shackle latches on one side not both and the barrel where the latch is isn’t thick or hardened, they’ll have a case-hardened shackle and laminated latch. If the hardening is poor or the diameter is small, a decent bolt cutter (stolen from a construction site, for example, so thief doesn’t care that it fast ruins the jaws), hack saw or battery-powered dremel will go through it. Others, like you said, can be defeated by twisting, possibly damaging the frame or even using the frame itself to apply the torque but the thief won’t care. Smaller poorly made locks can be broken with a pair of combination wrenches camming against each other inside the shackle. Targeting the barrel, you only need a little clearance to shim a cheap one or attack the latch.

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        I was under the impression that U-locks were widely known to be the worst locks

        Around here the standard lock you see is a thing cable lock. Nothing much worse than that, can be defeated with diagonal cutters that fit in your pocket.

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      Sad to hear about the price of the insurance. In the Netherlands I insured my 4500 euro bike for 450 euro for 3 years. E-bike insurance was even cheaper for some reason. I hope that as bicycle usage will go up, the insurance costs will go down.

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        If you own an e-bike, you’re likely to be older, not bike a lot, and have a house with the space to store a bike inside. If that 4500€ bike is not an e-bike, you might just be into competitive cycling. I expect insurance companies to do some “threat modeling” of their own :p

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          Yeah, insurance companies have their threat models figured out quite well I should hope ;). The trend in the Netherlands is currently moving towards E-bikes for everybody, except the competitive cyclists. My bike is bit overkill, but very nice for cycling holidays.

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        From what I’ve heard the batteries are mostly stolen from ebikes? Is that true?

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          I had to search into this, but according to this article, mostly the e-bikes of younger people are being stolen, because they are not kept in sheds or other indoor areas (unlike e-bikes owned by people aged 55+). At the end they state that Shimano and other manufacturers are working on better locks for the batteries, because they are very valuable to thieves. The locks protecting the batteries are not certified at the moment and can be forced open relatively easily.

          Most of the thieves that are caught come from the eastern part of Europe, and are part of, or steal for an organised crime organisation. The E-bike is relatively common and widespread in the Netherlands, so it’s also easy picking for the criminals. Once stolen, they are shipped over the border immediately.

          To combat the theft and keep the insurance premium down, the insurance policy for e-bikes requires a GPS chip to be installed in the lock. This has resulted in a recovery rate of 60% of stolen bikes. An added benefit is that they sometimes find storage units with stolen bikes.

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        Here in Canada bikes are covered under your house insurance (or tenant’s insurance).

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          In the UK that is true too but you generally require specialist insurance if:

          • You keep it outside (common in towns)
          • Your bicycle is worth as much as a small car (fairly common for people into their bikes)
          • You want to be insured if it is stolen off the street (don’t think household insurance covers that)
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            My household insurance specifically says my bikes are covered “whever they are, even if not at your house”

            It do have a $1k deductible, though, so useless if your bike is cheap.

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      A neat analogy, but it seems the author is unaware of the Altor SAF lock.

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        I have previously found that if thieves can’t get through the lock, they’ll just take the parts that aren’t locked or just damage your bike out of malice.

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          Indeed. I’m simply pointing out that this arms race is always evolving.

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        A massive 6.2kg $300 lock is probably a poor trade-off for many due to size, weight, and price.

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          For most, but probably not for the owner of that $7k bike in the top comment on this post.

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            Maybe; but adding 7kg to your tour bike is not insignificant, never mind the huge size of the thing. I certainly wouldn’t look forward at hauling that around (especially not when using it as a touring bike) and would probably prefer either getting insurance or accepting the increased risk of theft.

            For an expensive racing bike it’s even worse, as they usually weigh less than 10kg (even my €400 fixie was ~11kg) so you’re basically doubling your weight.

            It all depends on your personal situation, chance of theft (i.e. where you live), what you do with it, and so forth. Generally speaking, I find that the quality of my life is better if I’m not so paranoid about this kind of stuff and just accept that I lose a bike every few years. It sucks, but one bad event every few years is better than spending time/brain cycles on this kind of stuff every day. YMMV of course.

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        Altor SAF


        That thing is comically large! But it looks like it does resist the typical angle grinder.

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      One thing I would love to try is treating the attacker user personas with the same primacy as those of the customer user personas - putting them on a wall in the office and having everyone conversant in their “needs”.

      This is excellent. I work at a design-focused shop. I think our security folks could use this as a way to speak everybody else’s language.

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      This isn’t really a way to prevent theft but perhaps aid in recovery: GPS or SMS tracker perhaps with motion activation? It seems like it would be fairly easy to do given the availability of microcontrollers and sensors. Getting the police to actually go get it might be more difficult, however.

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        How would you include a tracker in a way that’s not easily removable / disabled by a thief?

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      My tactic so far has been similar to the bicycle shaped object approach described in the article.

      Like the father he mentions, I go out if my way to uglify my already ugly and unappealing bike.

      For instance, I leave it dirty, as if ‘this-bike-is-utterly-broken’ dirty; besides that, since I live In a very religious place, I added several religious motifs to where they could stand out. However, all this is just superficial, because all of its parts are top notch though. To put us in another way, the bike is actually good, but looks pretty bad and in bad shape.

      In a nutshell, I’m appealing to different sensibilities, messing with the minds of any possible wannabe thief. It has worked thus far.

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        This is exactly what I do to my bicycle here in Copenhagen. Keep it functional but shabby looking and with a big U-lock. I have had the same bike for 18 years now and I leave it everywhere.

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      While these threat models are indeed simple, they require knowledge that the average user probably doesn’t have. .e.g. I probably couldn’t write the threat model for bicycles because I honestly didn’t know about between the three types. Further, there’s probably other types that I don’t know about either.

      This advice about threat models doesn’t seem scalable, IMO