A Guide to Locking Up in Baltimore

Disclaimer:  There is no 100% guarantee of bicycle security.  We were barely out of the Garden of Eden when Cain killed Abel, jealous of his flock of sheep (the 4000 BCE equivalent of a shiny new 10 speed).  I can only imagine that soon after the invention of the wheel someone jacked that as well.  Part of the price we pay for living around a multitude of vibrant, wonderful people is the realization that a few people around us are going to do bad things.  Our lives are full of risk and reward and biking is no exception.  This guide, specifically tailored to Baltimore, attempts to be a well-reasoned balance between minimizing the burden of bike security and maximizing the joy of getting to keep your bike.

So you’ve decided you want to keep your bike.  Great!  The only thing is, Baltimore has a bike theft problem.  To fully understand how best to keep your bike safe, it is worth understanding a little bit about why and how bikes are being stolen in this city.

Even if your bike is worth a few grand, once stolen, chances are there is not a large amount of money exchanging hands as a result, if any at all.  In Baltimore, bikes are occasionally stolen for money but often just because that person wanted a bike.  That’s it.  It’s that simple.  Ride it til it breaks.  Ditch it.  Steal a new bike.  There is no black market of high-end bikes and components.  There is no mafia ring stacking cash on a dim-lit table in the back room of a crab house.  The tools of the trade in Baltimore are not car jacks, angle grinders, or hack saws.  The vast majority of of bike thieves have nothing more than a pair of bolt cutters in their tattered backpack.   In Baltimore, bike theft is a crime of opportunity.  It is not about how flashy your bike is, or how much it is worth.  It is about how easy is it to steal.

So, how do you help make sure your bike stays YOUR bike?  There are 3 basic principles:

1) GOOD LOCK

2) GOOD SPOT

3) SMART USE

GOOD LOCK

Buy a u-lock.  Just do it.  No, no, no.  I don’t want to hear your reasons or your excuses.  You want to keep your bike?  Buy a u-lock, a good one.  Save your pennies, get a paper route, whatever.  Buy a u-lock.

As said above, the primary tool of bike thieves in our city is a pair of bolt cutters.  Bolt cutters will make quick work of ANY cable lock, or unhardened steel chain (like you can buy from a hardware store).  Seriously, like 5 seconds, if they fumble with it.  Good u-locks are made from a hardened steel that is much more resistant to cutting.  The same holds true of the heavy-duty bike chains, if you feel like hauling around 20lbs of lock with you.

Get a GOOD u-lock.  Expect to spend at least $45 MINIMUM on your lock.  Not all u-locks are created equal.  That $20 one from Walmart has not gone through the same hardening processes as better locks, nor is the build quality as good, so the chances of it failing you are much higher.  I recommend buying a lock from either Kryptonite or On Guard.  Both are large, reputable brands with high quality locks, good customer support and guarantees, and can be found in most bike shops.  Are there other locks out there just as good?  Sure.  Are they going to be better? Not really.  Are they going to be cheaper?  Nope.  If you are interested in locks from other manufacturers, there is tons of research and testing out there, but for the purposes of this guide I will not be delving into them.  Also, don’t buy the cheapest lock a company makes.  Most companies make a series of locks designed to protect a wide range of locations, and Baltimore is not at the “low risk” end.  Seriously, $45 or more.  Even if it’s a $30 bike from Goodwill, don’t think a $20 lock is going to protect it.  This is not about bike-to-lock financial proportions.  Get a good u-lock if you want to keep your bike.

So now you have a good lock to keep your bike in place, but what about your wheels?  Those can be easily stolen as well.  There are 3 reasonable options for your total safety package, which will be discussed more in depth in the SMART USE section.

1) longer u-lock

2) u-lock + locking skewers

3) u-lock + a cable

Any of these options are pretty darn good for keeping your wheels attached to your bike.  Some are more expensive than others, some are bulkier, and some are more secure, but remember that this secondary component is just for your wheels, which are much less likely to get stolen, even though the possibility still exists.

GOOD SPOT

Keep your bike somewhere visible.  If you are grabbing coffee or lunch, lock it where you can watch it from the window.  If that’s not an option, lock it where it has the most eyes on it.   While it is not unheard of for someone to steal a bike in broad daylight on a busy street with no one taking notice, it is FAR less likely than if you lock your bike around a corner, in an alley, behind a fence, or other places where the thief is less likely to be spotted.  This also means, unfortunately, that leaving your bike on your front porch or in your back yard is also not the safest idea.  Take your bike inside whenever possible, especially at your own home.  A fully enclosed yard while you are away at work is the perfect workspace for someone to spend all the time they need liberating your precious baby.  Also, it’s particularly important to bring your bike inside overnight.  No matter how well-trafficked during the day, most streets are pretty sparse late at night.

Lock your bike to something sturdy.  Make sure the fence, pole, or other object is securely fastened to the ground.  Also, make sure that what you are locking to is AS STRONG OR STRONGER than your lock.  If you spent all that money on your sweet lock, don’t let it be foiled by someone clipping the railing you locked to.

SMART USE

Now that you’ve found a good sturdy object to lock to, be sure to lock your bike up correctly.  The best way is to use one of several variations of the “Sheldon method”  (named after the late biking guru Sheldon Brown).  The Sheldon method involves locking your REAR WHEEL inside the REAR TRIANGLE of your bike.  It is important to lock around the RIM and not just the spokes, as they can easily be cut.  It is also important to lock your wheel INSIDE the rear triangle, not outside.  This prevents a thief from being able to steal both your rear wheel and your frame.  It may seem a little abstract, but in essence the wheel is locked to the pole and the lock is preventing the rest of the bike from being removed from the wheel.  For more detailed information on the Sheldon method, look here.

This is the basic “Sheldon method”

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Now remember those 3 lock options listed earlier?  Here’s where they come into play.  Which one you choose to use is a matter of personal preference, as all have their pros and cons.

1) If you have a long enough u-lock, you can remove your front wheel, place it next to your frame, and lock both wheels to the pole.  This can be a little complicated depending on your bike and how the wheel attaches.  It should only be used by people who are comfortable safely removing and reinstalling their wheel regularly.  This method does not always work on bikes with extremely fat tires, or in places where you cannot get your rear wheel right next to what it’s being locked to, but when it works, it is definitely a secure method. IMG_0167 IMG_0168

2) If using the regular Sheldon method, locking skewers are an option for keeping both wheels secure.  There are a number of kinds with various methods of locking, but most all of them work well at deterring theft.  They replace your quick release skewers and prevent you from having to carry a second lock.  However they are only compatible with wheels that already use quick release skewers and unfortunately if you have multiple bikes, you would have to invest in multiple sets of skewers to keep all your bikes’ wheels secure. locking skewerlocking skewers og

3) If you buy a cable lock to go with your u-lock (many companies sell them together in packages now) you can leave your front wheel in place and simply thread the cable through the front wheel, then back through itself and lock the other end inside your u-lock.  Very few thieves would bother to cut a cable just for your front wheel, but it is possible.

IMG_0165IMG_0166

The last one seems a little contradictory, using a cable, but the reality is that most bike thieves want to ride off on a bike, not walk away with a wheel.  If they come across a bike with the front wheel cable locked, they will probably keep moving in search of the chance to take a whole bike.  And that’s the key.  Get the potential thief to keep moving, to leave your bike alone.  It’s not about making it impossible, it’s about making it not worth the trouble.

So that’s it.  Pretty simple, huh?  Good Lock.  Good Spot.  Smart Use.  That’s really all it takes to GREATLY reduce the risk of your bike being stolen in our lovely city.  Don’t let a few bad apples ruin your fun.  Biking should be an activity of joy, so let’s keep it that way.

Tim Barnett –  Baltimore Bike Party

Appendix A: The Police

Write down the serial number on your bike.  Most of the time it’s somewhere around the bottom bracket (where your pedals rotate on your frame) or on the back dropout (where your back wheel attaches to the frame).  Take a picture of your bike and keep it on your smart phone for quick proof.  Go ahead and register your bike with the police.  If your bike ever does get stolen, report it.  This will greatly help your case if your bike ever shows up again.  Even if your bike never comes back to you, the only way the police will know there is a bike theft problem is if they hear about it.  Officers have already been assigned specifically to deal with bike theft in the city.  The more reports they get, the more resources will be devoted to the problem.

Appendix B: Bike Party and Other Festivals

Sometimes there are just not enough poles to go around.  Oh the burden of cycling becoming so mainstream!  We have suggested this numerous times at Bike Party but can also be applied to other events and festivals.  Lock your bikes together.  Get your friends, coworkers, posse, whomever, and lock all those bikes into one tangled mass.  Even if you have nothing “secure” to lock to, no one is going to back up a truck and haul off 3, 5, or 12 bikes in one clump.  Bike thieves want to ride away.  Prevent a bike from being rideable or easily carried and it is likely to stay put.  It is important to do this somewhere near all the fun.  Especially at an event that goes after dark (like Bike Party), 3 bikes locked only together (with u-locks) near all the people are going to stand a better chance of staying put than locked separately 50 yards away around the corner, so keep your bikes close to the action!

Appendix C: Advanced Security; Accessories and the Rest of Your Bike

Wheels aren’t the only parts that can be stolen off a bike.  It is also very common for a seat and seat post to be stolen.  The greatest first step in preventing this is to not have a quick-release seat post binder.  Get one that has an allen (hex head) bolt in it.  If you are obsessive about security (and that’s okay!), once you have your seat at the right height, glue a little ball bearing into the bolt head, preventing someone else from using a tool to loosen it.  Another common DIY method is to use a scrap piece of bike chain, looped from one of the seat rails down to the bike frame itself.  Running the chain through a piece of scrap inner tube will prevent it from scratching anything.  The ball bearing method can also be used for your bars, stem, or other parts of your bike you are concerned about, but frankly I have never seen much theft of parts in Baltimore other than the seat and wheels.

Along with this, don’t leave things clipped onto your bike.  If you have lights or computers on your bike, take them with you.  The same holds true for bags with tools or spare tubes.  That nice multitool in your saddle bag will go great for removing the seat of the next bike.

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3 Responses to A Guide to Locking Up in Baltimore

  1. John says:

    Don’t forget to check if the street sign your locking your bike to can’t be lifted from the ground.

  2. This is a great article Tim. Thanks for posting it. It will serve a lot of riders well.

    The only thing I have to add is that if possible it is best practice to actually lock your bike once you’ve already brought it inside your own house. I made the mistake of thinking about bike theft and burglary as two separate and distinct crimes and lost a bike in a break in. I now keep my replacement bike locked in the basement at all times.

  3. Thiis website really has all of the information and
    facts I wanted about this subject and didn’t know who to
    ask.

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