As fun and efficient as cycling is, it has a significant problem: Bikes are easy to steal.
Last week on Twitter, for example, a cycling pal documented the theft of his bike in the Twin Cities and noted that the cable locks don’t work. “Use only a ‘U-lock’,” he advised.
There’s a problem with that. U-locks don’t work, either, City Lab’s John Metcalfe writes today. His bike was ripped off in San Francisco.
The MacArthur bike rack is well-lit and in sight of a station attendant. Given the short period of time my cycle was there, and the fact the thief got away with ease, I guessed it was stolen in minutes. And according to San Francisco Police Department Officer Matt Friedman, that guess is probably correct: “Two minutes,” he says. “Or less, in some cases.”
Friedman runs the department’s Twitter feed, @SFPDBikeTheft, and has dealt with a fair share of cycle rustlers. In my case, the thief obviously didn’t use a battery-powered angle grinder, he says … And while the BART officer I met said it could’ve been a pry bar, Friedman disagrees.
Rather, Friedman believes it could’ve been a “jack attack.” That’s when a larcenous creep modifies a car jack so it can slip into a U-lock and pry it open like a clam. “They shave down part of the jack so it can fit in between the U-lock, and crank out the lock and explode it,” he says. “It bends it enough where it actually breaks the lock, and they remove the U-lock at that point.”
Metcalfe says the lock company doesn’t even think it was that technique, that it was a simple pry bar to twist the lock open. Easy peasy.
So what’s plan B?
Avoid the popular larger U-locks, as nice as they are when it comes to easy securement to a variety of racks and posts. Instead, buy a small one that fits right up against the frame.
Slater recommends city dwellers use an Evolution Mini-5, writing: “The issue is that oftentimes riders lock up in a high-risk area and do not create this snug fit—rather, they have the U-lock dangling around the top tube and an immovable object and the thief spots this opportunity.”
As to where to lock it, Friedman says to go through the rear triangle and rear tire, and then put another cable or U-lock through the front tire. “Bike thievery is all about time,” he says. If jacking one bike doesn’t look easy and quick, a thief will likely move to another.
And just to throw out a couple other tips for urban riders that I’ve learned the hard way: Replace all your quick-release latches with locknuts and skewers to prevent your bits and pieces being snatched up like candy, and always write down the serial number (usually located under where the pedals meet). There’s always the chance during the next chop-shop bust the cops will find your bike, even if by that point it’s just a cannibalized frame.