Bike Security for the Road Cyclist

Fit to Be Tied
When it comes to city bikes, I admit my lock-up strategy is on the lax side. Not without admiration, I watch others execute the Sheldon Brown method, employ multiple U-Locks of various shapes and sizes, and drape their bikes in 20 lbs of shackle-like chains. Me? I use a cable lock, same one I've had for 5 years. It's a good, thick, Kryptonite combination lock, but it doesn't hold a candle to these more formidable strategies. Still I use it for the convenience of its versatility and weight, consciously accepting the heightened theft risk. While I never leave an unlocked bike unattended, even to run into a shop "for a second" (Oh the sad stories I've heard that begin this way!) neither do I lose sleep over my choice of lock-up method. As bike theft prevention goes, I am a shoulder-shrugging moderate.

Or so I thought, until I started going on long distance rides with roadies. There I'd be, extracting cable lock from saddlebag, only to watch my companions rest their custom roadbikes against the wall of whatever distant diner we'd stop at and …simply walk away, apparently content to leave their precious machines unattended for a good 40 to 60 minutes. Say what! Now I was the conservative, paranoid one. I understand the idea that out in the suburbs bike theft is less rampant than in the city. But it also seems easier to pull up and abscond with some sucker's fancy bike left propped against a tree for the taking.

As I began to lighten my roadbike setup - with 60 mile rides no longer seeming long-distance enough to warrant a saddlebag and the kitchen sink - reluctantly I abandoned the lock carrying habit. But this never felt comfortable. When I'd go out with a group, I could tell myself there was safety in numbers when leaving our bikes in a heap. But what about on my own? When you're flying through the countryside and panting your way up hills on your pared-down machine, it is not exactly fun to lug around a hefty lock for that occasional bathroom break or lunch stop. But maybe it's a case of something is better than nothing?

Abus Combiflex 201 Lock
Eventually I came to a compromise, in the form of a tiny, lightweight Abus Combiflex - a retractable cable gadget that uses a 3-digit combination, fits into a jersey pocket with room to spare, and will please the staunchest of weight weenies. Truth be told, it is basically a step up from tying my bike up with string, and two steps up from not securing it at all. But for the brief amounts of time I leave my roadbike unattended, it brings the theft risk down to a level I can accept.

Speaking of string… There is a bit in Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman about leaving a bike thus secured, which I thought was parody. But later I saw a man doing just that outside the town of Limavady. It was not exactly a string he used, but more like a thin piece of cord, extracted from the pocket of his hi-viz cycling jacket. With it he tied his race bike in a loose bow to a farm gate on the side of the road, before climbing over the gate and walking off across the muddy field in clipless shoes. Where he went I do not know, but I hope his bike awaited his return faithfully.

What is your bike security policy when you're out road cycling? Do you leave your bike unattended or must you always keep it in sight? Do you carry a lock …or a string?


  1. There was a time when I hadn't given this much thought, and didn't carry a lock when out on short and moderate rides. Then I had one of those "just going to run inside for a second" moments, in an emergency, while out in the burbs, and returned to find no sign of my trusty steed.

    These days, my usual road bike is an LHT tourer, and a decent, heavy, U-lock lives on the rear rack, where I've come to think of it as part of the cycle's base weight. So, I always have at least one strong lock with me, and will hopefully avoid a repeat.

  2. I'm far too protective of my bikes to venture out of the house without a u-lock/wire front lock (for my commuter bikes) and an ABUS chain [ ] for my roadbike. It's a pain, admittedly, but I would absolutely hate to lose any of my bikes - I have an emotional attachment to them, and that isn't something that insurance money can replace.

  3. I keep a similar tiny lock in my seat pack for exactly the same reason. Doesn't take up much room and keeps people from just walking off with the bike.

    I also added a musette bag that folds up small. Now I can do a quick errand on my way home from a road ride. It just seemed silly to ride home, switch bikes and go out again to pick up a small item or two. Details here:

  4. My thought is, the man who used the cord to tie up his bike did it to prevent it from falling over in the wind.

  5. Prior to the start of a Tour de Georgia, stage, I walked toward a restaurant to grab a bite and was a bit shocked to find a half dozen CSC cervelo team bikes leaned up against an exterior wall and the team members sitting inside relaxing and chatting prior to the start. Then again, the slowest of them was going to catch me in 100 yards even if I got a good head start with one of the bikes.

  6. Let's see...a bloggist who fetishizes her bikes yet will secure the city ones with a cable lock, which can be easily be defeated with a pair of Felcos or tin snips, pocketable to the nth degree. Weight savings!? On a city bike? In Don't buy that extra btl of wine, that would make the utility bike too heavy.

    Then...using the same feckless thing to secure a multi-thousand bike, whose cost, in large part, is borne of weight savings and efficiency. Why not just ride a chunky Surly, eat a lot of cake 'n' cheese while you're at it. At least you get to enjoy the extra poundage somewhat.

    There are a lot of strategies I employ, but shan't speak of them. Riding and securing is about figuring stuff out with your own noggin, not soliciting opinions.

    btw for someone so into the aesthetics of bikes that axiom decal is looking a little worse for wear. Looks ok to me tho. A far less egregious sin than the act of riding a really expensive bike around with a dry chain and pulleys, which seems to be rampant. "Ew, oil."

    I lied, just cos I like to be helpful:

    stack your bike on the inside in a bike pile
    secure with helmet strap
    secure with string in an out of the way place to other bikes, pole. wait, no good for you, too inconvenient.
    upside down, with light tying biz
    seat turned
    chain not seated
    wheel off
    eat outside
    take bike in
    ask if secure parking
    leave someone with
    turned stem
    behind stuff
    behind fence rail
    hung up on something. a tree.
    know your surroundings.
    put in in your suv
    under cover

    some of the above may result in tco, but can be remedied.

  7. Point 1 - The "Sheldon Method" flaws may be seen in the video at

    I suggest AT LEAST locking the frame to the rack and using the U Lock cable to protect the wheels.

    Point 2 - I USED to use a tiny, 3 digit lock, but after it broke when the bike was exposed to a gust of wind, I upgraded to a slightly less tiny, 4 digit lock made by Kryptonite with a Trek branding on it. They double as good ski locks and still fit into a small seat bag. I figure it gives me enough protection to run outside to confront a potential thief as long as I'm watching the bike while drinking my coffee. If that is insufficient, I bring the bike inside with me.

  8. I live in LA. I never go anywhere without a high-security U-lock, though it is the smallest one available.

  9. The sad truth is that any lock is just a reminder to keep the honest on the right path. Even the highest rated u lock can be easily defeated by a $50 battery power angle grinder and 5 minutes in unskilled hands. True bike security involves placement visibility and conscious thought in conjunction with hardware. In this situation I think this is a completely acceptable strategy against an unplanned attack.

  10. I keep a very small combination cable lock in my saddlebag on longer rides, which I call the "bull**** lock". A friend of mine uses something similar and calls it "an honest man's lock". You could cut it with a good cable cutter quickly, and with a pair of cheesy wire cutters with only a bit of difficulty, but it would theoretically at least slow someone down.
    I don't use it much, really, but there have been a few times when I was on brevets and by myself and had to leave the bike farther out of sight than I'd have liked while making a pit stop, and was glad I had it.
    On occasion I've also just buckled the bike to a post with my helmet straps, or if I'm with other people, buckled the bikes together with all the helmets in different places. Helmet straps aren't exactly high security, but at least if there are several of them it, it requires a couple more fiddly steps before you can just grab a bike and run off with it.
    Or at least that's the idea... I have to wonder how much of the "improved security" of these methods is all in my head. None of them would stop someone who was determined, but they might slow down the average opportunist walking by.

  11. That's a pretty nice bike to leave locked up with something my pocket Leatherman tool can cut. Are you still riding in Northern Ireland?
    Ha, but I use the TiGr lock. Also light, though not as light as your, uh, lock. It's good enough to stand up to anything short of a bolt cutter.
    When I'm riding with others I leave my bike with the group, but mostly because of peer pressure. I keep a paranoid eye on it the whole time I'm in the store, anyway.

  12. Wow. You are MUCH more trusting than I am. Of course, bike theft is rampant here in Denver. I won't leave my road bike at all... I mean, I won't get more than a foot away from it because there are plenty of stories of people snatching them right out from under the nose of the owner. When CatMan and I take bathroom breaks along the bike path we either take turns so we can watch each other's bikes, or we bring the bike into the bathroom with us.

    If I'm running errands on my bike, I use my old beater and a cable lock.

  13. I have basically the same set up as you, with the difference that my light wire lock has an battery powered alarm.

    The idea is that the cable can be easily cut, but an advertised loud alarm that would follow.....

    Got it for about 20 dollars on ebay. I think it is a actually a computer lock of some kind.

  14. I carry a lock, period. Can't afford to replace my only bike which happens to be of the road variety. My sons had their bikes stolen and they now do the same.

    You've got a stable of bikes, does that influence your decision? If someone walked off with the Seven you'd be disappointed but just replace it?

    I think if one is part of a group of competitive type cyclists and someone attempted a theft of one of the bikes they'd have to outride a pursuing, angry, mob. ;)

  15. I'd also like to hear what touring cyclists use/do.

    1. The Bordo I mention below comes with a sleeve that one can either bolt onto water bottle bosses or attach to the top tube with heavy duty velcro.

      The Bordo is a good option for touring security. The heavy duty version is at once very difficult to cut, flexible enough to attach to all sorts of things when racks are not around, but lighter than the heavy duty urban chains.

    2. I carried an Abus Granit Futura u-lock and a Kryptonite loop cable on my cross Canada tour. Most of the time, if I was just popping into a coffee shop, I'd leave the bike unlocked. It is a fully loaded touring bike after all, so anyone stealing it won't exactly be making a quick get-a-way. But once I had my tent pitched and panniers stowed, I'd often pedal into town and the lock was invaluable when visiting museums, shops, etc.

  16. I used to use a small cable [wire] with a very tiny keyed lock. I now use a combo cable, but it is too big and heavy to my liking. I really like this Abus lock you are showing and will be buying one of those!

  17. In a pinch, I will disconnect my front brake cable from the lever, snake it through/around the bench/rack/signpost and reconnect it to the lever.

  18. I live in Saint Paul, one of the Twin Cities of MN. The cities are very bike freindly. But where there are alot of people on bikes, theft is rampant. I have plenty of freinds who have had their bikes stolen even when locked. I've come up with what I think is a very good lock system and theft deterrent. Whenever I ride and I know I'll be away from my bike for any amount of time, I use my two locks in tandem. One is a Kryptonite U-lock, the other is a long heavy gauge brass cable lock. I thread the cable through each wheel and my seat (it's long enough which is nice). I then thread the U-lock through each cable loop and lock the frame to whatever worthy structure available. This way, my frame, seat and wheels are all secure. It's a bit of a procees doing this every time I lock my bike. But, it's a small price to pay for my investment and overall happiness. Love The Lovely Bicycle!

  19. I'm so happy to hear you say that. While I don't have much road-biking experience, I have been on extended hitch-hiking travels and met many cyclists who were out on road tours. As a thick-chain-carrying city-cyclist who is very protective of her trusty bicycle, I would watch in horror as people left their $3,000+ bikes (not to mention the gear) left outside unattended where any ol' hobo (me) or pickup truck driver could come across it. Eek!

  20. I use a good Kryptonite U-lock for my city bikes, but with my road bike I have a fairly similar combination cafe lock, for rides where I probably won't stop, but if I do, I've got a lock. It's not going to foil a proper theft, but it should deter opportunist thefts. Even if we're sat at an outside table we'll use it to lock the bikes together, as it just gives you a bit more peace of mind from someone walking off with it.

  21. Funny you should mention this -- I picked up one (not the same brand, but basically the same thing) of those little locks a while back, but haven't used it yet. It replaces my old lightweight solution -- a thin cable + padlock, which wasn't much bigger but did require fumbling for keys and tended to try to hook everything in my saddlebag when I'd pull it out.

    I do more in the city, but that's also because I was riding in Camberville back when bikes were rare, and seat-stealing and other vandalism was common. I didn't leave lights on there, had a saddle cable that got linked into the rest of the lock setup, always locked both wheels, etc. Nowadays I don't pull anything except my panniers off, and I just carry a U-lock and a cable so I can lock around something big like a tree. And the racks I used to use, where my bike would clearly be the only one currently rideable if any others were locked there at all have now quadrupled and contain lots of bikes. A while back down at MIT, I saw a fairly nice bike where someone had pulled the front wheel off and leaned it up against the bike, probably intending to lock it, but hadn't actually locked it -- and a couple days later, it was still there, all together. Such a change.

    I left my Seven unlocked for the first time on one of the populaire rides a few weeks back, because it was in a stack of equally-nice bikes, all unlocked, but it made me jumpy enough that I think I'll go back to being the paranoid one and lock it.


  23. I used to be paranoid about leaving my bike locked up for periods of time, but have become very complacent. I only use a cheap cable lock and always lock the bike up in a visible location. There is not a lot of bike theft where I live, I've only heard of one person getting their bike stolen and that was when it was left all day outside the train station, locked up of course.

  24. I carry a U-lock with me all week to lock up with at work. But I don't ever carry it with me when I go out on rides. It's heavy and bulky and the only lock I own. Yet I'm constantly paranoid when I'm out by myself and never leave my bike unlocked. Heck yeah I bring her into the store/bathroom/woods/wherever with me! I'm curious about these little cable locks now. I may see about finding one to keep in my saddlebag.

  25. I once caught a guy stealing my bike. I ran after him and was able to knock him off. We both fell to the pavement. I recovered my bike. He got away but I managed to get one of his shoes.

  26. Don't lock and leave a bike you can't let go of.
    Use bikes that work but look like shite. It doesn't have to look like rolling money to work well. If you must own a bike that is pure eye candy that bike always comes inside with you.
    Are you sure it can't come inside? Did you try? If they don't like your bike do they still get your patronage? Do they deserve the pleasure of your company? Maybe you can skip the whole trip.

  27. I've used the Abus Combiflex as you do, until it stopped working. (It just wouldn't lock anymore). Now I use the Knog equivalent (although I doubt it's any better quality).

    I theorise that if I stop at a cafe with other bikes at least mine won't be the one that gets stolen.

    For my steel touring/transport bike, I use an expensive near indestructible chain lock wound through the triangle and the rear wheel. I feel pretty confident that no one's getting away with it without an angle grinder.

  28. Unless I'm in racing mode I always carry a cable lock around the seatpost. This should do as long as I hop into a shop or a gas station for a power drink and a chocolate bar.

  29. I know two road cyclists that had their bikes stolen while they left them unlocked, unattended, in front of a shop [one shop was in a small town]. One cyclist was looking right at her bike being stolen but couldn't get out the door in time. I use a mid-range cable as U-locks are just too heavy for me to carry on my bike - like a Kryptonite Keyptoflex 3/8" that I can loop around tires and frame and be secured with a Brinks key padlock. I've had to saw through two flimsier combination lock cables to get my bike loose, as the inside gets stuck eventually - even with frequent lube. We have a humid climate. After I witnessed a bike shop dude snip a kickstand end off a bike with an industrial snipper like it was butter, I thought I needed to rethink how I tethered my bike. All we can do is slow down theft that will give us enough time to get to our bikes. I lock it - tires and frame, and try not to leave it unattended for more than 30-45 minutes. I check on it during that time. I do the best I can with a cable I can roll up and stick in my trunk bag. I had one of my bikes nearly nabbed a few years ago. I came out of a gas station shop in the nick of time to see a guy headed straight for my bike. He did a U-turn when he saw me. I'd been in the store less than 10 minutes.

  30. I always carry and use a Kryptonite U lock even though my bike is a recumbent, which us bent folks used to think no one would steal. Today any bike, even a beater, is a target for the buck$ it can bring.

    My bent was stolen out of my sister's garage and months later was spotted by a friend on Craigslist for $300. The bent has been S&S coupled and is worth at least $2,500.

    I will rarely leave my bike unattended or I stop some place where I can keep an eye on my bike. Paranoia prevails.

    For certain stores such as a Walgreen's I'll bring my bike inside. Often I get a "You can't bring your bike in the store." To which I reply: "Do you make mothers leave their baby strollers outside?" I often get a "huh?" look and say: "You do know that most wheels on strollers are bicycle wheels, right?" More often than not I continue shopping with my bike in tow. BTW, it is a much easier argument with my Bike Friday than my recumbent. :o)

  31. I use a heavy weight Abus Bordo with the commuter as I may lock it up outside for a few hours at a time.

    For the road bike I use the light weight version: This fits easily into the mid-size Acorn seat bag along with my tools, spare inner tube and snacks. The Bordo design is rather versatile. It has worked well for me locking the bike to racks, fences, small trees, a stand pipe running down a small building, and the occasional sign post.

    There is some weight penalty compared to your examples, but it has worked well for me three years now.

  32. My thirty-five year old rusted bike has no value nowadays but I use a good folding lock. In fact it took me a lot of time to repair every old component: hubs, freewheel, tensioning the spokes, derailleurs, cantilever brakes … The amount of work lets me feel sentimental: if I lose this bike I should be sad.
    I never leave my expensive 650B randonneur when I ride through the countryside: I don’t use a lock but I am thinking of buying a tiny lock like. Why not, it weighs only 50g.

  33. The bike that probably meant the most to me in my life – I rode it in my teens – was unbranded, a 'bitza' (bitza this, bitza that – what you'd call a frankenstein) built up by the proprietor of the lbs. It had 'riser bars' (there’s probably a more esoteric name for them) which he'd angled backwards, or maybe even turned upside down. I wasn't very technical then, so I just assumed that they were special bars, unique in the whole world. I loved that bike, but it got stolen outside the school. Whoever stole it probably turned the bars the right way up or else they'd have got caught. Either that or they were as thick as me, didn't realize the bars were twisted round, took cold feet for fear of getting caught with a 'unique' bike and dumped it in the river. I'd have dumped them in the river if I'd caught them. It wasn't even locked, just propped against the school railings. I was going on the basis that it had never been stolen so why lock it?* I was still learning how to think.

    *It probably won't surprise you that I'm part-Irish – a stereotypically Irish way of thinking – why lock a bike when it's never been stolen?**

    **If you say that in an Irish accent it makes perfect sense. :) Sad fact is, though, you never believe it will happen until after it does.

    On the subject of theft prevention, there was a legendary DJ in the UK called John Peel who drove a beat-up old Mercedes. I'm not sure if he even locked it, but his 'anti-theft device' was to leave a pair of dirty underpants on the driving seat. The fact that it was never stolen was proof positive to him that the strategy worked.

    I guess you could apply the same principle to bike theft. All you would need to do is wear the same underpants for at least a month – either that or just don’t use toilet paper for a couple of days, it's quicker – then keep them in a sealed plastic bag, take them out (turn your head away first, of course, and hold your breath) and drape them over the saddle every time you leave the bike. Cheaper than a Kryptonite, ultra-light and just as effective!

    Sorry, Velouria, lowering the tone of your blog here... :)

  34. Have left all bikes unlocked, but never while unattended. Have used cable/padlock and u-lock.
    A big pile of unlocked bikes on a ride is no issue, as mine's usually deep in the mix, and I sit close. Always within reach.

    The little Abus lock is a neat idea.
    Still, bikes are easy prey for a very robust illegal trade here. You see a lot of street addicts with what were $3k downhill bikes. Often with mismatched components as they'd been stripped and c-listed.

    I like the string or cord idea. Seems almost a magical ritual in there; a psychic binding, if you will.

  35. Here in New York, most bike shops will sell you a small cable lock for about $10 that they install between frame and seat as bike saddle theft is apparently a big issue.

    The biggest locks seem to be on the delivery bikes, just the other day I saw a man hop off his bike and secure it to a stop sign using a giant, chain lock which he had thrown over his shoulder. This has been enough to convince me to use both cable and U lock to secure my bike in the city!

  36. I only ride in super rich areas where people would be ashamed to be seen on my bike. Seems to work - some even toss me a buck or two out of sympathy.

  37. Living outside a city which is renowned for it's bicycle culture and an INSANE amount of bicycle thefts each year (Copenhagen, Denmark) I think we danes are quite used to our bikes getting nicked every now and then. Almost everyone I know who commute by bike have had numerous bikes stolen. That being said, us danes are careless when it comes to locking our bikes and if you really want to keep your bike it's quite possible by tying your bike to something solid with a U-lock or a foldable lock. Do you know the Abus Bordo foldable lock:;navigation=1;menu=1000,5,74;product=19743

    Very neat and compact mounted on the frame - true brilliance compared to a clunky u-lock.



  38. There's actually a nice review 'bout the Bordo lock here:

  39. 40 years ago on Beacon Hill in Boston I saw a Harley-Davidson chained to a signpost with a charm bracelet. Nice touch.

    I chain everything on any bike together with heavy chains and heavy locks and trust no one, because there are now so dreadfully many thieves. I will not part with a loved bike just because of my SLOTH.

  40. Living in a city- I was used to using a kryptonite nyc chain lock- that, yes, weighs a ton. When packing for a tour- I knew I didn't want to bring that thing. I knew I wanted to bring something long- to give me ease of choices to lock up to. I had some basic hardware chain lying around and a plain old hardware store lock- so I though why not. Put a bike tube over the chain to not mess up the paint- which I think also adds some chain lack of beefiness camoflauge. When I lock-up, I usually lock my helmet to my lock anyway- got in the habit of trying to tuck the lock body in the helmet- to not draw attention to it's inferior status. Weighs less than a u-lock. Have kept my bike even locking in cities (though it also probably helps that my bike is very not fancy)

  41. I live in a small city with very little theft, and my bike is very old and looks like a junker. So I'm comfortable using the barest of cable locks - one that I can literally wear like a bracelet if I have no pockets. It won't stop a determined thief, but if they're that desperate for my $50 bike then they can have it.

  42. On my rando bike I use a leather toe strap to tie the front wheel to the downtube. Obviously not secure against a determined thief but it seems to produce sufficient inconvenience to deter the casual opporunist. A string is probably lighter but I have always been in the habit of carrying an extra toe strap.

    My porteur uses a ulock mounted in a leather holster and my dutch bike a classic wheel lock with chain attachment.

  43. My dad is fond of saying "locks are for honest people"

    That said, if I do wind up locking up at work in Waltham I use a U-lock that I leave there. For my country runs, a lightweight cable lock (like your Abus) seems sufficient to deter someone from casually walking away.

  44. Good & Bad things about my cycle security.
    Bad at 2.04M (6'8") tall I cannot get an off the peg bike and end up spending fortunes on custom frames.
    Good, if I am just nipping into a shop I figure that only someone of similar stature could ride it away.
    I hope no one realises how much a Rohloff hub is worth!


Post a Comment