Unfortunately, bike theft is a serious issue at UIUC. Read this guide to learn how to make sure that your bike stays yours.
Because bike theft is such a ubiquitous issue at the University of Illinois, we’ve spent a good bit of time trying to understand it better. Based on data we got from the police departments here in Champaign-Urbana, we’ve constructed two maps, looking at bike theft on the UIUC campus and all over CU. The data show that not even cheap bikes are safe. The key to making your bike safe is locking it properly. We’ve also researched how students are locking their bikes on campus and found that almost half of the bikes can be easily stolen because of bad locks or bad locking practices. While that post also talked about how to lock your bike, we wanted to provide a better, clearer guide on what to do, rather than just what not to do.
Step 1: Get a good lock!
If you don’t have a good lock, anyone with a pair of reasonably sharp kitchen shears could make your bike theirs. We suggest you get either a U-lock or a chain lock. While these, too, can be broken into, it requires either an electric cutting implement or a lot of time with a hack saw. Keeping your bike from being stolen isn’t about making it impossible to steal, it’s about making it too much work to steal. Below are some quick notes about your lock options.
OPTION A: U-Lock
U-locks are a classic method of securing your bike. They’re heavy and kinda clunky, but can be easily attached to your bike, bag, or belt when riding and are difficult to break into. Just make sure that it doesn’t interfere with your wheels or your ability to steer when riding.
OPTION B: Chain Lock
Once we saw the amount of effort required to cut a chain lock we decided to start promoting it as a safe alternative to the more traditional U-lock. Their advantage over the U-lock is that they aren’t as rigid as a chain lock and can be worn over your shoulder or wrapped around another part of your bike. Keep in mind: all chains are not created equal. The chains we sell are heat-treated steel and weigh 3-4 pounds. Flimsy, light-weight chains will be nearly as useless as cable locks.
OPTION C: Cable Lock
Don’t do it. Seriously. Don’t do it. Don’t give in. I know they’re light. I know they’re easy to carry around. But they’re just so easy to cut. We even have a demo cable lock in our shop to show how easily you can break into them. Like I said earlier, kitchen shears. That’s it. We do carry some cable locks, but we only advocate their use in addition to a U-lock or a chain lock, and not instead of. They’re useful for people who want to be extra careful about their wheels, though if you have really nice wheels, it’s probably worth it to carry around the extra weight of a smaller U-lock. If you’re not going to lock up both your wheels, you should at least replace your quick release skewers. What’s quick for you is also quick for thieves.
Step 2: Properly use that lock!
A good bike lock is worthless as a bad lock if it’s not properly attached to your bike and something solid. That’s what we discussed in our first article on bike locks. Locking your bike properly involves thinking about where you’re attaching the lock on your bike and what object you’re connecting it to.
Generally speaking, the part of your bike that’s worth the most money is your frame. It’s also the part with the most attached to it. Because of that, when locking your bike, your frame should be your focus. Generally it’ll be easiest to attach your seat tube or down tube to a bike rack or other fixed item. It’s also good to attach at least one wheel through the lock, that’ll ensure that at least one wheel will be safe. To be safest, have multiple locks so that both wheels and your frame are secured. Make sure that your lock isn’t just looped around the handlebars or seats or attached to one wheel. This makes your lock easily removable. Even removing a wheel is easier than removing a lock, especially if you have quick release skewers.
ATTACHED TO WHAT?
Even if your bike lock is securely attached to your bike frame, if you don’t have it attached to something else secure, then it’s all for naught. The best place to lock your bike is generally a bike rack, but often this isn’t a choice. If you must lock your bike somewhere else, make sure it’s not going to block or inconvenience anyone. If it does, it could be removed. Attaching it to short poles like parking meters, as a recent picture linked to on the UIUC Reddit shows, is also not advisable. This just means that anyone with the strength and dexterity to lift this bike up a foot-and-a-half can take it. In short: Think before you lock.
1. BOTH WHEELS AND FRAME
If you want to keep your frame and wheels secure, make sure all three are connected somehow to a lock. A cable lock is a nice addition for those who don’t want to carry around two U-locks/chain locks, but if your wheels are expensive two good locks will be worth the weight.
2. ONE WHEEL AND FRAME
In my experience, connecting your lock through one wheel and the frame is the best compromise between practical and safe – provided you don’t have quick release skewers. There are two schools of thought as to which wheel to attach. One school says to attach the front wheel, because the back wheel is harder to remove. (Those of you familiar with Chicago will notice that this is the most common way of locking a bike there.) Another says to attach the back wheel because it’s more valuable.
3. ONE WHEEL, BUT FRAME SECURED (THE SHELDON BROWN LOCK STRATEGY)
This method was championed by famed bike mechanic Sheldon Brown and involves a lock attached around your back wheel between the seatstay and the chainstay. The beauty of this strategy is that you only have to attach at one point on your bike – the back wheel – but both that wheel and the frame remain secure. Even if the wheel is detached from the bike, you can’t get it out of the frame unless you chopped through the whole wheel, which would be at least as hard as cutting through the lock itself. This method also allows you to use lighter, mini U-locks (also available at Neutral Cycle) that, because of their small size, are even harder for thieves to find a way to cut.