Bike Life Skills: How to Lock Your Bike

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Erin Potter Tweet Us @BikeArlington@BikeArlington June 20, 2017

Erin Potter is the former Program Manager for BikeArlington.

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So you’ve got a bike, and no matter how expensive it was, it’s yours. And you’d prefer it stay that way. So what’s a savvy bike rider supposed to do?

A woman locks her bike at the Clarendon metro station.

The Basics

Your bike should be more secure than the bike parked next to it.

Most thieves pick easy targets, so the primary purpose of any bike locking strategy is to make your bike the hardest one to snag on the block.

Get the best lock you can afford. 

Generally speaking, a U-lock is going to be your best bet. Cable locks, no matter how thick, can generally be cut with a pair of scissors. Seriously. Also, get the smallest U-lock you can, while still securing your rear wheel and frame (jump ahead to the visual in step three) to the rack. This makes it harder for someone to pry it open, and it’s lighter for you to carry around.

The Best Way to Lock Your Bike

1. Lock it up. Every time.

Believe it or not, most stolen bikes weren’t locked at the time. This includes scenarios as diverse as “But I was only in the store for a minute” and “But it was inside my garage/apartment bike room!” If you’re leaving your bike unattended, be sure to lock it up to avoid joining the world’s saddest bike-less chorus.

2. Find a secure and stable place to lock your bike.

Look for a purpose-built bike rack, and give it a good shake to make sure it’s securely fastened to the pavement. Stay away from trees and transit signs—trees help us breathe and transit helps people get places. Parking it in a place visible to bystanders can also help. Check out our neat website called Rackspotter can help you find bike racks near your current location.

3. Optimize the rear triangle advantage.

Use your study, but not too large, U-lock to secure the rear wheel and frame of your bike to the vertical part of the bike rack. Don’t just lock the wheel, which can be easily removed. You want to lock up as many expensive parts as possible.

4. Bonus Security: Double Up.

For additional security, use a secondary lock to secure your front wheel. This secondary lock can be a cable looped through your primary U-lock or a second U-lock.

If you’re leaving your bike locked up outside for long periods of time, you might consider locking up smaller and easier to remove parts, too. A local bike shop will be able to help you find special products to secure your bike seat and replace the quick release skewers on your wheels with locking mechanisms.

5. Don’t forget your lights!

Most theft is the result of opportunity, so don’t leave anything easily removable on your bike. Think lights, bags, helmet or other small gadgets you’d hate to buy twice.

What else can you do?

Register your bike!

The Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) has a snazzy online form to help you register your bike with the County. It’s not mandatory, but is recommended. ACPD will maintain a permanent record of your bike by serial number and name, which can be useful were your bike were to be stolen. Registration is free, and a decal is provided.

Report an abandoned bike.

Abandoned bikes provide easy targets and encourage bike theft. If you see a lonely bicycle in your travels, report the location and bike description to the Arlington Count Police Department (ACPD) at 703-228-4057. ACPD will tag the bike and wait several months to give the owner ample time to claim the bike. Then, ACPD will remove the bike and hold on to it for an additional period of time before donating it to a local nonprofit.

Tell your neighbors!

Our friends at Arlington Transportation Partners created a nifty information card about proper bike lock techniques. If you work for a property manager, or just want a few to share with neighbors, order some online!

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