Having your bike stolen, or catastrophically vandalized, is practically a rite of passage in Brooklyn. But it doesn't have to be! While nothing can stymie a determined bike thief entirely, a little care, a few common sense precautions, and some useful hardware can help lower your risk of theft.
The Experts At Bicycle Station in Fort Greene, owner Mike Rodriguez has a basic distrust of all bike locks—he says that the only truly safe bike is inside, and in your line of sight. Nonetheless, Bicycle Station staffers Cleon and Josh offered up a variety of tips for a safer, if not completely secure, bike.
Brian Gluck of Brooklyn Bike & Board takes a more optimistic view. He declared that he had never had a bike stolen, and then amended that statement, admitting to having been the victim of an acquaintance-theft at the hands of a former roommate. Gluck believes that proper preparation, a savvy locking strategy and basic common sense can save bikers a lot of heartache and a lot of money in replacement costs. "We have people coming in all the time who don’t know how to lock their bikes properly—we’re always giving mini-demos," he says. Here’s a walk-through of some of the good ideas we gleaned from Bicycle Station, Brooklyn Bike & Board and the bike advocacy organization Transportation Alternatives.
Locks and Hardware Locks: According to Brian Gluck, how much you lock up or leave on your bike all depends on just how much of a pain in the ass you want to be to a thief. A coil or u-lock will probably hold your bike for a few minutes in front of the co-op, but for longer lockups, the only thing that will really deter a thief is a big, thick reinforced chain, such as the Kryptonite “Fahgettaboudit.” The best setup is one that combines multiple locking systems, and Kryptonite and others often sell locks in sets.
Skewers: You can also protect the removable components of your bike with locking skewers. These nifty bits of hardware replace the quick-release skewers on your seat, wheels, and other places on the bike. Sold individually or in sets of four or six, locking skewers employ removable handles or key releases that make it difficult for anyone but the owner to remove them. The guys at both bike shops suggest the use of locking skewers, but they offer a caution—it’s easy to lose or forget the key, and find that you’ve locked yourself or your bike repairman out. When this happens, all is not lost, but you will need a new set of skewers.
Take it With You: If you don't use skewers, make sure to remove detachable hardware when you lock up your bike. Don’t leave those front wheels, steering columns, handlebars, and seats just waiting to be plucked like low-hanging fruit. Nothing is too small to steal—tire valve caps and brake pads are notorious for going missing.
Preventive Measures Beyond Locking Documentation: Register your bike with the National Bike Registry, or another reputable registry of your choice. $10 will buy you 10 years of inclusion in their database, which is made available to law enforcement agencies nationwide. They send you a customized sticker to attach to your bike so that if it is recovered by the police post-theft, it will be traceable through the database. You can also, for 99 cents, register a bike post-theft for six months. The registry is far from foolproof, as most bike thieves grind off bike serial numbers and remove any ID first thing, but not every thief is a professional, and every little bit helps.
Photo shoot: In the event of theft one of your best resources can be local word of mouth (more on this later). Make sure you have a few good pictures of your ride from every angle—then you’ll have documentation that proves your ownership and may be useful in helping others to recognize and recover if the worst should happen.
Picky parking: According to both Gluck and the guys at Bicycle Station, where you park can be as important as how you lock. There’s no bike as safe as the one hanging over your desk, but for those of us who can’t bring them inside, the bike experts offered some tips. Make sure that your tie-up spot of choice is too wide to slip the lock over the top (no skinny posts). Vary your location—don’t leave the same bike in the same spot for eight hours a day, day after day. That’s a dead giveaway to thieves that they have all the time in the world to do their dirty work. Park in areas with plenty of people around, where a bike theft might be noticeable. Don’t, however, count on bystanders to save your ride.
Somewhat counter-intuitively, Josh and Cleon suggest avoiding parking spaces near swanky buildings, the kind with maintenance staff and doormen. Although most thieves wouldn’t attempt a theft under the watchful eye of building staff, there’s a good chance that the staff themselves might cut down your scruffy bike. If you’re the sort who doesn’t mind dubious karma, Cleon also suggests, with tongue almost in cheek, giving some thought to who you park next to. A beat-up clunker locked next to a shiny new smoothie will almost always be second choice. The best place to park long-term is inside. Bike-friendliness varies widely in NYC buildings, but is improving, due to the increase in bike commuting and to the advocacy of bike organizations such as Transportation Alternatives. Try to negotiate access into your workplace, perhaps through a freight elevator or an alternate entrance.
The Bigger Picture Bike culture in NYC is rapidly evolving. The advocacy of groups like Transportation Alternative have raised cycling’s profile in the city, and led to an increase in bike lanes and parking options. TransAlt’s Bicycle Blueprint: A Plan to Bring Bicycling into the Mainstream in New York City provides a detailed, step-by-step picture of the larger goal of their organizational advocacy. Safer parking is one of their major goals, and their proposed solutions, both legislative and regulatory, would significantly reduce the headache of trying to hang on to your vehicle.
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