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6 October 2021

How to securely lock and protect your bike

We explain where and how to lock your bike securely, the best way to deter bike thieves, and what to do if your bike is stolen.
SM
Sam Morris

Approximately 300,000 bikes were stolen in 2019, according to the the Crime Survey for England and Wales.

Investing in good lock (or locks) is the obvious first step to protect your bike, but a lock is only as good as what you secure it to – and that's assuming you use it in the first place. 

Many bike thefts take place when the bike hasn't been locked at all, either because the owner forgets, or assumes they don't need a lock because the bike is in a secure area. 

Our guide lets you know how to register and security-mark your bike, gives top tips for where and how to lock your bike at home or on the go, and advises on what to do if your bike's been stolen.


Best bike locks – we've tested leading locks to find which are the toughest for thieves to crack


Securing your bike in public

2020 was a strong year for bike sales, with analyst Mintel reporting a 22% increase. 

If you're one of the growing number of cyclists using a bike to commute or to enjoy long weekend rides in the countryside, at some point you'll inevitably need to lock it in public. 

Where and how you lock your bike plays a big role not only in foiling an attempted robbery, but also in deterring a wannabe bike thief in the first place.

A determined thief, with the right tools and uninterrupted time, will eventually be able to break any lock. So the trick is to make your bike as difficult and unappealing to steal as possible.

As calculated as it sounds, if another bike looks less secure than yours, most thieves will go for the easier option.

Where to lock your bike in public

cyclist closing bike hanger

Ideally, you want to lock your bike to a secure object, in a place that's well lit, where lots of other people pass by. This gives any potential criminals less time to try stealing your bike undisturbed.

Follow these dos and don'ts for finding the best location to secure your bike. It won't always be possible to follow all of these rules, but apply as many as you can. 

Do

  • lock your bike at recognised secure cycle parking These are clear designated spaces to lock your bike, such as bike racks or hangers. They will have an immovable object (usually a closed metal post cemented into the ground) to secure your bike to.
  • check that the object you're securing your bike to hasn't been tampered with In rare cases, thieves have been known to cut through bike racks before 'resetting' them to hide the cut. They can then come back later and slide bike locks off the broken rack. Give the object a quick physical check before locking your bike to it, and make sure it doesn't move easily when you pull at it.
  • Choose a well-lit area, preferably with CCTV This will be a major deterrent for bike thieves, as they will be easily identified if they attempt a theft.
  • Choose a busy location, with lots of foot traffic Lots of people around means a thief is less likely to get enough time alone to try to break your bike's lock.
  • Lock it up where there are other bikes already locked up This offers safety in numbers, as it's more likely that other cyclists will be coming and going throughout the day and will spot and report any thieves.

If you have an expensive bike, such as an e-bike, avoid leaving it in the same place on a regular basis. A determined thief might spot your pattern, and target the more expensive bike. Also make sure you take the e-bike's removable battery with you.

Don't

  • lock your bike to an open-ended structure Thieves can just lift your bike over the top of a sign post, for example.
  • lock your bike to an object that can be easily cut Avoid wooden fence posts, trees, sign posts and plastic drain pipes. These can all be cut or broken by even an opportunist thief, making your expensive, secure bike lock pointless.
  • lock it in a quiet area that doesn't get much foot traffic You might assume that a secluded spot means fewer people will notice your bike, but it actually allows a thief to work at breaking your bike lock undisturbed. With enough time, a determined thief will eventually break it, so a busy area will give them less time to do so before someone interrupts them. 

How to lock a bike in public

two story bike rack with bikes

No matter what type of lock you have, there are some general pointers that will make your bike more difficult to steal.

  1. If possible, always use two different locks to protect your bike One of them should be a U-lock, as these tend to be stronger. While cable locks are useful for quick stops (nipping into a coffee shop for a few minutes, for example), go for a stronger, more secure lock if you're locking up the bike for any length of time.
  2. Make sure you lock the bike frame and both wheels to the bike stand If there are any loose parts you can't secure, such as the saddle or a wheel, consider taking them with you when you leave your bike. Thieves have been known to take parts of bikes to sell.
  3. Use locking skewers or nuts on detachable parts you can't realistically take with you Taking items with you might be not be convenient. Locking nuts need non-standard keys to remove them, and can replace the current nuts on your wheels and saddle post, making them harder for thieves to undo. Locking skewers replace the entire axle of a bike wheel, and are a more secure replacement for wheels that have quick-release mechanisms. Most good bike retailers will sell locking nuts or skewers.
  4. Lock your bike as closely as possible to the object This gives thieves less room to manoeuvre the bike, which will make it more difficult to get their tools in to break the locks.  
  5. Make sure the locks are off the ground, with the keyhole(s) facing down Elevating the lock helps to prevent a thief using a hammer to smash it, and ensuring the keyhole faces downwards makes it harder for someone to access and pick the lock.

How to buy the best bike – our expert guide to getting the right bike for you


Why you should use two locks to secure your bike

It's good practice to use two different types of lock, such as U-locks, chain locks, folding locks and textile locks - see our Best Bike Locks guide to find out more about each type.

 Doing this allows more of the bike to be secured, and will require any thieves to use slightly different tools and tactics to break each lock. Cable locks are another, cheap type of lock, but less secure, so we wouldn't recommend you rely solely on these to secure your bike. 

If using U-locks, make sure you fill the inside space as much as possible - as pictured above - before locking it to a secure bike rack. By fitting as many parts of your bike within the U-lock as possible, it makes it harder to move the lock, protecting against leverage attacks. This is when a thief inserts a pole in the inside space of the U-lock and twists until the lock pops open.

Secure the frame and front wheel in one lock, and the frame and back wheel in the other. This secures both wheels to the stand and bike frame, and the frame to the stand – giving your bike the best protection. 

Can I get away with a single lock plus a cable?

If you can't justify the cost of two locks, another popular method for securing both wheels and bike frame to a stand is to use a single U-lock and an additional cable with loops at each end (but no lock). 

This method might be cheaper than buying two locks, but the cable offers less security against attacks. If you go with this approach, make sure you're leaving the bike in a well-lit, busy location with CCTV if possible.  

Secure the back wheel and frame to the stand with the U-lock. Before locking it, put one loop of the cable through the U-lock, then thread the cable through the front wheel and place the other loop on the U-lock. Then lock the U-lock.

The back wheel and frame should be secured to the stand, and the front wheel secured to the bike frame via the cable.


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Securing your bike at home

A significant number of bike thefts occur while the bike is in or parked outside the owner's home – usually because people assume the home is more secure, so take fewer precautions to properly secure the bike.

In truth, you should put as much thought into properly locking a bike at home as you would in public. The principles are very similar. 

Where to lock your bike at home

cyclist putting bike in shed

Inside the building

If you're able to, bringing the bike inside your house or flat is the most secure option.

Avoid leaving it in a communal area if you live in a block of flats; these tend to have less security and often don't have an immovable object to secure your bike to. 

If you need to free up some floor space, buy a wall mount for your bike.

In a shed or garage  

The next best solution is to lock your bike in outdoor storage; usually a shed or garage.

Ensure there's a strong, solid object to lock your bike to. For example, you could cement a ground anchor into the garage floor, or screw a bike rack to a wooden shed. 

The bike locks you use at home don't need to be portable, so buy the biggest and heaviest locks you can afford to give your bike the most protection.

It's worth spending a bit of time ensuring the storage is also secure. Buy a decent padlock for the shed or garage door. You could even consider investing in a shed alarm to deter would-be thieves.

Outside

If you have no alternative but to leave your bike outside, then it might be best to consider getting some form of bike storage.

No matter how quiet and safe it seems where you live, an unlocked bike is asking to be nicked. Invest in a bike storage unit or, if there isn't room, install a ground anchor and get a bike cover.

Another alternative is to look for plant locks, like those offered by Front Yard Company

Plant locks are steel troughs which, once planted, weigh more than 75kg. You can then lock your bike to the trough.

How to lock a bike at home

bike locked to ground anchor

You should secure your bike at home in the exact same way you would lock a bike in public. This will give your locked bike the greatest protection against thieves. 


Buying the best outdoor storage – read our advice on getting a great bike shed


Registering and security-marking your bike

Prevention is better than cure, but if – despite your best efforts – your bike is stolen, you'll want the best chance of getting it back. Registering and security-marking it will help with this; security-marking can also act as a deterrent. 

How and why to register your bike

Bike Register Logo

When a stolen bike is recovered, it's often difficult for police to return it or prosecute offenders, as the owner can't be traced.

A crucial step to protecting your bike, and getting it back if it gets stolen, is to register it on a secure, recognised national database. 

BikeRegister is free and used by every UK police force to search for stolen and recovered bikes.

Registering gives you a lifetime registration in the database, and a logbook to use as proof of ownership. 

Recording as many details as possible – such as a photo of your bike plus the bike's model, frame number and colour – makes it more likely that the police will be able to return your bike to you to you if they find it in the possession of thieves.

However, it doesn't make it a less appealing target for criminals. 

We recommend buying a security-marking kit, as this will put a visual deterrent on your bike. 

How to security-mark your bike

Applying security marking the bike

When you sign up to BikeRegister, you can buy a database label or stamp to put on it. This will also give your bike a completely unique reference number (as not all frame numbers are unique), making it even easier to reunite you with it if it's found.

Security-marking can also act as a valuable deterrent to would-be thieves, as they know that if they're caught with a registered bike, it's easy for the police to prove the bike is stolen and arrest them.

A variety of security-marking options are available. For example, you can pay for one of the following when you sign up to BikeRegister, or you can purchase them directly at bike retailers such as Halfords. We've linked to each product at Halfords below.

  1. Membership Plus Kit £12.99 - two durable, tamper-resistant barcode labels that can be stuck to your bike. Recommended for frames that are uncoated.
  2. Permanent Marking Kit £19.99 - DIY chemical etching kit that permanently marks your unique code on to the bike frame. It also includes a tamper-resistant label. This kit isn't recommended for uncoated frames (that aren't painted or lacquered).
  3. UV Covert Kit £29.99 - DIY kit that etches your unique code on to the bike frame. It's invisible unless seen under UV light, so doesn't change your bike frame's appearance. It also includes a tamper-resistant label. This kit isn't recommended for uncoated frames (that aren't painted or lacquered).

How to buy the best bike lights – top tips to kit out your bike for night riding


What to do if your bike is stolen

Bike stand with tyre locked to it

If your bike is stolen, you should contact the police as soon as possible. 

Adverts to sell stolen bikes usually appear online within 24 hours of the theft, although sometimes it takes longer.

The following steps will maximise your chance of getting your bike back:

  1. Contact the police If the theft is in progress call 999, otherwise you can report it online. BikeRegister has a police contact database that gives you information on how to contact your local police force. If the theft occurs on public transport, call the British Transport Police on 0800 405040.
  2. Give as much detail as possible Let them know which database your bike is registered with (if any) and its ID number, and provide a photo and as many other details as you can. 
  3. Alert a bike database Even if your bike isn't registered, you can still report it to the database as stolen. BikeRegister's page on reporting a stolen bike guides you through the steps you need to take. Doing this makes it easier for the police to prove a bike is in the wrong hands.
  4. Keep an eye out for an advert online Websites such as Find that Bike and Bikeshd (London specific) list adverts for bikes placed on online marketplaces, making it easier for you to spot your stolen bike if the thief tries to sell it.

Folding electric bike buying guide – top tips for getting the best electric bike for commuters


Should I get bike insurance?

Ultimately it's your choice, but if you have a valuable bike that you'd struggle to afford to replace if it was stolen, then making sure it's covered by insurance is a sensible precaution. 

But before you buy a dedicated policy, check your home contents insurance policy. Often, cheap to mid-range bikes are covered as standard under a contents or combined buildings and contents home insurance policy. 

Not every policy covers bikes as standard, though, and even if yours does it might not cover everything you need it to. For example, your bike might only be covered if it's stolen from within your home, or up to a certain value (ranging from a few hundred pounds to more than a thousand, depending on the policy). 

If you want to cover your bike while you're out and about, you might need to buy an add-on from your insurer. Alternatively, you could buy a standalone, specialist bike-insurance policy. This might also be your best bet if you want to insure a high-value bike, such as an electric bike or high-end racing bike. 

Specialist insurance for a high-value bike typically costs between £150 and £300 a year, but such policies often provide higher levels of cover and extra features. Depending on the policy, these can include:

  • theft or damage cover anywhere in the UK 
  • bike damage due to an accident while on the road
  • damage while in an official race
  • lost race fees if you can't compete
  • personal accident payout if you're seriously injured
  • theft or damage to bike accessories
  • roadside assistance.

Whatever type of insurance you have, you must secure your bike properly when you're not using it. Some policies might not pay out if your bike is stolen and it wasn't properly secured; check the small print carefully to make sure you know what 'properly secured' means to your insurer.


Feeling like you need a new or better lock? Choose one that will keep your bike secure using our bike lock reviews