Practical Advice for Transportation Cycling

Sometimes, all that matters is getting from Point A to Point B as cheaply, safely and efficiently as possible. You don't need a fast bike, you don't need a pretty bike, and most of all you don't need an expensive bike, you just need one that works.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Lockup

Unless you keep your bicycle indoors at home, and have a secure place to store it at work, eventually you're going to have to leave your bike unattended. Ideally, you'll have some way to make sure it's there when you get back.

Even if you're gone for a really long time.
This means you're going to have to use some sort of lock. The type, size, weight and cost of the lock is going to depend on how valuable your bike is,where you plan on leaving it and for how long. For an inexpensive bike that will be left parked in front of a coffee shop for a few minutes in a low-theft area, a lightweight cable lock will stop the "theft of opportunity," where someone is tempted by your unattended bike and rolls away because they're tired of walking. Whereas a high-theft area, such as an urban park or college campus (especially a college campus) might attract professional bike thieves who know they can score some easily resellable bikes and components, and come prepared with the tools and equipment to disable the average bike lock. These situations require stronger, heavier locks that will make the would-be bike thief move on to easier prey.

This, for example is how I lock my bike when I go to a typical New Jersey shopping mall. 
Cheap combination locks like these are easy to crack, and should be avoided for the most part (they'll still stop your bike from "rolling off" but they can usually be popped open with nothing more than a screwdriver). Whereas the other extreme of gigantic chain locks like these, while incredibly secure, can weigh in at 15-20 lbs, probably cost more than your beater bike, and are overkill for most commuters.

For most of us, a more moderate lock, both in size and price, will do the job. Aside from chain locks, there are cable locks, which are simply a length of heavy-duty cable attached to a locking mechanism, and there are U-locks, which are a U-shaped metal shackle closed at the end by a metal cylinder which contains the lock mechanism.

U-locks are generally stronger and more secure, but are heavier and take up more room in a bag or basket. They also are limited in what they can be attached to, meaning you can only lock your bike up to designated bicycle racks, handrails, signposts or similarly-sized objects.

Cable locks are generally lighter, but can be less secure, in part because they allow a would-be thief to move your bike around more easily to gain better leverage to break the lock. However, the same flexibility gives you the option of locking your bike to nonstandard posts, trees (where allowed, there's a fine of $1000 in NYC for locking to a tree) or whatever kind of attachment point you can find.

I own both types of lock, and use them in different situations, or if I'm really being paranoid, I use both of them at the same time (thieves usually use different tools on different types of lock, so having two types of lock means double the hassle to steal my ride). One other strategy I've used in the past, when I locked up in the same spot daily, was to simply leave my U-lock attached to the bike rack at work, so I didn't have to lug it back and forth.

There are lots of strategies for locking up your bike, and in future posts I hope to get some photos of locks "in the wild" to show you (if you've got particularly brilliant or stupid ones that you've seen, send them to me at velochelonian-at-gmail-dot-com), but the important thing is that you use a lock in the first place. Also bear in mind that no lock is unbreakable, but a good lock can make your bike difficult enough to steal that a would-be thief might move on to an easier target.

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