I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen fully loaded touring bikes left at campsites, completely unguarded, not locked up… just sitting there! Even worse is when I see a bike with a lock around it, but the lock is thrown over a three-foot high post – a post that anyone could simply lift the bike over and walk away with the bike in a matter of seconds!
Today I want to talk about some ways to lock up your bike and your gear so that your possessions don’t get stolen.
First of all, you need a good lock. I recommend a keyed cable lock like the one shown above.
There are two main things to look for when looking for a bike lock. The first and most important is that the cable is thick enough that it cannot easily be cut. In the past I’ve emerged from the bank, post office, and grocery store only to find that there were large chucks of plastic cut from my bike lock. Fortunately, the bike and lock remained intact because the cable itself was thick enough to withstand whoever happened to be trying to cut it free.
Secondly, you need a cable lock that is long enough to wrap around your bike, rear tire, and the object you are trying to secure the bike to (i.e. a telephone pole, picnic table, tree, or bike rack). The longer the cable, the better. But keep in mind that the longer your cable is, the more weight you are going to be carrying on your bike. My bike lock is long enough to easily go through the frame of my bike, the rear tire and the object I’m locking my bike to. If I really wanted, I could run the lock through my front tire as well – which might come in handy if I were in an especially dodgy area.
Another important feature you might want to look for is the type of key used in the lock. It’s best to buy a lock that uses a real metal key. Some locks have a plastic looking type of key that they use. I don’t like these because I’ve had them break on me… and when that happens, you’re screwed!
I also don’t like to use those huge U-Locks because they are heavy, hard to pack in your panniers/trailer, and don’t give you a lot of reach when trying to secure your bike to unusual objects. U-Locks can be great for other purposes, but they are far from ideal on a bicycle tour.
Instead, here are a couple locks that look promising and I would recommend you use:
Now that you have a lock, you need to know how to lock up your bike. This is the really important part!
Today I am going to be discussing the five main objects you might be locking you bike to: Poles, trees, picnic tables, bike racks, and nothing (meaning you have nothing to lock you bike to).
If you are going to lock your bike to a pole (i.e. street sign, telephone pole, building support, etc), make sure that the pole is tall enough that the bike and lock cannot simply be lifted over the top of the pole. The pole should be at least 10 feet tall (or taller), as this will prevent any normal human from being able to lift the bike to freedom. I will usually never lock my bike to a pole unless it is at least 20 feet tall, but that’s just my own paranoia getting to me I think. It’s up to you to decide what is going to be safest.
Secondly, make sure that the pole is actually stuck in the ground. Many stop signs, streets signs, and industrial poles are set in the ground, but can be easily lifted out of the earth and carried away. The last thing you want to do is lock your bike to a pole like this, only to come back to you bike and find that not only is it gone, but so is the pole you had secured it to!
Finally, make sure the pole is thick enough that it cannot be cut, hammered, or bent out of place. I once talked to a bicyclist who had locked his bike to a PVC pipe that was sticking out of an old shed, only to return moments later and find that his bike was gone and the PVC pipe had been smashed to bits.
Like locking your bike to a pole, make sure that the tree you are locking your bike to is tall enough that the bike and lock cannot simply be lifted over the top of the tree.
Also, make sure that the tree itself is thick enough that it cannot be easily sawed, kicked, or hacked down. I would probably never lock my bike to a tree that had a diameter of less than 5 or 6 inches.
Also, make sure that the tree cannot be easily uprooted. Unlike metal poles that are most often submerged in concrete, trees are often times found in moist soil and the tree itself can sometimes be pulled out of the ground with a simple “heave-ho.”
Finally, make sure you lock the bike around the trunk of the tree and not just a branch or root. I hope I don’t have to tell you why this is a necessity!
If you’re camping at a campground, city park, or other outdoor arena, it’s very likely that there is a picnic table in you vicinity. If so, this is an excellent object to secure your bike to!
Make sure that you lock your bike around the center of the bench, in an area where the lock cannot be simply lifted over the edge of the table. I’ve seen this mistake countless times and it’s ruined many bicycle expeditions.
Secondly, make sure the table itself is secured to the ground. This isn’t an absolutely necessity, but it definitely adds an extra layer of security. This is especially important if you are traveling alone, as a picnic table and your attached bike can easily be moved my two or more evildoers. If you have two bikes attached to the table, it is unlikely a would-be thief would try and move the table with two or more bicycles locked to it.
Finally, if you’ve got your bike locked to a picnic table in a public park or campground, try and position your tent as close to the bike as possible. This will allow you to see or hear anything that might be happening to the bike during the night. The closer the bike is to you, the better!
If you’re making a stop at a bank, post office, or grocery store, it’s likely you’ll find a bike rack in front of the store/business. Be thankful that the store has provided you with a place to lock up your bike, but don’t always assume you must lock up your bike there.
Many times I will refuse to lock my bike to a bike rack… and here are some reasons why you might make the same decision:
First of all, many bike racks are small, lightweight metal loops stuck into the ground with a single bolt. Some racks are not secured into the ground at all… and these are the racks you want to avoid! If you can pick up the rack with two hands, then you need to find another place to secure your bicycle. The last thing you want is to lock you bike to a bike rack and find that the bike and the rack itself were hauled away while you were inside the building.
Secondly, I’ve seen many bike racks made out of such thin or rusted metal that you could break the rack apart in a second if you happened to have a hammer with you or were simply strong enough to break apart the metal. Never lock your bike to a severely rusted or damaged rack.
Instead, you want to lock your bike to a rack that is secured to the ground (or building), that is made of thick, impenetrable metal, and that is in a location where people passing by could see a potential thief tampering with your bike. If the rack looks good, use it to secure your bike and gear. Be sure to back the bike in and secure both the frame and rear tire to the rack. Never lock your bike solely around your front tire – as this is the easiest part of the bike to remove and later replace.
NOTHING TO LOCK TO:
There are many times when you will be unable to find something to lock you bike to. No posts, no trees, no bike racks – nothing! If you find yourself in this situation, don’t give up and leave your bike open for potential thieves. Instead, here is what I recommend.
If you are going into a store, try and find another bicyclist that you can team up with. Ask if you can lock your bike to his or her bike. By locking your bike to another, you will prevent a would-be thief from simply picking up your bike and riding off. With two bikes locked together, most thieves will be unable to pick up and walk away with your belongings. There is power in numbers! The more bikes you lock together, the better!
If you are in a campsite and there is nothing to lock you bike to at night, lock the bike around one or more of the poles on your tent. If someone does tamper with your bike at night, your tent will start to rock and the thief will either run away or you will awaken and be forced to make the thief run for his life.
If you have a comment or suggestion about how to lock up your bike when on a bicycle tour, please use the comments form below.