LOCkit or LOseit
Bike-lock tips By Sam Bernard
I froze mid-step when I saw the garage door opened. I didn’t want to believe what my eyes were telling me—that my beloved e-bike was not inside where it should be. Only two people had the ability to open the secure garage—myself and a neighbor. The sickest of feelings washed over me, yet my mind clung to denial. I must have parked it elsewhere. I frantically checked the entire property—no bike, of course, because I knew I had left it in the garage.
I had to come to terms with the reality that my favorite possession—a seven-speed, 250-watt folding electric bicycle—had been stolen! To this day, I’m not sure how the door was opened, but I have my suspicions it was due to the carelessness of my neighbor.
I felt violated. And angry—at him, at the thief, at society as a whole that allows this to happen, but most of all, I was angry at myself. Was I too cavalier about its security? Apparently. What should I have done better? This incident and these questions led me to research bicycle theft, specifically e-bike thefts.
While no hard statistics exist on solely the theft of e-bikes, according to the FBI, approximately 1.5 million bicycles (including e-bikes) are stolen in a year, making bike theft one of the most common crimes in the country. Of those, fewer than 3 percent are ever recovered. While some thefts are simply crimes of opportunity, perhaps easy pickings for short-term transportation or a just joy ride, there is profit in selling stolen bikes, as organized bike theft and fencing rings operate in the shadows of most major cities. It’s been reported that groups gather at night for clandestine stolen-bike exchanges in parks and construction sites.
With an average value greater than standard bicycles, pedelecs have become a prime target for thieves. They also present these bad guys with some unique challenges. All e-bikes require battery chargers for sustained use of power. Some chargers are proprietary, so if your e-bike is stolen unaccompanied by the charger, once the battery drains, a thief is merely left with a regular bike, heavier and clunkier than most, which is less valuable and appealing.
Recently, I heard about a stolen e-bike, and in addition to reporting it to the police, the victim informed the shop where he purchased it. About a week later, they got a call from someone wanting to buy a battery charger for the same model. The dealer told the victim, who then called the police who were there to greet the caller when he arrived with the stolen bike. The victim had his bike returned, and the thief was arrested in a rare case of bike-theft recovery and justice. This incident shows that while e-bikes are appetizing targets, they have an extra layer of recovery that regular bikes don’t. It also demonstrates how essential diligence and smart thinking are for victims. The lesson here is, if your bike gets stolen, no one will be more helpful to recover it than you yourself.
MAKE IT HARDER
My search revealed an abundance of products designed for bike security, with few dedicated to e-bikes but most are adaptable. One thing that became clear is that there is not a single solution that covers all that is necessary. It takes a combination of hardware, alert systems and GPS tracking for maximum protection.
For hardware, there’s no shortage of locking systems on the market, everything from the popular U-locks, cable loops and component theft prevention. An interesting find is the Linka lock. It’s a hands-free, key-less, wheel-locking device that is activated and operated through their well-designed smartphone app. Their website (www.linkalock.com) has detailed video instructions for both the software and hardware setups. It’s a pretty advanced battery-operated system that features tamper alerts, a 110-decibel alarm, auto unlocking, as well as a failsafe way to open it in the event of a forgotten/drained phone or software failure. It’s a tough piece of hardware that probably couldn’t be easily broken, and given the alert system, the Linka should be considered if it is used in conjunction with some kind of anchor lock.
From wall and floor anchors to various flavors of locks, ABUS Mobile Security offers an extensive range of bike-theft prevention products. We looked at the NutFix. Here is the description from their website: “The NutFix is ABUS’ innovative solution to preventing component theft.” This stylish lock is the solution for securing bicycle components, including wheels, seatposts and saddles against would-be thieves. Its real strength lies in its design. The nut is fitted with a mechanism that only releases the screw below when the bike is on its side. This means it is not possible to access the screw unless the bike is on its side. NutFix is available in several models, including NutFix quick release, NutFix bolt-on axle nuts and NutFix seatpost collars.
It’s an interesting, complex apparatus with several parts and assembly required. Let me preface this by stating, I am the most unmechanical person in the USA if not the entire world, so it’s not surprising or a negative judgment on the NutFix that I just could not assemble or mount this lock. I confess after several attempts, I just gave up. So, my bottom line on this product is, if you’re not mechanically inclined and want something simple, it’s probably not for you.
Boomerang Bikes offers the CycloTrac, a highly sophisticated system with four key components: the Device, the Cloud, the App and the Dashboard. The CycloTrac device goes on the bike, where it transmits data to a server in the Cloud, which displays that data in the app on your phone, and on the Dashboard you can view it on your computer.
This prevention/tracker mechanism worked very well. Their app and hardware setup was simple, and its tracking interface is quite intuitive. It is in the same category of other tracking devices such as the TrackR and Tile. But unlike the TrackR or Tile, the CycloTrac offers active communication with a dedicated SIM card for real-time tracking of the bike if it is stolen. It also alerts you if someone jostles your bike or steals it via text. This visibility is a major deterrent, whereas the others are hidden. CycloTrac solidly attaches the device to the bike, though it seems to me that a determined thief can break off the plastic encasement fairly easily with the right tool.
HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT
Camouflage and destruction are two low-tech methods that can be very effective in deterring bike thieves. Simple camouflages such as shreds of duct tape, a ratty bag over the seat and worn-out hand grips can fool a thief into believing your pricey new toy is actually nothing more than a hunk of junk. Even more radical would be setting up your locking system method for maximum destruction! That is to lock your electric bicycle in a way that requires it to be seriously damaged in order to remove it from the lock. I haven’t found a device specifically designed for this, but I would bet there will be.
If a professional thief wants to steal your bike, you’ve little defense. But to keep your bike from the clutches of an opportunist, you want to make stealing your bike as difficult as possible. If it’s going to be too hard, take too long or be too obvious, most thieves will move along for easier pickings. It’s not personal; it’s just money. And if you make sure it will take way too long or be far too risky, your bike won’t be worth it.
Don’t park your bike in a secluded area where a thief can work on your security features in private and unfettered. Stick to bike racks, poles, etc. that are out in the open.
It is imperative to register your bike with one of the major databases specifically created to help recover any bike that is stolen. Many police departments will not even pursue a case or turn over a recovered item if it is not registered. You find these websites at www.nationalbikeregistry.com or www.bikeindex.org.
It’s a war out there when it comes to bike theft. There is an entire industry dedicated to providing the arsenal to fight against it. Us riders are the soldiers, and these are just some of our weapons.