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Bike wheel and tire left locked to a bike rack after the rest of the bike was stolen

How To Prevent Bike Theft

It’s a cyclist’s worst nightmare: You take a pit stop for a quick bathroom break and a Gatorade refill, only to step back outside and find that your bike is nowhere to be found. Your pride and joy — the bike you worked so hard to save up for — is gone, and you’ve got no way home and nothing for your next big ride.

This scenario can unfold in many ways. A friend or family member may even steal your bike right out from your garage. Usually, it’s not a seasoned professional thief, but a simple opportunist — someone who sees a chance to make some money and seizes the moment. But, ultimately, it happens because you weren’t prepared, if not to prevent it, to at least recover your bike before the thief could get far.

Like everything else related to cycling, longtime coach Darryl MacKenzie has put some thought into making sure he doesn’t find himself without his bike or unable to track it down. The good news is that it’s not too hard to deter theft and keep your bike safe. It just takes a few good habits and some handy modern technology to create a (nearly) foolproof plan. 

Never Leave the Bike Unattended 

The most important way to keep your bike safe is to ensure you always keep an eye on it. Whether you’re stopping to use the restroom or grab a bite, you should never leave the bike unattended.

“Don’t separate yourself from your bike on a ride,” says Coach Darryl. “Always have it close to you.” 

If you’re with a group, that means taking shifts so that someone is always staying with the bikes while others are inside. When you’re riding solo, it means taking the bike inside with you or never having it more than 10 to 12 feet away — and always within sight. Darryl has heard far too many horror stories of friends losing bikes while they were just right inside a shop, so this is a critical habit to instill in yourself and your cycling group.

Avoid Carrying the Bike on Your Car

Those top-mount bike carriers for your car offer the illusion of safety because it feels like your bike is locked down and out of reach. But Darryl has heard many stories about cyclists parked at a restaurant or even at a stoplight, only to have a thief run up, remove the bike and ride off with it. 

Rear-mount bike racks are a little bit better, but they still offer an easy target for a would-be thief. The best option for transporting your bike, if possible, is to put it inside your car. If you absolutely can’t avoid an outside-mounted rack, be sure you take additional precautions and keep a close eye on it. 

Know the Limits of Locks

There’s an obvious question at this point: What about a bike lock? Isn’t that a reliable theft deterrent? 

“A lock will eliminate some potential thieves, and will slow them down — few people carry a 2-foot-long, 20-pound lock cutter,” says Darryl. “But it certainly won’t eliminate theft.”

The real issue for serious cyclists, however, is that bike locks are simply impractical. Good ones are bulky and heavy, the exact things distance road riders avoid when packing their gear. Darryl once bought one in the late ‘80s, and it’s been sitting in his garage unused ever since. 

There is a locking trick you can use, though. Strapping your helmet to your back spokes and both seat tubes adds another layer of difficulty to bike thievery. Your back wheel won’t turn, and this can be enough to surprise a thief and cause them to abort or at least slow down. 

Add Some Recognizable Flair 

Now we’re getting beyond mere prevention to discussing how you can quickly locate and recover your bike if it is stolen. And one easy way to do that is to add a bit of unique flair to the bike that will make it instantly recognizable. 

When one of Coach Darryl’s cycling friends had her bike stolen, it was the Coach Darryl bike fit sticker on the top tube that helped her find it when the thief posted the bike on Craigslist a few weeks later. Whether you’ve got your own Coach Darryl or some other personal interest you can advertise on your bike, adding a sticker or another type of flair could help you track down your beloved set of wheels. 

The Benefits of Electronic Locators

For a speedier and more reliable bike recovery, though, you may want to turn to modern technology. A first option here is to make sure your bike computer has a built-in alarm. Darryl’s new Garmin 1040, for instance, can be set to automatically ping his phone if his bike moves when he’s not with it. 

For even more security, add a high-precision tracker to your bike, particularly one that you can hide easily. And for this combination of features, Darryl hasn’t found anything that beats Apple’s AirTag. This Bluetooth-enabled tracker is extremely precise. Not only can you directly track it from your own Apple devices, but it connects to the larger Apple Find My network so that anyone else’s Apple device can recognize when it’s nearby and notify you — all through private, encrypted technology that doesn’t reveal any personal information. 

Plus, the AirTag is the size of a coin, making it easy to hide on your bike. There are a few areas that work decently, such as under your saddle, but these are pretty easy for a thief to spot. The AirTag won’t fit inside a seat tube, either. Instead, Darryl recommends either stowing it inside your Domane down tube (if you have one) or in one of these handy, hidden compartments that fits behind your water bottle cage and shuts with locking screws.

Of course, the downside of AirTags is that they only work with Apple products. However, if you’re not an Apple user, there are a variety of other devices you can try for a similar effect. 

Your Actions Are the Best Theft Deterrent

These high-tech options offer extra peace of mind for any cyclist, and they greatly increase your chances of recovering a lost bike. But the habits we talked about first are the most important theft deterrents any rider has at their disposal. If you’re serious about cycling, don’t wait to make them second nature. 

Did you know that your homeowners or renters insurance may cover a stolen bike? Learn more about this and other insurance-related cycling concerns in our article, "What to Know About Car Insurance for Cyclists.”


And, as always, you can look for more of Coach Darryl’s tips and insights at his website.