Our recent story about a thief who unscrewed the bolts of a rack to steal a bike has added to the common concern that it’s simply too risky to park a bike downtown — or anywhere in Portland for that matter.
I understand that concern, but I worry more about what it means for bicycling more broadly than what it means to the specific issue of bike theft. With road rage, unsafe road designs, lack of bike lane maintenance, and so on there are already too many things that make people think twice before getting on a bike. Let’s not allow bike theft to be on that list!
I’ve been biking in Portland for 18 years now and I’ve been steeped in the risks posed by thieves. Even so, I have never once been so scared of losing a bike that I won’t park it around town. Am I just naive? Do I not care about my bikes? No. I simply take steps to give myself confidence that my bike will be there when I return. And the more I hear from people who say they won’t ride due to fear of theft, the more I feel like sharing information and tips is a good way to cut down on that sentiment.
So here are a few things that might boost your peace of mind around bike theft:
Use a u-lock or two: Cable locks are not good enough. The best thing you can do is to buy a high-quality u-lock or heavy-gauge chain lock (spend at least $50) and make sure you attach it to your frame and the rack (or better yet, your frame and a wheel and the rack). Then buy another u-lock. If you have an e-bike where cargo weight is less of a concern, it’s much easier to justify hauling around the extra weight of two locks.
Don’t keep accessories on your bike: Anything that is not bolted onto your bike will be stolen. I realize that thieves will even unbolt and take some accessories, so this is about mitigating risk. When I lock up my bike, I make sure there’s nothing on it that can be easily swiped by simply loosening a lever. I know it’s a hassle to take off your lights every time, but it’s worth it (it’s also a good reason to invest in generator lights that are bolted on).
Location is everything: Where you park your bike matters just as much as how you park your bike. I am very conscious of the spots I choose. Make sure you choose a spot that is well-lit and out in the open where there’s a lot of foot traffic. Bonus is if you can see your bike from inside your destination. If there’s not a good location near my destination, I will always walk out of my way to find one. I will also be more likely to take my bike inside with me if a business doesn’t have a secure parking location.
Examine the rack itself: Make sure the thing you lock up to is solid and secure. Give it a shake. If bolts are loose, find a different spot. If the design of the rack forces you to lock poorly, move on.
Get creative with theft deterrents: Consider adding a wheel lock to your bike. Those are sort of like “The Club” for cars because they prevent your bike from being ridden once it’s stolen. Same with a fork lock, a much less common accessory but one I find invaluable on one of my main bikes. It’s a metal pin that locks the force in place and makes the bike impossible to steer or ride. Other folks will ride a low-quality bike that doesn’t look as attractive to thieves.
Advocate and organize!: I wish we could expect bike theft to be solved for us, but we need to continue to speak up and organize in our community. Push your local businesses and leaders to build more secure bike parking facilities, educate elected officials and policymakers about the problem and urge them to devote more resources to it, make secure bike parking part of your advocacy diet.
Get engaged and informed about the root cause: Most people don’t enjoy stealing your bike. They do it because they are desperate and need money, or because they’ve slid into a life of crime due to other systemic issues. This is why all of us should care about finding solutions to poverty, homelessness, and other conditions that put people on the knife edge between good and bad choices. Bike theft doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Everything is related.
I hope this list is helpful. We cannot give up and be defeated by this issue. Don’t despair, prepare. And keep riding — and parking! — your bike.