Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bicycle Locks

Bike theft is a big problem here at Caltech, and I know several people here who have had their bikes stolen. Always make sure you have a good lock for your bike, or you’ll just be tempting fate. There are three basic types of locks on the market:

- Cable locks: These locks are extremely insecure and can be cut in a matter of seconds with a large bolt cutter. NEVER rely on just a cable lock. They are fine in combination with another type of lock, though (for example, you can use a U lock to get your rear wheel and frame, and lock your front wheel with a cable lock).
- Chain locks: I’m talking about the kinds of chains where the links are a good centimeter thick, otherwise see above. They’re much better than cable locks, though not necessarily as secure as U Locks. Also usually cut with bolt cutters. Still, some of the better ones on the market can be good. Tend to be pretty heavy, but may be easier to deal with than U-Locks.
- U-Locks: Probably the best option. These are cut either by prying open the protruding end (not a problem with newer U-Locks, and with older ones you can stick a Plumber’s Tee on the end to help with this) or sticking a car jack in the lock and opening it (so get the smallest U-Lock that works. It might also be worth investing in something called a “Bad Bone”, which fits in the middle of the U-Lock).

Other bits of lock advice:

- NEVER leave your bike totally unlocked.
- It may be helpful to use two different types of locks (e.g. cable and U-Lock), as thieves are less likely to have the tools to defeat both.
- If you have to leave your bike locked up overnight on campus (and cannot take it into your office or room) it’s better to use the bike racks closer to the center of campus (like at the Red Door). Bike racks that are secluded and easily accessible by some alleyway (like the one between Firestone and Lauritsen) are riskier, as someone can drive in, cut some locks, toss the bikes in the back of their vehicle, and make their getaway. The Catalina apartments are often plagued by thieves—beware!
- If your bike has any quick-release levers you’ll want to lock the related part. This is particularly important for wheels (especially your rear wheel, which is the most expensive part of the bike after the frame), though you should also be aware of the potential for your seat to be stolen as well. For the latter you can buy seat-post clamps which don’t have quick-release levers, which will deter anyone from taking your seat.
- Don’t leave your bike lights on your bike; take them in with you.
- If you’ve got a particularly valuable bike, the parking office has bicycle cages at the Holliston parking structure (see here) which requires card access and has a camera. Or take your bike into your office or room.
- You can download a form to register your bike with campus security at this website. It may help with bicycle recovery after it’s been stolen (otherwise, you tend to be SOL even if the bike is found). Occasionally campus security will go around and pick up bikes that look abandoned—registering it (and placing the sticker you get on your bike) will ensure they don’t take it without contacting you first.
- Just remember, any lock can be broken with enough time and the right tools. You can’t leave your bike outside and expect perfect security, but you can definitely make it much harder to take than the one sitting right next to it.

Some good sites to go through:

Just remember, while a good lock might set you back $40-$60, a lost bike will be worse.