We’ve all seen the lone wheel padlocked to railings and we can imagine the frustration of the bike owner still holding the key. Of course, quick release axles have made this a more common occurrence. Bike theft in some European cities has risen to significant levels — for example, 10% of all the bikes in Amsterdam were stolen in 2009 and 2,500 a year go missing in the UK’s bike-theft hotspot, Cambridge. And yet people keep using bikes in cities. If you are coming to Europe on a cycling tour here are my thoughts on the basic principles you should follow to ensure your holiday is not ruined by bike theft. These are:
- bike simplicity and appearance
- bike locks
- overnight security
Bike simplicity and appearance
There is a lot of technology in modern high-end bikes, but a simple, battered old machine is less likely to be stolen than one that looks more valuable. So, if in doubt, don’t choose a bike with multiple suspension, a carbon fibre frame and built-in GPS, but instead buy a cheap one, splash the odd bit of paint on it and replace the components as they wear. Eventually, nothing on the bike will match anything else, but it is unlikely to be a target for thieves. If you must buy an expensive bicycle, try and disguise it with a bad paint job and cheap accessories.
Locks come in various types:
- frame mounted U-shaped clips that sit ready to lock through the rear wheel. These are commonly found on bikes in Holland and Germany, amongst other places, and provide only a low level of security. You often find them on rental bikes. The key normally can only be removed when the lock is engaged, the rest of the time it is left in situ. We suggest you regard such locks as only suitable for use in low risk places and on cheap bikes that will not be left alone for more than a few minutes — say when popping into a shop.
- thin cable locks about 2 feet long, sometimes curly, often with a combination lock. These are close to useless, as they can be easily cut with bolt croppers or even pliers. Again, they often come with hire bikes. The combinations can usually be opened by feel, with a bit of patience and fiddling. They will only hold the frame to a secure point though they might just reach to the rear wheel as well. More of a visual deterrent rather than any practical use.
- solid steel D-shaped shackles. These are very strong and are an excellent visual deterrent but you will find that again they are only big enough to lock the rear wheel and/or the frame to a secure point. The longer type is easier to use, but the drawback is weight – these locks are heavy.
- six foot long, strong, auto coil cable or chain. These are serious locks but not as secure as the D-shaped shackles. They are long enough to allow you lock both wheels and the frame to a secure point. They are also good visual deterrents. Self coiling ones keep themselves out of your way when you are riding.
If two of you are riding together, a good choice is to use one of each of the last two listed above.
None of these locks will keep your luggage secure in your panniers and for this task the alternatives are:
- remove your panniers and carry them with you, say into a restaurant. This is a bit tedious but at least you keep your things secure that way. A good alternative is to ask someone if they can keep an eye on the bike for you, perhaps a car park attendant. It would be polite to tip them on your return.
- place your bikes where you can watch over them. Restaurants with courtyards are attractive places for monitoring or you may be able to seat yourself near a window.
- Put a cable lock through the handles of your panniers to secure them to the (secured) bike. This won’t stop a thief from opening the panniers and taking things out of them, but it makes them a less attractive proposition.
Or you could just take a chance, particularly in places where theft is unusual. As with a bike, a faded, ripped, ancient-looking pannier will not attract as much attention as a new, shiny-looking one.
Do not leave your bike chained outside your hotel, it may not be there in the morning or it may have been damaged. I always try to get my bike into the hotel garage if there is one, or into the hotel itself if there isn’t. Over the years this has meant that it has been stabled in cellars, barns, attics, balconies, boiler rooms, linen stores and on a bad day, a bathroom, but it has always been safe in the morning. These places are often convenient spots to carry out minor repairs too.
I hope this advice will ensure that your bike tour is not marred by loss of your bicycle or other property.