Dear PoPville – Bike Advice

Photo by PoPville flickr user a digital cure

“Dear PoP,

My bike was stolen on Sunday morning while locked in front of DCUSA. After having several bikes stolen, I am looking to replace it with a bike that is less tempting to thieves, but since I actually ride it all over town, it can’t be a total beater. I wonder if anyone has tips on what kinds of bikes are less likely to be stolen, sort of like how we read every year that Honda Civics (or whatever model) are the most likely car to be stolen?”

Are there bikes that are still “good” that are less attractive to thieves? How much do you think you should spend on a bike that you ride all over town?

47 Comment

  • Sign up for Capital Bikeshare. It’s much less than the cost of even the cheapest decent bike, and you have zero worries about theft (or even need to carry a lock).

    • agreed! i had two bikes stolen within one month (and one was locked with a kryptonite top-of-the-line U lock that the thief froze (with nitrogen?) and crushed, leaving nothing but shards of the original lock).

      out of sheer frustration, i joined capital bikeshare (or as i like to refer to it: the dork bikes) and love it! never have to worry about a bike getting stolen, locking up a bike, maintaining tire pressure, etc. it’s great!

      bike thieves in ANY city are talented, but DC ones top most urban places i’ve lived. so watch out!!

  • Just curious – what kind of lock was used to secure the bike? Wouldn’t something like a Kryptonite NY U-Lock be pretty hard to break in an inconspicuous manner on a busy street?

    • That is my suggestion.

      Spend $70 on a quality bike lock, and thieves will move on to easier prey. All locks are not created equal.

      Buy a KRYPTONITE brand NY Chain, and wear it around your waist when you ride.

      Regular U-Locks can be busted with a car jack, which is why Mini-U locks (which are too small to be broken this way) are a popular option among bike messengers. They can also fit in your back pocket.

      Do not buy the knock-off brands. Pay the extra $20 for the real deal.

      • I have the NYC chain and while it’s probably the best protection available, that thing is waaaay too heavy to ride around with on a day to day basis.

        • I lock it around my waist when I ride. While it may look a little extreme, it is actually much easier than carrying a full-sized U-Lock without a bag to throw it in.

      • NY Chain and ULock will both work well… Any and every kind of bike will get stolen if locked up poorly. Take the extra minute and remove the front wheel. Then either lock both wheels and the frame together or take it with you. They key here is, 99% pecent of the time the bike will be ridden away. Make it so it takes the thief an extra minute or two. They will move on for the easier steal

      • and make sure you lock it to something sturdy, uncuttable, and basically unfuckablewith. I lost a bike with an kyrptonite lock and a cable around the front wheel because I stupidly (drunkenly) locked it to a streetsign that was lose and could be pulled out of the sidewalk…
        I probably shouldn’t breed, for the sake of the species

  • It’s hard to beat an old ten speed. A combination of well-maintained 10-speed with a U-Lock for the frame and a cable for the wheels is hard to beat. It can be a pain to lock things up every time you stop, but it’s the only way to be reasonably sure things are there when you get back.

    I run my cable through my seat. When parked, I remove the seat and let it hang next to the wheels so that that cable can secure everything (wheels and seat).

    As far as reliability, consider stripping it down– single speeds are great for around town, and basic black tires can conceal money spent on tire liners and thorn-proof tubes.

  • Others may disagree, but it is my opinion that the people who steal bikes know absolutely nothing about bikes. They just steal anything that is not locked down tight. Seats and front tires are the worst. U locks work pretty well but one must use a cable lock with it for the front wheel and a skinnier cable for the seat, or at least bolts on the seat and front tire that need a wrench of some sort to remove. This will not prevent someone from snipping the cables, and taking the seat and front wheel if they are determined. I’ve seen those huge thick cable locks snipped at several locations. Columbis Heights is really bad. People steal bikes in front of crowds of people at DCUSA. I used to live at Kenyon Square condos and their bike corral is in the parking garage, and the corral is padlocked with a heavy cable lock. Those bikes are always being stolen too. Kids steal them, ride them around, and dump them. Nobody much even tries to sell them. So I don’t think there is a type of bike.

  • At the end of the day, a thief steals a bike either to use or sell. A bike that is less new or shiny looking may deter a few, but I doubt it will do much. Still, if you want to go down that road, get a run-of-the mill hybrid, some sandpaper, and few cans of self-priming flat back paint. Tape off anything you don’t want to get paint on (components, handlebars) and remove the wheels, seat, etc, and spray away. Sounds like an exciting weekend project, but again, I doubt it will deter somebody who wants a free ride.

    How was the bike locked up in such a way that it could be stolen? Was the lock picked or broken, or the cable cut? Be sure to use a solid “U” type lock like the OnGuard Bulldog. Make sure it locks with a pick resistant key. Run the “U” bar through both the front tire and bike frame, and secure to a fixed metal post. Cable locks are basically useless as any decent cable cutter will go through it in a matter of seconds. Combo locks have more moving parts and are easier to simply bash open with a hammer.

    Anybody with a decent bike doesn’t leave it out of sight unless they have a full replacement insurance policy. A policy like this costs about 10% of the bike’s purchase value – so a $1000 bike would cost $100 per year to insure. It may be worth it if you’ve been the repeat victim of bike thefts – or you may want to reconsider how you’re locking them up.

    P.S. – The reason why Civics, Camrys, Accords, etc are more likely to be stolen is simply because there are more of these models on the road. It’s like saying right handed drivers cause more car accidents – true, but useless and misleading information.

    • “P.S. – The reason why Civics, Camrys, Accords, etc are more likely to be stolen is simply because there are more of these models on the road. It’s like saying right handed drivers cause more car accidents – true, but useless and misleading information.”

      This is only partially correct. They are stolen more often because their parts are easier to sell to a wider audience. (because there are so many of them sold)

  • A somewhat related-but-unrelated note. This weekend a bike was leaned against a pole in my alley/street with no lock all weekend. I kept waiting to see it disappear but it remained for a few days. I don’t know whether it was finally taken by its owner or a thief but I thought it was pretty amazing. And it was totally visible from anyone walking or driving down U Street so it was totally visible and “up for grabs”.

  • I have had two very decent bikes that have never been stolen. I have left them all over DC sometimes for weeks and even one in lower Manhattan for a week with no problems. My strategy?

    1. I made them ugly. After refurbishing both I painted them with old house paint and a brush. The old paint was in a rusty can so even the color is awful. I think this works better than the old trick of duct tape, stickers and so on because it is less of a sign of hiding something good.

    2. I know how to lock my bike. Never lock just the wheel, just the frame or so on. Should lock both. Also, investigate what object you are locking it to. Make sure the parking meter head is not loose, the sign base can be lifted out of the hole or the bike rack loop is not pre-cut (like one of the ones in front of Big Bear was)

    3. Use zip ties, anti-lock skewers, seat post binders, …to reduce the chance of parts going missing

    4. By decent locks. I have simply given up on anything but Kryptonite locks. At the minimum their mid range u locks.

  • houseintherear

    I use three different kinds of locks on my bike. It’s a pain in the butt, but it seems to work. I also have an ugly milk crate zip-tied to the back, not too pleasing to the eye.

    • agree with the multi-lock approach. has worked for me for more than 25 years! lock the wheels and the frame to something solid, use two locks, and ALWAYS park close to a nicer bike with only one lock (sorry, neighbors)…

  • My old mass-produced Schwinn 10-speed has lasted days parked outside with only the frame secured w/ a heavy u-lock. I’ve only lost a couple lights along the way. Definitely not the fastest or smoothest, but it’s more than paid for itself over the past year. I bought it used for $130 off CL after being too afraid to park my last bike anywhere.

  • You can also get locking skewers for your wheels and seatpost which are reasonably priced off of amazon. one extra layer of protection.

  • my set-up is the a NY Chain for the rear wheel/frame and a mini lock to secure the front wheel to the frame. has survived 4 years of manhattan/brooklyn/dc lockups. highly recommended.

  • Any lock can be cut with an angle grinder in about 30-60 seconds. I’ve seen done it on the street! Just out in the open sparks noise and all.

    even faster

    I also feel like pros hit cities hard in waves, then move on.

    if they want it its gone.

    Best thing to do is remove a wheel and take it with you so it cant be ridden away.

    padlocks on the chain is a great deterrent.


    try a Marin Muirwood. Great urban bike. Not-flashy, sturdy, great value. Big wheels sells ’em.

    • is anyone missing one of these? it was dropped in Mt P by a thief, hmm maybe two years ago and I still have it.

  • I find it pretty shocking that bikes are stolen in such high traffic areas. I mean, the sidewalks in front of DCUSA are filled with people all day and not one of them does or says anything as someone is obviously breaking locks on someones property.

    Maybe I’m too old and codgerly, maybe we did it different when I was young but we always called someone out on that crap. Now people just walk on by.

    • I think it’s precisely because it’s so crowded that people can blend in easily and grab a bike. It’d be different if it was just one person and a bike rack, with say, a large crowd across the street from them, but because there’s just so many people in that area at any given time it gets lost in the hustle and bustle.

      I say this because one time I did catch somebody trying to steal a bike from that bike rack directly in front of the main entrance. I was parking my bike right next to where it happened and almost didn’t notice at all, again just because it’s so busy and noisy there. Once I realized what was happening I immediately made eye contact with the guy and made sure he knew I was watching him. We spent maybe 30 seconds just standing right next to each other staring at each other, not speaking. It was pretty surreal. Eventually I broke eye contact to look around and see if I could spot a cop or security guard and by the time I turned back around he was gone, but the bike was still there. I get the feeling bikes are stolen from DCUSA quite a lot.

    • when were you young? i grew up in the 70’s and bikes were stolen all the time. i imagine that was the case in the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s also.

  • people 1) don’t pay attention and 2) don’t get involved in what may or may not be a bike theft.

    as for anyone advocating the use of cables to lock anything you really intend to keep – you’ve probably never used a pair of bolt cutters. it’s about 2 seconds to get through a master lock, cable, whatever.

    as for the U lock – the key to using it succesfully is placing it in such a way that the bike thief does not have room to get an auto jack in there. the longer the length of the U, the more trouble you may be in.

    i personally use a kryptonite chain for my road bike, and a U lock for my beater. the kryptonite chain screams go away, but it also weighs a billion pounds.

    ultimately the trick is deterrence. if a thief wants to get through your locks, he will. make it more of a pain, make your bike less desirable, and/or park next to better looking bikes.

    it’s the same as the old wisdom about not having to be able to outrun a bear in the forest – you just have to be able to outrun whoever you’re hiking with.

  • A couple of websites have posted their suggestions on the safest locks, including I think the mini-U locks get the highest rating for the best combination of strength and lack of space for a thief to jimmy open the lock. You could try taking a wheel, seatpost, etc. with you which is a pain but a further deterrent. I agree that Capital Bikeshare is great but I had problems with all the bikes being taken in the morning on several occasions. Sorry about your bikes being stolen.

  • i’m so sorry about your bike loss – that sucks.

    totaly unscientific, but my 1970’s peugeot has been with me for nearly 10 years, five of which were in nyc. i think it’s a combination of it looking like a beat up old bike, using good locks, and, quite frankly, being lucky.

    also, i’m not terribly suprised that people can get away with this in the middle of crowded areas. most people walking through that corner are in a rush and not necessarily looking that closely at what’s going on. and the pro bike thieves can do it so quickly that you might not even notice that something fishy is going on unless you’re paying really really close attention. also, even if you do notice, i personally would probably be too stunned to act quickly enough to prevent it.

  • Best advice would be to get the bike you want, but invest in serious locks. U-locks and sturdy chains have the longest life-span. It wouldn’t hurt to purchase a locking wheel set and use multiple locks in a frame/wheel/post combination, either. Go to a local bike store, they should be able to provide good recommendations.

  • I’ve had three bikes stolen in two years, from a $1000 new one to a $40 rummage sale piece of crap. Seems like it doesn’t matter what kind of bike it is – it’s only a matter of time until someone sees it and decides they want it. One theft involved them pulling the street sign it was locked to out of the ground right along a busy street. Do yourself a favor and join Capital Bikeshare.

    • This is how my last bike was stolen. They ripped the sign right of the ground and took my bike, lock, helmet, everything.

      • Actually, now that I think of it, they cut the sign right off. When I went back to get my bike there was nothing but a stub of steel sticking out of the sidewalk.

  • I’ve had two bikes in DC and neither has been stolen… my general advice would be to use the highest-quality U-lock you can possibly afford, plus locking skewers for your wheels. If you don’t want to use the wheel locks, you will need to take your front wheel off and lock it to the frame and rear wheel whenever you park.

    While you’re working on the wheels, remove the quick-release lever from your seat and replace it with a plain bolt. Then, buy a small cable lock and lock the seat to the frame. The seat can still be stolen this way, but it will take longer.

    If you have accessories attached to your bike (frog lights, saddlebag, pump etc.), take them with you when you leave the bike. Some people take their seats with them, too.

    Oh, and above all else, do not park a bike outside overnight ANYWHERE in DC. It will walk away eventually.

  • learn to ride a fixed gear. if it is stolen, most thieves would be freaked out by the lack of free-wheel and the whole no-brakes aspect of the ride and dump it.

    • I’m probably taking your bait here, but I don’t think anybody who values their life and the safety of others on the road ride a fixed gear without at least a front brake.

      That said, it would be funny to see the thief take off on a fixie and see what happens when they try to coast.

  • Just as how important a good lock is, a good location to lock it down at is just as important. Make sure you lock your bike in a well lit area, dont leave your bikes over night.. and engrave your name/address/phone number on your bike. Something like how people do for the tags on their pets.

    I remember way back in the day people used to etch their car license plate numbers on the windows and windsheilds to deter theives from stealing the cars and changing the plates to resell..

  • Three things:

    Good U-lock
    Locking anti-theft front and rear hub skewers, and
    personalize with stickers, paint,or anything else.

  • Try a used one – sometimes there is someone at Eastern Market selling them.

  • Thanks for all the tips! I think I’ll look for a decent used bike and uglify it as suggested – the milk crate is a nice touch. The lock suggestions are good, too, and I’ll cop to having used an average cable lock, which I am sure can be cut in .0002 milliseconds.

    The odd thing is, I specifically noticed there were a LOT of bikes in the rack in front of Target at 9AM Sunday morning, which struck me odd at the time. At 10.15, there were significantly fewer. It could be coincidence, but I wonder if it was a mass grab-n-go.

    And to whoever suggested a Marin Muirwood, that’s what I had – I agree it was great!

    Fixies scare the crap out of me.

  • check the L& N Thrift Store on Georgia Ave (neat Kenyon) that place is a treasure trove of stolen bikes.

  • Honestly, if somebody REALLY wants to steal your bike, they can. Nitrogen can take care of Kryptonite locks, saws can take care of chains, etc. My strategies:

    1. Buy a cheap, ugly bike. Will be less attractive to thieves, and won’t be hard to replace if it’s stolen anyways.

    2. I wholeheartedly agree with the Capital Bikeshare strategy. At least you can use it if you know you’re going someplace where you’ll have to lock your bike up in a vulnerable location for hours on end.

  • I ride an old 5 speed Schwinn and lock it with a U-lock. The steel frame and wheels take potholes like a champ. Rides great and looks worthless to theives. An old 3-speed would be even better.

Comments are closed.