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
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:
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:
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
- 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
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.