Direct Line magazine

How to prevent your bike from being stolen

Updated on: 12 November 2021

A bike chained to a lamppost.

Even a basic bicycle for travelling between work and home can be expensive, so it's no surprise that bikes are a popular target for thieves.

According to Cyclist UK, around 300,000 bikes are stolen in England and Wales each year. Make no mistake, bike theft is a big business.

So what are the best ways to help prevent yours from being stolen? Whether it's at home or away, this guide should help you keep your bike more secure.

Registering and marking your bike

When you've bought a new bike, it's worth signing up to a national bicycle marking and registration scheme.

This is basically an online database system approved by the police, where you can upload your bike's model and frame number, as well as a photo of it. It's free to register via websites such as BikeRegister or Immobilise, and you'll be given a logbook to record any details in case you ever need to prove the bike belongs to you.

Police regularly check the database when retrieving stolen or found bikes. So if yours has been taken, you can highlight this on your online account. If the police then recover the bike, it should be easier for them to return it to you.

It's also a good idea to mark your bike with an exclusive ID code so that it's identifiable. Local police often mark bikes at special events - so keep checking their websites for details.

You can also buy a variety of kits if you'd prefer to do it yourself. BikeRegister offers some useful steps on how to mark your bike.

  1. Ensure you have all the elements you need in your kit, such as a set of stencils, marking compound, application spatula, alcohol wipes, and a warning label.

  2. Peel the stencil from its strip, place it on the frame of the bike and ensure it's firmly stuck down.

  3. Unscrew the marking compound, pierce its tube and squeeze a small amount into a container.

  4. Use the spatula to wipe the compound over the stencil so all the holes are filled. Leave it no longer than 30 seconds before peeling off.

  5. Use the alcohol wipe over the stencil to ensure the marking is dry and free to touch.

  6. Apply the warning label on the bike frame so thieves can see that it has been marked.

It's important to recognise that marking and registration isn't 100% criminal-proof. The more tenacious bike thieves out there may still be able to shave or file off the serial number. However, visibly seeing that your bike is both registered and traceable will certainly make it less appealing to them.

Recording details of your bike

Of all the bikes that are stolen each year, only a small number are returned to their rightful owners. This is partly due to a lack of details about the bikes themselves.

Even if you don't insure your bike, keeping a record of it on file should help you prove to the police that the bike they've found belongs to you.

Bike security marking model on white background

The most important thing to note is the frame number. This will usually be stamped underneath the bottom bracket (where the pedals are attached) or on the seat tube (either to the rear suspension or on the connector beneath it).

It's also a good idea to keep a full description of your bike. The best way to do this is to take plenty of photos and note down the following details:

  • Frame number

  • Make and model

  • Size and colour

  • Date and place of purchase

  • Value of bike

  • Any distinctive features

If you do register your bike with a security scheme and get it marked, you should also keep a record of any unique serial numbers.

Providing bike theft is covered in your insurance, having these details on file will be useful if you ever need to make a claim.

The best locks to use for your bike

Anyone can take a bike that's been left unattended. But if it's locked, only lock-breakers with the relevant tools can attempt to steal it.

That said, there is little that can put off the more accomplished bike thief. They can spot a weak lock a mile away and have ways to break the sturdier ones. With the right set of tools, it wouldn't take take them long to break a lock.

By targeting high value bikes, thieves have stepped up their game. Many now carry toughened bolt cutters that neatly fold into their rucksacks, or even angle grinders for when normal wire or bolt cutters can't do the job.

With this in mind, it's worth a little extra research when it comes to selecting the best lock for your bike.

Essentially, there are four types of security locks to choose from:

Cable locks

  • Coiled, so very flexible
  • Easily wraps around objects
  • Light enough to carry on the bike
  • Easy to cut through
  • Thicker cables are heavy and rigid
  • Not ideal for securing overnight

Chain locks

  • Can endure tensional strains
  • Best when made from hardened steel
  • Takes up less space when collapsed
  • Heavy
  • Can be difficult to carry

Armoured locks

  • Standard lock cased with external barrels
  • Barrels rotate when attempting to saw through it
  • Generally more secure than chains
  • Heavier than standard cables
  • Not as flexible

Shackle locks

  • Solid shaped steel bars
  • One end of bar locked into housing case, or both in a central position
  • Harder to get bolt cutters around the smaller locks
  • Size limitations of object you attach the bike to

While researching which bike lock to buy, check if it has an independent testing certification (Sold Secure is a good place to start). Those assigned a gold rating by official testing bodies are going to be more secure.

If you’ve got bike insurance, it’s worth noting that your policy may be invalidated if you don’t lock your bike securely (through the frame and any quick-release wheels to an immovable object) using an approved lock. In short – the more valuable your bike is, the more sturdy your lock needs to be.

So, don’t compromise on quality – if your bike is worth holding on to, you need to buy a Sold Secure rated lock. 

Securing your bike while you're out and about

Bike thefts can happen in seconds, so always secure your bike if you're leaving it unattended - even if it's just for a few moments. When locking your bike, the main aim is to make it as difficult as possible to get at the lock itself.

Bike locked with padlock on the pavement
Bike lock in public on the pavement

  1. Choose your space wisely. Consider locking your bike next to others. If you've locked your bike correctly, it's likely the thief will target a less secured bike instead.

  2. Always lock your bike through its lower frame (never through the top), and to a solid, immovable object that has a closed loop so the bike can't be lifted over the top (such as iron railings).

  3. Two locks are always better than one. Put the first through the back wheel, the lower frame of the seat tube and the object. If you're using a flexible lock (cable or chain), wrap it in such a way that it keeps taut.

  4. Fill the space with as much of the bike and object as possible. The fewer gaps there are, the harder it will be for anyone to attack it with cutters or bolt croppers.

  5. Repeat the steps with the second lock, this time through the front wheel, the bottom of the bracket and the object.

If you're locking your bike somewhere for a long period of time, opt for a well-lit location where there'll be plenty of passers-by. But remember that bike thieves are quite brazen. Public places - even busy cities with lots of CCTV cameras - won't necessarily stop them if they think they can steal it quickly enough.

Bike racks - silver public by railings
Bike racks - group of bikes in silver racks

If you're thinking about cycling to work, university or a train station, scope out the amenities first. Public buildings often have designated areas with bicycle racks, but you need to be cautious when it comes to indoor parking - these spaces tend to be quieter, allowing thieves more time to go unnoticed if there's limited security or it isn't manned at all.

BREEAM - a scheme that encourages public cycle facilities to be compliant - is a good starting point for checking which types of buildings are adequate for locking your bike in.

If you rely on your bike heavily, it could be worth investing in an electronic tracker. These can be installed into the bike's frame or handlebars, so it's hidden from the human eye. If the more inexperienced thief doesn't think to check for it, you might be able to track the whereabouts of your stolen bike using GPS.

Securing your bike at home

There's good reason to check whether bikes are (or can be) covered by your home insurance; many that are stolen are often taken from sheds, garages or communal living spaces.

However, most insurance companies will only accept a claim if you've taken the necessary precautions to keep your bike secure. Storing it in an unlocked building isn't enough, even if it's kept out of sight and away from the windows.

Bike being put in the shed with a blue sky
Shed lock on a shed which has been closed

Always buy a decent lock for the outside of your storage, one that can't be easily removed with a screwdriver. And consider fitting an alarm. You could use a battery-powered alarm for the shed, or install a security system for the garage.

If you're leaving the bike in a communal area - perhaps the stairwell in a block of flats or halls of residence - firmly lock it through the frame and wheels before securing it to something immovable.

If you're securing the bike inside a garage, you may want to invest in an anchor that can be bolted to the wall or floor. Using a shackle with a hardened case helps resist any freezing, cutting or grinding attacks, while having one with a complete D shape means thieves would have to cut it twice in order to defeat it.

Black bikes on a wall-mounted rack

If you don't have enough storage space, look into buying a heavy-duty bike shed. You'll need around two square metres of outdoor space on a flat surface. The best versions can house up to three bikes, have a five-point locking system and claim to be drill resistant. They're not cheap, but if you have more than one expensive bike to keep safe, it might be a price worth paying.

Some borough councils are also involved in cycle parking schemes, installing lockable bike hangers or shelters on residential streets. Just like a parking permit, you can apply to rent a space or request to be placed on the waiting list until one is available.

Of course, all this doesn't make your bike completely invulnerable. But combining these methods should be enough to deter most thieves, as they simply won't have the time or tools to persevere.

What to do if your bike is stolen

No matter how many precautions you take, there's always a chance your bike could still get stolen. If this does happen, here are five simple steps to follow:

1. Report it to the police

If the theft is still in progress, dial 999. If it's already happened, dial 101 (non-emergency number) or visit your local police station. If your bike has been taken from a train or tube station, call the British Transport Police.

Most insurance policies require that you contact the police before making a claim for a stolen bike, so be sure to ask for a crime reference number. This will also help you track the progress of your case.

If your bike has been registered, log onto your account and flag its status as stolen. This will help the police return it to you if they retrieve it.

2. Inform your insurance company

Do this straight after you've contacted the police, providing them with the same full details.

Your insurance company should be able to check whether bike theft is covered by your policy, as well as help guide you if you decide to make a claim.

3. Check online

Regularly check the big retail websites or any specific cycling websites to see if your bike is being sold online.

Better still, create an account and set up some alerts for things that match your bike's description. Remember, your bike could also be sold in parts.

If you think you've found your bike on one of these sites, don't attempt to contact the seller yourself, always alert the police instead.

4. Spread the word

The more eyes looking out for your bike the better.

One way to spread the word is by uploading the bike's details on sites such as Stolen Bike, and then using the social media icons to alert your contacts.

If your bike is unique - perhaps a time-trial, tri-bike or racing bike - you could also try listing it with specific bike club forums and community websites.

And don't forget about social media forums too – they're ideal tools for creating awareness.

5. Inform your local bike shop

You'll find most owners are happy to help where they can. Provide them with the details of your bike, along with a picture, in case someone brings it into their shop for repair.

Summary checklist

Having a bike stolen is both frustrating and unsettling.

But by putting some (if not all) of these precautions into place, the likelihood of it happening to you will be significantly lower. If nothing else, you'll have peace of mind knowing that you've done everything you can to keep your bike secure.

  • Register your bike online

  • Mark your bike with a security number

  • Keep a record of your bike's details

  • Research the best locks to buy

  • Ensure your bike is secure when at home

  • Be mindful of where you're leaving your bike

  • Always securely lock your bike when leaving it unattended

  • Know who to contact if your bike is stolen

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