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Lock it or lose it: Reformed bike thief's advice could stop your bike being stolen

Kryptonite Messenger U Lock Extender
Peter Stuart
8 Feb 2017

Insured or not, a stolen bike is just about the worst thing ever. Here’s how to throw a spanner in the works of a thief…

There’s a certain sense of satisfaction that comes from locking your bike up with an impressive arsenal of locks – a sort of self-assurance that no-one is getting their hands on your bundle of joy.

But with all the locking force in the world, it’s still important to be clued up on the nuances of bike security.

Shenol Shaddouh knows how to protect a bike better than anyone. Shaddouh used to steal bikes day-in day-out, but thanks to Bikeworks, a social enterprise bike shop based in East London, he reformed and began working as a bicycle mechanic.

Shaddouh, who usually stole between 15 and 25 bikes per week, was arrested repeatedly as a result of his persistent bike thefts. He knows a thing or two about stealing bikes and told us how best to protect yours. 

How to lock a bike

Get the right lock

Some locks work, and others make you the laughing stock of prospective thieves. ‘The most expensive bike I ever stole was a full-carbon TIME with Campagnolo Super Record 11 groupset. I found it on the bike-racks in the Regent’s Park tennis court on a cable-lock. A bike at that price on that sort of lock is ridiculous.’

Shaddouh explains, ‘There are a couple of locks we wouldn’t bother with – the yellow and black kryptonites and mini-kryptonites for instance. There’s also the Abus Extreme, that’s a tough one as well.’

Position the lock correctly

Apart from those using angle-grinders (apparently not all that common), most criminals use quite simple methods to get through D-locks that can be easily countered.

‘I used to twist D-locks with a scaffolding pole – if the first thing the lock comes into contact with when twisted is whatever it’s locked to, rather than the frame, then you can twist the D-lock to the point of breaking and it won’t damage the frame,’ says Shaddouh.

Car jacks are also used to snap weaker D-locks. As for cable locks, Shaddouh used to carry two sets of 36” bolt cutters, which are easier to use on slack cables or when they can be levered off the ground.

Positioning locks so they’re tight to the bike rather than the rack, not in contact with the ground and packing a D-lock with a cable lock will make things harder for thieves.

Lock through the rear-triangle

Shaddouh’s experience is that the best locking method is not the conventional D-lock through the seat tube and back-wheel, ‘The best way to use a D-lock is not to lock your frame but to lock through your rim at the spot between the rear wheel and the top of the rear triangle, with the D-lock within the rear triangle but not through the chainstays.’

This method makes attacks on a D-lock difficult, ‘There’s no way you would be able to get leverage and if you did you’d mash up the back wheel and you wouldn’t be able to get away with it. You could cut the rim but that’s actually quite tricky.’

Don't leave your bike for long periods

Thieves will target expensive bikes and persist with them. ‘If we’re talking about a £4,000 bike then we’d just keep going and keep trying and trying and if we got chased off we’d come back an hour later,’ Shaddouh explains.

Chasing away a thief doesn’t safeguard your bike either, they usually work in pairs – one cuts the lock and another steals the bike, so chasing the cutter draws attention away as the other steals the bike.

‘It’s a great distraction technique,’ Shaddouh explains. Leaving your bike for long periods can be a bad idea as it allows thieves to identify it and proceed with persistent attacks.

Double check

Bikes are often stolen as a result of absent-minded mistakes. Shaddouh tells us, ‘I’ve stolen more than four Bromptons locked up through the rear clip – so you just fold the back wheel and it’s unlocked. I’ve also seen bikes with monster locks just wrapped a number of times around the seat and then once around the lamppost. We’ve had bikes just locked by the front wheel, back wheel and around the handlebars. I’ve also seen keys left in a lock before – it’s surprising sometimes,’ says Shaddouh.

Some objects are better anchors than others too, ‘We used to call traffic signs throw over poles, and instead of cutting the lock we used to just cut the street sign off the pole and then lift it up and throw it over.’

Be saddle savvy

A saddle is probably not the most expensive thing on your bike, but petty thieves regularly target them. Securing the seat post with lockable skewers is essential, but in addition it’s worth employing some intelligent tactics to protect the saddle itself.

Placing a ball bearing in the Alan key fitting and surrounding it with wax or glue is one way to severely slow down the progress of a saddle stealer. When you need to move the saddle either dig the wax out or apply a solvent to the glue to dissolve it.

Don't advertise your bike on Strava

Realistically, bikes worth several grand are rarely left in public; many high-end bikes are stolen during a ride or from your home.

‘Be aware of people scouting bikes and following you home.’ Titus Halliwell, of the Metropolitan Police’s Cycle Task Force, explains, ‘The point at which your bike is likely to be stolen is when you’ve gone for a tea during a ride or when it’s left at home.’

As such, if you haven’t considered your privacy settings then Strava can be a handy tool for thieves – listing the bikes you own and where you keep them – ideal for an organised gang who arrange buyers before thefts.

The police's three Rs

Surprisingly, the police have a vast collection of stolen bikes with no identifiable owner.

Halliwell explains, ‘There are hundreds of bikes across the Met where no owners are identified and no one knows who they belong to. Registered bikes also help us identify a bike thief more quickly if we do stop someone on suspicion of bicycle theft.’

The Met's mantra is Record, Register, Report, meaning take photos, register your bike with and report the incident as soon as it happens to give yourself the best chance of retrieving a stolen bike.

Gumtree is commonly a market for stolen bikes, so keep checking for a listing similar to your bike should the worst occur.

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