A theft proof bike: fantasy or reality?
Sometimes it’s good to step back and look at things from a different angle. We spend so much time thinking about bike locks and the things we can do to protect our rides.
But what about the bike manufacturers? What are they doing? Why don’t new bikes come with any in-built security features?
Can you imagine modern cars and motorbikes being sold without any locks or alarms? It would seem crazy. And yet we accept that new bicycles are sold without any form of theft protection at all.
Obviously bikes are different to cars and motorbikes! But I’d like to see the bike manufacturers thinking about security a lot more and incorporating features that deter theft into their bicycles.
Luckily there are a few forward thinking companies that are already doing just that. And recently I’ve read several articles about “theft proof bikes”. But are they really making unstealable bikes or is it hyperbole?
Let’s take a look at these bikes in more detail…
Fortified Bike: why aren’t all new bikes like this?
Fortified have been around for a while and their bikes are more of a collection of existing security features rather than anything revolutionary…
Everything that’s attached to a Fortified frame is fastened with security bolts. So the handlebars, the wheels, the seat, the stem, and any optional extras such as the water bottle holder, the lights, the fenders or the bike rack: they are all protected by propriety bolts that can only be removed with a special key.
The bikes also come with a solid u-lock with a 13 mm, double locking shackle that should adequately resist leverage attacks and all but the biggest bolt cutters.
However, even if their bikes can’t be stripped of their components and are protected by decent u-locks, Fortified acknowledge that they can still be stolen and to counter this they offer one, three and five year protection plans.
These cost extra ($99, $248 and $348), but if your bike is stolen, not only is there a team that will try to recover it (by liaising with the police and trawling websites like eBay and craigslist), but if your bike isn’t recovered within one day they will provide you with a replacement bike completely free of charge (apart from the shipping and handling fee)!
There are two models of Fortified bike: the Invisible 1-Speed which has no gears and the Invisible 8-speed which has eight! Both bikes are designed for the city with rust proof frames, rust resistant chains, puncture resistant tires and weather proof seats.
So basically the company are bringing together a load of existing theft prevention techniques and applying them to their bikes before they’re sold.
Sure: security bolts, decent u-locks and theft protection plans have been available for years. But the onus has always been on us to seek them out and apply them to our bikes after we’ve bought them. And the problem is that few of us do so and this only encourages more bike crime.
So while the bikes they sell don’t use any revolutionary anti theft technology, the fact that they’re selling their bikes with protection included is revolutionary!
Of course it shouldn’t be. Every bike manufacturer should be selling bikes that have some degree of theft protection and it’s a great shame that they don’t. So Fortified Bikes are to be commended for breaking the mold and trying new ways to reduce bike crime from the top.
Yerka: the bike is the lock!
While Fortified bikes may offer nothing revolutionary, the Yerka Bike certainly does. Doing away with the need for a separate bike lock altogether, if you ride a Yerka, the bike frame becomes the bike lock!
How does it work? Well, the down tube actually splits in two and each section flips out horizontally. You can then push the bike against a post (or bike rack) so that the frame is on one side and the ends of the two down tube sections are poking out on the other side. Finally, you remove the seat post and use it to re-connect the down tube sections, making a secure loop.
Essentially this wraps the whole bike frame around whatever you’re locking your bike to!
The whole process should take no more than 15 seconds which is not too bad at all. And don’t forget one of the great side benefits of the Yerka is you don’t have to worry about carrying around some heavy, unwieldy secondary lock any more!
The seat post contains 12 mm of hardened steel to deter bolt cutters. But the point is: if a thief does manage to break the lock with brute force, they will essentially be destroying the frame of the bike, rendering it unusable.
Yerka claim that the split down tube doesn’t weaken the frame in any way and not only have they put it through some pretty rigorous testing, they also guarantee it for 2 years.
While this lock only takes care of the bike frame as a whole, the Yerka also comes with anti-theft wheel nuts so you don’t have to worry about losing your wheels either.
It’s a pretty clever idea. But not without drawbacks. The most obvious is that some thieves could cause a great deal of damage to the bike while trying to steal it, even if they’re ultimately unsuccessful. When this happens with a regular bike lock, you only need to replace the lock. When it happens with a Yerka you may have to replace the bike.
Also, while the 7″ (17 cm) of horizontal space inside the locked frame will theoretically give you loads of options when you’re looking for somewhere to secure your bike, I suspect it may be difficult to lock your bike in busy racks where there is already another bike on the other side.
However despite these drawbacks I think the Yerka is an elegant concept. The reviews from those that have ridden the Yerka have been positive and they even offer a 30 day test drive after which you can return it, no questions asked.
VanMoof: the future of bike security?
While Fortified and Yerka produce regular, analogue bikes, VanMoofs are part of the new wave of “smart” bikes that seem to be popping up all over the place.
VanMoof make both electric and regular bikes, all of them featuring lots of exciting new smart technology. However, what I’m most interested in here is their much lauded security features.
As far as I can tell, with their regular smart bikes, these security features amount to an Abus Shield rear wheel ring lock, anti-theft nuts and bolts, a sound and light alarm and GPS tracking.
With the electric smart bikes, you get the same anti-theft nuts and bolts, sound and light alarm and GPS tracking. But rather than the Abus Shield lock, you get a “smart stealth lock”. Plus automatic rider recognition (via the app) and a button to manually disarm the bike with a personal code.
Let’s look at the feature that’s exclusive to the regular smart bike first…
The Abus Shield lock is a pretty straightforward frame lock that simply stops the rear wheel rotating, so no-one can ride the bike away when it’s locked. Frame locks like this are really popular in mainland Europe, but less so in the UK and the US.
They certainly do a good job of demobilizing the bike but unlike a regular chain or u-lock they won’t stop a thief simply picking your bike up and walking away with it. So they should always used in conjunction with a regular lock.
As far as I can tell the rear lock on the regular VanMoof is entirely analogue and is not part of the “smart” system. So you still need a key to lock and unlock it.
Both the electric and regular bikes feature this concept of immobilization, similar to the sort of security feature you might get with a car. However they seem to work in a slightly different way depending which type of bike you have.
With the electric bike you can initiate the immobilization, by using the “smart stealth lock”. To do this there is a little button on the rear drop out that you kick with your foot. This will lock the back wheel (in the same way as the frame lock on the regular bike) and turn on the alarm.
With the regular bike, I presume that after you secure the frame lock by hand with a key, you then immobilize the bike (turn the alarm on) with the phone app.
Once immobilized, the VanMoof is sensitive to movement. If the bike is disturbed the alarm goes off and the lights flash. This increases in intensity if the movement continues, with the lights even flashing “SOS” in Morse Code at the highest level!
If the bike is actually stolen while immobilized all the smart features shut down, you receive a message through the app and the GPS tracking kicks in.
On the electric bike the immobilization can be turned off automatically via Bluetooth when you approach with bike with your phone, or there is also a button on the handlebar which allows you to automatically override it by tapping in a code.
With the regular bike there’s no button, so I guess you can only mobilize the bike by using the app. But what if you forget your phone or the battery has died?
The differences between the security features on the electric and regular bikes are understandable. The electric bikes are much more expensive so they justify more protection. Also, since the electric bikes will be charged more often, I’d imagine they can afford to expand more of their energy on security features?
But I’ve got to say VanMoof do a bad job of explaining these differences. Or rather they do a bad job of explaining the security features of the regular bikes.
The anti-theft nuts and bolts are on all the components except the handlebars (which since they’ll only fit a VanMoof bike are not that desirable anyway). Just like the other bikes, the nuts and bolts will require a specially shaped key or spanner, only provided by VanMoof to open them.
VanMoof also offer a protection plan for an additional cost. It’s around the same price as the Fortified plan ($100 for 1 year, $240 for 3 years) and offers similar benefits. If your bike’s stolen, there’s a team of “Bike Hunters” who will try to track it down. While it’s being hunted they will loan you a temporary bike if you live near one of their outlets. And if they cant find the stolen one within 2 weeks, they’ll replace it with a brand new one!
You can lose up to 4 bikes before they decide you’re a liability and stop replacing them, which is fair enough!
I’d say the GPS tracking means there’s a better chance you’ll get a VanMoof bike back than a Fortified bike. And since they claim a recovery rate of 80% (compared to 4% in the Europe as a whole), they do seem to be doing pretty well!
Folding Bikes: the old school technique!
While the previous three bikes are aiming to push anti-theft measures forwards, we shouldn’t forget the old school methods. And the truth is: if your bike is always folded up by your side when you’re not riding, it’s very unlikely to be stolen!
Although over 50% of stolen bikes are taken from the owners home, that statistic includes their gardens, sheds and garages. The number would be much lower if it was limited to thefts from within the owners actual house or flat.
And that’s the great thing about a folding bike: almost everyone can fit one inside their home!
A guide to folding bikes is way beyond the scope of this article. And the best folding bike for you will depend on loads of different personal variables. But I know several people that are very happy with their EuroMini ZiZZO Urbano which seems great value for money (and none of them have been stolen)!
Wrapping Up: Are these really unstealable bikes?
Well, “no” is the short answer! Both Fortified and VanMoof offer retrieval and replacement services in the event that your bike is stolen. So they recognize that their bikes are not theft proof and to be fair they don’t claim anywhere that they’re otherwise.
Fortified bikes are no more unstealable than any other bike locked with a decent u-lock. They’re much less likely to be stripped of their components than the average bike due to the security bolts they use. And their protection plan can offer some peace of mind. But they’re not in any way theft proof!
However, Fortified are one of the only bike manufacturers accepting some responsibility for protecting our bikes from theft and for this they should be massively commended. I would like to see every new bike come with this level of protection as a minimum and it’s a great shame that other companies are not following their lead.
VanMoof bikes are actually incredibly easy to steal. Although both the electric and regular bikes come with locks that disable the back wheel (which means your bike can’t be ridden away), there’s nothing to stop a thief picking up your bike and carrying it away. Or throwing it in a van.
Many thieves won’t be deterred by alarms and flashing lights, especially when the prize is a $3000 bike! Even if the “smart” functions are disabled and the bike is difficult to re-sell as a VanMoof bike, it can be stripped and the parts sold on or mixed into other bikes.
VanMoof must realize this but while their terms and conditions state that the alarm and wheel lock (of a stolen bike) must have been enabled, it also indicates that a secondary lock should only be used “where possible”. So if you leave your bike immobilized with the alarm and wheel lock, but not secured to an immovable object, you’re still covered!?
Seems crazy to me. If you don’t want your bike to be stolen I would highly recommend you secure it to an immovable object with a good quality lock!
The only bike here that can remotely make a claim to be unstealable is the Yerka. For sure: the lock can be broken and the bike taken away. But stealing the bike would actually involve destroying the bike. And is a destroyed bike still a bike even?!
I suppose (just like with a stolen VanMoof bike), the parts of a Yerka could be sold on or recycled into other bikes, but since the act of stealing a Yerka involves a conscious destruction of the bike in a way that stealing a VanMoof doesn’t, it just seems less likely.
It might seem I’m a bit down on these companies. But I’m not at all. Nowhere in their literature have I seen any claims that their bikes are theft proof. I’ve only read such claims in the press. And I’m not even down on the press. They need to generate clicks, and claims of unstealable bikes are sure to garner a lot of attention.
In fact I think these companies should be celebrated for at least recognizing bike crime is a serious issue and trying to do something about it from the top. If I’m down on anyone it’s all the other bike manufacturers, who churn out thousands of new bikes every year without any effort to make them more difficult to steal.