An interview with Bike Index: The Biggest Bicycle Registry

Lily Williams from Bike Index

We all know that our bikes will almost certainly be stolen at some point. And it’s an indisputable fact that recording bicycle serial numbers with a registry scheme vastly increases the chances of getting them back when they are stolen.

But very few us actually bother to register our serial numbers. In fact, I would venture that the vast majority of us don’t know our serial numbers, many of us wouldn’t know where to find them and some of us won’t even know they exist at all!

If we want to seriously reduce bike theft then this needs to change. Bike registration needs to become a routine step in every new bike purchase. And cross-checking the serial number should become a routine step in every second hand bike deal.

Bike Index is the largest and most widely used bicycle registration scheme in the world and is actively trying to encourage such changes.

I caught up with Lily Williams the Communications Director at Bike index to find out more about what they do. Bryan Hance (BH), the founder, also made some contributions which I’ve marked in blue.

First of all, thanks for taking the time to speak to me. I’m a big fan of Bike Index and it’s the number one recommended registration scheme on The Best Bike Lock.

But when Bike Index launched in 2013, there were already plenty of other bike registration schemes. Why did you think we needed another?

The fact that there are so many bike registration schemes is exactly the reason for Bike Index. The goal of Bike Index is to be the single most effective, consolidated resource for registering bikes and for recovering stolen bikes. In just a few short years we’ve become the most widely-used bicycle registration service in the world, which is a testament to our user experience and effectiveness. Bike Index is universal, meaning that anyone, anywhere, can register their bike (for free). Their registration will exist forever, no matter where they live.

Bike Index is universal, meaning that anyone, anywhere, can register their bike (for free). Their registration will exist forever, no matter where they live.

In the typical local registration schemes you see around the country, registrations are basically void if the bike owner moves. When they move, they’ll have to pay another registration fee to register in another system that will be unable to help them if their bike is stolen and taken to another city for sale. We see a lot of bikes that are stolen and fenced elsewhere. On the contrary, a Bike Index registration will follow the cyclist no matter where they live. Bike Index’s goal is to connect all of the organizations that are trying to register bikes and get everyone to register their bikes in one cohesive and collaborative system, and of course, remain free and easy to use for all cyclists.

And then Bike Index has the added element of recovery. You register your bike in Bike Index in the hope that if it gets stolen, you can leverage our community of almost 116,000 people and over 500 organizations to keep an eye out for your stolen bike. We have far and away more stolen bike recoveries – and partner organizations – than any other registration service.

We have far and away more stolen bike recoveries – and partner organizations – than any other registration service.

I sometimes get the feeling that the dozens of different schemes is actually counter productive, with too much choice causing paralysis among cyclists. What do you think?

I completely agree. You see this across the board. One classic and well-known example of this is Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma” which has nothing to do with bikes, but offers a nice parallel. In the novel of the same name, Pollan details how food consumers in the U.S. are overwhelmed with the number of food choices. With 20 different jam options all purporting great taste and flavor, the grocery shopper is overwhelmed and buys nothing at all.

With bikes, the huge number of registration schemes could paralyze users into not registering at all. Non-registry is worse than registering in a small registration system with purely local reach. Eventually at Bike Index we hope to be the world standard for bike registration. With one obvious registration choice, we’ll have more registrations, and exponentially more stolen bicycle recoveries.

Why do you think so few people bother to register their bikes?

I think most people fail to register their bikes because they don’t even know it’s an option. Many local registries are buried on infrequently-visited web pages or don’t exist online. Many registration systems also require people to come into a police station or office to fill out their registration, which is a massive deterrent. No one cares enough to do this until their bike gets stolen, and by then it’s too late. It also takes time, money, and personnel to manage a registration system. Typical organizations that might host a registry – a police department or advocacy group – are often tight in all three of these things.

Many registration systems also rely on stickers. You register your bike for $15, get a sticker to put on your bike, and then your bike gets stolen and the sticker is the first thing the thief removes. People have little faith in a registration’s ability to do anything, and they don’t want to pay for something that does nothing. Add to this yet another deterrent: the mandatory registry. People get tickets for not being in a registration system that they didn’t even know existed, and they resent bicycle registration as a whole.

We allow people to register their bikes post-theft.

Bike Index offers a number of solutions to these issues. First and foremost, we provide a cheap and easy solution for individuals as well as organizations to register bikes without increasing the need for a staff person. We allow people to register their bikes post-theft. We have options to alert local pawnshops of the bike’s theft through our partnership with LeadsOnline, and we incentivize people to report thefts to the police. We rely on serial numbers and photos of the bike for identification, not stickers. And we’re not mandatory. We’re a free service for use by anyone and everyone. We have a great website and are active on social media, all in the hopes that people will find out about us and use our system. We also just started a new Bike Index ambassadors program to provide resources for local cyclists to spread the word and encourage people to register bikes in their cities of residence.

There’s mandatory registration?! Can you explain a bit more about this?

We see a number of municipalities and universities who try to make a bike registration mandatory. Then they sort of enforce the rules but only sometimes and seemingly arbitrarily, so people come to expect that they don’t actually have to register their bikes, and they don’t, but then they’ll get a ticket out of the blue for parking their bike on campus or around town without a registration sticker. Of course, tickets, and mandatory registrations that you have to pay to enter are barriers to transportation for many communities that rely on bicycle for transportation. And not knowing whether or not you’re going to get a ticket for parking on a public bike rack is frustrating.

In the past people thought cops were using the bike licensing thing as a way to harass homeless and low-income riders.

[BH] There was definitely some anti-registration sentiment – mostly in CA I think – against mandatory bike registration as some folks viewed it as a tool that was used to aim enforcement more at marginalized folks, and having nothing to do with keeping bikes safe. I think this last came up when talking to Oakland CA, where the police/community relationship was pretty strained … like in the past people thought cops were using the bike licensing thing as a way to harass homeless and low-income riders. That, plus the arbitrary enforcement thing Lily mentioned, plus other things like not equating bikes with cars re: making things mandatory, tends to lead to a knee-jerk reaction from many cyclists when the term “mandatory licensing” shows up.

In your experience do bike shops routinely register bikes for their customers? And if not, why not?

In our experience, most bike shops are interested in registering bikes for their customers, but they don’t know of a good registration service to use, and then they assume that registering bikes for their customers will be a burden for their staff and require training time. Most bike shops are open to pointing their customers in the direction of a registry but not many of them want to take a bunch of time to register bikes.

Bike Index makes this easier by offering point-of-sale integrations for bike shops. All of us at Bike Index have worked in bike shops. And we’re all avid cyclists, so we know what shops and cyclists might be looking for in a registry. With these point-of-sale integrations, such as our partnership with Lightspeed Retail, all the shop has to do is link their point-of-sale system with Bike Index, and then every bike that they sell will automatically be added into Bike Index (unless the customer opts out). This means that bike shops can offer Bike Index security to their customers, which might encourage a customer to buy a better bike that more aptly fits their needs. The customer also doesn’t have to do anything to register their bike. They don’t need to know how to find the serial number, and they won’t go home and forget the shop’s recommendation that they register the bike. Bike Index takes care of everything with one click.

What more do you think the police and government could do to protect us from bike crime?

Bike crime tends to be low on the priorities list of many (but not all) police and government departments, not because it’s unimportant, but because it’s seen as unimportant when compared to more immediately tangible issues such as safety. As I mentioned before, many of these agencies are short on resources. But if these agencies realized the benefit of reducing bike crime, they might be more invested in proactive measures.

Bike crime can cost a municipality hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, depending on the region in question. Bike crime decreases commuting by bike. Bicycle commuting, as we all know, is immensely beneficial for health and for the environment. Cycling is also a highly accessible transportation mechanism for low-income communities and bike crime decreases this resource. In addition, civilians often try to take bike crime matters into their own hands, which actually does end up becoming a safety issue. If this information were more readily available and apparent to police and government bodies, then I think these organizations would be more apt to invest in reducing bike crime.

A huge way police and government agencies could protect us from bike crime would be to crack down on online selling platforms.

A huge way police and government agencies could protect us from bike crime would be to crack down on online selling platforms. We see thousands of stolen bikes being sold online and often people will report these bikes to law enforcement with no response and no punishment for the sellers/platforms whatsoever. This leads cyclists to take matters into their own hands, which can be dangerous. Of course, if more police and government bodies managed a Bike Index registration system and took more interest in encouraging their constituents to register, then they would be closer to the needs and interests of their cycling communities and better able to decrease bike crime with our consolidated registration system.

The vast number of stolen bikes for sale online is clearly a massive issue. Why do you think the platforms are so reluctant to deal with it themselves? For example, by requiring every bike to be listed with its serial number.

Or maybe this wouldn’t actually work as sellers could make up the serial numbers! Is there anything else they could do?

Bryan can definitely speak more to stolen bikes being sold on online platforms as he has been dealing with this stuff for almost a decade, with Stolen Bike Registry before Bike Index. Overall, I think that these sites don’t crack down on these bikes/sellers because it will make their sites look bad – no one wants to be known as a site for illegal goods. It would also be a lot of work to verify whether people’s claims of stolen goods are legitimate. Something that these platforms could do would be to cross-check bike listings with Bike Index. If someone reports a bike on their site as stolen, then they can see if it is listed as such on Bike Index, and if it is, flag the seller and bike. We’re always looking to build new integrations and form new partnerships such as this.

[BH] The online-platforms-as-fencing-operations discussion is so amazingly huge that there’s no way I could possibly cover it in one email, but the gist is most of these platforms have little to no care re:stopping stolen goods on their sites. Literally all they care about is showing their investors they have rapid growth. I mean, some of them won’t even let you submit a fraud report without starting an account with them, meaning that in order to chase down your own stolen goods you become one tick in the “hey look we had growth this month” column for these services.

Craigslist has always sucked. Ebay is a little better, but is such a monolith that it also needs a lot of work. And the newcomers like Offerup and Letgo are so amazingly, terribly bad at preventing stolen goods from being stolen on their sites that I could fill up a whole afternoon just talking about this. I can happily refer you to countless victims who get to watch guys sell their stolen bikes online with zero assistance from those sites, which is super frustrating to the point that the idea of a class-action isn’t too far away. (Also note that in the scenario you describe – when someone lists a fake serial – would be a huge and helpful red flag to a buyer: if the seller says the serial is 1234, and you show up and its 4567, then there’s a huge red flag that the bike is stolen. That would be a huge huge benefit to add a serial field, and yet they don’t want to add it.)

Finding thieves selling bikes on sites like Offerup is like fish in a barrel – I could literally sit here and do it all day.

The metaphor I always deploy here is that cities and states have a ton of existing law around pawn stores and other ‘resale’ stores, with these huge bureaucracies and regulations and steep penalties and fines for pawn shops that play ‘dirty’ and sell stolen goods – but suddenly when it’s all done online everybody gets a free pass. And we’ve talked to a bunch of these services and they’ve all done zero to help stem the flow of stolen bikes. It’s frustrating. I mean, we’re just a bunch of cyclist nerds with a website, and finding thieves selling bikes on sites like Offerup is like fish in a barrel – I could literally sit here and do it all day. And these sites that have hundreds of millions in VC funding can’t get it together enough to know that a seller -whose name, phone number, and other details they have – is a six time felon with a public arrest record, and he shows up and lists a $8k carbon fiber bike for sale and can’t even spell the name of the bike right? It’s a total joke that they can’t do better.

What are your immediate and more long term plans for the future of Bike Index?

In the immediate, we’re always looking to register and recover more bikes. Bike Index is definitely a labor of love for everyone involved. Cycling is a huge part of our lives and we want to make sure that everyone who rides a bike keeps their bike in their own hands. Because we’re a nonprofit, we subsist mainly on donations. And sometimes we recover a $10,000 bike and get no donation in return. So of course, we’re also always looking to build features that will help us bring in revenue to keep Bike Index expanding and recovering more bikes.

Bike theft is rampant on university campuses. Bike Index provides full suites of features for universities to keep track of their students’ bikes and keep their students rolling.

We’ve gotten really good at building custom Bike Index registration platforms for organizations that have budget and need for registration build-outs. We’re seeing lots of success with universities, which are the perfect setting for a Bike Index registration system. Universities need the ability to get in touch with bike owners on their campuses for all sorts of things (bikes locked in the wrong places, abandoned bikes, etc.), and universities also have limited resources for finding stolen bikes that are taken off campus. Bike theft is rampant on university campuses. Bike Index provides full suites of features for universities to keep track of their students’ bikes and keep their students rolling.

Of course our goal at large is to become the household name for bike registrations, if there ever could be such a thing. We want every cyclist ever to register in Bike Index because this would mean that everyone is keeping eyes out for stolen bikes as well, and ultimately reducing bike crime. And we want to keep providing our service for free for anyone who rides a bike. You shouldn’t have to pay to protect your bike after you’ve already spent money on your bike. We want to encourage people to ride and get outside.

Regarding future plans, have you thought about a phone app, similar to the 529 Garage app? I imagine a GPS based app that victims could use to quickly alert when and where their bike was stolen and which would automatically alert other cyclists / authorities in the area could be incredibly powerful.

We have definitely considered building an app. That being said, we will never rely on an app, because there are tons of cyclists who don’t have smartphones, and who rely on desktop versions of services. Another big thing for us is cost and personnel. Bike Index is only made up of three people, and we are a nonprofit that subsists mostly on donations. While this is definitely not a hindrance when it comes to registering and recovering bikes, apps require fees that we would rather put into getting universities or municipalities in the Bike Index system, if we have to choose. But if there’s an app developer out there who wants to build us an app… let us know!

Bike Index is only made up of three people, and we are a nonprofit that subsists mostly on donations.

[BH] Apps are nice. I like apps. We may do an app someday. For now though our site is mobile-optimized, we have more utility and responsiveness with our Twitter/Facebook/Instagram and our organic networks of users who are on the lookout in specific places instead of just blanket-alerting everybody in the same zip code 36 to 50 times per day. I think that could get pretty annoying, to be honest … that app would constantly be going off every 15 minutes in places like SF or Seattle.

So right now we’re more into letting people opt-in to the alerts and stolen bike feeds, instead of pushing them at them constantly. The barrier to app usage and entry though is enormous, too – I’m talking about getting someone to take the time to download, authorize, config and accept app push notifications and so on – whereas Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are pretty low. And, definitely as Lily pointed out it’s a resources thing. We’re absolutely slammed and running on a low budget, so app development isn’t something we’re focusing on right now.

OK, great stuff. Many thanks for your time!


As they mention in the article: Bike Index is a non-profit scheme that exists entirely on donations. You can donate here.

I would also urge you to register your bike with Bike Index. It’s entirely free. It lasts for ever. And it will exponentially increase the chances of recovering your bike when it’s stolen!

An interview with TiGr: Makers of Titanium Bike Locks

John and Robert from TiGr locks
John and Robert from TiGr locks

TiGr emerged in 2011 with a Kickstarter campaign which raised over $100,000 for their lightweight, titanium bike locks.

By smashing their original $37,000 fundraising target they confirmed that there’s a huge appetite among cyclists for lightweight bike locks that can adequately protect our bikes.

They currently offer two different types of lock: a bow which will secure your bike and both wheels (without you removing the front wheel) and a mini which is one of the lightest locks around.

TiGr locks are incredibly innovative and provide some of the best security to weight ratios available today.

I caught up with Jim Loughlin from TiGr to find out more…

The Best Bike Lock: Hi Jim. I understand that yours is a family company. Can you tell us a little about your backgrounds? 

Jim: Yes, it is a family company. Robert, a Mechanical Engineer, founded Stanton Concepts more than 25-years ago as a platform to develop and market his inventions. Prior to Stanton Concepts he led product development and manufacturing operations for a lock manufacturing firm in Connecticut.

John joined his father in 2003 and is now President and Chief Product Designer. Prior to that John managed Product Development and Manufacturing Operations for companies in the Fiber Optic, Defence Contracting and Precision Manufacturing space. Bob and John have more than 15 patents for physical security devices, and more in development. Stanton Concepts licenses much of that IP to other firms.

Jim’s background is in Sales and Marketing for technology companies.

Where did the idea for TiGr bike locks come from?

We had been interested in the idea of using titanium for bicycle security for some time.

Making the most of the strength-to-weight and flex properties of Titanium were the primary design goals. Simplicity, minimal moving parts, minimal individual pieces, minimal steps in the production process are also very important to our way of thinking.

The basic bow-lock form springs from concepts we developed for truck and cargo security. We found that a flexible bow-shape worked well as a bike lock.

The strength-to-weight and flex properties of Titanium make the bow-shape and size viable. The TiGr coupling mechanism evolved through many design iterations and field trials. The USPTO has issued three patents on the TiGr concept so far.

Was there a specific problem you were trying to solve?

Actually there were 3 specific problems we wanted to solve: weight, storage and usability.

Bicycles are beautiful, highly evolved machines that are a joy to ride. We thought bikes and bike riders deserved something better than a big hunk of steel to lug around.

Why do you think no-ones come up with a Titanium bike lock before?

The obvious first thing that comes to mind is to simply replace the hardened steel components of a traditional Folding lock or U-Lock with Titanium components.

What makes the TiGr unique, break out design, is that the entire lock is reimagined. The TiGr concept takes advantage of Titanium’s benefits (strength, low weight and flexibility) in an extremely efficient package. The design requires minimal number of parts, a minimal amount of manufacturing operations. It is simple.

Are there different types of Titanium? If so, how do you choose the best type for a bike lock?

There are several grades of titanium. The grades vary in terms of; elasticity, hardness, etc. and cost. We experimented with different grades and various shapes. We chose the material and shape we thought provided the best balance of strength, weight, flexibility and cost.

We are very fortunate in that our Titanium vendor is nearby and is a global leader in expertise and supply of titanium.

U-locks often suffer from weather related corrosion that can cause the shackle stick to the cross bar so that the lock becomes unusable.

How much bad weather testing have you done with TiGr locks? Is Titanium less susceptible to corrosion than steel?

Titanium has superb corrosion properties; that is one reason why it works well in petrochemical applications and for medical implants. Some people have been using TiGr Locks everyday for coming on 6 years. Corrosion hasn’t been an issue.

What were the biggest challenges in the design and development stage?

Getting to a design we could manufacture in a small shop in an economical, scalable and sustainable way. The final (although it’s never really final) design is the result of many design iterations. Beta tester feedback was also a huge help.

What have been the biggest challenges since you launched?

Building brand awareness and earning brand credibility.

I’ve seen some criticism of the security to price ratio of TiGr locks. How do you answer that criticism?

We are more concerned with the security to weight ratio. The TiGr mini weighs less than a pound and provides security equivalent to locks weighing more than twice as much.

The Bow-Lock versions can secure both wheels to a rack without the need of an additional device such as cable or locking skewers or an additional lock.

The vast majority of actual users we hear from tell us they value the weight savings and usability TiGr Locks deliver.

Titanium is expensive. We form and assemble every TiGr Lock ourselves by hand. Those things factor into the price.

TiGr locks were available in two widths, with the wider one being more secure. Can you explain why making them wider rather than thicker make them more secure?

The additional width provides increased resistance to bolt cutter and sawing attacks without decreasing flexibility too much or adding too much weight.

What would be the biggest challenges in making TiGr locks even more secure?

Making locks that are lighter and even harder to break at a viable price point.

I think it’s really important that bike locks are rated by independent security organisations. So I was really happy to see TiGr locks have been tested and rated by ART who are one of the best.

However, in the UK many insurance companies require that your lock is rated by Sold Secure. Have you considered submitting your locks to Sold Secure rating as well?

We plan to get certifications from rating agencies in all major markets including Sold Secure for the UK.

Is it important to have TiGr locks made in the USA (and if so why)?

It’s important to us. TiGr Lock is our baby, we take pride in bringing it to life in our own small shop and touching every piece that goes out the door. We like being able to respond directly to customer questions.

Being simple to manufacture makes it possible for us to keep production in-house. We may outsource more in the future, but at our current volumes the potential costs savings aren’t that great. Titanium cost doesn’t vary much from place to place.

Are there plans to make TiGr locks more widely available outside the US?

Yes. We want to deliver great customer/user experience for every user in every place. To do so on a larger scale outside the US we need local partners who both share our values and have the capacity to help make it easier for cyclists to find and buy our products.  We are working on it.

The bigger brands obviously have the advantages of economies of scale. Do you think as a smaller brand with small batch production you have any advantages over the bigger manufacturers?

We think being more nimble and more responsive to customers are some advantages that come with smaller size.

You’ve got the bow design and now the mini. Are there plans for more designs?

Yes, please stay tuned.

Great! Many thanks for your time Jim.


TiGr locks are available online through their own shop, through Amazon and from specific local retailers.

All currently available TiGr locks have been tested and awarded a 2/5 star rating by ART, the independent Dutch security foundation.

The ART tests are very demanding and a 2/5  rating is usually equivalent to at least* a Silver Rating from Sold Secure.

This means they all meet the minimum security requirements to be recommended by The Best Bike Lock.

* (The Abus Bordo Granit 6500 Folding Lock is Sold Secure Gold and 2/5 stars from ART)

 

Gone in 60 Seconds: A UK Bike Theft Documentary

This is one of the most interesting documentaries I’ve seen on bike theft. Filmed in London in 2007, the title refers to the statistic that in the UK, a bike is stolen every 60 seconds!

You can watch the whole thing at the end of this post. But what’s in it?

Gone in 60 Seconds Bike Theft Documentary

Well, loads of goof stuff. They steal their own bike several times with increasingly intrusive tools in very public places to show that no-one ever intervenes.  There’s a glimpse of the Sold Secure workshop where they dispatch some cheap cable locks very quickly. And they film several sting operations by the police and set up their own sting operations so they can track the stolen bikes.

Of course all the bikes in the sting operations are locked with cable locks. And all the thieves that steal the bikes are using very basic wire cutters that slice through those locks in a matter of seconds.

The lesson here as always: never use a cable lock to secure your bicycle!

Almax vs Sold Secure

There’s also another section which I remember caused some controversy at the time. Almax, who manufacturer high security, bolt cutter proof chains for motorcycles, attack some of the higher security bike locks with a pair of Irwin Record 42″ bolt croppers.

In the video, they cut through the Abus City Chain X-Plus (10 mm links), the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Chain (14 mm links) and the Squire MC4 Chain (13 mm links). As well as a selection of unidentified u-locks. (Why didn’t they identify the u-locks?). All in a matter of seconds.

As we already know: any chains with links less than 16 mm can be cropped with the best bolt cutters, the right technique and enough weight behind them.

But that’s a very specific combination and the suggestion from Almax at the end of the piece that “any cyclist that buys any of these locks we’ve tested today are not safe”, irked many involved with bike security, with Kryptonite offering their own response.

And you can read more of the opinions of some of the people involved in this test here and here.

The facts:

Irwin Record 42″ bolt croppers do cost over $400 / £300. And as you can clearly see in the video: to crop these chains they need to be close to the ground so the thief can use the floor for leverage. Lastly, have a good look at the blokes doing the cropping: they’re not exactly lightweights!

So yes, some professional thieves will use these bolt croppers. And if your chain is too close to the floor and the thief is heavy enough and knows what they’re doing, you will lose your bike if it’s locked with these chains. But there’s a good few “ifs” here.

My view:

If you want a bike lock that’s guaranteed to be bolt cutter proof, it needs to be at least 16 mm thick. It could be an Almax chain. It could be a Pragmasis chain. It could be an OnGuard Brute or a Kryptonite New York Standard u-lock.

But not everyone with a 42″ pair of bolt cutters can cut every bike lock that’s less than 16 mm. So think about your circumstances, think about the realistic risk to your bike based on those circumstances and make your choice accordingly.

In fact, I’ve written a useful guide here to help you choose the right lock for your bicycle according to your circumstances.

I’ve gone off track here a bit. Back to the documentary…

Brick Lane: A Theives Bazaar

There’s a nice bit where they go down to Brick Lane market in East London to find loads of stolen bikes openly on sale in a thieves bazaar.

I used to live around there and it was notorious and completely blatant. It was quite common to see kids fighting amongst themselves as one thief came to reclaim a bike that they’d stolen but that had subsequently been stolen from them by another thief!

I don’t know if it’s still going on as I haven’t lived in London for a while and the area has been massively gentrified. But if it’s not happening in Brick Lane it will only have moved somewhere else.

Boris Johnson: A prat

The other thing that caught my attention watching it again today was Boris Johnson, a keen cyclist and a man who has consistently shown himself to care only for himself, complaining about our “atomistic society” and bemoaning the fact we don’t watch out for each other anymore. Prat.

Anyway, the documentary:

 

 

LITELOK: Is this a game changer for bicycle security?

Update (April 30th 2017):

I’ve now got hold of a LITELOK and have been using it for the past month. Check out my full hands-on LITELOK review here.

Litelock Flexible Lightweight Bike Lock

Sometimes it seems like barely a week passes by without the launch of another Kickstarter funded bike lock from yet another trendy startup company.

And the promise is always the same: we will solve all your bicycle security problems with our clever ideas and the latest cutting edge technology.

There’s always a slick video. There’s usually a smart phone app. And more often than not, I’m left slightly baffled and a little bit disappointed.

Why? Because they either solve problems that don’t seem that significant. Or add layers of technological complexity that will inevitably unravel in the real world. Sometimes they manage to achieve both of these things.

And they always seem to marginalize the most important part of any lock: the security. In most of these projects the security level of the lock almost feels like an afterthought. When it should be the very highest priority.

Because lets face it, a bike lock must protect your bike from theft. If the lock is defeated and your bike is stolen, no amount of innovative design features will save it from being utterly, utterly useless.

And of course, we all know that along with security comes weight. The two are inextricably linked. The more secure a bike lock is, the heavier it is. It’s unavoidable. And this is one of the greatest problems with bike security: in order to adequately protect your bike, you have to lug round a very weighty and very inconvenient bit of metal.

So when I first read about the LITELOK, I was understandably dubious. A light bike lock that is also secure? It’s impossible. Isn’t it?

Litelock Flexible Lightweight Bike Lock

Well, apparently not. Using a new, super tough, super light material they call “Boaflexicore”, the LITELOK defies expectations. Not only does it weigh less than 1 Kg, it’s also been awarded the very highest Gold security rating from Sold Secure, the independent lock testers.

How does it compare to other locks? At first glance it seems to offer all the advantages and none of the disadvantages of it’s competitors…

The LITELOK is closest in form and function to cable or chain locks. These are practical and easy to use. But most cable locks are close to useless when it comes to actually protecting your bike and chain locks are notoriously heavy. And while the other major alternative U-locks, can provide a high level of protection at a reasonable weight, their rigid shape means they’re not always so practical to use.

Sounds promising! But let’s look at some real world comparisons. You can compare the weights of security ratings of a whole load of U-locks here and chain locks here.

Compared to chains, both the Kryptonite Keeper 755 Mini and the Hiplok Lite are about the same length and weight as the LITELOK. But both of these locks only have a Sold Secure Bronze security rating. And there’s a big, big difference between Bronze and Gold. In fact, I don’t recommend locks that are rated Sold Secure Bronze to anyone.

And the lightest chain lock that offers a Sold Secure Gold rating is the Abus CityChain 1010 85 which is twice as heavy as the LITELOK. (It’s also slightly longer, but only by 4 inches.)

Talking of length, the LITELOK is admittedly, not very long. In fact at 29″ / 73.6 cm, it’s pretty short. But you can actually join two of them together to double the usable length if you really need to.

Against U-locks, which are generally lighter, you might think the competition would be closer. But the lightest Sold Secure Gold rated U-lock I can find (with a verified weight) is the Abus U-mini 401 Yellow. Not only is it still slightly heavier than the LITELOK, it’s also a mini u-lock which makes it significantly less practical to use.

So yes, it does seem like the LITELOK may well have found that hallowed ground where a high degree of practicality is not undermined by poor security.

But this isn’t a proper review. Let’s save a full appraisal of the LITELOK until it’s been released and real people start using it in the real world. When real thieves start to tackle it with real tools. Because a Sold Secure rating is not the be all and end all. Let’s see how the thieves rate it.

However I am genuinely optimistic, even excited by the prospects of this lock. The people behind it seem to have done everything right so far. They’ve tackled a genuine problem. They’ve had their lock certified by an independent tester. And there’s no smart phone app in sight!

So I really look forward to giving it a full review once it is released. In the meantime, if you need great lock RIGHT NOW, check out my guide on how to choose a lock.

A confession: I keep my bike in the street overnight

Update (July 1st 2016):

They stole my back brake cable last night. I didn’t realise until I came to the main road at the top of the hill outside our house. Luckily, they didn’t steal the front cable too!

Never leave your bike locked up in the street overnight. That’s what they say anyway. When you start to learn about bike security you’ll see this piece of advice over and over again.

Our bikes outside

And it’s always very definite. There’s no room for negotiation. Never leave your bike locked up in the street overnight.

And of course it makes a lot of sense. Leaving a bike out all night gives the thieves free reign to practice their dark arts. They’re able work under the cloak of darkness and can be pretty confident that at 4 am neither you nor anyone else is likely to disturb them for a good long while. And we all know that any lock can be defeated if you give the thief enough time…

So what sort of nutter leaves their bike alone in the street in the dark for hours on end? Recently I came across this post from the brilliant Lovely Bicycle. She writes about turning an old Dutch transport bike into an “outdoor” bike, that’s left permanently outside. The reason is very clear: convenience.

Her’s is a very heavy, unwieldy bike, difficult to carry through doors and up stairs. In fact, it’s not designed to keep inside. As she mentions in the post: with all the delicate parts protected from the weather, it’s designed to be left outside for long periods of time. And of course it’s far more convenient keep a bike outside all the time. You’re surely going to use it more often.

So this is what she decided to do. She bought a sturdy Kryptonite lock, and chained the bike to some railings at the back of her house. Voila. A permanently outside bike.

At the end of the post, she accepts that keeping a bike outside is not for everyone and suggests that we should weigh the convenience against how uncomfortable we are with the security (and probably the weather) issues.

In the comments, I was a bit surprised by the amount of negative feedback directed at the security aspect of this decision. But of course, as I mentioned above, the accepted truth is that you should never leave your bike outside overnight. So maybe I shouldn’t have been. But perhaps my surprise is is rooted in my own experience…

Because I leave my bike outside all the time too. And my girlfriends and my sons bike as well. We leave them locked to the same bike stand, out in the street opposite our apartment block every night. Why? Well, it’s the same basic reason that Lovely Bicycle gives: convenience.

Theoretically, I could bring my bike into our building, lug it into the lift and then carry it through the apartment to our small balcony every day. As could my girlfriend and kids. But what a pain. I ride a bike for the freedom it gives me. I don’t want to be so constrained, so completely inconvenienced by the possibility that someone else wants my bicycle.

So we leave them outside. Same place. All night. Every night. And have we had any problems? Well, err yes there’s been quite a few as it goes…

The first bike I bought here, was such a ridiculous machine, a circus clown would have been embarrassed to ride it. I didn’t think anyone could possibly want it. So I bought an equally cheap, equally ridiculous cable lock to protect it. And of course the bike was stolen the very first night I left it outside.

Clown Bike
My first outside bike looked a bit like this. I thought no-one would want to steal it. I was wrong.

The second bike to disappear was my girlfriends. It was a crappy old machine as well. But this time we’d bought a thick, armored cable lock to secure it. This one lasted a good few weeks. Maybe a couple of months. But eventually we came down in the morning and only the lock was left, in two parts, lying defeated on the ground.

So this is when we got more serious. Each bike is now locked with a decent chain lock and a decent U-lock. They’re not super fancy locks. But although Barcelona is rife with bike thieves, they’re not very sophisticated. No ones running round with 42″ bolt croppers or hydraulic bottle jacks. Anyway, we’ve had no trouble with the bikes since we got proper locks.

Our outside locking technique

The bike components however, are another matter. We’ve had several seats stolen. Part of my brakes. My handlebar grips. And a bell. At one point the thieves seemed to be treating our bikes as their own orchard, picking and choosing parts as and when they fancied them.

But you live and learn. You find out what works and what doesn’t. I now ride a bike without handle bar grips! My bell is super-glued in place! Not only are the seats secured with old bike chains, the quick releases are replaced too. And there’s epoxy putty in the hex sockets. And in fact, we haven’t had any problems for a long while.

Now, many people might read this and think it’s just not worth the hassle and the heartbreak. For them maybe it’s better to keep their bikes inside. And that’s fine. That’s the point Lovely Bicycle was making at the end of her post: it’s not for everyone. It depends on your own priorities, on your own circumstances.

But the important thing is this: don’t be afraid to go against the grain of accepted opinion. Successful bike security is more than just preventing your bike from being stolen. (Although obviously that’s the most important thing!) It’s essential that whatever security methods you employ don’t compromise the way you want to use your bike.

Successful bike security is more than just preventing your bike from being stolen. You have to find that “sweet spot”, where your bike is safe but you’re not inconvenienced.

You have to find that “sweet spot”, where your bike is safe but you’re not inconvenienced. We’ve found our sweet spot now. We lost a couple of bikes and a load of components in the way. But I’m pretty sure that when we come down in the morning, our bikes will still be there, the seats will (probably) still be there, and we can be off on our way with no hassle.

And that’s really what I want for this website. I want to help people find their sweet spot. Whether that’s inside or outside. A lock or locks that suits their budget. A locking method that’s easy, painless. And a system that adequately protects their bike while they use it exactly how they want to use it. And preferably I’d like people to find this sweet spot before they lose any bikes!

I’m not sure whether Lovely Bicycle still keeps her bike outside. The original post was from 2011. It would be great to get an update. But I know we’re not the only ones. So let me know if you keep your bike outside, or even worse outside in the street!

Of course, most people don’t. But everyone should be looking for their own sweet spot. Have you found yours? Did you lose any bikes on the way?

In my next post, I’ll give you my hard won, top tips for keeping a bike permanently outside in the street!

Liberate yourself with a beater bike!

My every day bike is what some people would call a “beater bike”. What’s that I hear you cry? Well, a “beater” is usually an old, cheap, tatty looking bike that’s so unattractive that no-one would ever steal it. And even if someone did steal it, you wouldn’t care. Because it’s so ugly you could never love it. And it’s so cheap you could replace it without upsetting your other half.

A typical beater bike

That’s the idea anyway. In reality, even beater bikes are stolen if they’re not properly secured. I’ve had bikes that a clown would think twice about riding, stolen the first time I left them outside because I “secured” them with a crappy cable lock. As always, the opportunist thief will take anything they can get.

And this idea that you don’t care about your beater bike doesn’t work for me either. I love my beater and I’ll be gutted if it’s ever stolen. In fact, without getting too weird, I think it’s very difficult for anyone to ride the same bike every day and not form a close relationship with it.

And I ride mine every single day. It gets me to work and back. Rain or shine. I ride it to the pub. I ride it to the club. I ride it to the shops. I ride it every opportunity I get.

My beater bike

It’s certainly not a handsome bike. It’s covered in scratches and gathers more every day. And when the components wear out, I buy the cheapest replacements my local bike shop’s got. But I keep the tires pumped up and the chain well oiled. So most of the time it’s a nice ride. It doesn’t turn any heads, but it gets the job done without any worry or fuss.

That’s the beauty of a beater. It just works. And you don’t worry about it. And this is an incredibly liberating feeling for anyone who’s only had “nice” bikes before. Because if you’ve got a nice bike, you’re always worrying about it. You’re worried about it getting scratched. You’re worried about it being stolen. Maybe you’re even worried about it getting wet!

And this worry often limits how you use it. You won’t take it here because it might get damaged. You won’t leave it there because it might be robbed. So you don’t use it. Or you use it less. Or you use it, but won’t leave it too long. And of course you can’t concentrate properly while it’s out of your sight!

With a beater there’s none of that. Take it anywhere. Leave it anywhere. This means you use it more. And this is what bike riding is all about for me. Using it everyday. Using it for every possible journey. Without any stress.

And if you get a good lock there’s very little chance of it being stolen. I leave mine in the same place in the street all night, every night. It’s secured with a decent U-lock and a half decent chain lock. I’ve had the handlebar grips stolen, the seat stolen and various parts of the breaks stolen. But never the bike. It’s just not worth their hassle it seems.

So here’s to the humble beater bike. The understated workhorse of the streets. Getting thousands of us where we want to go every day. Long may you ride…

Hipster Bike Lock: The Shinola Chain

Shinola bike lockI’ve just found the ultimate hipster bike lock! It’s a 7 mm steel chain, secured with a brass padlock, made by Shinola in Detroit. Both the chain and the padlock are encased in a Horween Essex leather cover which is available in three colorways: black, natural and orange. And it costs, wait for it… $285!

It does look fantastic. In fact, I think I’d rather wear it round my neck than waste it on my bike.

But while the leather sheath should adequately protect the paintwork on your custom fixie, the chain and particularly the padlock will not protect the bike from a tooled up thief. An average sized set of bolt cutters will slice through that padlock shackle like a knife through butter. But you will look good and feel smug until your bike is robbed.

It’s so pretty and so expensive, maybe we’ll start to see thieves stealing locks and leaving bikes. But until then, you’re probably best off with a chain lock that’s rated Sold Secure Silver or better.

 

 

Kickstarter Project 1: Seatylock Review

I think Kickstarter is great. And since there’s always loads of bike lock projects on there, I thought it would be a good idea to cast a discerning eye over some of them.

First up is Seatylock. It’s not available to the public yet so a full Seatylock review will have to wait. But that’s not going to stop us speculating on what it might be like…

Essentially it’s a bike seat that incorporates a folding lock. The lock itself is very similar to the Abus Bordo. But in this case the lock is permanently attached to the bottom of the saddle.

Seatylock

To use it, you simply unlock, unclip and remove the saddle from the special mount, unfold the 3 ft (1 m) steel lock and attach it round your bike and an immovable object. A video would probably explain this much better than I can, so have a look a this promotional film from Seatylock themselves.

Seatylock in use

At first glance this seems like a really good idea. The lock is permanently integrated into your bike so there’s no chance of you forgetting it. It sits very discreetly under your seat so it doesn’t spoil the aesthetics of your bicycle. And in this position, under your center of gravity when your riding, the extra weight should be almost unnoticeable. It also very neatly solves the problem of rampant seat theft. No one can steal your seat if your seat is your lock!

But if we want to make a more considered assessment of the Seatylock, what do we need to look at? Well, since all locks offer a compromise between three qualities: price, practicality and security, lets have look at how the the Seatylock might fare in each of these areas.

Practicality

For bike locks, practicality means two things: how easy it is to carry about and how easy it is to use. Since in this case the lock is tucked permanently under your seat, it should be very easy to carry around. There’s no frame mount that may or may not fit your bike. And then may or may not work loose and rattle. And then may even even fall off. With the Seatylock it’s all very neat and tidy.

But how easy it is to carry is also related to its weight. The Seatylock weighs either 1.3 kg or 1.4 kg, depending on which type of saddle you get (more on this later). Seatylock claim that this is less than the weight of 90% of decent seat and lock combinations available today.

It’s difficult to check whether this is strictly true or not. But you can easily compare it to the weights of other U-locks and chain locks. And… 1.3 kg is not heavy by any means. It’s equivalent to around three and a half cans of coke. And as the people at Seatylock say, you won’t notice that sort of weight when it’s under your saddle.

How easy is it to use? Well in the this video it looks really simple. Seatylock claim it takes less than 30 seconds to unlclip the seat, unfold the lock and secure your bike. While thirty seconds would be roughly three times longer than it takes me to secure my bike with my U-lock, it’s not prohibitively long. And considering the benefits mentioned above, it seems an acceptable length of time to me. For others maybe not. And removing and then replacing your bike seat every time you lock your bike may become a real drag for some people.

I’m much more concerned about how flexible the Seatylock is in terms of different seat posts and seat types. They claim that the universal adapter means it fits any bike on the market with a normal saddle. And they offer a variety of different adapter connectors for commonly used seat posts.

But it will only work with saddles from Seatylock. At the moment you are limited to a choice from two: a wide “Comfort” saddle and a more sporty “Trekking” saddle. While these come in lots of different colour combinations, I worry that this limited range will put people off. However they do say they are working on new saddle models so hopefully the choice will improve.

Security

Security is always my biggest concern with any new type of lock. Especially when it comes from a company with no past experience of producing locks. Seatylock helpfully provide a video of their lock being attacked using several common bike thieving techniques. And of course it survives them all admirably.

But I remain skeptical. The Seatylock is very similar to the Abus Bordo which isn’t the most secure of locks itself. And Seatylock certainly doesn’t have the same pedigree as Abus. What’s more, since they don’t have a whole range of other locks to compare it to, when they say it’s secure what does that actually mean? It begs the question “how secure?”.

For me the best thing any new lock company can do is to get it’s locks rated by the independent testing organisations like Sold Secure and ART. This is what Hiplok did. And now I can confidently compare their locks against the locks from other companies. I know how secure a Hiplok is. But I don’t really know how secure a Seatylock is. So until we have reliable third party security ratings for the Seatylock I’m afraid the jury is out!

Price

You can pre-order the Seatylock now for $90. But the final retail price will be $129. It’s not cheap. But don’t forget you’re buying a lock and a seat!

In fact, you can buy the lock without the seat. It’s called the Foldylock and is $95. This is around the same price as the very similar Abus Bordo 6000. But more expensive than OnGuards folding lock.FoldylockSo if the lock that comes with the Seatylock is the same as the Foldylock and the Foldylock is as good as the Bordo 6000, then $90 is a pretty good deal! And even $129 is not too bad. But whether it’s as well made and secure as the Bordo is not yet clear. We will have to wait and see.

Summary

I think the Seatylock is a nice idea. Combining your bike seat with your bike lock in this way can solve several common issues. You’re never going to forget you bike lock. You’ll never have any problems with dodgy frame mounts. You’ll never complain about the ridiculous weight of your lock. And you’re seat will never be stolen.

However I’m still unsure how secure it is. And until we have security ratings from independent testers or we start hearing stories of stolen bikes, we just won’t know. I’m also a little bit concerned about how practical it will be for some people to keep removing and replacing their bike seat every time they stop. And I’m slightly more concerned about whether the limited choice of bike seats will put a lot of people off.

So, a mixed bag really. Although they met their funding target in November 2014 and you’ve been able to pre-order for a while, they’ve been making some improvements that have caused some delays and the first batch will not be released until around September 2015 I think.

I really hope it’s a success because I think it’s a great idea. And once it becomes available I would love to write a full Seatylock review. If you have ordered one of these locks please let us know what it’s like when you receive it and start using it.

In the meantime, you’re probably best off with a decent chain lock or U-lock. And check out our tips for keeping your seat safe as well!

 

Bike Theft: The 10 worst places

We all know that bike thievery is rampant. In both the US and Europe. But have you ever wondered which are the very worst places for bike theft? Here’s a handy little table that answers that vet question…

Bike Theft: The Top Ten Cities

In the UK:In the US:

  1. Central London

  2. Kingston-upon-Thames

  3. Cambridge

  4. Bristol

  5. York

  6. Oxford

  7. South West London

  8. Brighton

  9. Portsmouth

  10. Nottingham


  1. Philadelphia, PA

  2. Chicago, IL

  3. New York City, NY

  4. San Francisco, CA

  5. Tucson, AZ

  6. Portland, OR

  7. Denver, CO

  8. New Haven, CT

  9. Cambridge, MA

  10. Austin, TX

Why these cities? I think it’s pretty straightforward. These are generally the places where cycling is most popular. These are the cities with the highest number of bikes and the highest proportion of the population cycling regularly…

Bike Usage: The Top Ten Cities

In the UK:In the US:

  1. Cambridge

  2. Oxford

  3. York

  4. Hackney (Central london)

  5. Gosport (Portsmouth)

  6. Exeter

  7. Islington (Central london)

  8. Ham & Ful (Central london)

  9. Richmond (Southwest London)

  10. Lambeth (Central london)


  1. New York City, NY

  2. Los Angeles, CA

  3. Portland, OR

  4. San Francisco, CA

  5. Chicago, IL

  6. Washington, DC

  7. Philadelphia, PA

  8. Seattle, WA

  9. Houston, TX

  10. Minneapolis, MN

What does this mean for us? Well, if you live in one of these places you obviously need to be especially careful with your bike security!

But it also suggests that wherever you live, if there’s lots of cyclists, there’ll be lots of bike crime. So if you look around you and see loads of people on bicycles, there’s probably loads of people you can’t see that want to steal those bicycles! So make sure you’re protecting your bike properly. This means buying the best bike lock you can afford and making sure you know how to use it.

The great thing is that getting a decent lock and using it properly will make a real difference. I came across an interesting article when I was researching this post. Essentially it illustrates how effective simple bike security can be…

The top ten US cities for bike theft list comes from Kryptonites own research. For years New York had topped the list as the very worst city in the US for bike crime. However, in recent years it has started to slip, settling at third in the last list that Kryptonite released. How come? Well, according to this article it was just a case of the people of New York wising up. They’ve realised that they need to spend a bit of money on a decent lock, learn how to secure their bike properly and lock it every time they leave it. It’s as simple as that.

And it’s as simple as that for everyone else too. Find a lock with the right level of protection for your area, make sure it suits your lifestyle, learn how to use it properly and use it every time you leave your bike. The chances are your bike won’t be stolen!