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7 things to do BEFORE your bike’s stolen!

Choosing the best bike lock and learning how to use it properly are the most important steps you can take to protect your bike from theft.

Stolen bike

50% of us will have our bikes stolen: so prepare in advance!

But even if you do everything right, your bike might still be stolen. This is because no bike lock is unbreakable, there are thieves everywhere and they are utterly relentless in their thievery! Theft proof bikes don’t exist!

In fact, 50% of cyclists will have their bike stolen at some point. And what’s worse, only 5% of those stolen bikes will ever be returned to their owners!

Pretty depressing numbers eh? But the thing is: the police do actually recover almost half of those stolen bikes. It’s only because they can’t connect the bikes to their original owners that they’re never returned.

So the first thing we should do is take steps to increase the chances that we’ll be re-united with our stolen bike. And then (in case that doesn’t happen), we can also try to reduce the financial cost of replacing the bike.

With that in mind, I’ve got 7 things we should all do before our bikes are stolen (in preparation for what to do when they are)…

The first three are about building up a file of information on your bike. This will enable you to distribute details about the bike once it’s stolen, prove it’s yours (should it be recovered) and make a successful insurance claim if it’s not.

The fourth is the single most important thing you can do to increase your chances of being re-united with your bike.

The fifth and sixth are all about reducing the financial blow of buying a replacement bike. While the last one enables you to be extremely proactive about getting your bike back once it’s stolen!

The great bit is: most of them are free or cheap and they’re all easy. So what are you waiting for?

1. Save all your receipts

Keep all receipts that relate to your bike. Whether you’re buying a new or a second hand bike. Whether you’re getting it serviced or fixed. Even when you buy accessories. Always ask for a receipt.

Bike shop receipts

Receipts are evidence of ownership

This is regardless of whether you’re insured or not (although it’s even more important if you are). These receipts are a vital history and proof of your ownership. Keep them together in your file.

2. Take a photo of your bike

Take a photo of your bike when you buy it. Take more photos of any distinguishing marks. And take photos again as and when it’s appearance changes over time (for example when you add accessories).

A photo of your bike

Photos are also evidence of ownership

Again, these photos help to prove your ownership. But when your bike’s stolen, you can also distribute them to the police and various organisations that will hopefully help find it.

3. Record the make, model and serial number of your bike

Unless you’re a bike nut, there’s a good chance you’ll forget the make and model of your bike. So write them down and add them to your file.

But most importantly, find and record the serial number of your bike. This serial number is the most important piece of information you have.

Why? Because it’s the only way of identifying a bike beyond all doubt. You could have all the receipts, loads of photos and a full description.

But there’s no way to definitively prove a specific stolen bike is yours if you don’t have the serial number.

How to find your bikes serial number

All bikes have a unique serial number, usually engraved beneath the bottom bracket (the part of the frame that the pedals go through). Just flip your bike over, find the number and write it down.

Bike serial number on bottom bracket

Serial number: usually under the pedals

If it’s not under the bottom bracket, it might be on the head tube (the bit below the handlebars) or on a rear drop out (where the frame meets the back wheel)...

Bike serial numbers on head tube and rear drop out

The serial number can also be beneath the handlebars or next to the rear wheel

It’s worth repeating this again: the serial number is the most important piece information you have. If you don’t know what yours is yet…

Go and find your serial number now!

Because you’re also going to use it to register with local and national bike databases, which is the most significant thing you can do to improve your chances of getting your bike back….

4. Register your bike

You can register your bike with a whole load of organisations that have databases of bicycles that the police (or anyone else) can access, so that if they recover your stolen bike, they can link it to you and return it.

The problem is that there’s loads of competing services and it’s not clear which ones the police are using. Ideally, you should register with them all! However, that might not be convenient, so…

First of all, register with the local option...

Search for “bicycle registration [where you live]” on Google. They’re usually organised by your local police force, so you can be pretty sure that when they recover a stolen bike they’ll check their own directories!

These local schemes are almost always free and since most bikes are stolen by locals and recovered locally, this is really a no-brainer.

However, some stolen bikes are moved considerable distances before being sold on. Plus, the local schemes are usually quite limited in their use of social media etc (which can be incredibly effective).

For these reasons, it’s a good idea to register your bike with a national organisation too. But which one?

Bike Index is the new kid on the block. It’s completely free, has a rapidly growing user base and is increasingly used by police, city officials and cycling organisations.

Bike Index

Bike Index is the worlds biggest bike registration and recovery service

It’s based in the US and is already the nations largest and most successful bicycle registration and recovery service. However, it’s actually an international service. So you can register a bike from whichever country you live in.

Unlike most schemes, they make extensive use of social media to publicize stolen bikes and even have a promoted alerts service that generates Facebooks ads to specifically alert other cyclists in your area if your bike is stolen.

Bike Index has a lot of traction, it’s run buy highly motivated cycling enthusiasts and is continually being developed and improved. Plus it’s free. You should definitely register your bike with Bike Index.

And check out my interview with the people from Bike Index too!

However, there are others…

In the US, the biggest is 529 Garage (which took over the National Bike Registry). It's also free. The scheme uses a mobile phone app to alert the community and it also sells shield stickers for your bike to deter potential thieves.

Here is a useful comparison of Bike Index and 529 Garage. And of course because they're both free there's nothing to stop you registering with both!

In the UK, they have the National Cycle Database. Again, regsitration is free. And then optionally you can pay a small amount (£13 – £30) for a label which will also act as a theft deterrent. If the label is removed the police can still use the serial number.

I cannot stress enough the importance of registering your bike with one (or more) of these schemes.

Not only do they massively improve the chances of recovering your bike. They also help fight bike crime by providing an easy way to check whether a bike is stolen before you buy it.

5. Consider insurance

Insurance is a complicated topic which deserves it’s own post. All I’ll say here is: have a think about it! Does your household insurance cover your bike? If it does, under what circumstances? And to what extent?

If your household insurance doesn’t cover your bike or you consider the coverage inadequate, then specialized bike insurance is an increasingly popular option.

If neither of these work for you then how about “self insurance”?

This is where you put a small amount of money aside each month, so that when your bike is stolen, you’ll hopefully have enough money to cover the cost of (or at least contribute towards) a new one.

6. Consider “anti-theft protection” from the lock brands

If you’ve bought a Kryptonite or OnGuard bike lock, then you may be eligible for one of their “anti-theft protection” programs.

Under these schemes, if you register your bike with Kryptonite or OnGuard and it’s subsequently stolen (while secured with their lock), they will pay you an amount of money based on the value of the bike.

So it’s a bit like insurance.

OnGuard vs Kryptonite

OnGuard and Kryptonite offer their own anti-theft protection schemes

I’ve written about this in great detail on the Abus vs Kryptonite vs OnGuard page. But I can summarize here…

You don’t automatically join the scheme when you purchase the lock: you need to register. Only certain locks are eligible. You usually have to pay a small fee. And you must renew the coverage after a particular length of time.

More importantly, both companies place so many restrictions on the coverage that it can be very difficult to make a successful claim. OnGuard are particularly bad in this respect.

However, if you follow the rules and meet the requirements, Kryptonite do at least pay out. So while it’s certainly no replacement for proper insurance, it is worth considering.

7. Install a tracking device?

If you’ve got a particularly expensive or desirable bike, then it might be worth fitting it with a tracking device.

That sounds a bit James Bond doesn’t it? But these devices are increasingly affordable and increasingly popular.

They’re all based on the same idea: they allow you to remotely track the location your bike, so if a thief steals it, you’ll know where they take it!

How do they work? Well, there’s a small transmitter that emits a signal which you attach to your bike. And a phone app that’s able to receive that signal. As long as your phone is within range of the signal, you’ll know where your bike is.

However, while they’re all based on the same idea, they don’t all use the same technology which means they don’t all work in the same way. Some use GPS, some use Bluetooth.

At the cheaper end of the scale are the Bluetooth trackers, (the best of the bunch being Tile Mate). Because they use Bluetooth, they’ve got a very limited range.

For example, Tile Mates range is around 100 - 400 ft. So once your bike is further than 100 or 400 ft from your phone, you won’t be able to track it.

Tile tracker under bike seat

Bluetooth trackers are economical but short range

Now clearly this isn’t much good in a bike theft scenario where a thief and your bike will very quickly be further away than 100 ft! But this is where the power of the crowd comes into play…

When your bike is stolen, you record it as lost on the app and from then on anyone else with the app that comes into Bluetooth range of you bike will automatically connect to your tracker. Then their app talks (indirectly) to your app and you’re informed of your bikes location!

Neat! But there’s got to be a pretty big community of other people using this device themselves for it to work. If you want something more dependable, something more within your control, then you need to use GPS.

GPS bike tracker

GPS trackers are more expensive but their range is much larger

GPS trackers are more expensive but they have a much bigger range. More of these devices are being launched every month. And I’ll be doing a full review of the available options soon.

In the meantime checkout SherlockSpybikeCaveotrac and Boomerang as these look the most promising.

Wrapping up

So that’s 7 things I think we should all do before our bikes are stolen, in preparation for when they are actually stolen. Well 4 things we should all definitely do and 3 things we should think about.

I feel like there’s probably more though! If you can think of anything else, let me know in the comments below and I’ll add them to the list!

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