7 things to do BEFORE your bike’s stolen!

Last Updated on August 20, 2022 8 Comments

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, try 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, not every area will have a local scheme. And some stolen bikes are moved long distances before being sold on, anyway. 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 important to register your bike with a national organisation too. But which one?

In the UK, Bike Register is the only nation wide, police approved registration scheme and should be your automatic (and immediate) choice.

Bike Register

(Every police force in the UK uses Bike Register)

It’s free to register your bicycle, and in doing so, you’ll create both an electronic logbook of information (which proves your ownership), and an entry in the database, that police, bike shop employees (and anyone else), can use to connect your bicycle to you, should it be stolen.

If you change the status of your bike to "stolen" in the database, Bike Register will automatically send a tweet out to publicize the theft.

Most significantly: every police force in the UK now uses the Bike Register database to search for stolen and recovered bikes. So the best thing you can do to increase your chances of getting your bike back if it’s stolen, is to get on that database!

On top of the free registration (which you can do on their website or through the Bike Register Android App), Bike Register also sell a number of kits that enable you to permanently mark your bike...

Bike Register Membership Plus Marking Kit
Bike Register Permanent Marking Kit
Bike Register UV Covert Marking Kit

These markings serve as both a deterrent to thieves, and an immediate indication that your bike is on the Bike Register database to anyone who clocks them.

The markers range from “in your face” tamper resistant labels, to more subtle markings that are only visible under UV light. So you should be able to find one that matches the degree to which you’re prepared to mark your frame!

Bike Register has built up a good head of steam in recent years and has just passed a significant milestone of 1 million registered bikes. So if you’re in the UK, you should be registered with them!

In the US, 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 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!

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.

Read more about GPS and Bluetooth trackers for bikes.

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!

More Good Stuff:

Bike Serial Number

Bike Serial Number: Where to find it

Parts of a Bike

Parts of a Bike Diagram

Win a Free Bike!

Win a Free Bike!

About the author 

Carl Ellis

I've had bikes stolen in London, New York and Barcelona. Yep, I was a serial, international, bike theft victim. In 2015 I decided to stop the rot. And not a single bike's been stolen since! Brakes, yes. Bells, yes. But they're another story. Everything I learn, I document on this website. More about my story. Contact me. LinkedIn.

  • Hi Carl,

    Even though I understand that this is not the focus of this website I think that the bike registration section is worth expanding. Thanks to the advice on your site I have all my locks needs covered I think but now I want to take it one step further and register and tag my bikes and I suppose I’m not the only one.

    Needless to say with many different services it’s not easy to decide which way to go. Furthermore cyclists on different forums have their opinions and personal stories which confuses the matter further. If this knowledge was aggregated in one place like this site it would be of tremendous help.

    Here are some questions that I’ve been asking myself. Shall I go with one scheme or multiple? If I go with one how can I be sure that the scheme works? If I go with multiple the cost go up but what extra benefit or security do I gain from that? Should I go with a free registration, a sticker, etch the number in the frame or install an RFID tag? Will extra measures help the police in any way? Speaking of which are the schemes approved and/or monitored by the police?

    The services I have read about so far include:

    * BikeRegister (Tamper Resistant QR barcode labels and permanent etch kits) (https://www.bikeregister.com/ – bottom of the page)
    * ImmobiTag (electronic identification (RFID) tags and stickers) (https://www.immobitag.com/)
    * DataTag (“stealth” UV etching, microdots and labels) (https://www.datatag.co.uk/)
    * Kryptonite Bike Revolution Bike ID (aka Bike Sheperd Bicycle ID) (tough, tamper-resistant, weatherproof, scannable tags) (https://www.bikeshepherd.org/)

    From what I have seen it seems that the police in the UK recommends the first two schemes (https://twitter.com/ST_Police/status/984106134775713793). Bike Sheperd claims that they do work with some police departments (https://www.bikeshepherd.org/faqs.html). DataTag have a list of accreditations (https://www.datatag.co.uk/accreditations.php).

    Finally, should I bother at all or just get an extra lock? “You have to be lucky to have a bike theft investigated” says Stolen Bikes UK (https://stolen-bikes.co.uk/do-the-police-take-bike-theft-seriously/) and sadly I can only confirm that. I have recently identified a stolen bike through ImmobiTag frame number checker. Recipero who run the checker were very responsive and thorough but the police weren’t interested even though I suspected the seller may be a receiver. In the end I was put in contact with the claimant and returned the bike but ended up out of pocket while the thief is both free and in profit. How many buyers will do the same in exchange for a warm feeling of having done the right thing, though. So again, is it worth investing in some stickers (the frame comes with a number already) or would the money be better spent on tangible extra security like, say, another u-lock?


    • Fantastic comment Johnny!

      I actually think that bike registration should be within the focus of this website (I’d like it to be about everything to do with bicycle security). So I should certainly cover it in more depth.

      However, as you say, there’s a multiple of different services and this can lead to confusion and indecision and then inaction!

      Plus some of them are very local so will depend on where you live.

      So I tried to keep it simple in my original post: I stress the importance of finding a local service and then suggest 1 worldwide, 1 US and 1 UK service, after looking for the ones with the widest reach and most traction.

      Do you think I should revise my choices?

      I’ve also had the same experience as you with the police: they’re just not interested. Or at least they don’t have the resources to take an effective interest.

      The frustrating thing is: bike registration + active police involvement = big changes! As you can see from the difference they’ve made in Vancouver…

      But it needs an organised and coordinated effort. And all these different schemes just seem to add to the confusion and noise a lot of the time.

      So to be honest my basic advice remain the same:

      1. Register with the scheme that your local police recommends
      2. Register with the national / worldwide scheme that seems to be most active
      3. Do your best not to get your bike robbed in the first place! (so yeah perhaps another lock is a good idea)

      And just to add to that, if we all checked the frame numbers / registration details of any second hand bike we’re offered, that would make a huge difference (as long as more people were registering them).

      Well done for returning that stolen bike though, unfortunately I don’t think many people would do that! (which is also a big part of the problem)


  • About Sherlock:

    The device even does not start, no blue light, nothing after day and night of charging. And after a month of exchanging emails and promises that I will receive a new one that is working, I have noticed that the company is totally scam or irresponsible.

    Sherlock support: “We can organize an exchange, we will send you a new device and you will give the defective unit to the courier. If it’s ok for you we can open the box of the new device and test that the USB is working.”

    “In a few days we will organize the shipment.”

    8 days later: “you’ll be contacted by DHL to arrange the pick up of the defective unit. As soon as we’ll receive and test it, we’ll send a new Sherlock.”

    Me, 6 days later: “this is becoming frustrating and silly, totally irresponsible. Let me know if you are serious or should I start other legal and communication activities? I am awaiting response in following 24 hours on exact date when I am receiving a new Sherlock.

    Sherlock support: “we’ve already arranged the pick up on 11 April. I’ve send again the requesto on DHL website today. You should receive an email from DHL.

    Me, 4 days later: “I did not receive any email from DHL.”

    Sherlock support 6 days later: None. No answer.

    Most certainly the worst customer experience in a long long time.

    Consider other solutions.

  • After a few months I have to back to this to put the complete picture:

    Few weeks after this comment, out of nothing I received a new Sherlock box. No email, no message. Tried, it worked.

    And to be fair, it works just well enough and it seems like a good option until something better comes out.

    – it actually works
    – it triggers app notification even if the bike is just moved a bit (motion sensor?)
    – battery seems to hold for a week (approximately)

    – GPS location precision is unstable, reports movements sometimes even if the bike is not actually moved (because it gets new coordinates due to poor signal most probably)
    – does not connect to Sherlock if you start the app first and bluetooth afterwards
    – bluetooth connection time to Sherlock could be improved most probably, sometimes you wait for 10 to 15 seconds besides the bike
    – when fast charged on USB-battery, after it is full it starts discharging and charges the battery (works as rechargeable battery)

    Overall after few months I am happy and feel some more security about my bike. Yet there is a lot of space for improvements and in future I will consider other options. Especially some with better customer support.

  • I disagree about registering the bike. By all means, check what you need to register it and keep the required details on file, but don’t actually register it until it’s stolen unless you want to buy some of their security products.

    I don’t trust these private companies with my details as much as I would the police and there has been at least one of them which left its database wide open to the web as what was called a “burglar’s shopping list” security flaw.

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