The Lobster Lock is an innovative new bike lock that owes it’s name to the way that it’s two arms envelop your bike (and whatever your bike's secured to), much like the claws of a large, hungry crustacean!
However the folding arms aren’t the most interesting thing about this lock. The most interesting thing is actually the way that the lock is always fixed to your frame.
Let me explain…
I suppose the Lobster Lock is a bit like a hybrid between the frame locks that are so popular in mainland Europe and the folding locks, popularised by Abus.
The Lobster Lock screws into the holes intended for you water bottle
Like a frame lock, the Lobster Lock remains permanently attached to your bike. In the Lobster’s case, it’s simply screwed into the holes in your frame that are intended to be used with a water bottle cradle.
Once attached, the idea is that it’s never removed. Because…
Unfolding the Lobster Lock
Like a folding lock, it has cantilevered steel arms that fold out from the body, to extend and then fasten around your frame, one wheel, and an immovable object. So you never have to take the lock off the bike.
I got hold of a sample model to see how it works in practice…
Using the Lobster Lock
Locking your bike up incredibly quick and easy. You simply pull up at a bike rack, unlock, pull the arms out, fold them around and through the wheel and refasten. It’s an very elegant process.
It was really easy to use on my bike on a Sheffield Stand
And in my tests, the locking circumference was big enough for me to secure my bike to all the bike racks in my area and some of the street signs and lampposts.
However, there a couple caveats here. Firstly, it won’t be compatible with every bike. So, my bike has 2 bottle cradle spots. One on the down tube and one on the seat tube. Ideally I’d be able to use both for the Lobster Lock.
The one on the down tube would be used to lock the front wheel (and frame). The one on the seat tube would be used to lock the back wheel (and frame). However on my bike, there wasn’t enough space to attach the lock to the down tube.
This isn’t a big issue, as I can’t imagine any bike where it wouldn’t fit on the down tube.
Loads of space on my bike
However, if there’s a big distance between your down tube and your wheel, which there is on some mountain bikes, then the arms may not be long enough to reach around your wheel and the bike rack.
It’s difficult to give you any guidelines that would enable you to work this out yourself. So I’d recommend that if you get in touch with Lobster Lock personally if you have any doubts about whether it’s compatible with your bike.
How Secure is the Lobster Lock?
We can’t be certain how secure the Lobster Lock is at the moment, as it’s yet to be tested by either Sold Secure or ART.
However, since folding locks are rarely high security (there’s only one folding lock with a Sold Secure Gold rating), I would say it would be Silver or Bronze.
Apparently it is going to be tested though, and if it gains a Silver rating it will be suitable for use as a primary lock for lower risk circumstance. However if it gains a Bronze rating it will be best used as secondary lock to secure one of your wheels.
If it's rated Sold Secure Silver you may be able to use it as a primary lock in low risk situations
I think it would actually work really well as a secondary lock, since it’s so easy to get around the wheel and also so easy to carry around.
There’s a few other things worth mentioning when it comes to security…
First of all, you may be thinking “why can’t a thief simply unmount the lock from the frame and walk away with the bike?”. I asked myself the same question when I initially saw it was attached to the frame with regular hex bolts.
But when locked, the arms of the Lobster Lock create a closed circle, so even if a thief does this (and you could always use hex key blocking bolts like those from Hexlox or Pitlock to prevent it), as long as it’s secured around an immovable object, they wont be able to take the bike.
Secondly, this is the second iteration of the Lobster Lock. The previous version used a wafer locking mechanism which was pretty easy to rake open with a few strips of metal from a soft drink can.
Lobster Lock 2.0 features a disc detainer mechanism
Lobster Lock 2.0 uses a disc detainer mechanism which is significantly harder to open without the keys and requires specialist tools. Here’s a video of the Lock Picking Lawyer who highlighted the initial issue, explaining everything…
One doubt I do have, is how well the plastic frame mount will fare under attack. While the 5 mm hardened steel arms may well resist a vigorous assault, they're attached to the frame mount with a plastic hinge.
The plastic hinge could be broken in an unsuccessful attack
There’s a good chance that this hinge will break if exposed to any stress and although that wouldn’t result in the theft of your bike, it would make it difficult to use the lock again as it’s intended.
Having said that, I haven’t heard any reports of this actually happening!
A lock that’s permanently attached to your frame but that is also able to secure your bike to an immovable object is a nice evolution from the standard frame locks we’re used to, and great idea from Lobster Lock [Amazon].
Using a folding arm system works well, keeping the lock tidily out of the way while your riding, but providing enough locking circumference in a bike rack to be genuinely useful.
And it’s a super quick and elegant locking experience if your bike is compatible.
It's a nice idea!
How well the Lobster Lock stands up to attack in the street, both in terms of it’s security and it’s durability remains to be seen, and it’s great that they’re going to get it tested by Sold Secure or ART.
So once it’s been rated, I look forward to testing it for longer and writing a much more detailed and comprehensive review!
With the introduction of Sold Secure’s Diamond rating in 2020, the top tier of bicycle lock security got a lot more exclusive. Diamond rated bike locks represent the most secure bike locks you can buy.
And as we know, with greater security comes greater weight and also, to some extent, less practicality. So it’s no surprise that Diamond rated locks are some of the heaviest and unwieldy locks around.
However, Litelok are about to step into the fray with a new offering, the Litelok Core, which promises Diamond rated security, at a weight that’s not excessive and with various lengths that will give you loads of locking and carrying options.
So I got hold of a pre-production model to see how it’s likely to work out in the street!
A 100 cm Litelok Core
The model that I’ve been testing is the 100W, a wearable version that has a 100 cm (39”) circumference and which weighs 2 kg (4 lb).
Unfortunately, the 100W was slightly too big for me to wear around my waist, so I couldn't test that, but the wearable version will come in three different sizes, which means you should be able to find one that does fit!
I’ve previously tested the Litelok Gold Original and the Litelok Silver wearable. However, I’ve never used the Litelok Gold Wearable which seems to be the closest in terms of form and function to the Core. So there were a few surprises.
Once the Litelok Core has been released to the market, I’ll test it fully and write a comprehensive review. But here are my first impressions after using the pre-production model for a few days...
1. It’s very secure
I don’t have to take a crowbar or a giant set of cable cutters to the Core to know this. Sold Secure have already done it and they’ve awarded the Core a Diamond rating. This puts it in rarefied company.
The 100 cm locking circumference is massive. Often when I’m out testing locks, it’s a struggle to find places other than bike racks where I’m able to secure my bike. With the Litelok Core it was a struggle to find places I couldn’t lock my bike.
I couldn't find a street sign that I couldn't lock my bike to!
I was able to get the Litelok around every lamppost, traffic light, street sign and telegraph pole in my area.
3. It’s easier to use than previous Liteloks
With the Litelok Original, the tall, “belt like” band could be difficult to get through the spokes of your wheels. The band of the Litelok Core is more “rope like” in shape. So it’s shorter, making it much easier to pass between your spokes.
Locking two bikes in a busy bike rack was pretty easy
Plus the way that it’s pre-shaped into a hoop (unlike the Original), and can be locked without the keys (by simply clicking the ends together), means that it’s much quicker and easier to get it secured around your bike.
4. Lightness is relative!
When you pick up a 100 cm Litelok Core, “wow, that’s a really lightweight lock” is not the first thing that comes to mind. That’s because at 2 kg (4 lb), it weighs slightly more than 5 cans of Coke.
But what you need to remember is that a Diamond rated chain lock that offers a similar locking circumference will be almost twice as heavy as this, making it completely unpractical for mobile security.
The shortest, lightest Litelok Core will be the 75 cm (29”) Flex-O. It’s not wearable at this length, but it weighs just 1.6 kg (3.5 lb), making it one of the lightest Diamond rated locks currently available.
In fact, only the Abus Granit X Plus 540 and the mini Pragmasis DIB are (just slightly) lighter, and neither of those will allow you to lock your bike in the same places that even the smallest Litelok Core will open up.
I’ve tested a lot of bike locks and the Litelok Core has really impressed me. Diamond rated security at this size and weight is unheard of, and the Core will bring much needed practicality to the top tier of bike locks.
Diamond level security at this size and weight is unheard of
Once it’s released to the market, I’ll test the final version for a longer period of time to get a better idea of what it’s like to use and carry around on a daily basis.
But the pre-production model certainly seems like it will be a great choice for those that need to very highest levels of security, without sacrificing the number of places they’ll be able to secure their bikes.
Seat covers and cushions for bicycles can fulfil several functions. They can protect your bicycle saddle from the weather. They can stop a damaged bicycle seat from enduring further wear and tear. They can keep your bottom dry.
And perhaps most importantly: they can make an uncomfortable ride much more comfortable!
Now, you may be interested in only one, or all of these benefits. But not every cover or cushion will fulfil all of these functions. So it’s important to know exactly what you need before you begin your search.
There a couple of important considerations that everyone needs to think about...
Firstly: cushioned covers are not generally waterproof. And waterproof covers are not generally cushioned. So which is a the priority for you?
Secondly: size is really important! So check your saddle size first to make sure you’re looking at covers that will fit your bike seat.
Don’t worry: I’ll break it all down here, so you know exactly what you need, before I recommend the right bike saddle cushion or cover for you.
Best Bike Seat Cushion
Most people looking for a bike saddle cover are probably after something to make their current ride bit more comfy! So let’s deal with this first.
The saddles that come with bikes aren’t always designed with comfort in mind. They’re usually either built for economy or speed.
And for beginner cyclists particularly (but also those of us that just have sensitive bottoms!), this can mean we can start to get sore after a little time in the saddle.
There are several things we can do to try an increase our comfort while we’re cycling. But slipping a cushioned cover over our existing bicycle saddle is probably one of the cheapest and most effective.
Gel vs Memory Foam
The padded material in a bike saddle cushion will either be gel or memory foam. Gel is softer and more comfortable, so it’s more popular with recreational cyclists.
Gel vs Memory Foam
Whereas foam is firmer and more supportive, so is preferred by road riders and heavier (>200 lb) cyclists.
Most of the cushioned bike saddle covers use gel padding, but there are foam filled cushions if you’d prefer something a little firmer.
Finding the right fit
You want a nice tight fit to avoid the bike saddle cushion sliding around while you’re riding. But, while bike seats come in all sorts of sizes, the cushions tend to come in just two sizes: narrow and wide!
However, within those two sizes there’s lots of variation.
Measure your bike seat to ensure you get the right size cover or cushion
So beyond working out whether your bike saddle is narrow (often used on road, hybrid, and mountain bikes) or wide (often used on heavy city bikes and some cruisers), it’s worth actually measuring your saddle to find a cover with the best fit.
I provide exact measurements of all the bike seat covers and cushions below to help you with this!
It measures 11” x 7.2” (28 x 18 cm), so it’s a cover for narrow bike seats. However there’s enough width there to fit the widest of narrow saddles!
It’s super easy to install. You just slip it over your bike seat, tighten the drawstring underneath according to the exact size of your saddle, and then tie the straps through your seat rails and around your seat post. This ensures a tight fit and no slipping while you’re riding.
The Zaro is available in 5 different colours (including black)
The Zarco contains a generous amount of gel padding which means your seat will be really soft and comfortable!
It comes in choice of 5 different colours (black, blue, red, green and purple). And you even get a waterproof cover, to keep it dry if you leave it out in the rain.
The Cevapro us a good fit on really narrow racing saddles
Indeed, measuring 11” x 6.69” (28 x 17 cm), it will work best with bike seats that are between 5.9” and 6.5” wide (15 – 16.5 cm).
It fixes to your saddle in a different way too, with a little pouch for the nose of the saddle and a pair of Velcro flaps that fold under the bicycle seat to keep it tight and secure. Anti-slip particles on the inside of the cover help to prevent any movement as you’re cycling.
The Cevapro has 4 cm of gel and foam padding
The padding on the Cevapro is a 1.5” (4 cm) thick, seven layered affair, containing both gel and memory foam to give a comfortable but supportive ride that will be a little firmer than some of the covers that are solely padded with gel.
It only comes in two colours (black and black with a blue stripe!), but it’s probably the sportiest looking bike cover currently available. And just like the Zarco it comes with a waterproof cover to keep it dry in the rain.
Like the Schwinn, it will work with the Peloton saddles, but the fit will be a little looser, and I’ve read several reports of it sliding about a bit. So it’s probably best to stick to the Schwinn for the Peloton and go for the Bikeroo on the wider bike seats.
The Bikeroo fastens to your saddle in much the same way as the Zarco. There's a drawstring tightener underneath, at the back. And two straps that fasten around your seat post to keep everything in place.
The padding includes a layer of gel and a layer soft foam for twice the comfort. And it really is comfortable! Loads of people that have tried several cushioned seat covers say this is most comfortable one of the lot.
The Bikeroo is available in 4 colours
Plus it’s available in four different colours (black, blue purple and red).! So if you need a wider cushioned saddle cover, then the Bikeroo is probably the best one available at the moment.
Best Bike Seat Cover
If you’re less interested in increasing comfort and more interested in protecting your existing bicycle seat from the weather or other wear and tear, then you probably don’t need a cushioned bike cover.
In fact cushioned covers are not generally waterproof. So they will definitely get a bit soggy in the rain!
Instead, a tough nylon saddle cover with a waterproof coating should do the job. These are especially useful if you have a Brooks (or other premium leather bike seat) that shouldn’t be exposed to water.
And the advantage of these saddle covers is that they’re much cheaper than the cushioned varieties!
XeroCovers are available in three different sizes to guarantee a perfect fit
The Slim version measures 11" x 6.5" (28 x 16.5 cm) and will work well with the narrowest racing saddles that are between 7” and 11” in length and 3” to 6.5” wide.
The Regular version measures 11" x 9" (28 x 23 cm) and will fit slightly wider, standard saddles that are between 7” and 11” in length and 6.5” to 9” wide. For example, if you have the Brooks B67 and B17 saddles, go for the Regular.
The Large version measures 11" x 13" (28 x 33 cm) and is suitable for the very widest bike saddles that are between 7” and 11” in length and 9” to 13” wide. So for many cruiser bike saddles, the Large would be a good choice.
The XeroCovers are made from 2 layers of nylon fabric with a polyurethane layer for complete waterproofing. And they also come with a small storage bag to keep the cover in when you’re not using it.
XeroCover storage bag
The best way to use these waterproof covers is to put them on before it rains, to stop your saddle getting wet at all. Then when you come to ride your bike, you can take it off and sit on a dry seat.
However, obviously may not always be possible, and sometimes you might need to put the cover over a wet saddle to keep your bottom dry while riding. Be aware that with all waterproof covers, extended contact with your bottom will wear them out much faster!
Best Waterproof Seat Cover for Transporting on Bike Racks
If you need to keep your bicycle seat dry while it’s being transported on a car’s bike rack, then you’ll need to make sure that it doesn’t blow off!
The XeroCover Journey adds a drawstring to keep it in place on a windy car bike rack!
And the standard waterproof covers (with elastic hems) are just not suitable for the high winds your bike will be exposed to.
Luckily, XeroCovers make a XeroCover Journey [Amazon] that is specifically designed for transporting your bike. It’s exactly the same as the standard version, with the addition of a drawstring to securely keep the cover in place.
Best Patterned Waterproof Bike Seat Cover
If the dull black offerings that make up the vast majority of waterproof seat covers are just too drab for your fashion first sensibilities, then don’t despair. There are other options!
DERTYV waterproof covers are available in multiple different prints
DERTYV offer 10 different colourful, patterned covers [Amazon]. There’s only one size, which is 10.6” x 9.5” (27 x 24 cm). But they should fit over most bike seats and there’s both an elasticated hem and drawstring buckle to ensure a tight fit.
Alternatively, Seat-Slicker [Amazon] make a slightly smaller 10” x 8” (25.5 x 20 cm) cover, with a choice of 4 colourful patterns and 1 plain black version.
If you live in the UK, you can even get a custom waterproof saddle cover printed which whatever photo or pattern you like at Happy Snap Gifts!
Bike Seat Covers and Cushions Summary
Whether you’re looking for a way to make your ride more comfortable, or just after something to protect your saddle from the weather, a bike seat cover or cushion is a cost effective and practical solution.
The most important thing to get right is the size. Make sure you measure your bicycle saddle and then look for a cover of the appropriate dimensions.
If you want a cushioned cover, be aware that gel padding will be the softest, foam the firmest and a combination of both somewhere in between!
However, cushioned saddle covers are not waterproof. So if that’s your main concern, you’ll be better off with double layered, nylon cover with a polyurethane coating.
If you want this type of cover to last though, it’s best to try to think ahead, using them before it rains rather than regularly sitting on them to keep your bottom dry after it rains.
All bike seat covers and cushions can be washed in warm soapy water and then left to dry in the air. And the longer you spend sitting on them, the more often you should wash them!
Because if a thief attacks the SkunkLock bike lock, they're in for a nasty surprise...
If pierced, the shackle emits a noxious, vomit inducing gas towards the thief's face!
I caught up with Daniel to find out more...
In this interview Daniel gives some interesting insight into the genesis of the SkunkLock. And a tiny glimpse of what they've got planned next!
Thanks for speaking to me today Daniel. I’ve heard that the idea for the SkunkLock was born when one of your friends had his bike stolen. Can you tell me more about that?
[DI] Yeah, absolutely. I remember that day vividly, and the reason I remember specifically why I had such a reaction to it was because, one, our friend had been saving for this bike. It was a very expensive electric bike. He’d been saving for it for a long time.
And two, because he was using the best locks on the market, the most expensive ones you can buy basically. I think it was the Abus 59 Granit Extreme, something like that. I'm sure you're familiar with it. I think most people use it for motorcycles.
And that was really the part that was shocking. The fact that it got stolen was not shocking because I’ve had six bikes stolen by now. My co-founder and lead engineer has had bikes stolen on average every 18 months. What was shocking was the fact that he actually splurged and spent three hundred dollars on the lock and it was still stolen.
And then we got thinking about why that happened. So we asked around if anybody saw what happened. And one really nice lady was like “I'm sorry I couldn't do anything. I was just scared. He had a very loud power tool”.
But she took pictures. And we took them to the police and that's when we figured out that angle grinders are the number one tool used to steal bikes.
Bike thieves do not mess around with other tools any more. They're just too small, too compact, too efficient. They're pretty quiet now with the brushless motors and all that.
And that was really a eureka moment. We're like, we're being duped by all these companies that are selling these bike locks.
And then shortly after I was pretty angry about it, because I saw how depressed he had become losing his bike and not having it insured. I mean, there's no way he could have afforded another one of those bikes and the lock.
And basically, I was angry and I blurted out, “why didn't it blow his balls off?!” And that got me thinking the rest of the night. I'm like, you know, that would definitely be illegal! Blowing up with explosives! But maybe there's an alternative to that. Maybe there's something in between.
A lock needs to do something in order to prevent a theft, especially if you want to stay compact. That's why we called it the SkunkLock. It was because a skunk is feared by animals in the wild like crazy. By bears, by elk. Dogs are terrified of skunks. And it's not because a skunk is particularly strong or can fight or anything like that. It's because of the chemicals and that kind of reaction. So that's kind of where that idea came from.
Inspired by skunks!
And we started working on that and figuring out can this be legal? Can this be effective? And that part of the process took a very long time. We were purely an R&D company for a very long time, with this deep seeded mission to not just prevent bike theft, but to change the industry.
Frankly, we were kind of pissed off that we've been lied to by all these other companies for so many years. For example the “theft insurance policies” they have, in the fine print, it says if power tools were used, then it's void!
So that was really the kind of culmination of the idea. And it took us quite a few years to really answer the three big questions that we had...
One: can it be effective to use chemicals to deter theft? Would that be effective enough?
Two: is it going to be legal? Can we be compliant with this? As it turns out, we can if we follow the rules.
And the third one was: is it scalable? That was the hardest one. Actually, we figured out the first two within a year, and then the scalability one was a tough one because making this thing is really, really hard.
That's really our trade secret. When people ask us, “Oh, is it the chemicals? Is it the pressure?”. No, it's really how we produce this thing that’s our closely guarded secret and why there hasn't been anybody that's been able to produce it, aside from our company.
When you say scalable, you mean whether it's economically viable?
Well, less so economically, because we found people are willing to pay close to anything for this lock because there's no solution on the market. We’re the closest thing to the solution.
It's not a guarantee, but we had people that had twenty thousand dollar carbon fibre bikes and they store it in their garage and they're like, “I've had one stolen from my home in the middle of the night. Someone broke in”. And to them, you know, paying a thousand dollars is worth it.
But that's not our mission. We're trying to make this a sustainable company and we're trying to make it as cheap as possible because we want everybody to have access to it.
We're not there yet in terms of scalability. But what I meant specifically about scalability is if it takes us more than a minute to make a lock, we can't produce enough to get market share.
So initially, it took us ten minutes to make one because we didn't figure out all of the little fixtures that we needed in the process and so on. Because someone would have to go in and adjust it as the propellant was cooling and the pressure was increasing inside the lock.
There's a lot going on inside the shackle!
It was a very active process. And it took ten minutes per lock. But we figured out how to get past that. And now we're comfortable with being able to both lower the cost eventually and make enough units to meet demand as well.
What's demand been like?
Demand has been huge. Our biggest challenge has been really making enough of them. We kind of underestimated the velocity of sales. So we had periods where we were just completely sold out. And then our production cycle was so long, it was like six months to get a new batch of units.
So we could have done a lot better in terms of how we managed our supply chain and sales cycles. But the good news is the demand is there and our product doesn't need to be sold. We just need to educate people about the problem.
And once they understand what the problem is, they find the solution themselves and they're like, “oh, so a lock needs to do something, basically”. You can't make a bigger, stronger, fatter lock. There's no such thing as a stronger steel like Abus kind of claims. It all cuts through like butter. And we figured that out very quickly.
After that experience happened with our friend, that had his bike stolen, one of the first things we did was the next day we went out and bought a bunch of locks and an angle grinder and we went at it. We probably cut twenty locks. Just out of curiosity, we're like, “let's figure this out”.
And there’s not much difference between them. It's amazing. The difference between a lock that we got at a local Target for twenty two dollars and the one hundred fifty dollars lock was about six seconds of cutting time.
So it's pretty insignificant. And we're like, wow, this is crazy that it's basically marketing fluff, that all these companies are able to charge a lot of money and really aren't solving the problem.
And how is the lock made? Is it put together entirety in one factory in China, or are there different factories, with one factory making the lock and then another putting in the gas?
We utilize multiple different factories. Most of the components are from separate factories that just make those components very well. So they actually have no idea what the final product is.
We only have one factory that does the final assembly and the pressurisation and all that, so that's one way that we protect our IP and make sure that it can't be copied, easily at least.
"Permanent gastrointestinal tract damage!"
But that being said, I don't think they have interest in copying what we're doing because we have a stronghold in the markets that would actually want to use our products, the people that have more expensive bikes and so on. So primarily the UK, EU and Europe and the United States, North America, Canada as well.
Which are the countries where the demand is greatest and are you able to ship to all those countries?
Yeah, that was really important to us. So we hired pretty much the best legal teams we could to make sure we're compliant. And the demand right now is still the greatest in the US. And I think that's because it's not just the cyclists here, the people that are passionate about cycling. It's people that like the novelty.
America, you know! Things that blow up! A lot of people are buying this for their significant others as novelty gifts and Christmas presents, that kind of stuff.
Whereas we found our European counterparts are in dire need of a solution too. Mostly they're like, “we just need a lock that actually works”. They're less interested in the chemicals being a cool idea or novelty or something like that. So we still get that novelty bump in the US, I would say.
So if I had to rank them, it's probably the US and then probably the UK and then Germany and then France, Netherlands and so on.
And regarding the legal stuff, were there any countries where you weren’t able to sell it?
There were states in the US (and some countries) where we were required to modify our formula, in particular not to include capsaicin, which is mostly highly regulated, because it's used in pepper spray. So it was just too much compliance risk having something too similar to pepper spray.
But once we worked around that, there hasn't been any countries [where we couldn’t sell]. I would say the UK is the most restrictive. So once we figured out the UK, it kind of opened doors to everything else.
And it also helped us that it was mostly a grey zone. There wasn't a whole lot of existing laws that regulated products like ours. There are laws that regulated other products that could potentially be similar. But the key factor in most countries was that we do not have a release mechanism.
So pepper spray, stink bombs, all these things, they're designed to release the chemicals. While we’re designed to keep the chemicals in no matter what, like as much as possible.
You need to take out a very expensive and powerful power tool to get them out. And we've dropped this thing off buildings [without the gas being released]. And that has been really the differentiator.
So not only do we have the warnings to avoid booby trap laws, we also have food grade chemicals. So we've been able to use chemicals that are maybe a higher concentration in some places. But they're mostly food grade and safe and definitely non lethal in any way.
And and we figured out a way of of ensuring that these chemicals are only going to be released if somebody takes an angle grinder to it.
OK. And there's been no attempt at litigation yet from thieves that have been spayed with the chemicals?
No. And I don't know if you're familiar, but we’ve held what we called the “bike bounty program” for the last year, where we were paying people a thousand dollars to send us footage if they got a thief.
Out in the street
We also have employees that park their bike outside our office and we have a 4K camera outside our office (just to see who's coming in and out)...
At this point, we have footage of over 50 thieves and attempted thefts. It's amazing and hilarious. To date, we've only had one bike stolen using a SkunkLock and they ended up cutting the bike rack!
And our customer emailed us and said, “thank you, guys, my bike was stolen, but thank you, I ordered three more”. And that was because the thieves were so afraid of it, they did take the bike (and it was a very, very expensive bike and the fella was bummed about that). But he was like, “this says something about your product, where the thief cut through a bike rack this thick, instead of cutting through the SkunkLock”.
Of the attempted thefts that were thwarted. How many of those resulted in the release of the gas?
So I'm including attempted thefts that were a little pitiful as well. Coming in with a crowbar or a hammer, things that any lock worth its salt, anything over one hundred bucks will resist easily. Not an angle grinder.
And a lot of these may have been drug addicts and people that are just looking for a quick high and trying to get a bike and get rid of it. But I'd say maybe fourteen or fifteen of those resulted in a cut.
We've had one customer come back to us and say, “hey, they cut my Kryptonite chain, but your SkunkLock stayed on”. But I'd say maybe a third of those were angle grinder attempts.
And again, when you leave a bike in a bad neighbourhood, you're going to get a higher distribution of different kinds of attacks. The pros are only using angle grinders. But there's opportunists out there, too, if you leave your bike out there.
So you said you might be releasing these videos?
Yeah, that's definitely in the plan. We're just waiting on more inventory. We're running a little short and we know what's going to happen when we release these videos. It's going to go viral.
I mean this is the faces of real people, real thieves in 4K with their face being exposed. So it's going to get a lot of attention, is what we're expecting.
And we want to be prepared for that because we don't want to have to turn people away and say, hey, we're waiting another month for more inventory.
But it's definitely a part of the education part of our business, where we want to also show people this is really what happens to your bike when you leave out there for a few hours.
They've tried everything. Crowbars, metal bars, bottle jacks, hammers, angle grinders. They've tried unscrewing street posts, Jumping on the bike. For some reason, they thought that a damaged bike would be a good thing!
And the worst part is, you know, sometimes they'll even take anything that isn't locked with the SkunkLock. They take the front wheel, they take the pedals. It’s crazy.
And that's why we're working on another product that we think is also going to be a big deal in late 2021.
We'd like to be able to protect the entire bike. Right now, we figured a SkunkLock or two is good enough, but we'd like something that's kind of a full solution because a single SkunkLock is good but we wouldn’t provide a money back guarantee. Unless you also protected your front wheel and your frame.
There's no plans to do a smaller version? The current version might be a bit bulky for some people and they might not need all that locking space...
Yeah, we've gotten a lot of requests for both smaller and bigger versions. Some people have larger motorcycles, for example. Others want to use a smaller one. The only downside to the smaller one is we can fit less of the formula in it.
Equally bulky, but much lighter than similarly sized locks
It is bulky [the current version]. However, it's not heavy. And I think you can make up for it somewhat, with the right method of carrying it.
But yeah, we haven't quite figured out if we can lower the amount of formula that we use and if it will still be effective. Right now, we know that the amount we have is very effective. But the smaller the lock, the smaller (probably) the effectiveness.
On the SkunkLock website you talk about releasing newer models with improved technology...
Yeah, so, every product has vulnerabilities, once you go into the testing process. So over the last year, we've already figured out some of those vulnerabilities.
Of course, my co-founder and I are probably the only two people in the world that know any of them. But that gives us two or three years to identify those and make sure that they're not exploited.
So at the core of our model, we don't think that you can solve the bike theft problem by just selling one bike lock and everybody buys it. The reality is thieves adapt. They get smarter. They figure things out.
And that's why we believe that with the right models, every couple of years, we're going to improve and identify these vulnerabilities.
And a big part of how we were able to figure them out is the bike bounty program: this footage that we got and how thieves were attacking it. And we attacked the lock all the time as well.
[Talking about the next version] there have been substantial improvements to the crossbar. So the majority of improvements have been made on usability, making sure the key goes in more smoothly. I know some of our customers are not used to disc locks. So they weren't used to having to put [the key] all the way into the lock.
Some customers complained about debris going in there or losing smoothness over time if there is a lot of rain or dirt and stuff like that.
So mostly minor improvements, refinements in the formula and overall improvements on the durability of the lock as well.
But those are coming in V3, which is going to be launching in the next six to eight months. And it won't necessarily look substantially different, but it's going to have a lot of improvements under the hood, I guess you could say.
So I guess the V1 was the skinny one I’ve seen in photos?
Yeah and the skinny one is fine, but it just wasn't as intimidating. It actually worked pretty well as it turns out. And you can adjust the pressure enough to make it effective in a lot of embodiments.
But we found that by looking bigger and stronger, there is impact. Like on camera, we have thieves coming in with a tool, looking at the lock, reading the warnings and all that and being scared of it and walking away.
And that's really the best case scenario, we found.
Yes that's for sure! Thanks for your time Daniel. Good luck with the SkunkLock and I look forward to hearing more about the complete bike solution!
There's a couple of things worth mentioning right away here...
The bike theft numbers (the blue line in the first graph) are not from the police or the government. So they haven't been "massaged" downwards.
They're collated by the Office for National Statistics and come from the Crime Survey for England and Wales.
Bicycles that are stolen as part of another crime (eg burglary) are not counted. So the actual numbers will be higher. But it's the trend that I'm most interested in here, and it's completely trustworthy.
And it's not just bicycle theft that's been falling. All property related crime in the UK has declined in exactly the same way. I checked out the other graphs on the ONS website and they all look the same.
Indeed, almost all crime has decreased over the last 25 years, all over the Western world, including the US.
Look around any city’s bicycle stands and you’ll see tons of bikes without seats. Why? Well, some of them have been stolen. And some of them have been removed by their owners to prevent them being stolen!
Neither of these scenarios are good.
For sure, having your bike seat stolen is the worst! Not only will you have to pay for a new one (and bike seats can be expensive!). But you’ll also have to suffer to ignominy and discomfort of cycling home without being able to sit down!
However, having to remove your bike seat and seatpost every time you leave your bike (to prevent it from being stolen) is not much better. Carrying a bike seat and post around with you is a major pain in the ass (pun intended)…
Some of them can be heavy and they’re all awkward and unwieldy. And the posts are often grimy, threatening to stain your clothes or bags.
Plus turning up to a work meeting or a social gathering with part of a bike under your arm is just not a good look .
And then you’ve got to make sure you replace the seatpost at the same height when you come back to the bike or suffer an uncomfortable new riding position.
None of this is much fun!
But because so many bike seats are stolen if we don’t take them with us, many of us have come to accept this inconvenience.
I have written before about other measures that you can take to avoid having your bike seat stolen. But the sad truth is: if a thief wants your bike seat bad enough, if it’s left on your bike, he can take it by one means or another.
Seatylock, the team behind my favorite folding lock, have recognized this truth and rather than come up with a new seat lock that would make it more difficult (but not impossible) to steal your seat, they’ve made it easier to take your seat with you so that it’s impossible to steal!
The SeatyGo is basically a quick release saddle, with a seat that is super easy to clip on and off it’s rails.
To remove the seat you simply click the leaver under the front of the seat and lift it off. And to replace it you just snap the seat back onto the rails. Simple.
There’s a couple of significant advantages that this solution has over the old school seatpost removal technique…
First of all the whole operation is much quicker and easier than removing and then re-installing your seatpost.
Secondly the seat is much smaller and more compact than a seat and seatpost combination. And it should be cleaner too. So it’s much easier to carry…
You can realistically slip it into your bag or maybe your back pocket (although I’m not convinced that’s so practical). You’ll certainly be able to hide it away somewhere anyway!
And don’t forget, you won’t risk re-installing your seat at a different height when you return to your bike either!
There are other unexpected and positive consequences too. You’ll never return to a rain soaked seat again. And of course a bike that’s difficult to ride (because it has no seat) will be slightly less attractive to a thief.
So no more wet bottoms and less chance of having your bike stolen too. Bonus!
The SeatyGo is compatible with all seatposts. And there are three different styles of seat: the Urban for city bikes, the Dynamic for road/racing bikes and the EBike for (yes you guessed it) electric style bikes.
Sometimes it’s good to step back and look at things from a different angle. We spend so much time thinking about bike locks and the things we can do to protect our rides.
But what about the bike manufacturers? What are they doing? Why don’t new bikes come with any in-built security features?
Can you imagine modern cars and motorbikes being sold without any locks or alarms? It would seem crazy. And yet we accept that new bicycles are sold without any form of theft protection at all.
Obviously bikes are different to cars and motorbikes! But I’d like to see the bike manufacturers thinking about security a lot more and incorporating features that deter theft into their bicycles.
Luckily there are a few forward thinking companies that are already doing just that. And recently I’ve read several articles about “theft proof bikes”. But are they really making unstealable bikes or is it hyperbole?
Let’s take a look at these bikes in more detail…
Fortified Bike: why aren’t all new bikes like this?
Fortified have been around for a while and their bikes are more a collection of existing security features than anything revolutionary…
The Fortified Invincible 1 Speed
Everything that’s attached to a Fortified frame is fastened with security bolts. So the handlebars, the wheels, the seat, the stem, and any optional extras such as the water bottle holder, the lights, the fenders or the bike rack: they are all protected by propriety bolts that can only be removed with a special key.
All components are attached with a security key
The bikes also come with a solid u-lock that features a 13 mm, double locking shackle that should adequately resist leverage attacks and all but the biggest bolt cutters.
However, even if their bikes can’t be stripped of their components and are protected by decent u-locks, Fortified do acknowledge that they can still be stolen and to counter this they offer one, three and five year protection plans.
These cost extra ($99, $248 and $348), but if your bike is stolen, not only is there a team that will try to recover it (by liaising with the police and trawling websites like eBay and craigslist), but if your bike isn’t recovered within one day they will provide you with a replacement bike completely free of charge (apart from the shipping and handling fee)!
There are two models of Fortified bike: the Invisible 1-Speed which has no gears and the Invisible 8-speed which has eight! Both bikes are designed for the city with rust proof frames, rust resistant chains, puncture resistant tires and weather proof seats.
Fortified bikes come with a decent u-lock
So basically the company are bringing together a load of existing theft prevention techniques and applying them to their bikes before they’re sold.
Sure: security bolts, decent u-locks and theft protection plans have been available for years. But the onus has always been on us to seek them out and apply them to our bikes after we’ve bought them. And the problem is that few of us do so and this only encourages more bike crime.
So while the bikes they sell don’t use any revolutionary anti theft technology, the fact that they’re selling their bikes with protection included is revolutionary!
Of course it shouldn’t be. Every bike manufacturer should be selling bikes that have some degree of theft protection and it’s a great shame that they don’t. So Fortified Bikes are to be commended for breaking the mold and trying new ways to reduce bike crime from the top.
Yerka: the bike is the lock!
While Fortified bikes may offer nothing revolutionary, the Yerka Bike certainly does. Doing away with the need for a separate bike lock altogether, if you ride a Yerka, the bike frame becomes the bike lock!
Yerka: the bike is the lock
How does it work? Well, the down tube actually splits in two and each section flips out horizontally. You can then push the bike against a post (or bike rack) so that the frame is on one side and the ends of the two down tube sections are poking out on the other side. Finally, you remove the seat post and use it to re-connect the down tube sections, making a secure loop.
Essentially this wraps the whole bike frame around whatever you’re locking your bike to!
The whole process should take no more than 15 seconds which is not too bad at all. And don’t forget one of the great side benefits of the Yerka is you don’t have to worry about carrying around some heavy, unwieldy secondary lock any more!
The seat post contains 12 mm of hardened steel to deter bolt cutters. But the point is: if a thief does manage to break the lock with brute force, they will essentially be destroying the frame of the bike, rendering it unusable.
Yerka claim that the split down tube doesn’t weaken the frame in any way and not only have they put it through some pretty rigorous testing, they also guarantee it for 2 years.
The down tube: guaranteed strength
While this lock only takes care of the bike frame as a whole, the Yerka also comes with anti-theft wheel nuts so you don’t have to worry about losing your wheels either.
It’s a pretty clever idea. But not without drawbacks. The most obvious is that some thieves could cause a great deal of damage to the bike while trying to steal it, even if they’re ultimately unsuccessful. When this happens with a regular bike lock, you only need to replace the lock. When it happens with a Yerka you may have to replace the bike.
Also, while the 7″ (17 cm) of horizontal space inside the locked frame will theoretically give you loads of options when you’re looking for somewhere to secure your bike, I suspect it may be difficult to lock your bike in busy racks where there is already another bike on the other side.
Yerka: looks like a normal bike!
However despite these drawbacks I think the Yerka is an elegant concept. The reviews from those that have ridden the Yerka have been positive and they even offer a 30 day test drive after which you can return it, no questions asked.
VanMoof: the future of bike security?
While Fortified and Yerka produce regular, analogue bikes, VanMoofs are part of the new wave of “smart” bikes that seem to be popping up all over the place.
VanMoof: it’s a great looking bike!
VanMoof make both electric and regular bikes, all of them featuring lots of exciting new smart technology. However, what I’m most interested in here is their much lauded security features.
As far as I can tell, with their regular smart bikes, these security features amount to an Abus Shield rear wheel ring lock, anti-theft nuts and bolts, a sound and light alarm and GPS tracking.
With the electric smart bikes, you get the same anti-theft nuts and bolts, sound and light alarm and GPS tracking. But rather than the Abus Shield lock, you get a “smart stealth lock”. Plus automatic rider recognition (via the app) and a button to manually disarm the bike with a personal code.
Let’s look at the feature that’s exclusive to the regular smart bike first…
The Abus frame lock that comes with the regular VanMoofs
The Abus Shield lock is a pretty straightforward frame lock that simply stops the rear wheel rotating, so no-one can ride the bike away when it’s locked. Frame locks like this are really popular in mainland Europe, but less so in the UK and the US.
They certainly do a good job of demobilizing the bike but unlike a regular chain or u-lock, they won’t stop a thief simply picking your bike up and walking away with it. So they should always used in conjunction with a regular lock.
As far as I can tell the rear lock on the regular VanMoof is entirely analogue and is not part of the “smart” system. So you still need a key to lock and unlock it.
Both the electric and regular bikes feature this concept of immobilization, similar to the sort of security feature you might get with a car. However they seem to work in a slightly different way depending which type of bike you have.
With the electric bike you can initiate the immobilization, by using the “smart stealth lock”. To do this there is a little button on the rear drop out that you kick with your foot. This will lock the back wheel (in the same way as the frame lock on the regular bike) and turn on the alarm.
Immobilize an electric VanMoofs by kicking a button on the dropout
With the regular bike, I presume that after you secure the frame lock by hand with a key, you then immobilize the bike (turn the alarm on) with the phone app.
Once immobilized, the VanMoof is sensitive to movement. If the bike is disturbed the alarm goes off and the lights flash. This increases in intensity if the movement continues, with the lights even flashing “SOS” in Morse Code at the highest level!
If the bike is actually stolen while immobilized all the smart features shut down, you receive a message through the app and the GPS tracking kicks in.
On the electric bike the immobilization can be turned off automatically via Bluetooth when you approach with bike with your phone, or there is also a button on the handlebar which allows you to automatically override it by tapping in a code.
Disarm an electric VanMoof with a manual code button
With the regular bike there’s no button, so I guess you can only mobilize the bike by using the app. But what if you forget your phone or the battery has died?
The differences between the security features on the electric and regular bikes are understandable. The electric bikes are much more expensive so they justify more protection. Also, since the electric bikes will be charged more often, I’d imagine they can afford to expand more of their energy on security features?
But I’ve got to say VanMoof do a bad job of explaining these differences. Or rather they do a bad job of explaining the security features of the regular bikes.
The anti-theft nuts and bolts are on all the components except the handlebars (which since they’ll only fit a VanMoof bike are not that desirable anyway). Just like the other bikes, the nuts and bolts will require a specially shaped key or spanner, only provided by VanMoof to open them.
VanMoof also offer a protection plan for an additional cost. It’s around the same price as the Fortified plan ($100 for 1 year, $240 for 3 years) and offers similar benefits. If your bike’s stolen, there’s a team of “Bike Hunters” who will try to track it down. While it’s being hunted they will loan you a temporary bike if you live near one of their outlets. And if they cant find the stolen one within 2 weeks, they’ll replace it with a brand new one!
You can lose up to 4 bikes before they decide you’re a liability and stop replacing them, which is fair enough!
Stolen VanMoofs can be tracked through the GPS app
I’d say the GPS tracking means there’s a better chance you’ll get a VanMoof bike back than a Fortified bike. And since they claim a recovery rate of 80% (compared to 4% in the Europe as a whole), they do seem to be doing pretty well!
Folding Bikes: the old school technique!
While the previous three bikes are aiming to push anti-theft measures forwards, we shouldn’t forget the old school methods. And the truth is: if your bike is always folded up by your side when you’re not riding, it’s very unlikely to be stolen!
Folding Bikes: unlikely to be stolen (EuroMini ZiZZO Urbano)
Although over 50% of stolen bikes are taken from the owners home, that statistic includes their gardens, sheds and garages. The number would be much lower if it was limited to thefts from within the owners actual house or flat.
And that’s the great thing about a folding bike: almost everyone can fit one inside their home!
The EuroMini ZiZZO Urbano: unfolded!
A guide to folding bikes is way beyond the scope of this article. And the best folding bike for you will depend on loads of different personal variables. But I know several people that are very happy with their EuroMini ZiZZO Urbano which seems great value for money (and none of them have been stolen)!
Wrapping Up: Are these really unstealable bikes?
Well, “no” is the short answer! Both Fortified and VanMoof offer retrieval and replacement services in the event that your bike is stolen. So they recognize that their bikes are not theft proof and to be fair they don’t claim anywhere that they’re otherwise.
Fortified bikes are no more unstealable than any other bike locked with a decent u-lock. They’re much less likely to be stripped of their components than the average bike due to the security bolts they use. And their protection plan can offer some peace of mind. But they’re not in any way theft proof!
However, Fortified are one of the only bike manufacturers accepting some responsibility for protecting our bikes from theft and for this they should be massively commended. I would like to see every new bike come with this level of protection as a minimum and it’s a great shame that other companies are not following their lead.
VanMoof bikes are actually incredibly easy to steal. Although both the electric and regular bikes come with locks that disable the back wheel (which means your bike can’t be ridden away), there’s nothing to stop a thief picking up your bike and carrying it away. Or throwing it in a van.
Many thieves won’t be deterred by alarms and flashing lights, especially when the prize is a $3000 bike! Even if the “smart” functions are disabled and the bike is difficult to re-sell as a VanMoof bike, it can be stripped and the parts sold on or mixed into other bikes.
VanMoof must realize this but while their terms and conditions state that the alarm and wheel lock (of a stolen bike) must have been enabled, it also indicates that a secondary lock should only be used “where possible”. So if you leave your bike immobilized with the alarm and wheel lock, but not secured to an immovable object, you’re still covered!?
Seems crazy to me. If you don’t want your bike to be stolen I would highly recommend you secure it to an immovable object with a good quality lock!
The only bike here that can remotely make a claim to be unstealable is the Yerka. For sure: the lock can be broken and the bike taken away. But stealing the bike would actually involve destroying the bike. And is a destroyed bike still a bike even?!
I suppose (just like with a stolen VanMoof bike), the parts of a Yerka could be sold on or recycled into other bikes, but since the act of stealing a Yerka involves a conscious destruction of the bike in a way that stealing a VanMoof doesn’t, it just seems less likely.
It might seem I’m a bit down on these companies. But I’m not at all. Nowhere in their literature have I seen any claims that their bikes are theft proof. I’ve only read such claims in the press. And I’m not even down on the press. They need to generate clicks, and claims of unstealable bikes are sure to garner a lot of attention.
In fact I think these companies should be celebrated for at least recognizing bike crime is a serious issue and trying to do something about it from the top. If I’m down on anyone it’s all the other bike manufacturers, who churn out thousands of new bikes every year without any effort to make them more difficult to steal.
The short answer is: yes! Locks that you open with a code are generally less secure than locks that require a key. But why is this and does it mean we should avoid combination bike locks altogether?
Well, not necessarily. Let’s look at this in more detail…
So, just to be clear: combination bike locks are the ones with a several dials of numbers that you turn around to make a combined code that opens the mechanism. There are usually 3, 4 or 5 rings so the code is 3, 4 or 5 numbers long.
These locks are popular because you don’t need a key: as long as you can remember the code you can always unlock your bike. And you can also give the code to family or friends so they can share the use of the lock and therefore your bike too!
Just try every combination!
3 dial locks are very quick and easy to crack
The first problem with these locks is the limited number of combinations. With 3 dials there are just 720 unique codes. So with averagely nimble fingers, which could test one number per second, that’s a maximum of just 12 minutes to test every combination. And of course: the correct code isn’t likely to be the last one a thief tries!
4 number codes take much longer to crack
However with 4 dials there are 10,000 possible combinations. So the same nimble fingers would take almost 3 hours to test every combination. And in reality, testing one a second for nearly three hours while hunched over a bicycle in the street is just not practical. It would actually take much longer, even if the thief had the patience and nerve to persist.
So while it’s true that combination locks can be opened without any tools at all, by someone without any skill at all (beyond counting), if you’ve got a 4 (or more) dial lock then it’s very unlikely that anyone’s going to defeat your lock in this way.
Unfortunately however, the finite number of codes isn’t the only weakness of combination locks…
Or pick them without any tools!
Cheap combination locks are very easy to decode. The way to do this (and I’m not revealing anything new here), is to create tension by trying to pull the the lock apart (in the same way as you’d open it) and then slowly rotating the dials in turn until they seem to click into place…
More expensive combination locks try to thwart this method with “false gates” that give the impression that you’ve found the correct numbers when in fact you haven’t. However they can often still be decoded with a bit of skill…
But the thing to remember is that virtually no bike thieves have the patience and skill required to pick the more challenging combination locks. And in the street they won’t be able to position the lock in a way that makes even attempting to decode the lock practical.
In fact they are most likely to tackle a decent combination lock in the same way they would attack a decent keyed lock: with brute force.
Cheap Cable Locks and Combinations!
I’ve written many times about how you should never use a cheap cable lock to secure your bicycle. They can be cut in seconds by a small, basic tool that every bike thief carries.
And the thing is: many cheap cable locks use cheap combination mechanisms. So this idea that all combination locks are crappy is reinforced because they’re used on genuinely crappy cable locks. However, it doesn’t mean that all combination locks are crappy!
So, yes it’s true: combination locks are less secure than keyed locks. But if you get a decent one with 4 or 5 dials and features that resist the most basic decoding techniques, then in the street, in most instances they are going to offer the same levels of protection as a decent keyed lock.
With that in mind I have compiled a list of some of the better combination locks below. They are all either Sold Secure Silver or equivalent, which is the minimum security level I recommend in a bike lock.
This means they’re suitable for lower risk circumstances (check my full bike lock guide to determine your risk level).
There aren’t any Sold Secure Gold combination locks, presumably because it would be very difficult to make a coded lock that is truly high security.
It’s also very easy to carry. The frame mount that comes with the Foldylock can screw directly into those holes on your down tube that are designed for a water bottle cradle. This will hold your lock in place securely while you ride around and then release it quickly and easily when you need to lock up.
But some people don’t like frame mounts! They’re not the prettiest addition to your bike. And maybe you don’t have room for one anyway? Maybe you’re already using your water bottle cradle holes to carry a water bottle? Or maybe you don’t have water bottle cradle holes at all?
I know I don’t. So when I tested my Foldylock I used (the included) velcro straps to secure the lock to the frame of my favorite beater bike. And although they work fine, the unused lengths of strap flapped about in a slightly annoying way.
So I was very happy to hear that the Foldylock was now available in a variation called the Clipster. The lock itself is identical to the original Foldylock Compact. But it includes a built in clip that you can attach to your belt, pocket, bag (or anything else it will fit over).
It also comes with a thick elastic band to go over the bottom of the lock to stop the bars moving about while your riding.
The great thing about the Clipster (and this is something which I didn’t really think about until I started using it), is that, even though the original frame mount was really easy to use, the time it takes to lock and unlock your bike is still significantly reduced when you carry your lock clipped to your belt.
Fold up, clip on. Clip off, unfold. Super easy. And super quick.
So not only will your bike be unencumbered by yet more detritus (the frame mount), you’ll also have a smoother, faster locking experience. What’s not to like?
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!
And if you’re looking for advice on the best lock to protect your bike and prevent it being stolen in the first place, check out my step by step guide!