Interview with Daniel Idzkowski from SkunkLock

SkunkLock are a relatively new company with a totally new concept a bike security.

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...

There's 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!

Massive long term drop in bike thefts!

Yes you read that right! There has been a huge drop in bike thefts. And no, it's got nothing to do with Covid-19!

I've been looking into bike theft statistics over the last few days with a vague idea about making some useful info-graphics.

With the increasing popularity of cycling in recent years and with plenty of alarming headlines in the back of my mind, I was expecting to see some pretty depressing numbers.

But the fact is: last year (2019) there were 52% less bike thefts than there were in 1995. And while there was some increase between 2004 and 2011, they have been falling again steadily since then...


Crime Survey for England and Wales: Recorded Bike Thefts 1981 - 2019


And don't forget: this decrease in bike theft is occurring at the same time that the numbers of people cycling is increasing significantly...


England, Scotland & Wales: cycle traffic estimates, 1993-2018

Graph of Cycling Traffic 1993 - 2018

Image courtesy of Cycling UK


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.

And although there are plenty of theories, no-ones really sure why this is happening!

So while bicycle theft obviously remains a massive, massive problem, you're actually much less likely to have your bike stolen today than almost any other time in the last 40 years!

I know if you've just had a bike stolen, this sort of information offers scant comfort. In fact it's just really annoying.

But if you get a good lock, and keep your bike in a decent shed or other secure storage space, then (while it can certainly still be stolen), you've got a better chance than ever that it won't!

Stop Bike Seat Theft with the new SeatyGo!

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!

Our towns and cities are full of seat-less bikes!

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.

Bike chain seat lock
Secured with an old bike chain. But still stealable!

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.

The new SeatyGo

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.

Easy to remove

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!

Easy to carry

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.

Before you get too excited, the SeatyGo is not available to buy yet. But you can pre-order on the Seatylock website.

1

A theft proof bike: fantasy or reality?

Sometimes it’s good to step back and look at things from a different angle. We spend so much time thinking about bike locks and the things we can do to protect our rides.

Bike Thief

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…

Fortified Bike

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.

Fortified Seat Clamp

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 Bike and U-Lock

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 Bike Locked

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.

Yerka Down Tube

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 Bike

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 Bike

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…

Abus Shield Lock

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.

VanMoof Stealth Lock

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.

VanMoof Override Button

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!

VanMoof Phone App

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!

EuroMini ZiZZO Urbano folded

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!

EuroMini ZiZZO Urbano

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.

4

A Combination Bike Lock: Is it really less secure?

A combination bike lock

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 number combination bike lock

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 combination bike lock

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!

Wrapping Up

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). However, I’d advise caution with the Squire Snaplock which I’ve heard is relatively easy to prize open!

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.

 ModelThicknessWeightCans of coke weightHeightWidthSold Secure Silver?
Kryptonite Kryptolok ComboKryptonite KryptoLok
Combo
13 mm2.30 lb
(1.04 kg)
2.58.0"
(20.3 cm)
4.0"
(10.2 cm)
No
Kryptonite Keeper CombinationKryptonite Keeper 712 Combo7 mm4.5 lb
(2.04 kg)
5.547.2"
(150 cm)
Yes
Kryptonite Kryptolok Chain ComboKryptonite Kryptolok 990 Combo 909.5 mm5.85 lb
(2.65 kg)
735.4"
(90 cm)
Yes
Kryptonite Kryptolok Chain ComboKryptonite Kryptolok 912 Combo 1209.5 mm7.35 lb
(3.33 kg)
8.547.2"
(120 cm)
Yes
OnGuard Bulldog Combo STDOnGuard Bulldog Combo STD13 mm2.43 lb
(1.10 kg)
3 9.06"
(23 cm)
4.53"
(11.5 cm)
No
OnGuard Bulldog Combo MiniOnGuard Bulldog Combo Mini13 mm2.15 lb
(0.98 kg)
2.5 5.52"
(14 cm)
3.55"
(9 cm)
No
OnGuard Bulldog Combo Mini LSOnGuard Bulldog Combo Mini LS13 mm3.12 lb
(1.42 kg)
3.59.46”"
(24 cm)
3.55"
(9 cm)
No
Squire Hammerhead Combi 230Squire Hammerhead Combi 23013 mm3.77 lb
(1.7 kg)
4.59.06"
(23 cm)
4.13"
(10.5 cm)
Yes
Squire Hammerhead Combi 290Squire Hammerhead Combi 29013 mm3.92 lb
(1.78 kg)
4.511.42"
(29 cm)
4.13"
(10.5 cm)
Yes
Squire Snaplock 210Squire Snaplok 21012 mm1.81 lb
(0.82 kg)
28.27"
(21 cm)
4.09"
(10.4 cm)
Yes
Squire Snaplock 260Squire Snaplok 26012 mm2.14 lb
(0.97 kg)
2.510.24"
(26 cm)
4.09"
(10.4 cm)
Yes

The Foldylock Clipster: even easier to carry!

I’m a big fan of the Foldylock Compact. It’s light, easy to use and offers very reasonable Sold Secure Silver levels of protection for medium risk situations.

Folded Foldylock
Folded Foldylock Compact

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.

Foldylock attached with water bottle screws
Foldylock attached with water bottle screws

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.

Foldylock attached with Velcro straps
Foldylock attached with Velcro straps

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).

Foldylock Clipster on belt

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.

Foldylock Clipster
The Clipster folded up

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?

See my full review of the Foldylock Compact for more details on how secure this lock is and how it compares to other locks. If you like the look of it, the Clipster is available from both the Foldylock website and Amazon .

And if your still unsure about how to choose the best bike lock for your individual circumstances, check out my easy step by step guide here.

An interview with Bike Index: The Biggest Bicycle Registry

Lily Williams from Bike Index

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We allow people to register their bikes post-theft.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, great stuff. Many thanks for your time!


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

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

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!

An interview with TiGr: Makers of Titanium Bike Locks

John and Robert from TiGr locks

John and Robert from TiGr locks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where did the idea for TiGr bike locks come from?

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

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

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

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

Was there a specific problem you were trying to solve?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have been the biggest challenges since you launched?

Building brand awareness and earning brand credibility.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, please stay tuned.

Great! Many thanks for your time Jim.


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

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

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

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

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

 

Gone in 60 Seconds: A UK Bike Theft Documentary

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

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

Gone in 60 Seconds Bike Theft Documentary

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

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

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

Almax vs Sold Secure

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

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

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

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

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

The facts:

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

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

My view:

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

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

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

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

Brick Lane: A Theives Bazaar

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

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

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

Boris Johnson: A prat

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

Anyway, the documentary:

 

 

30

LITELOK: Is this a game changer for bicycle security?

Update (April 30th 2017):

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

Litelock Flexible Lightweight Bike Lock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Litelock Flexible Lightweight Bike Lock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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