How can my bike survive NYC?
March 22, 2006 8:10 AM   Subscribe

How do I make my bike less attractive to thieves? (Plus, other NYC biking questions.)

Someone just gave me a great bike. It's shiny, red, has front suspension and is very eye-catching. The problem is, I live in New York.

I've been keeping it in my apartment, but eventually I'm going to want to lock it outside. I got skewer locks for the wheels (this kind), but they still make me nervous. Has anyone had these locks, and do you think they are worth it? I also have to buy a bike chain lock, though I'm tempted to get thisKryptonite New York U-Lock instead. Is this a bad idea?

I also want to disguise the decals all over the tube, but what's the best way to go about this? Stickers? Paint? Tape? Something else?

Lastly, I'd appreciate any tips on how to brave the car traffic here. All the drivers here freak me out.
posted by hooray to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (30 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Everyone in Amsterdam has shitty bicycles for this very reason. Williamsburg hipster/fashion victim types have taken to striping their bikes with electrical tape. It's funny, looks like Dr Suess and covers up the Cannondale logo of the bike their Father bought them while they where attending Penn.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 8:24 AM on March 22, 2006

Best answer: 1 - Remove all of the stickers.
2 - Rattle-can the bike a dull black or primer color. Or have a professional give it a nasty color powder-coat.
3 - Have the suspension changed out for a solid fork. You don't need suspension in the city, it robs you of your ability to accelerate as quickly. And it is attractive.
4 - Remove stickers from your components. Or replace them with a decent grade that you won't mind losing.
5 - buy multiple locks, all different brands and styles. You aren't going to stop a thief, you're just buying time. He/she will probably head for an easier target before hitting your bike.
6 - Be prepared to have it stolen. It will probably happen.
7 - Keep it inside.

As for the traffic, I live in Austin and there're places here I won't ride. I sure as hell would be a foot pedestrian in NYC.
posted by Seamus at 8:26 AM on March 22, 2006

Best answer: You need two locks. One a heavy u-bolt. U-bolt locks are EASILY PICKED, so this cannot be your primary lock, but it's a good secondary one. The primary lock should be a heavy chain with an indestructible circular or warded padlock. The model for your chain should be a thickness that you would feel comfortable towing your car with. The model for your padlock should be the ones you see locking the roll-down shutters on storefronts at night. Use both locks when the bike is out of your sight. The reason for two different locks is that this makes the thief carry two tools to defeat both systems. Lock it in well-lighted, well-traveled areas. Alleys are your enemy.

Disguise may help, but keep in mind bike thieves are dumb and are looking for a quick $20 from an unscrupulous used bike dealer, not a $500 score. They will steal cheap bikes as fast or faster than expensive bikes.

As for cars: always wear a helmet. That's all you can do.
posted by jellicle at 8:29 AM on March 22, 2006

You can U-lock one wheel and chain the other wheel and the frame.

As for traffic, it's tough because people drive like they're totally crazy, but the other side of this coin is that everyone's pretty aware of what's going on on the road. Contrasted to DC, I actually feel just as safe on the road here, maybe moreso. DC drivers are less aware and drive much faster. Be aware of doors opening in front of you, and stay away from big trucks and busses (they're apt to squish you between other vehicles).

I don't know anything about skewer locks or disguising your bike. Mine is pretty crappy already, and I keep it inside when I'm not out.
posted by lorrer at 8:30 AM on March 22, 2006

A friend of mine taped black bin bag (garbage bag?) material over the tubes and put an old saddle on his bike. It certainly made it look much less attractive upon a cursory inspection...

I have the lock you mention and although it IS expensive it has served me well so far (it makes me feel a bit more confident about leaving my bike locked up outside).

Until recently I lived in London where the drivers mostly seemed relatively considerate - I now live in the countryside just outside London where everyone seems to drive like a moron (in 4x4 beasts usually). My advice, wear BRIGHT clothes and get a good set of lights (and a helmet of course). Don't be intimidated into driving too close to rows of parked cars (doors opening without notice can screw up your day) and never assume people can see you.
posted by jonesor at 8:37 AM on March 22, 2006

Do everything seamus said, and get the Kryptonite "New York" chain lock. It's heavy, but you can wear it over your shoulder, and it gives you a better chance of not losing your whole bike. Things will eventually get stolen off of it, however.

The Kryptonite lock will generally not reach both wheels at the same time (depends upon to what you lock the bike), so if you feel like doing due dilligence, you can remove the front wheel and lock it up each time. I do this, but I have quick release skewers.

As for braving the traffic; I haven't ridden in NYC, but the main rule is to be aware of what cars are doing or not doing (like slowing down). Ride in the middle of the lane so that cars must go around you as this will give you a wider margin to escape them when they do something threatening. Wear lights and have them on, possibly wear a reflective vest. Essentially, force motorists to notice you, and force them to treat you as they would another car, but be prepared for them still trying to kill you.

And always, always wear your helmet, even if you're just going "around the corner."
posted by beerbajay at 8:37 AM on March 22, 2006

I U-lock the back wheel to the frame, then c hain lock the frame and front wheel to whatever i'm locking into. Also you can take a little bit of chain and link it through the rails in your saddle through the seat stays to prevent seat theft. Furthermore, if you have a threaded stem, you can drop a little bit of glue and then a ball bearing into where the allen wrench goes. Then you just need to poke it with a screwdriver to get the bolt out if you ever need to swap stem/bars.

I'm in San Francisco though, but I imagine similar things apply in NY.
posted by atom128 at 8:38 AM on March 22, 2006

Oh and I recommend getting kryptonite locks. My fuggedaboutit came with 3k of insurance if my bike gets stolen. Also, I think bikes are covered in renters insurance if you have that.
posted by atom128 at 8:39 AM on March 22, 2006

U-bolt locks are EASILY PICKED

Old ones are, the new ones have really weird locking systems and the Kryptonite ones come with guarentees.

As with all things bike, Sheldon Brown has you covered. One thing I would take away from for sure is to use the smallest locks possible, the more space between the lock and what it's being locked to the easier it will be to work a tool in there.
posted by drezdn at 8:49 AM on March 22, 2006


Take everything off the bike that can come off - losing lights is a real pain. If you can be bothered, get a seat that comes off and take that with you when you leave the bike as a bike without a saddle is less attractive.

Spraypaint the bike some godawful colour.

Others have spoken about locks - two is a good thing.

The other thing to think about is placement. Don't chain your bike anywhere unstable (vandals might kick it if they can't steal it, and if it's secure against something that's less likely to do harm). Don't chain it anywhere out-of-sight. I prefer to walk 100m to a brightly lit public railing than cycle right to my destination.


Wear a helmet.

Wear something bright during the day and reflective at night: I have a dirt-cheap workman's vest type thing which is bright yellow with a reflective strip. I look like a fool, but I haven't been hit yet.

Lights lights lights. On the bike, and on you - a lot of the little LED ones have clips that you can attach to clothing/bags. A friend swears by a petzl head-torch on the helmet because then the car drivers know that you're looking at them, but I've never gone that far myself.

Don't cycle too close to the pavement/sidewalk. That's where all the crap builds up, it's where the road surface is worst, and it's where you're most likely to encounter unpredictable pedestrians suddenly forcing you into traffic. About a metre and a half out is good - still at the side, but clearly visible and holding your space.

Make eye contact with drivers - if they know you've seen them and you know they've seen you it all gets a lot more predictable. If you're going to give way let the driver know, too.
posted by handee at 8:54 AM on March 22, 2006

If bikes are so attractive to thieves, then since we know what the bait is it should be really easy to catch thieves. If the police aren't going to do it, then maybe its time for bike owners to take the law into their own hands. Form a mutual protection club and catch these thieves in the act. As it stands, there is apparently no deterrent. Make the thieves suspicious of the shiny red bike, and maybe they will leave it alone.
posted by gearspring at 9:10 AM on March 22, 2006

Assuming you've got derailleurs, snap the levers into the wrong gears when you park up. For the rear, a few clicks out of position should do the trick. If a thief is doing a ride-off for a quick getaway, there'll be much clanking and grinding.
posted by veedubya at 9:14 AM on March 22, 2006

everyone's covered the locking up things well enough..

as far as traffic:

- don't be afraid of people honking, getting pissed because you're going slower, or any of that. they can deal.
- take your own space in the lane. the metre and a half is a good suggestion
- beware of getting doored
- have fun. seriously. it's an adventure.
posted by whatitis at 9:30 AM on March 22, 2006

gearspring, I did think about getting a small and cheap cellphone to conceal in the frame of my bike. If it got stolen, I could use a location service to find it. The two problems were getting it in and out of the frame (in to hide it, out to charge it), and the granularity of the location service.
posted by veedubya at 9:32 AM on March 22, 2006

Chain your seat to the bike with extra bicycle chain. I second the American deli-shutter style lock with the kryptonite New York chain. It's heavy as Hell, but it works if you have an outdoor bike. I'm told that the rear wheel is more expensive and should always get the heavier chain - I lock the rear wheel through the frame and around a street sign, then secure the front tire to the frame with a u-lock. If you get a kryptonite chain used, be aware that some of the older model yellow locks can be opened with a bic pen. Never park a bike outside that you wouldn't be willing to lose. Luckily it's usually easy to buy another stolen bike cheaply enough if yours is taken.

The biggest thing with traffic is to know the good routes. Get an NYC bike map from a bike store and do some non-rush-hour exploring on your own for good low-traffic, low-pot-hole streets. Don't let cars bully you into a corner. Hold your ground and prepare to get honked and sworn at. Assume that no one can see you. Don't be a jackass about running lights. You could hit blind people. Seriously.
posted by Marnie at 9:36 AM on March 22, 2006

The New York Bike Messenger's Association has a nice page about bike locks; I'd link to it, but it's showing up on my work computer as pornography.
posted by Anonymous at 9:55 AM on March 22, 2006

A friend of mine managed to spend 3 years in Cambridge (bike theft capital of the western world) and keep hold of her bike by the simple expedient of spray painting it a crappy brown colour.

As for traffic, I'm not sure whether you can get them outside the UK but I've used a bit of plastic with a reflector that extends about a foot or so to the right/left of the bike (depending on what side you're driving) and gives cars at night a better sense of how much width you need.
posted by greycap at 10:13 AM on March 22, 2006

Best answer: register it with the NYPD etching program.

also, put an index card with your contact email address/ phone number in the tube of the bike under the seat, helpful to prove the bike is yours.
posted by Izzmeister at 10:17 AM on March 22, 2006

Best answer: Much of this is excellent advice for ANYWHERE BUT NYC. You can't ride in a lane because you'll get either stuck in traffic or creamed; you can't ride anywhere near the sidewalk because there are cars parked (and double-parked) there. You can't make eye-contact with the drivers because they're cabbies looking for fares or dialing their cellphones. Disguising your frame won't help because thieves here just want bikes to deliver Chinese food on and will steal any piece of shit; locking your rear wheel to itself won't slow them down because they have plenty of crap parts to swap in. Gluing a BB into the hex sockets on your stem and seatpost nuts is cute but thieves have screwdrivers (and knives!) too.

I'm an ex-NYC-bike-messenger and daily rider, currently of a pretty Specialized frame with a nice fizik seat. My hub, stem, and seatpost nuts are filled with solder, which I have to wick out before any repair. I lock up with a colossal square chain and shielded St. Pierre padlock that have kept my bikes safe for almost 25 years.

I like Izzmeisters ideas though.
posted by nicwolff at 10:23 AM on March 22, 2006 [2 favorites]

The "dirty" tactic doesn't actually work (or doesn't in New Orleans). Buy a couple of good locks instead.
posted by honeydew at 10:53 AM on March 22, 2006

Unlike nicwolff, my bike experience is strictly amateur so weigh this accordingly, but two bits of advice above struck me as useful, even in NYC:

* Plot your route ahead of time. If you're familiar with the normal chaos you run into, you'll deal better with the inevitable unexpected.

* Make eye contact. It really does make a difference, especially when you're trying to change lanes, squeeze between cars, keep from being squashed, etc. This probably be more successful if you're female but it works for men too.

In addition:

* Definitely get a good bike map. Transportation Alternatives has a PDF you can download and they also list places you can pick up a hard copy.

* Keep scanning the traffic and obstacles around you. It's overwhelming at first but you'll reach a point when you can anticipate a cab lurching into your lane to pass a slow car, or a pedestrian stepping out in front of you mid-block.

* Avenues are busier (and scarier) than streets. Depending on where you live and where you're going, consider traveling uptown and downtown via the bike paths on the Hudson and the East River. It's a much more relaxing ride, and might be worth the extra crosstown travel.

* Always, always, always wear your helmet.

hooray, if you're a decent driver, you'll do fine on a bike. All the skills transfer and you just have to crank up the alertness level.

Re locks: The guys at my neighborhood Recycle a Bicycle convinced me to get the mammoth Kryptonite chain, which I'd been (stupidly) resisting. I've kept the present bike for over two years, whereas the previous ones lasted a year, tops.
posted by vetiver at 10:54 AM on March 22, 2006

Something no one has mentioned is that since the Republican Nat'l Convention here in the fall of '04 the police have targeted cyclists (and motorcycle and scooter riders, another story) as a nuisance group.

Short story - locking to anything but a city-installed bike rack is illegal. Trees, hydrants, parking meters and light poles are technically all verboten. The cops can, and do, cut locks (with an angle grinder no less, the tool of choice of discerning bike thieves) and confiscate bikes at their whim.

Yes, it's draconian; yes, it makes no sense, but there it is. FYI.
posted by prcrstn8 at 11:39 AM on March 22, 2006

...After getting my bike jacked (my wife's bike was also lifted the same day - assholes) I can assure you that renter's insurance will cover some of the loss, and that the cable-style locks can be cut in a matter of seconds. The U-locks take even less time, depending.

Also, the Kryptonite guarantee isn't as worthwhile as it seems to be. They require you to have some evidence that the bike was lifted due to a theif breaking the lock. Many bike thieves steal the locks as well, so you have nothing to show to Kryptonite. They took everything from our bikes - in some cases they apparently even use the defeated lock to ask Kryptonite for the refund.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:10 PM on March 22, 2006

For an existing bike, duct tape the whole thing. Is it a fixie or do you have gears? If you have gears and they are good ones then cover up the logos on the derailleurs and shifters, preferably by gluing something over them. A steel frame fixie with a Krylon paint job (can you buy spray paint in the city any more?), plastic seat and no name rims and tires is still your best bet. That, a good lock and a safe night storage option.
posted by caddis at 12:43 PM on March 22, 2006

I don't know where in New York you expect your bike to be mostly, but in Brooklyn, Kryptonite NYC lock & chain + plastic-wrapped metal chain thingy through the back wheel & seat kept me from having any of my bikes stolen in 6 years (I went through more than one for other reasons).
posted by dame at 12:48 PM on March 22, 2006

i used to date a bicycle messenger when i lived in boston, and hung out with all the city bike couriers. they constantly had to find ways to solve this problem.

aside from investing in a solid lock, this i found interesting: my ex would fill all the cavities that had screws in them with candle wax. like the handlebars: wherever there was a joint with a screw, he would drip wax in the holes so that a bike-thief would have to take a lot of time digging out the wax in order to remove the screws.
posted by naxosaxur at 1:58 PM on March 22, 2006

While it probably won't satisfy the original poster, I use pipe clamps to secure the quick releases on my town bike. Here's a picture. A $1.25 solution and still works as a quick release if I carry a filed-down washer on my keychain.
posted by bonehead at 2:19 PM on March 22, 2006

Response by poster: Wow, thanks everyone! There are tons of good answers in this thread, and I especially like the bit about soldering stuff. I will definitely be getting two locks, of different varieties. And removing all identifying decals.

As for safety, I *always* wear a helmet. It saved my life once.
posted by hooray at 2:57 PM on March 22, 2006

One approach to safe cycling is John Forrester's Effective Cycling . Besides reading his book, you can probably take a course on it in NYC. I'm in the middle of taking one now, and it's counter-intuitive at times, but it's already made my commute less stressful. I would emphasize: be visible, predictable, and give yourself room to maneuver.

The two-lock suggestion is good; I would use a heavy chain and a u-lock.
posted by blue grama at 9:15 PM on March 22, 2006

* Avenues are busier (and scarier) than streets. Depending on where you live and where you're going, consider traveling uptown and downtown via the bike paths on the Hudson and the East River. It's a much more relaxing ride, and might be worth the extra crosstown travel.

Hey, that's really good advice. You should stay off the avenues when possible, and the Hudson River bike path is quite nice. Careful crossing West St. though!
posted by nicwolff at 10:30 PM on March 22, 2006

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