How can I keep my bike while riding the bus?
July 3, 2008 9:39 AM   Subscribe

I've been doing a combo bike/bus commute on LA Metro for about a month now, and I find myself obsessing about how easy it would be for someone to steal my bike off the rack mounted on the front of the bus with no one being the wiser. Is there something I could do/use to at least make thieving my bike a little more inconvenient, yet not add much to the time it takes ME to get it off the rack? On reread, sort of self-defeating I guess - any ideas at all?
posted by DandyRandy to Travel & Transportation around Los Angeles, LA (14 answers total)
You could always run a cable lock through the wheels, that way if someone snatches the bike off it they can't ride off immediately. Doesn't help if they toss it in a pickup truck and drive away though.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 9:49 AM on July 3, 2008

I'm not familiar with your system, but what about something that would come off easily, yet take someone else a few seconds to figure out, and also make a little noise that would tip you off? (Can you see your bike while you're on the bus?) I'm thinking about these super-velcro ties that I got as cable wraps for electronics (computer wires, etc.). They are some fierce, extra-vel Velcro. They would be easy for you to wrap tightly and unwrap relatively quickly.

Of course, every time someone opened some legit velcro product, there you'd be ready to karate-chop them for adjusting their sneakers, but still.
posted by clownpenis.fart at 9:50 AM on July 3, 2008

The few times I've taken the bus with my bike on the front (not in LA), I've been more worried about it somehow falling off or getting crushed in an accident than it being stolen. I have thought about how "easy" it would be for something to steal it but I console myself with the idea that bus drivers tend not to be the oblivious dunderheads that we might think -- they notice who puts a bike on the front rack and who removes one. It's no guarantee that they wouldn't get confused or not pay attention and someone might make off with your bike but I think they would notice.

Sit where you can keep an eye on your bike during loading/unloading times and try to have a little faith in humanity. Make nice with the bus driver after you put your bike on and when you go to take it off and they will remember you.
posted by amanda at 9:51 AM on July 3, 2008

Also console yourself with the fact that thieves tend to steal what is easy to steal, not something in front of dozens of vigilante bus riders. I mean, how cool is your bike?
posted by amanda at 9:52 AM on July 3, 2008

Clip somethign to the front spokes that won't clear the fork, or put a pair of vise-grips on the chain. THen if some schmuck tries to ride off, they'l break their ass. Guaranteed they're not looking for such things.

If you've got disk brakes with relatively big clearance holes, a padlock through one of those holes will stop the bike flat, as well.
posted by notsnot at 9:56 AM on July 3, 2008

The few times I've taken the bus with my bike on the front (not in LA), I've been more worried about not getting run over by the bus driver when unloading my bike.


That being said, rather than put something on that will slow down the load/unload process, I'd follow Calloused_Foot's suggestion- thieves go for low hanging fruit- if there is a day-glo yellow U-lock on your wheels, they'll see they can't just hop on and ride away. Don't lock the bike to the bus rack, just to itself.
posted by ambrosia at 10:00 AM on July 3, 2008

Not sure how the LA bus-bike racks work, but here in Chicago you can actually lock your bike to the rack if you're a little creative. I've never done it just because it's bad form to hold up the bus while you obsess over your bike security, but then I generally am able to stay toward the front and keep an eye on my bike.

A better solution would be to lock your u-lock through one of the wheels and part of the frame. You can do this while you're waiting on the bus - then you just heft your bike on the rack. This way if someone grabs your bike they will not be able to ride off on it, further, just seeing a u-lock should deter anyone from taking your bike.

Lastly, I think your fears are unfounded. Thieves really aren't that daring. It's much easier to steal a bike locked to a parking meter than to risk being id'd by the bus driver and potentially caught and being beat senseless by the bike owner...

Having someone try and steal your bike is worth it if you catch them while they are doing it. *cracks knuckles*
posted by wfrgms at 10:05 AM on July 3, 2008

Not related to your question: but folks always make sure you tell the driver that you're getting your bike as you get off. While I haven't heard stories here in Chicago of thieves stealing bikes off the bus rack, I have heard at least one instance where the bus drove off with the bike before the owner could get around to get it...

This video might help.

At least one person has been killed in Chicago when the bus driver flaked and ran over them while they were trying to get their bike...
posted by wfrgms at 10:08 AM on July 3, 2008

Yeah, lock the front wheel to the downtube, and if they grab your bike they'll at least have to run with it, instead of being able to ride away.

You can also shift to your hardest gear and loosen your rear quick release (if your bike uses quick releases). If they manage to hop on and pedal, the rear wheel will be pulled out of the frame. Of course, this means that if you forget to tighten your quick release before you ride, the same thing will happen to you.

Locking the wheel to the frame seems to be the easiest thing to do. Locking the bike to the rack would definitely be secure, but will add a little time to everyone's commute as you lock and unlock, whereas with the other method you'll lock and unlock before/after you load the bike.

FWIW we have the same racks in Austin, and I've never heard of a bike being stolen. I'm sure someone's tried it, and they've probably been successful, but I've never heard of it.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:10 AM on July 3, 2008

One last thing: you can shift your chain to the inner chain ring and then press it further inward using your fingers while you turn the crank. This will shift it completely off the chain ring and cause the chain to dangle on the bottom bracket shell. This way the bike won't go at all.

I've done this once (and only once) when I was making a beer run and forgot my u-lock. I don't recommend it as a security measure, but it's one further way you can cause a thief to have a "WTF?" moment just before you clothesline him.

Putting the chain back on isn't hard, but this technique will result in dirty fingers...
posted by wfrgms at 10:17 AM on July 3, 2008

My 2 cents. 1. Sit close and watch. 2. Don't worry about it. 3. Lock your bike to itself, wheel to frame or something. That means you won't be slowing the bus getting on (assuming you have a moment to wait) or off. And the odds that someone trying this particular crime is prepared to run away with your bike are low I'd say.
posted by Wood at 10:31 AM on July 3, 2008

you need to uglify your bike. duct tape is your friend. I know a bunch of bike messengers who do this religiously. the less desirable you can make the ride look, the less likely anyone is going to steal it.
posted by krautland at 11:19 AM on July 3, 2008

I've been trying to think about the part where you don't want it to slow you down. I looked around for keyless padlocks that open with a proximity card, but to no avail. I know I always hate fumbling for a key in my pocket, then trying to unlock the lock in whatever position it is, then putting all of those parts back in their respective places. So, I would suggest you get a combination lock of the type that has the four numbers next to each other. Lock it by only changing one of the combo digits. Then, when you're ready to go, it's just a flick of the thumb to unlock it; easy for you but a deterrent to everyone else.

Also, maybe just taking your seat off would give a would-be thief pause.
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 11:43 AM on July 3, 2008

Maybe it's just because I'm new here, but I'm not so worried about bike theft in LA. I think there's a relatively small demand for bikes, so the black-market isn't that hot. All of the bikes that I see on the racks and at meters downtown (including mine) only lock one tire to the rack, and I haven't seen a one-wheeled bike yet. Whereas when I was in Chicago, an un-hobbled bike would be stripped in pretty short order. Ask me how I know!

But other than that, the U-lock to the frame on the front tire is a capital idea. You can do it before the bus gets there, and minimize loading time.
posted by hwyengr at 12:30 PM on July 3, 2008

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