In the last year, 3 of my friends got their bikes stolen by leaving them "just for a minute" in front of a shop "while watching them through the window".

Nevertheless, sometimes I do the same. Maybe I didn't plan to bring a lock, and need to jump really quick to somewhere. Maybe there is a security guard nearby, or a bank camera. Maybe I am just too lazy to to dig the lock out of the bottom of my backpack, and have exact change to grab a beer. Maybe there is nowhere to lock to in a 100m radius.

My question is how to increase security in these dangerous situations.

A friend shared with me, that he shifts into the lowest gear - that way if someone tries to ride away the bike, it will take him quite some time. On the other hand, something that I do, is lean my backpack against the bike or even strap them together. IMO this makes riding off with the bike a little more difficult, while risking my backpack along with the bike.


Currently, the "derail the chain off the front chainrings" sounds most sane to me, because I can do it with my shoe, without getting oil on my hands. Still, carrying the lock on my waist, under the backpack belt, is the far best solution. Why do I even put it inside the backpack?

  • 6
    How often does 1-2 minutes turn to 4-5 minutes or 5-10 minutes? The "hassle" of locking, at least with a light cable lock, seems well worth it to me.
    – Batman
    Commented Jan 20, 2014 at 16:21
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    Forget all solutions that involve deterring riding your bike away. That's not how they do it. They toss it in a van or truck and drive away, so you're just wasting your money on things that deter riding the bike. Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 4:40
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    @CareyGregory, why don't them inconspicuously ride the bikes away? Using a van exposes the registration plate, which can easily be remembered or recorded by a camera (in contrast to "a guy in grey hoody took my bike"). Furthermore, if the van strategy is utilized, I would guess they target busy bike racks, not single bikes, left in front of a shop.
    – Vorac
    Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 8:35
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    If you live in a place where 3 of your friends have had their bikes swiped by leaving them unlocked for a short time, I would suggest that you just LOCK the bike. The only other alternative is to simply accept that there's a risk it will be ripped off.
    – Angelo
    Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 16:15
  • 2
    Do what bike couriers do, ride a bike no one wants to steal. If you don't want to ride a dunger, looks can be deceptive - camouflage it to look like a real liability...
    – mattnz
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 2:22

10 Answers 10


Firstly, these suggestions are only going to make it slightly harder to ride away with your bike. I've heard the most common thefts involve grabbing the bike or bikes and slinging them into the back of a van, in which case it doesn't make much difference.

But against the casual opportunist/errant kid...

  • Have a QR parts and remove them - saddle, pedals?, bars?
  • I use a small velcro strap to make parking easier. This goes around the bars and pulls on the brake lever on when parking, makes it easy to lean it up against a wall without it wobbling. This might stall someone not expecting it.
  • Derail the chain from the front rings.
  • Best of all, get one of those super-convenient rear wheel/frame locks as below: The most convenient bike lock?

As long as you've got your key with you - some of them stay in the lock when it's unlocked - it's easy. No more excuses!

  • 2
    I'd say the rear lock + light cable lock is the way to go for quick lockups - the cable lock gives you a ton of versatility over a U lock in places to lock to. .
    – Batman
    Commented Jan 20, 2014 at 15:50
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    I keep my cheapo combo chain lock spooled around my top tube, so I pull up somewhere quick and just unspool it around and lock it up. Gives me some peace of mind that I've at least made it more difficult than if I'd done nothing to secure it. Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 17:37
  • Yes, I think there's a big difference between a naff lock and no lock at all. Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 17:54
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    @JamesBradbury: Just had a quick look at Abus frame locks. They weigh at least 500g, up to 680g. For that weight you can almost carry a real, secure U-lock such as the Kryptonite Evolution™ LITE Mini-6 (740g) or Abus Futura 64 (726g). With a frame holder they are slightly less convenient (because you have to take them out of the holder) but if there is anything you can lock your bike to they are much, much more secure.
    – Michael
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 9:28
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    The advantage of ring locks over U-locks is that the ring lock is always there, with the key in when you stop, just takes two seconds and they will not walk with your bike running on its wheels. And if thieves in the area are not used to this kind of lock they will go for an other bike, even when they use a van to transport the bikes.
    – Willeke
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 14:01

I carry a luggage lock with a retractable cable for "just-a-minute" stops on the way home from work. It weighs nothing, is always in my bike bag (unlike a heavy lock) and it prevents the casual theft, although a determined thief could probably break it.

I'm not sure if it is the same brand, but this is very similar to the one I own.

  • I carry this BBB BL-52 small cable lock in my frame bag. It weighs 50g, it’s small, the cable is long and the number code means I can’t lose the key. Of course it’s so weak that probably a LeatherMan multitool pliers would be enough to cut it, but at least you need tools to crack it and can’t just walk away with the bike. So it’s only great for those “right in front of the café” scenarios. Don’t lock your bike with one of those in front of the train station over night and expect it to still be there.
    – Michael
    Commented May 20, 2018 at 7:34
  • In tests of bike locks they rate the locks for the seconds it takes to open them, (by experienced thieves) as non will hold for more than a few minutes at best.
    – Willeke
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 14:03

Just remember one thing, if you can't take the time to properly lock your bike to a fixed object, two people in a pickup truck can stop for a few seconds and pick up your bike and toss it in the back of their truck and be gone before you can get to the front door!

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    Exactly. Bike thieves don't ride your bike away; they toss it in a van or truck and drive away. No mechanism meant to defeat riding it will matter in the least. Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 4:37
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    @CareyGregory It depends on the thief. Where I'm located, lower-end bikes are more often stolen by junkies who ride them off. Maybe vans and trucks are just a US thing? I've never seen or heard of this happening, but it seems like we get reports of someone riding off with a bike pretty frequently. Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 16:18
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    Where I live, single bikes are typically ridden away, but not for the bike's sake, but most often for transportation, regardless of their value. However, bike racks at the university or the station are typically checked methodically for the most valuable bikes, which are then thrown into a van or similar.
    – arne
    Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 7:54

At our local grocery store's bike rack, I see about 5 locks located there by, I assume, people who ride to grab their groceries regularly. That way they don't have to carry their lock with them all the time. Seems like a good idea for somewhere you pedal to regularly.

  • I've seen this too - but the lock was damaged by glue and was unusable. So you rock up to the shop and your lock is not available. Do you go home and get another one or do you risk it ?
    – Criggie
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 3:41

I would reccomend against this. It only takes 10 seconds to hop on a bike and make off. Although some suggestions come to mind

  • purposley derail your chain
  • carry a light, cheap combination lock. It takes a few seconds to fit and is better than nothing. you could store it around your seatpost for easy access
  • tie or put something between your spokes. Though this may damage you bike if an attempt to steal it is made.
  • ask the shop if you can put it inside. (its just the same as a pushchair, only with 2 less and bigger wheels)
  • fit a GPS tracking device inside your frame (this would be an expensive option)
  • carry your front wheel in with you

There are a lot of things you could do that would make it difficult to make a speedy getaway. Anything that would hinder you would also hinder a thief.

  • I've heard a suggestion that you can turn the adjuster screw on your brake(s) to seat the pads against the rim, preventing the wheels from turning. Requires the pads to be close enough to adjust them to grab the rim, but it would slow the thief down (but maybe not for long). Similarly, you can use the velcro strap from your gloves to squeeze the brake lever, but this seems like it would be too easily defeated since it's so easily seen. But since bikes are easily carried away, the best thing to do is to lock the bike properly.
    – Johnny
    Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 21:00
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    Taking the front wheel off seems like more work than locking up the bike.
    – Wadelp
    Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 21:53
  • @Wadelp I'd imagine it is. I was providing a number of suggestions.
    – Mark W
    Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 11:33

Simplest answer is best - don't do that

If you can't trust the environment, don't leave it unattended at all. This is much easier when you're not alone and half of the group can watch bikes while the other half go buy coffees.

If you're alone, plan ahead and take your lock or do without the coffee.

  • 3
    Carry the lock on the bike and you'll always have it with you. If even carrying your keys is too much hassle get a combination lock.
    – Chris H
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 6:42

I fasten my helmet though the rear wheel on the side it is most difficult to access it from. Thus making it harder to just try pushing the bike as you pass by.

For a more extended stop I remove the front skewer so you can not safely ride off on the bike.


One thing you could do, which is quickie 5-min safe "lock" for those who don't always have real lock handy:

Use a snowboard lock. I have one that is about the size of a pack of cigarette, not much heavier either. It's got a thin loop cable that's about 60-80 cm long (2-3 ft) and uses a 3 digit combo lock.

You could easily put it in a pocket. I really, really, would not trust it in a big city like mine for more than 10 minutes. But I have taken it on solo multi-day cycling trips on backcountry roads where I didn't want to lug my heavy regular lock but wanted to be able to go into a cafe and use the bathrooms.


Some ideas:

  • Keep the lock handy (as opposed to the bottom of your backpack), preferrably on the bike itself. A chain lock can be wrapped around the saddle post a few times, then closed. D-shackle or folding locks often come with frame mounts.
  • Get a frame lock which come with an extra chain, so you can lock the bike to another object, in addition to immobilizing it.
  • Get a second lock that’s lighter, more flexible or whatever it is that keeps you from using your usual lock.

Also consider:

  • Thieves may be looking out for people who are leaving their bike “just for two minutes” and snatch the bike just as you’ve turned your back on it—the likelihood of theft is highest just after you’ve waked away from your bike.
  • Main risk factors are the general risk of bike theft in your area, as well as how attractive your bike is to a would-be thief (and possibly, what other options, i.e. more valuable and/or less secured bikes, are found nearby).
  • The security level of a lock is measured by how long it can withstand an attempt to break it. A lock that takes a thief five minutes to break may be sufficient if you are sure to be back in two minutes, but not for leaving the bike overnight.

If you really don't want to carry a lock with you, and you are sure there are not many dedicated thiefs in the area you are riding, then here are some tips.

Some of them can also be used in combination with a lock, if you need to leave the bike for longer.

1. Some brake levers have a screw which you can tighten to lock the brakes. It will cost you ~1min in total to take your multitool out and screw + unscrew them. And it can delay the thief ~5 seconds if he decides to cut the brake cables (unlikely), ~30 seconds if he unscrews, or ~3 to 10 minutes if he's not very bright and struggles to figure out why the wheels are locked. It will also make it harder to steal a wheel, and make the next tip more effective.

brake lever screw

2. If there's a thin enough and properly positioned metallic structure nearby you can take a wheel off, put the fork/chainstays around the structure, put the wheel back, and then lock the brakes with the screws. Now there's a metal bar between the frame and the wheel. These combined with the next tip will make it more difficult for a thief to successfully follow his theft plan.

space between fork and wheel

Example of thin metallic structure (some fences or pipes can work too):

this metallic structure

3. Install a motion sensitive bike alarm under the saddle or in a somewhat hidden place and activate it before going in. Thief will get scared, you will get alarmed.

bicycle alarm

4. You can loosen the stem bolt(s) and rotate the handlebars 90°. It will cost you (and delay the thief) ~30 seconds.

rotated handlebars

5. Print some stickers saying "GPS TRACKED BICYCLE" even if it's not GPS tracked. Put them somewhere visible.

gps stickers

6. If possible park the bike facing the other way a thief would ride it off. This will delay ~3 seconds.

7. Flip the bike upside down. It will delay ~3 seconds, or may make the thief believe it's broken, not worth stealing.

8. Park close to where you will be, and make sure the bicycle is in your sight all the time.

9. If you hear a car stopping, head outside, make sure no one is lifting your bike into the car.

10. Carry some pepper spray with you. Even if you manage to catch a thief riding off with your bike, you might need to fight him to regain the bike. It will also help him hang around for a while untill the police arrives. And it's useful against dogs too.


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