Is it safer to leave a bike somewhere where there are a lot of people like Walmart parking lot or somewhere with less people like at a park?

Locked in both cases but which case is more likely to get stolen?

  • 2
    Your location is important. Where I am in Vancouver, thieves really don’t give a crap about publicity. Bikes get stolen off of racks on buses waiting at red lights all the time. Full daytime angle grinding is common too.
    – MaplePanda
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 14:36

6 Answers 6


The question is about crowds of people, but I'll answer from another perspective, dealing with crowds of bikes. I'd say you're better off locking your bike up in a location that has many other bikes nearby, rather than locking up in a location where your bike is the only one. First of all, crowded bike stands tend to be where lots of people are, so you get some protection from the crowd itself. The location is also obviously popular with other bike riders, so the incidence of someone who'd actually notice something amiss at the bike stand is likely higher. Finally, you typically get protection from the other bikes as well - no lock is impenetrable to a determined thief, but so long as your lock is better than the one on the bike next to yours, you'll be a less attractive target for theft. A crowded bike rack presents options for a thief, so as long as you're not the lowest hanging fruit with a poorly secured, expensive bike, you'll be a less likely target.

  • 4
    A caveat: in some spots, thieves can (and have) come with a truck, cut/unbolt the rack, and just take all the bikes with their locks at the same time. Fortunately it's not feasible with every type of rack.
    – Luris
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 23:26
  • Back when I was in college in Boston, I always tried to lock my bike with a top quality lock next to a better bike then mine. I figured if they were going to go through the effort to steal the bike they would take the better bike.
    – Eric S
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 1:10

A well locked bike is relatively* safer in a crowded place.

According to markelinsurance.com in "Bicycle Theft in the U.S."
In the section "6 easy ways to help prevent bicycle theft"

  1. Lock it in a high-traffic area. Cyclists shouldn’t just look for a well-lit area to secure their bike. Ideally, a bike should be locked in an area with a constant flow of people walking by so a person attempting to steal a bike would be noticed quickly.

Number 4 must go with the first three which are:

  1. Purchase a good lock
  2. Always lock the bike
  3. Secure the frame

If a thief acts like the owner of an unlocked bike a crowd won't keep the bike safe. Sawing through a good lock on an appropriately locked bike will attract more attention than an appropriately locked bike in isolation.

*"Relatively" is the key word in this sentence. Neither a well locked bike with no people around nor a bike in a crowd is safe - there is no such thing as "safe".
If a thief is stealing a bike in a well populated area there is a non-zero chance that someone will intervene.
If a thief is stealing a bike in a non-populated area there is zero chance that someone will intervene.


In a remote area, you'll give more opportunity to a thief to make their work unnoticed.

In a crowded area, it depends on how you secure your bike. If it's a bad lock, it can be defeated quite quickly and discretely by an experienced thief. If it's a good lock (and you attach the key components of the bike), maybe you'll deter unequipped thieves, but some thieves won't care about being noticed: they count on the fact they can do their work faster than the arrival time of law enforcement, assuming that someone will call.

So I would say, it less unsafe to leave a bike in a crowded place but it shouldn't be considered safe. That's about theft risk. In less crowded areas, the vandalism risk is much higher.

The key aspect for me to evaluate the risk of a bike being stolen is rather: is it worth the effort for a thief? A fancy bike in front of a Walmart might be worth the risk while a crappy bike in a park might not interest anyone, except those who will 'borrow' the bike for a journey (those are more likely to be discouraged by a good lock).


From personal experience, passers by don't provide any protection. My son (and his friends) went out for the day drinking at various pubs along the river. At the last stop they locked several bikes to the railings with one cable lock that the owner didn't realise he no longer had a key for having dropped it in the river when he rode in to the river earlier in the day. I came along with tools and smashed the lock apart... by the side of a busy footpath and right outside a busy pub and 200M from the main city police station, mid afternoon on a Saturday. And no one even paid attention to a few minutes of vandalism while breaking the lock apart.

Your best bet is lock the bike up in an area with lots of bikes. Use a better bike lock than everyone else. Make your bike look worse than everyone else's. Put a grubby carrier bag over the seat, if you can bear it get the frame dirty (mud is good) and get the brightwork un-bright.

  • Lol I was thinking putting duck tape on my frame to make it ugly
    – Lightsout
    Commented Sep 1, 2021 at 20:30
  • 1
    Google the bystander effect in psychology - this is pretty much consistent with the contention that passers by often won't notice or pay attention to someone picking a lock in a crowd.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Commented Sep 5, 2021 at 14:32
  • 1
    While at university I lost my bike lock key twice. I cut them both times with a sawblade wrapped in paper instead of handle. First time was in a high traffic location. Second time was just outside the security booth. The guard approached me ... and offered to hold the lock while I saw through it!
    – Vorac
    Commented Sep 7, 2021 at 2:33
  • Thanks for backing up my answer with a real-world experience!
    – FreeMan
    Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 15:25

You give a lot of credit to random people in crowded places to notice unusual things. Often times bike racks (if they're actually provided) are out of the way and won't be noticed by the average Joe coming or going.

Your best hope is that that bike rack is in a place covered by the security cameras and you can convince the management to show the video to the cops so they can identify who took the bike.

</pessimist mode>

  • While I agree with your pessimist mode, there are still relatively more or less safe modes. I.e., it's more safe to keep the bike in your home's basement than in your locked garage than in your unlocked garage and so on, all the way to leaving it unlocked in a dark alley. At the same time that there is no ultimate safety whatsoever, it still makes sense to get a feeling for which of two bad alternatives is the less bad.
    – AnoE
    Commented Sep 1, 2021 at 8:18
  • 1
    Related to public thievery but not specifically to bicycles, in Houston the thieves are sawing off catalytic converters from cars parked at Home Depot, Walmart, CVS, ... They don't care who sees them anymore. It takes seconds, they're driving stolen cars with temporary paper license plates, and they know the understaffed, overworked cops are likely not going to bother tracking down criminals who didn't kill or injure anyone.
    – shoover
    Commented Sep 1, 2021 at 17:30

I'm pretty sure there won't be reliable statistics for this, so all evidence will be anecdotal. That said, judging from this video, bike thieves really need to go out of their way to attract anyone's attention.

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