"Uglify your bike" was mentioned here as a theft deterrent.

I have a 20102009 Canondale F3 and I'm thinking about locking it up in Manhattan from time to time. I think that Uglifying will help.

enter image description here

How should one best uglify a bike? How would you do this without disassembling the bike? Would spray paint stick to the current paintjob, or would I need to use paint remover or to sand the current paint off? What about the components? I don't want to ruin the bike in the process of trying to keep it, but I would prefer not to remove all components and cables, etc.

Note: I know that having another beater bike and other options are great, but I'm trying to figure out how to ride my bike and keep it from being stolen (or even looked at).

Edit: I've removed a part on "Does anyone have any evidence that uglyfying does or does not work..." It's now here.

  • 3
    First thing to do is to just get it plenty dirty. Mar 24, 2012 at 16:37
  • bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/2711/re-painting-rims one part of it... Mar 24, 2012 at 16:58
  • @freiheit I did that. My edits to both questions are okay, but now some of the answers to the current question need adjusting. I don't have edit privileges here. Mar 25, 2012 at 13:59
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    Looking at pictures of the F3 I think you might as well forget about it. The thing just looks like an "urban assault vehicle", with the funky "knife" instead of a fork, and the disk brakes, and the basic frame geometry. Very hard to disguise. Jun 1, 2012 at 0:14
  • 2
    Without the funny fork you have ghost of a chance. But the disk brakes are still a red flag waving. Jun 1, 2012 at 3:02

5 Answers 5


The first thing is to note that vibrant, brightly-colored objects are by nature more attention-getting, so I hope your bike is not bright red, light orange, yellow or bright green. I have noted that gray bikes are less noticeable and even hard to see in some conditions. Dark blue, dark gray, pale or dusty white, and brown are also favorable colors to make a bike less noticeable.

I have seen many bikers disguising their machines by wrapping the frame, or parts of it using duct tape. Some types of duct tape are less shiny than others, and some have a rather weak adhesive that won't be too hard to remove. The advantage of duct tape is that being skillful, you don't need to take apart the bike.

With bikes that have straight tubes, you can find some PVC leftover piping that you can cut lengthwise in order to make a sleeve to be inserted around tubes. Depending on the pipe fitting it can even look very cool, but the point is, PVC is very easy to paint with spray paint or many other types, so you can "uglyfy" the pipe as much as you want, but you can remove it from your bike if you want. Having more patience you can make covers for the joints in the frame and make the PVC piping fit really well so it won't be obvious that it has a cover.

As for the components, you can cover then with a lot of materials, for example I use a sleeve made out of old inner tubes to wrap the crank arms, held in place with zip ties. I made that for protection actually, but it cleverly covers also the brand name tag. This very same technique can be used in chain stays, seat tube, handlebars hubs and even brake or shifter levers. Just make sure that the tube isn't "too black" nor shiny. This material can be almost invisible in twilight conditions and cluttered environments, so almost any other bike will drag more attention than yours.

For other components, like derailleurs, shifters, levers, I would recommend to partially cover them with "hot glue" and let the glue become dirty. The hot glue won't stick too hard on metal, so it will be easily removable. There are transparent and non transparent types, I recommend the latter as it disguises branding better. Use it wisely to cover badges and the like, but don't make it get into pivots or anything. You can stain the glue with black oil, grease or dirt making it look even uglier. You can add dirt and dust when the glue is still warm.

I give this advise based on experience and what I've seen other riders do in my city. I use some of these tricks, not all of them. I personally commute on a dark blue bike that is not so shiny, and most my components are matte black or matte gray and generic (so I don't have brand badges to cover). I have left the bike unlocked among a lot of motorcycles at my workplace and nothing has happened to it without making it look like trash ;) but I can assure you that this bike is hard to see, to the point that to myself, when I'm approaching the parking lot it's hard for me to find it from a distance, even knowing where it is!

Finally a note of advice on safety: Disguising your bike and making it less noticeable is dangerous in traffic, so make sure you use bright of reflecting clothes, reflective straps on ankles, elbows, wrists, etc, a bright helmet, a bright backpack or whatever you find useful, so you are easily seen by drivers and pedestrians! You can attach the blinking lights to your backpack instead of the bike, as long as they are correctly positioned and oriented, they will serve their purpose.

Good luck with your project!


I did it in what I consider a "perfect" way: sticking LOTS of reflective stickers (home made) covering every logo on the bike. Of course it is just a part of the uglification program (others include never washing the paintjob, and strapping any new stuff on the bike with duct tape, tube rubber strips or bread bag ties).

It works three ways:

  1. The logos get hidden, so anyone would look at a fancy bike and see just a regular bike;
  2. You get extra-safety, because your bike is way more visible at night;
  3. A bike looking too much as a vehicle, or as a bike that is seriously ridden, gives the impression that is beaten instead of "manicured", so thieves might not be so interested.

And as a benefit, you keep the original stickers and paintjob protected under the reflective material (in the other hand, I could never get the refectives out, they are REALLY sticky...).

This photo shows some of this reflection. In really dark conditions, it makes a lot of difference. (I'm the guy on the left):

enter image description here

  • I do the same. Self adhesive reflective tape is quite cheap and readily available (your LBS or marine supply shop). And it helps with visibility.
    – Kohi
    Mar 26, 2012 at 3:38
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    Some State Department of transportation staff will give out their scraps. This is 10x more reflective than anything i have seen out there.
    – Matt Adams
    Aug 8, 2012 at 22:35

I saw these stickers, and I like the idea. Makes your bike look beat up without doing any permanent damage. Should help if you plan on reselling you bike and upgrading in a few years.

  • Those are interesting, and might be fairly effective, if they stick well. Aug 12, 2012 at 2:25
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    awesome, and the artist obviously has a great sense of humor too. Aug 12, 2012 at 13:06

My dad did that when I was a kid, and lived in a more "interesting" city.

He pulled everything off, taped over moving parts, sanded it a bit, sprayed it with undercoat paint, and put it back together.

No need to stress about doing a good job... It's not meant to look pretty. We were Ina coastal city, and from a distance the paint job looked like rust (as if it had been in sea air for years).

Of course, the bike lost a lot of value... But we never sold it anyway. Kept it in the family for years, always properly maintained, until eventually it wasn't fixable (and not sellable either). A good bike doesn't need to be sold in my opinion.


Unfortunately, last years uglifying tricks can become next year's hipster appeal so don't just focus on making it ugly. Focus on making it harder to sell.

Changing the look of your frame won't stop people stealing it to sell the components, so you need to first make sure it's not obvious which of your components are top-of-the-line. Duct tape over "Dura-Ace" can help here and placed properly won't stop the components from functioning. This won't fool a close inspection, but it will prevent "window shopping".

A bike thief knows that his buyer wants to be able to plausibly deny that he knew he was receiving stolen goods. Once you've obfuscated your components, anything you can do to make that harder to plausibly deny, reduces the value to a thief. If you have some flexible stencils or sticky letters, you can always put "Property of [your name] at [your street number]" and "Not for sale" on the top tube.

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