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So, I've been thinking about security for my new bike, a Surly Big Dummy that I've named Yggdrasill, aka Big Ygg. I thought I'd share my thoughts on security for bicycles, since the theft of bicycles is perhaps the most onerous type of theft, mostly due to the fact that bicycles are almost never recovered. As it says on the sticker on my water bottle "There's a special place in hell for bicycle thieves".

So let's start with a little locking strategy from the late Sheldon Brown (Ride In Peace Sheldon!). If you just want to see a picture of the U-lock scheme, the direct link to Sheldon's picture of a U-lock on his 1916 Mead Ranger is HERE. Sheldon's tips on locking are right-on if you own a U-lock AND a cable lock (I own several locks, including a "mini" lock like the one Sheldon recommends). I've used many locking options in the past and am considering new ones for Big Ygg.

I don't know how long the Pitlock has been around in Germany, but they are only really being sold by Peter White Cycles. I haven't purchased anything from Peter yet, but if I buy a SON hub for the front of Big Ygg, I'm going to get it from Peter. He is the exclusvie importer for several items from Europe and by all accounts, his work is impeccable. The Pitlock looks very nice and since it's built by Germans and Peter White Cycles carries it, it's damn nice stuff. I have no experience with it, but I'm looking for feedback. Anyone?

I've used the PinHead locks that are repackaged by OnGuard on the front and rear skewers and seatpost binder bolt of SuperVato, my stokemonkeyed Xtracycle. It was pointed out to me that they could be defeated with a nail set and hammer (by putting the nail set into the "holes" and hitting it with a hammer to turn it), but that it was unlikely that an opportunistic bike thief would be carrying these tools: only someone who'd been casing my bike for a while would know to bring these tools. Of course, if you just bought up all the different sets of Pinhead locks, you'd have a key for everything. They claim to have "dozens" of different combos, but that's not an actual number. The Pitlocks evidently have 256 different combos, which to me sounds higher than "dozens", but I digress. The hackability of a system is it's vulnerability: someone who can afford to buy up every different set of lock combinations can probably afford the bicycle parts anyways. Sure, they could slowly STEAL the keys over time, but these are far fetched as well. There are 2 ways I can see of defeating the Pitlock. The first would be to use a set of locking needle nose plyers to lock onto the locking nut and then turn it. With certain locking nuts, this might not be possible, which is where the second method could enter. The second method would be to use a material that can be injected like a syrup but that hardens very quickly (like an epoxy) with a method of turning it (maybe deep reach pin spanners?): once the material hardened enough, you could use the handle to turn the lock. I don't know if this would work: would the dimple the pit slots into be too shallow to hold enough of the hardening stuff (let's just CALL it epoxy for brevity's sake) to create the necessary bond needed to open the skewer? I dunno... all these measures are really just to slow thieves down right? The reasoning goes that the harder the theft is, the more likely they'll go for easier bait...

Which brings me to another measure. Use the pitlocks/pinhead locks AND a cable lock on the wheels. How about a cable lock that erupts with noise if it's cut or the lock is tampered with? I found the LockAlarm originally when I was first exploring the Stokemonkey world. I found another user who lives in SF by the name of Bill Manewal and I asked him about the weird lock/alarm on the top tube of his Instigator. He travels around SF a lot for his job on his bike and last time I checked, his bike hasn't been stolen yet! The system locks onto the top tube (or probably in my case, the boom tube or the downtube: I don't know where I'm gonna mount it yet) and can't be removed without setting off the alarm. Picking the lock sets off the alarm and cutting the cable does as well. It's waterproof, so you can't short it out... beating it with a hammer/stick/blunt object is going to draw a lot of attention and it's going to take a lot of abuse before it shuts up, not to mention the fact that it'll still probably be locked. If you have

If you want to be totally overkill, in addition to the previous techniques, use a heavy duty OnGuard Beast 5016 to lock the frame to something that can't move. In the realm of ridiculous, also add a RFID Registry Tag AND a GPS tracking system OR... and I love this idea most of all: hook up a battery and a rheostat to all conductive metal parts of the bike and shock this SHIT out of anyone touching the bike... oh, and add a wireless remote "off" switch for the "electrified" part so you don't have to get close to the bike. I think that electrifying the bike could violate some ordinances, but then again, so does theft :)

Oh, and I found a very interesting article about RFID tags on bicycles: The University of Portsmouth tried out a system designed to reduce/eliminate bike theft. The article is an interesting summary of the system, and I think it's something that could work in urban areas like San Francisco and L.A.

Some simple solutions for improving security on a bicycle which I've seen posted here and there on the interwebs:

-used chain run in a loop through the seat rails and through around the seat stays, seen on Flickr
-hose clamps holding the QR Skewers on the wheels closed (comment from alternately removing the skewers when leaving the bike (cut the lock and you STILL have to carry the bike/wheels away: no rolling away!)
-stickers and detritus added to frames to uglify the bike and reduce theftability (all over the bikewebs...)
-derailing/removing the chain to make pedaling impossible until chain is fixed/replaced.

And the best one (which I attribute to a Harley riding friend of mine by the name of Bill Langhorne):


It's the hardest one to do for most people.

1 comment:

Noah said...

Good post.

I'm a cyclist and an information security guy by day, and a mostly harmless physical security tinkerer by night. Cable locks are to be treated as "just another layer" in the scheme of security. Not only can most be cut easily with stuff a bike thief would likely carry, some can be bypassed altogether.

I can tell you this. At the end of they day, the best locking strategy is to make sure that your bike is the most secure in relationship to other nearby bikes, or that it's the least desirable in relationship to other nearby bikes. Preferably both.

I'm not a bike thief, but with seemingly innocuous tools, I can make most cyclists' nightmare a reality. That means clever thieves can do the same. Tilting the balance of EFFORT AND RISK vs. PAYOFF is your best bet every time.