There’s a lot to consider when you leave your bike locked up outside.
First of all, you’re leaving it in a public area where thieves might be lurking, so your bike can get stolen. Second, the bike can corrode and rust in the rain and snow. The lock can seize up in bad weather and the tires will go flat in a few days.
How long you can leave your bike locked depends on a few factors. If you have a thin lock or live in a high-crime area, don’t leave it outside for too long or it can get stolen. If you have a thick lock, you don’t leave it outside for more than a few days at a time, especially in bad weather.
That’s why we thought we’d walk you through exactly how long you should leave your bike locked—and the things to keep in mind so you do not have to worry while you’re away.
Do the Laws in Your Area Set a Time Limit for Parking Bikes?
Some communities have laws that prevent your bike from being locked up in a public area for too long.
You may be able to leave it out for a day or two. Any longer than that, though, and you run the risk of your lock being broken by the police and your bike getting impounded. And yes, you will have to pay a hefty fine to get it back!
Before leaving your bike locked up for more than a couple of days, look into the laws of where you live (or where you’re traveling to). Quite a few cyclists have fallen foul of this. When in doubt, check the following places to find out bicycle-related regulations:
- Local government websites
- Parking authorities and parking ticket services
- Ask around in local bicycle shops
- Forums and/or Tripadvisor
In most cases, the laws are only there to prohibit you from blocking sidewalks, fire hydrants, etc. Although, if the laws are in place, we still won’t risk it.
How Safe Is the Area?
It’s fair to say that there are some places where it’s safer to leave your bike locked up than others.
The worst places to park your bike are on a street or in a side alley with little to no pedestrian traffic, where a thief can work the lock at his leisure, as well as in higher-theft areas such as near a central station or in a bad part of town.
Now, don’t get us wrong:
As long as you lock your bike properly—with one thick, sturdy, and pricy lock for each wheel—the chances of somebody whipping your bike away are slim. Still, it’s harder to steal a properly-locked bike in a low-theft, high-vigilance area than it is in a crime-laden neighbourhood where nobody cares if they see a thief with bolt cutters.
Situational awareness is key.
Look around. Are any parking machines on the street? Any security cameras on buildings pointed at your bike? Do you see any residential buildings with doormen or offices with security guards at the entrance nearby? Is the area where you’re leaving your bike locked up close to a police station?
Even if your bicycle does get stolen, which can happen to anyone, if you’ve gone through the extra effort to register your bike at an online bike registry, the police will know who to call in case they recover it.
Honestly, if you are not familiar with an area, we wouldn’t really recommend leaving your bike locked up for more than a few hours. We certainly wouldn’t leave it locked up overnight, or any longer than that.
How Secure Is Your Bike Lock?
There are two things to consider here:
Firstly, a quality lock will be resistant to weathering. Trust us, you don’t want your lock to freeze, thaw out, then rust and seize up on you by the time you’re back from your vacay or business trip.
In an ideal world, you would purchase a quality U-Lock with a plastic cap over the keyhole.
This will prevent the elements from getting into the lock. Exposed keyholes are a bad thing as far as locks are concerned. Cable locks also run the risk of rusting shut, although that is very much a long-term thing.
Beyond this, you will need to consider whether the lock is easy to break.
All locks can be broken with the right tools. However, if you purchase a cheaper lock, you are at a greater risk of theft than if you opted for something a little more substantial.
Again, we would highly recommend that you pick up a quality U-Lock here, although a quality armored cable lock or a heavy steel chain lock would also give thieves a hard time. Thickness is key; thick-bodied locks are hard, and sometimes impossible, to cut without causing too much noise.
If you have a quality lock in place, you may be able to keep the bike locked up for a couple of days to a week without any issues. Obviously, we cannot guarantee you that the bike won’t get stolen. That is always going to be a risk.
However, the tougher the bike lock, the less likely that is to happen.
What’s the Weather Going to Be Like?
The bike lock you are using won’t be the problem in many cases. A quality bike lock is tough, but not impossible, to break. A quality bike lock will also put up with the weather conditions fairly well. It may take years for there to be any significant damage.
Your bike is going to be the issue.
When your bike is out there in the elements, it will be exposed to wind, rain, and sun. All of these will have a detrimental impact on the bike. They can cause your bike to rust.
Leaving your bike locked up outside shouldn’t be too much of an issue if it will be a few days at a time. Even the harshest of winds and rain won’t get to work that quick on your bike. Although, you will want to make sure that you give everything a good wipe down with a cloth to dry it off.
However, once you start leaving your bike locked up outside for a week or two, you will notice that small pockets of corrosion and rust start to appear on the bike. The paint on the frame starts to peel. The fabric on the seat thins out.
Last but not least, the tires will go flat from sitting. Air permeates through the rubber in your tubes and tires, and your bike’s tires will go completely flat within a few days of sitting. So don’t forget to bring a bike pump with you.
You probably got the idea, but we wouldn’t recommend that you leave your bike locked up at all.
If you have a good lock, you may be able to get away with locking your bike up outside for a couple of days. However, your bike will soon start to feel the force of the elements if you go much beyond this.
Related: The Best Locks to Keep Your Bike Safe
Because of this, we recommend that the bike is kept inside—in the garage, in the apartment building, in a specialized bike storage facility or a self-storage locker—as much as possible. If it’s inside, you can lock it up for as long as you like, safely.