Bicycling is excellent transportation.
It’s good for the environment, good exercise, and just plain fun. If you have committed to riding your bike everywhere, you are going to find yourself in moments where you just can’t find a safe place to park your bike.
Cities and towns are trying to encourage ridership by building more racks and corrals, but that doesn’t mean you will always have an approved place to lock your bike.
In some communities, you can lock your bike to a signpost, lamppost, or city property (provided the bike is out of the way). Check your local laws and lock your bike to something tall and sturdy that can’t be cut or dismantled. As a last resort, disable the bike or hide it.
Don’t despair, and don’t stop riding! Read on for some ideas on how to keep your bike safe without a rack.
Lock Your Bike To Something Sturdy
Depending on where you live, “something sturdy” may mean a signpost, a lamppost, a public bench, or a city fence (provided your bike’s out of the way and doesn’t block important signage or emergency exits).
Communities vary on this, however, so always check the local rules to bake sure your bike isn’t impounded, and its owner doesn’t get slapped with a fine.
Parking meters, fire hydrants, safety railings, and trees are far from not ideal choices for locking your bike. Many communities will levy fines for bikes parked in these areas, as they may pose a safety hazard.
As a general rule, you want to make sure that whatever you choose to lock to is tall enough so that the thief can’t lift the bike over it. Also, it must be anchored to the ground and be too much of a hassle to cut through, dismantle, or bend.
For example, chain link and wood fences can easily be cut—and scaffolding can be unbolted. Trees can also be cut (and, on top of that, bike locks can hurt them).
Lock Your Bike Properly
If you don’t have anything to lock your bike to, you will have to rely on locks alone. Here are some tips for locking your bike (whether you have a rack to lock to or not).
A bike lock always needs to go through the frame and rear wheel of your bike. Try to avoid putting the lock around the top tube—use the lower tube or the seat tube instead.
You can remove the front wheel and secure it alongside the back wheel if your lock allows.
Even better, especially if you don’t have anything to lock to, use two locks. You can use two different U-locks to lock each wheel to the frame, which will disable both wheels.
You can also use a chain lock and a u-lock to do the same thing. This way, a thief will have to break two different types of locks to steal your bike.
Another option is to affix the rear wheel to the frame with a U-lock and use a cable lock to secure the front tire to the U-lock. Keep in mind that cable locks can be easily cut with bolt cutters and offer very little protection.
Always lock your bike with the lock facing down toward the ground, so thieves cannot tamper with the lock. Try to put the lock in a place that will be awkward for thieves to reach, or will make it obvious someone is trying to tamper with the lock.
Make sure your lock is not close to the ground. (Locks can be more easily broken with a hammer against the ground if they’re too close to it.)
Last but not least, make sure there’s as little wiggle room in your lock as can be. Wrap the chain around a few times if needed, and try to secure a U-lock without wiggle room where a thief could insert a crowbar.
Disable Your Bike
This tip isn’t always very practical, but it helps to make your bicycle significantly less attractive to thieves.
If there are removable parts of your bike—the seat, seat post, or front wheel—take those pieces with you so that the bike cannot be ridden away. Obviously, you won’t be doing that at conference or job interview!
Basically, do anything that makes your bike more difficult and more conspicuous to steal; it will make it less of a target as a thief will always try to lift the easiest bike.
You can loosen the chain (if you feel confident that you can reattach it, and maybe have some handi wipes to clean up with after).
Anything that a thief will have to work on will help. String, bungee cords, rope, whatever.
Choose a Safe Location
Situational awareness of key.
Whenever you’re locking your bike, take a good hard look at your surroundings. Try to find a place that’s well-lit, with lots of pedestrian, bicycle traffic, and/or road traffic.
Hide your bike among other bikes if you can (especially if they are nicer or appear easier to steal!). Try to park it in front of security guards, doormen, traffic cops, parking garage attendants, CCTV cameras, apartment buildings.
Don’t park your bike near a train station or other place where thieves can make a quick getaway. Another tip is not to leave your bike in the same location every time. It’s not unusual for thieves to steal from the same spot and, in the process, stalk the habits of target bikes’ owners.
It is worthwhile to do a quick search for bike parking before setting out. This way you will know what locks to bring, or whether you will have to improvise parking. In many towns and cities this can be done online.
Hide Your Bike
If you don’t have a lock, or if you can lock your wheels but you don’t have anything to lock the bike to, you might want to see if there is a place you can hide a bike. This might be in tall grass or bushes, or behind cars that won’t be moved.
That being said, you don’t want to put your bike in a dark alley where thieves have lots of privacy to work on your lock (or lift the bike). If you’re a people person, try to ask a security guard at an office building if you could temporarily leave your bike in the garage.
Make sure you take any removable parts with you if you can’t lock them down, or disable the bike so that thieves can’t roll it away.
There’s joke that says the type of bike that is most frequently stolen is the one without a lock. If you can, lock your bike to something sturdy, tall, and immoveable, as allowed in your community.
If you can’t lock to something, make your bike really hard to steal. Lock the wheels, disable it, hide it, ask a friend to watch it. With a little vigilance, you can keep riding everywhere.