It was only a couple months ago that I was at many locations around town, particularly parts of Santa Monica outside the downtown region.
I am happy to report that this is quickly being addressed with the installation of a lot of new bike racks. It seems almost every day I’ve been out riding in the past week I spot a new bike rack that wasn’t there before.
A new design has started in Santa Monica that is a little more functional than the silver bollard racks used primarily in downtown. With two points of contact on the new racks, it is much easier to balance the bike against it without falling over, and the heavily rubberized coating reduces the chance of scuffing your paint job—nice touch.
Now that many businesses that were not previously served by bike racks finally have them, I highly encourage people to go out and make good use of them. There are too many new places with bike racks for me to mention them all, but I was glad to see the corner of Broadway Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard, with Swingers Diner and Bay Cities Deli, now served by about six or seven racks that can secure two bikes each.
The more it can be demonstrated that bicycling can give a boost to local businesses, the more seriously I believe considerations will be made for bicyclists, not just for more bike racks, but for making the case for better bike routes as well.
Having new bike racks is great, but equally important to having a secure object to attach a bike is to know how to lock a bike properly to discourage theft. Despite all the high-minded notions about buying a bike and reaping the health, social and environmental benefits it offers, it won’t do any good when it get stolen a week later. I know people whom this has happened to.
Bike theft is a problem in Santa Monica and throughout the Los Angeles region, but frankly when I’m out around town, I see a lot of poor locking going on, making for bikes that are prime targets for an easy steal.
Cable locks are inherently not very secure because they can be cut quickly and easily within seconds, but even worse is attaching a cable lock to an object that the cable can be lifted over. I’ve seen on more than one occasion a bike with a cable wrapped around a parking meter. All a thief has to do to steal the bike is lift it up and over and be gone, no tools or bolt cutter required.
So how do you best secure a bike? For me this is a contextual question that depends on how long my bike will be parked, where it is parked relative to my own line of sight or witnesses and how paranoid I am about an area based on the vibe or stories I’ve heard. If I’m going to leave the bike unattended for an extended period of time in locations known for bike theft, like spending a day at the beach, or going out to the movies, I do a more complete lockup. If I’m grabbing a quick sandwich at the co-op deli during lunch, I’m a little more casual with the locking.
Regardless of context, no matter how brief a trip, at a minimum I always attach the frame to a secure bike rack or other heavy secure object with a u-lock. I usually carry a small one that is easy to fit in bags or even a back pocket. It is important to always attach a lock to the frame, the most valuable part of a bike. If you lock only the wheel, a thief just has to remove the attached wheel, and can take off with the rest of the bike.
Never step away from a bike without locking it, even if it’s going to be unattended for just a second. I can’t count how many stories I’ve heard of people losing bikes that were not locked at all while the person stepped away for “just a second.” Usually I attach with a u-lock to a parking meter if no bike racks are around because they are very solid, and the meter head is too wide to slip a u-lock over.
Keep in mind that if you attach a bike to an object weaker than your lock, a thief may cut the object instead. To get at a valuable bike, thieves have cut down some types of roadside signs, which often have hollow aluminum posts that are easy to saw through. It’s also a good idea to unclip any lights and bring them with you, especially if they are good ones.
Once the frame is locked, whether I go further depends on the type of trip. For a more complete lockup, which I usually do when going for a movie, I add a steel coil into the mix. I loop the coil through the u-lock and both wheels because bike thieves can take just the wheels.
If I’m feeling really paranoid, and will be leaving the bike out for a long time, I also have a thin small coil that I loop through the rails of the saddle. Seats and seat posts don’t typically have a ton of resale value, but thieves take them, too. Once I lost a saddle and seat post to a bike thief in Venice Beach. Thankfully due to diligence with locking, that is the most I’ve ever lost off a bike despite riding on a daily basis.
For the maximum in security, the next step up from a u-lock is a heavy reinforced steel chain with a fat disk lock, like those used to secure motorcycles and scooters. I have such a lock, but it is quite heavy, and I use it rarely. These kinds of locks are especially popular in New York City, which is usually No. 1 for bike theft in lock maker Kryptonite’s annual ranking of bike theft.
For most folks, for most trips, 15 pounds of chain and disk lock is probably a little overkill but if you really want to keep your bike, at the very least have a u-lock and always attach it to the frame. I read a lot of local cycling blogs and forums and have heard countless stories of bike theft. In nearly every case I’ve heard, the bike that was stolen was not locked, or locked only with a cable.
There is a saying that if you are at a camp and a bear attacks, you don’t have to be faster than the bear, you only have to be faster than the slowest camper. This is true of bike locking as well. To keep your bike from being stolen, it is not always necessary to have the highest possible security, but if your bike is at least more secure than the bike parked next to you, thieves will typically go for the easier target.
You should also take note of your bike’s model and serial number, and input this information into an online database such as Bike Shepherd. As a last line of defense, if your bike is stolen and is recovered by police, having your bike properly registered will allow your bike to be returned. Stolen bikes recovered in busts are often not able to find their way to the rightful owners because police do not have the information necessary.
So go ride and take advantage of the new bike racks, but lock it up right so you have a ride home.