Bicycle security can quickly become quite expensive, so in this article, we provide several affordable ways to improve the security of your bike for little to no cost.
One of the best ways you can improve the security of your bike, whilst controversial, is to make it look as unappealing as possible.
How you achieve this is up to you. You could use stickers and decals, custom parts, or even make alterations to your paintwork if you’re feeling creative!
If the thought of painting your bike or covering it in stickers makes you wince, that’s completely normal, so we’ve got several steps below that’ll better suit you!
Check out the steps below for several low to no-cost ways to improve your bicycle security game.
For anyone in a hurry, here are our five favourite cheap bicycle security improvements from the article below:
- Register your bike on a bicycle database
- Improve your locking technique
- Use a secondary bike lock
- Cover your bike when locking it in public
- Use a Bike Alarm System
Find out more about these steps and plenty of others below to ensure thieves don’t target your bike!
Ways To Improve Your Bicycle Security for Free
Register Your Bike on an Online Bike Database
The three organisations below provide bicycle registration services for cyclists wishing to add their bikes to a bicycle security database.
What does this mean? Well, if your bike was stolen, you can log in and record it as stolen on the database.
You don’t even need to have been registered before the theft occurred. Sign up and enter your bike’s unique serial number, which’ll be added to the stolen bike database.
Police and law enforcement have access to these databases, so if your bike were found by a member of the public or recovered by police, they’d be able to cross-reference with these databases and ultimately return your bike to you.
Of course, not every bike reported as stolen is successfully returned to its owner, but registration is free, providing an additional layer of security for your bike.
There are also marking packs that can be purchased to mark your bike.
These marking packs inform law enforcement officers or members of the public that the bike is registered with a database, increasing the chances of your bike being recovered if stolen.
Project 529 and Bike Index are US-based, and BikeRegister is a UK-based database.
Never Leave Your Bike Unattended Whilst Unlocked
One fatal error many bike theft victims make is leaving their bike unlocked whilst “just popping into the shops” or “quickly going back into the house”.
It takes two seconds for an opportunist thief to walk by and ride off on your bike.
If you’re going into your favourite coffee shop to grab a quick cuppa on your morning ride to work, lock it up.
If you’re bikepacking in the middle of nowhere and have stopped for the night, lock it up.
Improve Your Locking Technique
Improving your locking technique will dramatically decrease the likelihood of your bike being targeted by thieves.
Whatever bike lock you use, always aim to secure as many of your bike’s components as possible.
Start by locking your frame and rear wheel.
These are typically the two most expensive components on any bike and sit at the top of every thief’s wish list.
Remove your front wheel and secure it with your frame and rear wheel if possible, and not too much hassle.
Removing or securing your front wheel is essential if it’s connected with a quick-release skewer.
The image above shows where to place your lock to make this locking method as easy as possible.
Some smaller locks might struggle to lock both wheels, which isn’t a problem. Keep your front wheel in place, and follow this step to address this issue.
Securing your frame and rear wheel (or both wheels) is the most effective locking method, regardless of what lock you’re using and is an excellent way to improve your bike’s security without spending a penny!
Customise Your Bike/ Make It Look Less Appealing
As we briefly covered already, by making your bike less visually appealing, it’s going to stand out to thieves less.
Thieves target bikes that they can sell quickly. If your bike has been personalised, it will take longer to sell and is therefore less desirable to thieves.
Stickers, paint jobs, flowers, tassels, the list goes on.
The stranger your bike looks, the more secure it will be when left unattended.
Lock Your Bike In Safer Areas
There are brazen thieves out there who will steal bikes in broad daylight in central London with an angle-grinder, but these are a small minority.
Most thieves prefer to operate in areas with a reduced public presence, with many thefts happening at night.
When securing your bike away from home, it’s a good idea to lock it in a busy area.
Central areas of towns and cities typically have bike park areas with multiple bike racks for cyclists to use. These are generally high-footfall areas, so police will normally patrol the vicinity.
Additionally, parking your bike around many others reduces the chances of being targeted.
As selfish as it sounds, your bike only needs to be more secure than the one next to it.
Additionally, if you see bikes parked where you’re locking up with missing components, that is a clear sign that thieves target bikes locked there.
It may be better to secure elsewhere; if not, just ensure your components are secure.
If you want to be clever with your lockups, changing the location where you secure your bike each day is a good way of preventing thieves from spotting your bike and coming back to steal it at another point.
Use a Secondary Lock/Cable if Available
If you have a spare lock lying around, put it to use!
Using multiple bike locks is one of the best ways to deter bike theft since this dramatically increases the time it will take for a thief to steal your bike.
Use your spare lock to secure additional components. Use your primary bike lock to secure your frame and rear wheel, then lock your front wheel to your frame with your spare.
As we covered already, wheels and frames are the most expensive components on most bikes.
If you’ve walked around town and spotted the crazy number of abandoned one-wheeled bikes, you’ll understand why securing your wheels is so important!
Affordable Accessories to Level Up Your Bike's Security
Now that you’ve ticked off a few of the free bike security improvements above, here are a few low-cost tweaks you can make to increase the security of your bike.
Don’t feel like you need to follow all of these.
You’ll already be doing more than most cyclists by following the free security improvements above.
However, with bicycle security, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Get a Secondary Lock/Cable
If you don’t already have a spare lock, getting a secondary bike lock is one of the best improvements you can make to the security of your bike.
A secondary bike lock doesn’t have to be as secure as your primary lock.
The better the lock you use, the less appealing your bike will be to thieves.
That said, many cyclists use cheap cable locks as secondary locks for their wheels, which is better than leaving wheels unsecured and an excellent option for those shopping on a tight budget.
Just remember that cable locks offer minimal resistance to the lightest of attacks.
Instead, they serve better as a visual deterrent and help to send thieves looking for an easier target.
Use AirTags or Similar to Monitor the Location of Your Bike
AirTags are an excellent way to monitor your bike’s location; in some cases, they’ve even been used to help recover stolen bikes.
These small Bluetooth-equipped discs are 3cm wide and can easily be hidden on a bike, allowing you to see where it is when it’s near an iPhone or compatible Apple device.
If you want to learn more about AirTag bike tracking, you can learn how these clever devices work in our AirTag Bike Guide.
AirTags are inexpensive and give you extra peace of mind when leaving your bike unattended.
You’ll also want to get a mounting system for your AirTag. If thieves find it, they’ll remove it, so an incognito mounting system is a good choice.
We reviewed the best AirTag bike mounts to save you the hassle.
Otherwise, this article showcases several DIY mounting methods for AirTags which work well.
Invest in a Bike Alarm
Bike alarms have teetered in popularity over the years; the most refined system available at the moment is probably ABUS’ Alarm Box.
This attaches to your bike’s frame and is turned on when leaving your bicycle unattended.
When active, the alarm sounds if the Alarm Box senses movement.
First, a warning tone will ring.
Then, if the disturbance continues, the full 100dB alarm will blast, attracting the attention of anyone nearby and helping to deter opportunist thieves.
Another good way to send thieves looking elsewhere.
It’s not the cheapest suggestion in this list, but it’s a good investment if you want to protect your ride.
Cover Your Bike When Locking It in Public
Covering your bike is a great way is one of the best ways to prevent it from being targeted by thieves.
By using a bike cover, not only will you keep your bike clean and dry, but thieves are also much less likely to target a bike they can’t see.
Technically speaking, a thief could remove the cover from your bike, but they want to raise as little suspicion as possible, so they’re much more likely to ignore it and opt for a more obvious target.
This bike security tip is exceptionally beneficial for cyclists who ride attractive bikes that get second looks from people passing by.
As the old saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind”.
Bike covers are very affordable, and several options pack down small so they won’t take up much room in your backpack.
Use Anti-Theft Skewers and Locking Nuts to Secure Additional Components
We’ve already mentioned that unsecured bike wheels are an attractive and easy target for thieves.
If your bike uses quick-release wheels, you’ll likely understand how quickly these can be removed.
If you frequently lock your bike in public, you’ll want to swap its quick-release skewers for a more secure alternative.
Several brands offer replacement Anti-Theft Skewers.
Some of these are more secure than others, but they’re all designed to prevent unauthorised removal of your wheels.
Additionally, companies like Hexlox offer solutions that allow you to secure the hex bolts on your bike, preventing an Allen key-wielding thief from stripping your bike of its components.
Some of these anti-theft attachments can become pretty expensive, but if you have custom components on your bike, these are a great way of securing them and giving you extra peace of mind.
Get a Better Bike Lock
At BikeLockWiki, we always recommend using bike locks that have been tested by reputable security testing organisations such as Sold Secure or ART.
If you know the make and model of your existing bike lock, you can just search it online and check whether or not it’s been tested by one of these companies.
If your lock hasn’t been rated, it’s worth looking into a new bike lock and then using your old lock as a secondary lock for securing your wheels.
If you’re on a tight budget, we’ve included several top-rated bike locks in our review, covering your best cheap options.
If you’re happy to invest money to bomb-proof your bike’s security, look at these “uncuttable” bike locks.
Use whichever lock is more secure to lock your rear wheel and frame and then the less secure lock to secure your front wheel to your frame.
Summary - Cheap Ways to Improve Your Bike's Security
One fatal error that many cyclists make is leaving their bike unlocked when popping into the shops, etc.
If you take one tip from this article, let it be that you never leave your bike unlocked when you’re away from it.
Whether you’ll be away from it for 20 seconds or five minutes, unlocked bikes are asking to be stolen.
Additionally, using a good quality lock and realising that cable locks aren’t suitable for use as a primary bike lock is another golden nugget in the world of bicycle security.
If you use any interesting methods to improve the security of your bike when away from it that we still need to include in this guide, let us know in the comments below.
We’d love to hear what affordable steps you’re taking to improve the security of your bike!