How Do Bike Thieves Work & What Do They Look For?

Bike theft is and has always been an issue. In this short informative article, we will cover the many ways which bike thieves work and what you can do to combat their methods.

Hopefully, you’ve come here to learn how to increase the security of your bike whilst it’s locked. But if you’re unlucky enough to have had your bike stolen already, then take a read of what to do if your bike is stolen

These tips will greatly increase your chances of getting your beloved bicycle back! If you know that your bike lock is poor quality, consider getting a stronger, more secure lock. I’ve included a comparison table of some great quality cheap bike locks towards the end of this article. 

Otherwise, get yourself comfortable, and get ready to improve your bicycle security skills by implementing my top tips below!

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    How Do Bike Thieves Work?

    Who’s Trying to Steal My Bike?

    Bike thieves don’t have to be big scary men that go around at night with balaclavas on. In fact, just about anyone could steal a bike! All a thief needs is enough time and the necessary tools. Then before you know it, they’ll be gone along with your bike! 

    Broadly speaking, bike thieves fall into two categories. First of all, we have the opportunist. The opportunist is the most common type of bike thief and can be found almost everywhere.

    An opportunist bike thief doesn’t necessarily carry any tools, or have any knowledge of how to steal a bike. 

    Anyone desperate enough can be an opportunist bike thief, but most thieves have stolen more than once so they may be carrying basic equipment such as wire cutters or a very small pair of bolt croppers.

    Bicycle Cable Lock
    Avoiding cheap, low quality bike locks is one of the best ways to prevent your bike from being stolen.

    The second type of bike thief is a professional. Professional thieves steal for a living and normally carry tools with them that they use to steal bikes.

    Professional thieves steal for a living, which means they know what they’re doing, and it’s more than likely that they are carrying good quality tools. Normally, professional thieves will carry power tools, hydraulic jacks and large bolt croppers.

    Professional thieves target any bikes, but of course, they prefer ones that aren’t secured properly. If a professional thief has enough time, they will be able to remove almost any bike lock out there. 

    Your best bet is following my step by step guide and learning how to secure your bike properly

    What Do Bike Thieves Look For?

    Bike thieves are looking for a quick getaway. So will target bikes that are secured with combination locks or other cheap flimsy-looking bike locks. They will settle for any bike, it doesn’t even have to be expensive-looking.

    It’s unlikely that their tools will be able to defeat one of these, and the chances are they will spot your bike lock and move onto an easier target.

    Watch a professional thief in action in the video below!

    Bike stolen

    The best way to defeat these professional thieves is by using a top-quality bike lock, locking your bike properly and reducing the time that you’re away from your bike.

    See the table just below for my top suggestions.

    Now that we’ve covered who’s likely to be stealing your bike, let’s take a look in more detail at the tools and methods they use

    Budget-Friendly High Security Bike Locks

    Preview
    Model
    OnGuard Brute
    Kryptonite Evolution Mini 7 with Flex
    OnGuard Mastiff
    Pros
    • Bolt cutter proof shackle
    • X4P quad bolted locking mechanism
    • Sold Secure Diamond
    • LED key fob
    • Double bolted shackle
    • Lifetime guarantee
    • Extension cable included
    • Key replacement scheme
    • Multiple locking options
    • 10mm hex hardened steel links
    • Capable of securing multiple bikes
    • Sold Secure Gold rated
    Cons
    • Heavier than other D locks
    • Low quality mounting system
    • Fiddly to attach mount
    • Only bolt cutter resistant
    • Not bolt cutter proof
    • Heaviest option
    Conclusion
    The OnGuard Brute is the best budget bike lock on the market. It's bolt cutter proof, and will resist even the most brutal attacks. It was the first bike lock to receive the Sold Secure Diamond Bicycle Rating, enough said.
    The Evolution Mini 7 is another quality lock from Kryptonite. It's not quite as strong as the OnGuard Brute, but is much more portable and includes a handy extension cable. A great choice if you're looking for a budget friendly lock.
    The OnGuard Mastiff is the best budget chain lock. Compared to the Brute and the Mini 7, the Mastiff is much more versatile and is suitable for use in high risk areas. It's 10mm links aren't as secure, regardless, it's the best budget chain lock.
    Shackle Thickness
    16.8mm Hardened Steel
    12.7mm Hardened Steel
    10mm Hardened Steel
    Weight
    4.1lb (1.86kg)
    2.5lb (1.13kg)
    6.94lb (3.15kg)
    Lock Dimensions
    • Width: 4.53" (11.5 cm)
    • Length: 7.96" (20.2 cm)
    • Width: 3.25” (8.2cm)
    • Length: 7” (17.8cm)
    • Length: 3.5’ (1.06m)
    Security Ratings
    Preview
    Model
    OnGuard Brute
    Pros
    • Bolt cutter proof shackle
    • X4P quad bolted locking mechanism
    • Sold Secure Diamond
    • LED key fob
    Cons
    • Heavier than other D locks
    • Low quality mounting system
    Conclusion
    The OnGuard Brute is the best budget bike lock on the market. It's bolt cutter proof, and will resist even the most brutal attacks. It was the first bike lock to receive the Sold Secure Diamond Bicycle Rating, enough said.
    Shackle Thickness
    16.8mm Hardened Steel
    Weight
    4.1lb (1.86kg)
    Lock Dimensions
    • Width: 4.53" (11.5 cm)
    • Length: 7.96" (20.2 cm)
    Security Ratings
    Preview
    Model
    Kryptonite Evolution Mini 7 with Flex
    Pros
    • Double bolted shackle
    • Lifetime guarantee
    • Extension cable included
    • Key replacement scheme
    Cons
    • Fiddly to attach mount
    • Only bolt cutter resistant
    Conclusion
    The Evolution Mini 7 is another quality lock from Kryptonite. It's not quite as strong as the OnGuard Brute, but is much more portable and includes a handy extension cable. A great choice if you're looking for a budget friendly lock.
    Shackle Thickness
    12.7mm Hardened Steel
    Weight
    2.5lb (1.13kg)
    Lock Dimensions
    • Width: 3.25” (8.2cm)
    • Length: 7” (17.8cm)
    Security Ratings
    Preview
    Model
    OnGuard Mastiff
    Pros
    • Multiple locking options
    • 10mm hex hardened steel links
    • Capable of securing multiple bikes
    • Sold Secure Gold rated
    Cons
    • Not bolt cutter proof
    • Heaviest option
    Conclusion
    The OnGuard Mastiff is the best budget chain lock. Compared to the Brute and the Mini 7, the Mastiff is much more versatile and is suitable for use in high risk areas. It's 10mm links aren't as secure, regardless, it's the best budget chain lock.
    Shackle Thickness
    10mm Hardened Steel
    Weight
    6.94lb (3.15kg)
    Lock Dimensions
    • Length: 3.5’ (1.06m)
    Security Ratings

    Last update on 2020-09-24 at 22:53 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

    Tools That Bike Thieves Use & How to Combat Them

    Bike thieves often have a small arsenal of tools at their disposal. This means it’s important for you to understand how thieves break bike locks and how you can make sure your bike isn’t an easy target.

    Below I’ll talk you through the different tools thieves uses and how you can prevent their methods working.

    Ultimately, the best thing you can do to prevent your bike being targeted and stolen is using a good quality lock and locking your bike properly.

    Just below I’ve created a small comparison table of some of the best budget locks. Consider upgrading to one of these if you know the lock you’re using is poor quality.

    How Do Thieves Break Bike Locks?

    1. Hands

    You might not believe us, but many of the low-end cable bike locks can actually be damaged and removed simply with a pair of hands. If your lock is cheap and flimsy, its possible to snap it open simply by putting tension on it. 

    Sometimes only a few strong pulls are necessary to open a cheap bike lock.

    If your bike lock looks at all like this, its time to get yourself an upgrade! Bad locks are cheap for a reason, they provide inadequate protection and simply aren't worth your money.

    How To Prevent the Hand Method

    To prevent a thief busting your bike lock open with their hands, don’t buy cheap unbranded locks, it’s that simple. Sold Secure Gold rated bike locks are the top of the range locks. If you want a top quality budget lock, I’ve put together a review of the best cheap gold-rated locks. Have a read.

    Sold Secure Gold locks have been through rigorous tests to make sure they provide maximum security for your bicycle. No Gold rated lock could be defeated by hands alone.  

    2. Hacksaws

    Hacksaws are easily obtainable, cheap and relatively straight forward to use. This makes them popular with bike thieves. Hacksaws come in all shapes and sizes, the majority are easy to hide and would fit into a backpack, or even in a pocket. 

    These saws have multiple strong teeth and will rip through cable locks in no time. If enough time is available a hacksaw will cut through all low-quality bike locks.

    How To Render Hacksaws Useless

    If you’re worried about hacksaws defeating your bike lock, look out for bike locks made with hardened steel. All of the strongest bike locks resist most forms of attack and will take a long time to get through with a hand-powered saw.

    Also, when securing your bike, make sure to keep your bike lock off the ground and fill its shackle. This will make it harder for a thief to move your lock into a position where it can be easily sawed.

    3. Bolt Cutters

    Bolt cutters are one of the most popular tools that thieves use to steal bikes. They can be bought from any hardware shop and will make light work of any cable lock or cheap D locks. 

    Bolt cutters vary in size, the biggest being 42″ and the smallest is only 6″. These smaller bolt cutters can easily be concealed in a backpack or a pocket, which is why they are popular with thieves.

    Once a locks shackle is inserted into the cutters, all that is needed is one quick squeeze. If your bike lock is cheap and cheerful, it won’t stand a chance. (See video below)

    Cutting bike cable

    How to Defeat Bolt Cutters

    To make sure that your bike lock is not vulnerable to bolt cutter attacks, you should get yourself a thick, strong lock. The thicker better. 

    Bike locks with shackles or links that are over 16mm thick are normally immune to bolt cutters as they are just too chunky.

    You should also look out for locks with a double deadbolt locking system. These require more than one cut to be made before they can be removed. The longer it takes the thief, the higher the chances are of them being unsuccessful.

    Bike thieves use bolt cutters to steal bikes
    Bolt cutters will easily cut through cable locks, but it's worth using a cable extension to deter chancers!

    So if you want your bike lock to put up a fight against bolt cutters, get one made with hardened steel, and get the thickest possible option.  This should render the cutters useless and keep your bike safe!

    I use the Kryptonite Fahgettaboudit Mini, an 18mm hardened steel bike lock that’s completely immune to even the biggest 42″ bolt cutters.

    4. Hammers

    Hammers are the weapon of choice for unskilled thieves. They will use the hammer to repeatedly strike your bike lock until it breaks open. Low-end cable locks and cheap d locks can be defeated this way and will be the target for thieves using a hammer.

    How To Hammer-Proof Your Bike Lock

    I’m sure there’s a reccuring theme here? To prevent them from smashing your lock open, get yourself a good quality bike lock, that isn’t made using large amounts of plastic or malleable metals. 

    By keeping your bike lock off the ground, it will be significantly harder for thieves to do any damage with a hammer. This is because as shown in the video above, the lock will spin freely. 

    You can double up and use two bike locks, which will double the time needed to steal your bike. Or, if you’re unsure on how to secure your bike then check out my simple tips on how to safely secure your bicycle.  

    5. Ice Spray / Freezing Liquids

    One of the less common methods used to defeat bike locks is through freezing them and then attempting to shatter the lock. When metal is exposed to extremely low temperatures, its structure changes, making it more brittle. Once dramatically cooled it can be broken easily with a powerful blow.

    The padlock in the video below has been submerged in liquid nitrogen, which would be hard to replicate on the street. But look at how easily the cheap locks are broken once super-cooled!

    How to Defeat The Freezing Method

    The best bike locks are tested on their ability to withstand breaking when subject extreme temperatures. A good quality bike lock will make the use of hardened steel or other strong metals. 

    These locks are designed to withstand shattering or breaking when cooled. As always, if you use a cheap and cheerful bike lock, the chances are it will be easily bust open with a powerful blow (especially when the lock has been dramatically cooled). 

    Also, as previously covered with hammers, if you keep your bike lock off the ground whilst secured, thieves will have a much harder time striking the lock. If you have a good quality bike lock and your bike is secured properly, thieves will target an easier option. 

    6. Crowbars & Prybars

    Crowbars are an old classic when it comes to bike theft, and can be used in a number of ways. Twisting a cheap bike lock with a crowbar will put pressure on the locking system and will cause the lock to pop open.

    Crowbars can be super effective against low-mid range D locks and normally only need to be twisted a small amount before the lock is levered open.

    How To Defeat Crowbars & Prybars

    To combat this method, make sure you fill your lock’s shackle. If the shackle is full, it will be much harder to insert a crowbar and should prevent leverage attacks from being successful. 

    A bike lock with a double deadbolt locking system and a thick hardened steel shackle will be your best bet against leverage attacks.  

    If the shackle of the lock below was full, it would not have been so easy to pop open. Fill that shackle

    7. Hydraulic Car and Bottle Jacks

    A car jack can generate enough pressure to lift a car off the ground. This makes them super effective at snapping open bike locks when inserted into their locking area.

    Hydraulic equipment is normally fairly expensive and will be used by more experienced thieves. It’s not a popular way to steal bikes though, as hydraulic jacks are harder to conceal and fiddly to use.

    How To Defeat Hydraulic Jacks

    To prevent your lock being defeated by a hydraulic attack, make sure you fill your locking space. By using a bike lock with a smaller shackle you will make it harder to fit a jack inside, reducing the likelihood of a successful hydraulic attack. 

    The Kryptonite Fahgettaboudit Mini (the lock I use) has a smaller locking shackle and is almost impossible to defeat using this method. 

    How to lock a bike kryptonite fahgettaboudit
    I'm able to completely fill the shackle of my D lock.

    8. Cable Cutters

    Cable and wire cutters are a smaller equivalent of bolt cutters. They are used to snip small pieces of metal and are particularly effective against cable locks. Cable cutters are the most common weapon of choice for bike thieves. They can easily be stored in a pocket and do not weigh much at all.

    How To Prevent the Hydraulic Method

    Cable cutters won’t be able to cut through thick, solid metal. So by using a good quality D lock, or chain lock, you’ll be safe. Make sure to avoid cable locks, as these contain multiple small strands of coiled metal that can easily be snipped away. 

    If you use a cable lock, look away now! 4 cables are cut with ease at the same time in the video below. Get yourself a good quality bike lock.

    9. Portable Grinders & Power Tools

    Portable grinders are by far the most effective way to defeat bike locks. They require no skill and can get through almost any bike lock in a matter of seconds. 

    Grinders are much bulkier and harder to conceal than other tools, so it is not common for thieves to carry these. When in use, grinders produce a large amount of noise which puts a lot of thieves off.

    Cut bike lock

    How To Defeat Portable Grinders

    Unfortuntaley there isn’t a bolt cutter proof bike lock out there. The Altor SAF is the first bike lock designed to be “grinder proof”. 

    The best way to combat portable grinders is by choosing the thickest lock available of you, and by using more than one bike lock to secure your bike. If you use two locks to secure your bike, they would both have to be cut before your bike could be removed. 

    Good quality locks also feature a double-deadbolt, which means two or more cuts will be needed before the lock can be opened. Look out for this when purchasing a new lock!

    At the end of the day, if given enough time an angle grinder will defeat any bike lock on the market.

    If you have an expensive bike and are worried by the threat of portable grinders, make sure to secure your bike in a busy public place, and aim to leave it locked and unattended for the shortest possible time.

    How to Defeat Bike Thieves - Summary

    Almost all of the tools that bike thieves use can be made redundant by using a good quality bike lock, and by securing your bike properly.

    If you’re unsure how to secure your bike or want helpful tips for extra bike security, check out my step by step article on how to lock your bike properly.

    If you opt for a top-quality bike lock that has an 16mm hardened steel shackle, even a portable grinder will have a tough time removing it.

    The Kryptonite Fahgettaboudit, is double deadbolted, has an 18mm max performance steel shackle and has a much smaller shackle than other D locks. 

    The slightly shorter shackle makes it easier to fill the Fahgettabboudit and therefore helps to prevent anything being inserted to lever the locking system open.

    The Best Bike Lock Kryptonite Fahgettaboudit Mini

    The Fahgettaboudit Mini is the best D Lock and arguably the best bike lock available. This makes it a great choice for anyone looking to increase their bike’s security 

    If given enough time however an angle grinder will be able to defeat any bike lock. So if you know that your bike is likely to attract attention, you should keep it somewhere out of sight, but in a place which you know is safe. 

    Locking your bike in a safe place that is out of sight and securing your bike with a top-quality bike lock will provide you with excellent security and added peace of mind. It’s a million times better when you don’t have to worry about your bike whilst you’re away from it!

    If you’re looking to purchase a new bike lock, but are struggling to decide which is best for you, then my article on the best budget bike locks will help you choose the right lock for you and your bicycle.  

    As always, lock it, or lose it. 

    Preview
    Kryptonite New York FAHGETTABOUDIT Lock - Yellow, Mini
    Model
    Kryptonite Fahgettaboudit Mini
    Shackle Thickness
    Shackle Diameter: 18mm
    Shackle Width:
    Shackle Width: 3.25" (8.3cm)
    Shackle Height
    Shackle Length: 6" (15.3 cm)
    Weight
    Weight: 4.55lb (2.06kg)
    Security Ratings
    Preview
    Kryptonite New York FAHGETTABOUDIT Lock - Yellow, Mini
    Model
    Kryptonite Fahgettaboudit Mini
    Shackle Thickness
    Shackle Diameter: 18mm
    Shackle Width:
    Shackle Width: 3.25" (8.3cm)
    Shackle Height
    Shackle Length: 6" (15.3 cm)
    Weight
    Weight: 4.55lb (2.06kg)
    Security Ratings

    Last update on 2020-09-25 at 02:14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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    Hello! My name’s James, I’m an avid cyclist and the lead editor of BikeLockWiki.

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    I do this in the hope that people don’t have to simply become a victim of bike theft to realise and understand the importance of bicycle security. Read More…

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