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Video of thief on SE Hawthorne shows why cable locks are no good

Posted by on September 17th, 2013 at 10:06 am

It takes just two minutes for this thief to decide to steal the bike, then snip it with a pair of small bolt cutters.

Reader Drew Hicks wants help finding the brazen thief that stole his bike last week. Fortunately for Drew, he’s got clear video of the theft thanks to cameras positioned on SE Hawthorne and 9th. The video was taken by cameras installed by Clever Cycles.

In the video, you can see the thief walk by the bike, survey it closely, then kneel down, snip the cable lock, and ride off into the night. (The man talking in the video is Clever Cycles co-owner Todd Fahrner.)

We’ve tried to spread word about the futility of cable locks many times here on BikePortland; but this video might be the most persuasive argument yet. Keep your eyes peeled for Drew’s bike and please use a U-lock!

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  • Todd Hudson September 17, 2013 at 10:21 am

    Yesterday I saw a Surly Big Dummy, cable-locked to a staple, in front of the Multnomah County courthouse. It had a Clever Cycles logo on it and with the high-end components, was worth $2500.

    It was secured with nothing but a very thin cable lock. I cringed.

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  • Mike September 17, 2013 at 10:26 am

    I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this guy near 45th and Hawthorne, and again near 52nd and Division. I was suspicious the first time when I saw him riding a bike out of the parking garage of a condo unit at 45th and Hawthorne with his meth’d out girlfriend in tow, while steering a second bike. He had two bikes again when I saw him a few weeks later on Division. Next time I’ll call the cops.

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    • Drew September 24, 2013 at 10:56 am

      Have you seen him since?

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  • maxadders September 17, 2013 at 10:45 am

    Bike shops need to stop selling cable locks. Sure, the big-box stores will still sell bad locks, but if you’re buying a bike from a “real” bike shop, the customer should be forced to ask “How come you only carry U-locks?”

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    • Jordan September 17, 2013 at 10:55 am

      I completely agree that u-locks should be your primary lock. But cable do have their place as secondary lock for accessories or trailers. I’ll use one to lock a child trailer to my bike and then use an u-lock to lock the bike to the rack.

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      • Todd Hudson September 17, 2013 at 11:02 am

        They are also an alternative for someone who cannot afford $40 for a U-Lock. Buyer, however, should be aware of the risk….

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        • was carless September 17, 2013 at 11:20 am

          If you can’t afford a lock, perhaps you shouldn’t be riding a bicycle. I mean, $40 to secure your investment (the cheapest bikes on CL are ~$50 or more) really NEEDS to be budgeted.

          I’ve had my U-Lock for going on 5 years now. Thats around $10/year that I paid for it, or 2.7 cents a day.

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          • was carless September 17, 2013 at 11:29 am

            I should add that if you can afford a $2500 bike, then you can afford a $40 or even $60 bike lock.


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            • GlowBoy September 17, 2013 at 1:13 pm

              You can get a good U-lock for well under $40. And anyone who thinks they’re saving 10 or 20 bucks by getting a cable lock as their primary locking device is kidding themselves.

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              • Adam September 17, 2013 at 9:14 pm

                The general consensus is that you should spend about one fifth of the value of your bike on bike locking gear.

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              • GlowBoy September 18, 2013 at 10:31 am

                Well, that’s the consensus of the bike lock manufacturers, anyway …

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        • Chainwhipped September 18, 2013 at 10:43 am

          Shall we make a decision with a calculator?

          Average PDX commuter bike ~ $800.
          U-lock: $40, minus cable lock: $15, for a savings of $25.

          I can cut your cable lock in 60 seconds or less with one of these for $26.99:

          Your $15 lock is now cut and your $800 bike gone – never to be seen again – for a grand total of $815 and a long walk home. Hopefully that $25 feels as sweet today as it did the day you knew better than the shop guy who couldn’t sucker you into that big, heavy waste of money.

          It sucks that this bike was stolen, but I hope SOMEBODY is learning from this situation.

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          • matt picio September 24, 2013 at 2:10 pm

            “for a grand total of $815 and a long walk home”

            Or a grand total of $817.50 and a long ride with 2 transfers and a 45-minute wait between buses on Trimet…

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      • maxadders September 17, 2013 at 11:19 am

        That’s all well and fine, but sending (for instance) incoming freshmen out the door with a $500 Trek and a $9 cable lock is almost negligent. I know that policy is often a far cry from life experience in terms of teaching a lesson and making it stick– and there’s still nothing we can do to keep people from being dumb, or stealing bikes for that matter, but I’d hope that most shops step in and say “you really don’t want that type of lock. Spend ten bucks more and avoid losing five hundred.”

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      • Monica September 17, 2013 at 4:03 pm

        I used to think this way…until my $800 Chariot Cosair XL double child trailer was stolen when the their cut the thick Kryptonite cable lock. Now I at least chain-lock EVERYTHING.

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      • Adam September 17, 2013 at 9:16 pm

        I disagree, respectfully. Why would you only lock up a trailer, or a wheel, with a lock that could be cut? That’s basically inviting a thief to steal those things. If my Burley Trailer got stolen, I would be inconsolable. And things like wheels and trailers are extra-appealing to thieves, as they have no serial number that hinders them being sold on easily.

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    • metropoliscycles
      metropoliscycles September 17, 2013 at 12:58 pm

      When we first opened, I didn’t sell cable locks and our cheapest lock was a $35 OnGuard Bulldog. My rationale was exactly as you stated, cable locks offer little real security. Finally, after being asked repeatedly by multiple customers for them, we started selling keyed cable locks (we’ve always sold accessory cables that don’t have an integrated lock). We try to educate customers about the need for a u lock whenever possible, but in my experience the factors working against them are cost, and apparently weight. Some customers will opt for the $20 cable over the $35 u lock every time, and I have had multiple people tell me u-locks are too heavy to carry around. Another factor is perceived security. I’ve sold bikes to customers who when the conversation comes around to locks, they say “oh, I’m just riding to PSU”. Yeah, you’re gonna need TWO locks.

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      • pengo September 17, 2013 at 9:56 pm

        Absolutely. There’s also the extremely common misconception that a relatively inexpensive bike will be unattractive to a thief. The majority of thefts are probably crimes of opportunity, where the thief may not have any idea what it is they’re stealing beyond the fact that it’s a bike and can probably be sold quickly for $50-$100. I’d be willing to bet that a improperly locked Magna will be targeted over a nearby well secured Madone every time.

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  • Skid September 17, 2013 at 11:09 am

    I paid less than $20 for my OnGuard U-lock.

    A PDX Lox U-lock is $32.

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    • Joseph E September 17, 2013 at 12:15 pm

      Walmart sells cheap but usable U-locks for under $20.

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      • Anthony September 17, 2013 at 1:00 pm

        The Bell U-lock at Fred Meyer is around that price as well.

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      • Ian September 17, 2013 at 4:41 pm

        Yes, and they are terrible locks. Thieves just need any old bar to break them, rather than bolt cutters.

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  • Noel September 17, 2013 at 11:25 am

    Why cant people create a reality tv show about setting traps/sting operation for those a-holes? That’s something I’d watch for sure and would reduce the amount of people stealing. The other show would be leaving valuables in cars in the Pearl and watch them break windows. Anyone wants to start a tv/youtube show with me?

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    • bhance September 18, 2013 at 9:17 am

      Already in the works, up in Canada –

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  • Alan 1.0 September 17, 2013 at 11:30 am

    The caption says “small bolt cutters” but it’s actually only a pocket tool which cuts that cable according to the soundtrack and video. A pocket tool or other small wire cutter is much more concealable and common, and much less powerful and suspicious, than a bolt cutter. That really shows how vulnerable a cable is.

    Good luck, Drew, I hope that thief gets caught and you get your bike back.

    Just curious, how thick a cable was it?

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    • Racer X September 17, 2013 at 1:51 pm

      And now a word from our show sponsor: ‘Leatherman’, the pocket tool…for when you need a fix easy quick…

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      • Racer X September 17, 2013 at 1:52 pm

        …or insert the name of your ‘off brand’ pocket tool of choice…

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    • drew September 17, 2013 at 4:43 pm

      It was from the hardware store. Bike was kinda junky so figured no one would even bother. Thanks everyone. Let’s get this thief. If my bike is found gonna donate it to someone in need.

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    • Drew September 17, 2013 at 8:47 pm

      The cable lock was small, got it from the hardware store. The bike was kind of junky so didn’t think anyone would even bother. Was wrong for sure. But the good news is, thousands of people are seeing this thief, (hopefully his family does too), and possibly learning from my mistake by upgrading their lock, as I have already done. And thanks for sharing and spreading the video. Now lets find this worthless thief and U lock him to a bike rack.

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  • q`Tzal September 17, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Instead of trying to force millions of independent retailers to require customers to buy decent locks maybe it would be smarter to con the mere dozens of quality bicycle makers/manufacturers in to including a good solid lock or locking device. At that stage of design it would be much easier to coordinate the look & feel of the lock to match the bike.

    Who knows, it might be used more often even if it isn’t a physical part of the frame.

    This plan has the advantage of further tarnishing the public image of Mall-Wart bikes. If cheap bikes all come without locks it makes them a car with no locks and a permanent sign welded on saying “STEAL ME!!!”

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  • Vance Longwell September 17, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Why are there cameras monitoring a public place? I’ve noticed that the new(ish) automobile-impediment at the intersection of NE Sandy Blvd at about NE 16th Ave., is equipped, now, with cameras monitoring public areas.

    I have to tolerate being monitored thus on private property, but find it totally unacceptable while in public.

    The government is not your parents. When are this new generation going to be tasked with taking care of themselves instead of forcing other people to be responsible.

    Case in point. If you use a cable lock to lock your bicycle, you’ve made a mistake that can lead to your bike being stolen. How’s that MY responsibility? If you advocate the monitoring of public areas to prevent this sort of thing you, at once, reduce the likelihood that the careless bike owner will face consequences, while simultaneously strip me of my civil/birth right to privacy; hence my statement that this is being made MY responsibility.

    No cameras in public areas, please. The continued practice may just be met with militant resistance. Take care of your own problems, please. The continued practice of co-opting MY government to take care of you may just be met with militant resistance.

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    • Slammy September 17, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      LOL, it’s just a store’s security camera.

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    • Chris I September 17, 2013 at 1:50 pm

      You can always just stay in your basement and order all your food from…

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      • q`Tzal September 17, 2013 at 5:22 pm

        That’s what Big Brother wants, easier to track you that way.

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    • q`Tzal September 18, 2013 at 10:08 am

      Paranoia strikes deep
      Into your life it will creep
      It starts when you’re always afraid
      You step out of line, the man come and take you away.

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    • Editz September 18, 2013 at 11:05 am

      Haven’t we established that people have no reasonable expectation of privacy in a public area?

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    • matt picio September 24, 2013 at 2:13 pm

      Well, Vance – maybe you can convince everyone to stop breaking Clever Cycles’ front window and stealing things from their shop, and then they won’t *need* to have a camera monitoring a public place.

      This isn’t big government snooping on private citizens – it’s a private business owner protecting their property and investment.

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  • Todd Hudson September 17, 2013 at 12:44 pm

    “The continued practice may just be met with militant resistance”

    That sounds like a veiled threat against Clever Cycles!

    While that store has succeeded in making this fool part ways with a lot of money, issuing threats is hardly justified!

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  • Granpa September 17, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    Bike shops should get the hand held cutting tool and demonstrate for each bike buying customer how easy it is to cut a cable. Let the buyer try it.

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  • GlowBoy September 17, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    Anyone able to see what sort of cable lock was involved? I recognize that ALL cable locks are vastly inferior to U-locks, but were we talking about a flimsy 6mm cable, or a thick 15mm cable (which is six times larger in cross section than the 6mm, and requires a much larger tool to cut)?

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  • dbrunker September 17, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    Here’s what happened to me:

    The u-lock (Abus Sinero 43) has tool marks in it as well but the bike was still there. The u-lock provides most of the security, the cable just keeps the wheels from being stolen.

    A u-lock is no guarantee that you’ll have a bike after a thief takes notice. Lots of u-locks can be cut with bolt cutters or hack saws, even some of the more expensive locks. Here’s a quick test by Gizmodo:

    The police in Brisbane, Australia did some testing as well. It would be nice if other police departments did testing and recommendations like this. Sadly the best lock for the money (Vulcan) is only available in Australia and having it shipped to you can triple the price.

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  • nuovorecord September 17, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    This is a great article on bike locks, locking techniques, and what bike thieves are looking for. Bottom line, if a pro thief wants your bike, it’s his, no matter what you’ve locked it with.

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    • Ian September 17, 2013 at 4:45 pm

      A more useful bottom line is to buy a good lock so any old person with a crowbar or bolt cutter can’t steal your bike.

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  • CaptainKarma September 17, 2013 at 7:43 pm

    Bring back the CleverCam, Clever Cycles!

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  • Faux Porteur September 17, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    Larger cable locks do not require larger tools to cut. They merely take more time to cut. Cable locks are made out of braids of steel wire. The gauge of this wire is very small and can be cut with a very small hand tool, pocket sized and under $10. The cheapest/dinkiest of cable locks can be cut in 1-5 snips (1-5 seconds), the most expensive/stoutest in 5-30 snips (5-30 seconds). A $25 U-lock is vastly more secure than a $50 cable lock.

    If you like your bike and hate bike thievery, do yourself a favor: get a u-lock ($25-$75) and if you have quick-release wheels get quick-release skewer replacements ($15-$50). Even if you get $125 worth of security devices, its less expensive than replacing your wheel set, or, entire bike.

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  • Adam September 17, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    Why does BikePortland’s Stolen Bike Listings not have a required field where you MUST input the way the bike was locked when stolen? I think this is really vital data that BP is missing out on collecting. Knowing what percentage of bike thefts were cable vs ulock etc would be the most persuasive way to get people to invest in good locks.

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  • GlowBoy September 17, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    By the way, an update on my ongoing investigation into getting multiple U-locks keyed alike. I’m sure many BikePortlanders, like myself, have multiple bikes in their family and thus multiple locks. And I, for one am about to acquire a couple more so the whole family fleet is U-lock protected. For many of us it’s not realistic to have to tote around a whole keyring full of those bulky plastic-encased keys, so here are the main options:

    – As I reported before, OnGuard will key-alike the vast majority of their U-lock models if you order them new, directly from the company. And you can mix and match different models in your same-key order.
    – Kryptonite finally responded today, to my second inquiry, that a few of their models can be keyed alike: the $60-ish Evo Mini 5 and Evo Mini 9, as well as two of their New York models in the $100 range. That’s it.

    Unfortunately both companies offer this service only for new locks, and they won’t retrofit used ones. That’s a big bummer, but fortunately I can repurpose my existing Kryptonites for power tools and other items around the house for which I don’t need to carry the keys on my person. In any event I’m going with OnGuard, since they have a much wider range of keyable-alike models, and at much better prices. Near as I can tell their locks are just as good too.

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    • Spiffy September 19, 2013 at 11:40 am

      each person should carry their own lock and key… mine is on a mini carabiner so I can put it on my belt loop…

      each of my bikes has it’s own lock and own mini carabiner with it’s key and a garage door key… I just grab the appropriate one as I head out the door…

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      • GlowBoy September 19, 2013 at 9:02 pm

        Like Spiffy said below, any of my family’s bikes not being ridden are locked, so keeping the key in the lock doesn’t work for us. But (again, for us) neither does reconfiguring the keyring based on the needs of a particular day. Just to be clear, I’m not saying I think keyed-alike locks are for everyone. I’ve posted the information above for people like me who don’t want to juggle multiple keys.

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  • squirrel's friend September 17, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    You’re saving over $500 a month by not driving, you must have $50 for a lock!

    And for the record, I’ve been relieved of a wheel twice at PSU – some of us are slow learners.

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  • Pete September 18, 2013 at 1:02 am

    Anyone have experience with the Tigr Lock?

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    • q`Tzal September 18, 2013 at 11:27 am

      For ultra high security I feel like anything would be more convenient than my Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Chain at over 10 lbs (4,900g). Sells for around $99-$120.
      TiGr’s biggest most expensive lock is $220 but weights a mere 902g. I’m the opposite of a weight weenie but at 10lbs the Fahgettaboudit is so inconvenient that I’ll leave it behind more often than not.

      I searched for reviews of the TiGr lock and only managed to come up with cloying positive product reviews, invective screed by haters and a scant 2 stories of actual users whose TiGr lock foiled a theft.
      Further it seems that the TiGr lock is only certified by Stichting ART in the Netherlands at 2 stars compared to around 4-5 stars in the Kryptonite Fahgettaboudit region.
      Until I started digging for reviews I was tempted to get one just because it was lighter and presumably high security.
      The only detailed lock attack testing I could find for the TiGr was from TiGr’s own YouTube feed; this is worrying.

      Until there is some real, open and scientifically unbiased testing of this lock versus other similarly priced locks I’d hold off on a purchase. I want their sales spin to be true but we should know better than to trust advertising.

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  • pdxpaul September 18, 2013 at 10:02 am

    You can also buy locks with insurance that will replace your bike if you can show it was locked properly and the lock was defeated.

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    • GlowBoy September 18, 2013 at 10:34 am

      FWIW, those insurance policies are notoriously difficult to collect on.

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      • q`Tzal September 18, 2013 at 8:25 pm

        More information please

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        • GlowBoy September 18, 2013 at 10:05 pm

          Sorry, you’ll have to Google for this (or DuckDuckGo if you don’t want to see bike-lock ads all over your browser). I don’t have specific instances to quote you, but I’ve been reading up a lot on locks and locking strategy lately, and encountered a lot more stores of the big lock companies denying claims than paying them. This corroborates with what I’ve heard from other bikers anecdotally over the decades too. Kryptonite has been around for a very long time and left quite a reputation in its wake.

          Again I don’t know all the intricacies, but from what I understand you need to provide evidence that the lock was actually defeated (meaning you must be able to provide them with the remains of the lock), receipts proving the value of the bike, police reports, etc., and that the companies were absolute sticklers on even the tiniest detail of each.

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          • GlowBoy September 18, 2013 at 10:06 pm

            Sorry, meant “stories”, not “stores”.

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  • nothstine September 18, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    Ten years ago I started riding again after many years off. The store of a well-known local chain was across the street from my office, so I started there. Bought a modest-price model of a fairly well-known line, plus gear — lights, helmet, and a cable and lock. When my bike was stolen 3 months later [it took that long?], I wandered back into the store told them my ride had been ripped off. The sales guy asked what lock I’d had, and I pointed to the same model on a nearby rack. The guy laughed — laughed! that was how well-honed his customer relations skills were — and said, “That lock wouldn’t stop anybody!” I asked why his store had sold it to me. While he was thinking of an answer, I walked out and haven’t spent a nickle there since. That chain does a lot of good supporting bike related causes and events, but they aren’t doing it with my money. I now have a U-lock and 15K miles later I haven’t had a bike stolen.

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    • Chainwhipped September 18, 2013 at 3:34 pm


      Bike shops aren’t pushing security. They can’t. Their customers don’t really allow them to. Read the comments here. The above article and video are all pointing to the fact that cheap cable locks are completely useless, but there are people here insisting that cables are the best option. Don’t let those guys pick your birth control . . .

      Yes, bike shops have the ability to change the product lines they sell. The thing is that when a shop does actively choose to sell only effective locks, they don’t sell locks. I can think of at least one Portland bike shop that refuses to sell cable locks and they tell me that it definitely costs them some sales.

      People will think for themselves, against all common sense.

      I used to manage a bike shop. Intent on selling more U-locks, I set up the display with an adjacent “demo” cable lock that I had cut with a small set of cable-cutters in the store. I would periodically demonstrate for customers the ease with which our thickest cable lock could be cut. We moved more U-locks after that display was set up, but the cables always outsold the U-locks. Always.

      Your bike was stolen because other bike owners are cheapskates.

      There’s a reason this kind of crap happens.

      It’s the very reason that bike shops push lightweight bikes as if they’re great for daily use and maintenance-free. It’s why they stock lights that don’t help anyone see in the dark. It’s why utility and commuting bikes come without fenders, racks, or lights. It’s the reason your bike has easy-theft – er, uh, quick release skewers. It’s why your fixed-gear bike doesn’t have brakes. It’s why riders draft off of complete strangers on the way home from work.

      People are willfully ignorant morons and there’s no way to help them.

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      • dan October 7, 2013 at 10:14 am

        Hey! I love drafting off of strangers on the way home from work. I leave a couple of feet, unlike the 6 inches I would leave if I was actually on a road ride with friends. I will admit this becomes much less attractive in the winter, given the scarcity of full-coverage rear fenders.

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  • nut4squirrel September 18, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    The best place to keep your lock key, when the lock is not in use, is in the keyhole of the lock. That way it will always be there when you need it. Obviously, when you’ve locked your bike, you pocket the key. No need for a large keyring or match keys.

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    • Spiffy September 19, 2013 at 11:36 am

      my lock is always in use except when I’m riding my bike…

      I keep the bike and garage key on a small carabiner which goes on my belt loop while I’m riding or hangs on my key rack when I’m not…

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  • jim September 19, 2013 at 12:17 am
  • peaceplease September 21, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Here’s what I do. I do lock my bike but I heard that U-locks are not too hard to break either. So I’ve been taking my front wheel off when I leave my bike somewhere. And I keep it with me. The idea is to make it harder for anyone to simply saw off the U-lock and drive away with my bike.

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  • Chris Covert-Bowls October 6, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    I’ve heard the advice in New York City is that the lock should be worth MORE than the bike!

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