E-bike theft prevention, from locks to urban camouflage

If you’re like me, buying a new e-bike makes you feel like Pee Wee Herman. It’s funny! It’s fast! It helps you exercise! In some cases, it is even part of your daily routine and helps you earn a living. Whether for work or pleasure, you take it on an adventure, including some who are, well, misguided. With all the fun you’re having, you don’t want to be the victim of e-bike theft.

But, it turns out you’re not the only one who thinks your expensive e-bike is cool. For people who are your friends and for strangers who think it’s cool, that’s no problem. But for people who aren’t your friends and want to get their hands on it, it can be a problem. So, you decide to start taking a few steps to secure the bike:

The problem: e-bike theft

You probably don’t put 100 yards of chain on the bike like Pee Wee did, but you decide to buy a big, thick, heavy lock. If you’re more savvy, you can add cables to it to secure removable parts like the seat and front wheel. Like Pee Wee, you think it will keep people from stealing it. But many e-bike owners have returned from a venture with the same horrors that awaited Pee Wee:

When you turn to the police, they’ll make a report, but probably can’t do anything to get your bike back to you. They’re not going to set up roadblocks or call in the National Guard. Unless the Soviets are really involved, they will do nothing. You probably won’t know who the thieves were either, so you won’t be able to track him down like Pee Wee almost did. Likewise, fortune tellers will only be helpful in lightening your wallet. And, you’re not going to find it in the basement of the Alamo.

Worse, you won’t get a movie contract for stealing your e-bike like Pee Wee did. Why? Because e-bike theft is very common. Turns out the thieves know what kind of locks you’re going to use and know how to beat them. While lithium batteries have made practical e-bikes possible, they have also made battery-powered angle grinders possible. Plus, there’s the trick of freezing the locks and breaking them off, using a .22 caliber nail gun, or even something as simple as a big pair of bolt cutters.

How to prevent this from happening to you

First, let’s start with some basic security. If you must lock your bike somewhere, do so only for short periods of time, such as going to a store. And follow the other tips in this video (and its sequel):

In a nutshell, use the highest quality bike-specific lock you can get. You spent between $1,000 and $10,000 on the bike, so it doesn’t make sense to just buy the cheapest crappy lock you can find to secure it. But even the best locks only save you time. They do not allow leaving a bike outside for hours or overnight safely. So, if possible, bring the bike indoors and lock it away from the public.

There are also bike alarms, tracking units, and other things that can make a thief’s job that much harder. Consider using them, but don’t rely solely on them. The idea is to draw attention to the thief so that they want to give up playing with your bike and find someone else’s bike that’s easier to pick up.

Advice specific to e-bikes

There are also some e-bike specific tips to follow.

First, be sure to take the battery with you if you leave the bike locked up somewhere. This reduces the value of the bike by at least $500 and means that the thief or his fence will have to find another battery to sell the entire bike to someone else. This makes your e-bike less attractive than other e-bikes the thief might steal that day. For some high-end e-bikes, the company will not sell anyone a replacement battery without proof of purchase and the bike’s serial number. If you told them it was stolen, that makes the bike worthless.

Second, try to camouflage the fact that it’s electric. For some bikes, it’s easy to tell it’s an e-bike because it says something big on the side in bold. If you leave the bike locked outside, it’s probably best to remove or cover these stickers. You might think of putting a poop bag on the hub of the bike if it has a hub motor or a frame bag on a battery. Draping an old jacket over the midsection could help hide a mid-drive motor. Also, do other things to make the bike look like crap. Random tape, fake rustElectrical tape and even decoy wires that are worn down to metal could make your e-bike look like it’s seen better days and isn’t worth stealing.

Third, document as much as you can about your bike. Keep the serial number of the bike, photos and anything you can give to the police in case of theft. It might not help you get it back, but if thieves start being prosecuted more often for felony theft, fewer of them will think it’s worth stealing an e-bike. Also, it will help you a lot if your bike is covered by insurance.

Finally, many people use e-bikes in place of “toads” (towed vehicles) for their RV adventures, and many other transport bikes in racks on adventures closer to home. The problem with this arises if you ever leave the vehicle with the bikes attached (which you would do frequently while traveling, right?). Especially in rural areas, this gives thieves more time to steal your bike. Consider adding a camera to your vehicle or RV, or use more secure storage methods, such as an enclosed trailer that doesn’t leave cargo exposed.

Do you have any anti-theft tips? Feel free to share them in the comments so we can all learn more as a community to better secure our bikes!


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