Motorcycle Security: Locks and Chains
Thinking about motorcycle security goes hand-in-hand with bringing home a new bike. Whether that bike is brand new or new to you, there’s a good chance it’s an attractive target to motorcycle thieves.
In this motorcycle security guide, we’ll break down your motorcycle security options so you can decide what you can do to give you and your bike some better odds of staying together. We’ll explain the most basic levels of bike security and some more advanced ones; all the measures aren’t practical or feasible for everybody’s budget or storage situation, but ANY form of visible bike security you choose could be a significant deterrent to a criminal. That deterrent could be enough to save you a lot of heartache.
Motorcycle theft happens a lot in California, and that’s a sad reality that all bike owners should keep in mind. In fact, for the last few years the Golden State has topped the charts with the most thefts annually. We’re among the top five worst states for motorcycle theft in the country, with a reported 6,637 thefts in 2013 out of 857,625 registered motorcycles*. That’s about one bike stolen for every 130 registered.
Those odds don’t sound so bad? If you own a Honda your odds are a lot worse. A common model like a CBR is like a bat signal for thieves. An R6? Not much better. Honda is the brand most likely to be stolen; Yamaha comes in second. Suzuki is the third most popularly targeted brand for criminals, followed by Kawasaki, with Harley-Davidson in fifth place. The easiest way for a thief to make a buck off your beloved is to part it out, so the more popular and common the bike model, the more likely it is to be stolen. Sportbikes are particularly appealing to thieves because the fairings and unmarked body parts are in high demand and can be safely and quickly sold online.
Last year, a two-year investigation by the California Highway Patrol broke up a Los Angeles-based motorcycle theft ring, two associated groups, and led to 51 arrests and the recovery of parts worth close to $1 million. The CHP’s “Operation Wheel Spin” began as a small investigation into a few thefts but grew into a huge operation as investigators began to uncover the depths of the criminal network. The “Wheel Spin” victory was satisfying, but officials were quick to remind the public that the circumstances were indicative of a growing problem of highly organized motorcycle and auto theft in California.
First Security Steps
In the next section, we’ll look at some of the different kinds of locks and chains available that will help make your bike an unappealing and challenging target for thieves. Before we get there, though, it’s worth mentioning that the best thing you can do to prevent motorcycle theft is to keep your bike out of sight and securely locked in garage when you’re not out riding. But garage storage isn’t available to everyone overnight, and many of us leave our bikes parked near our work or school for long, predictable hours every day. There are times when your motorcycle is vulnerable, and those are the times that selecting the right level of security could make all the difference.
Motorcycle thefts occur in one of two ways—the bike is quickly lifted into a truck or van and driven off (the method used by the crime ring mentioned above); or it’s hotwired, the steering lock broken, and the bike ridden away inconspicuously. If it’s a one-man theft operation—no lifting and no van—a disc lock’s presence alone may be enough to make the thief move on to lower hanging fruit. For van thefts, attaching a chain or choosing a disc lock with an alarm will add additional security to your setup. Remember, anything that complicates the perps’ plan to grab your bike and get out fast will give them pause for thought. The more work you give them, the safer your bike is.
A basic disc lock is a huge theft deterrent, and for many bike owners, a disc lock is the first security accessory in their line of defense. A disc lock clamps around your front brake rotor and prevents the wheel from rolling. Some disc locks can be used in conjunction with a chain, and some include an audible alarm. They can range anywhere from $20 for a basic one to well over $100.
Below: The Abus Provogue, Kryptonite Series 4, and Abus Granit Victory X disc locks, ranging from about $40 to about $120 for the premium Victory X.
Think it’s easy for a thief to break an inexpensive disc lock? Not so. Check out these photos of a $30 Kryptonite Keeper disc lock that successfully thwarted a thief’s attempt to steal our customer’s motorcycle by chiseling out its lock cylinder. The key still turns and the lock still works, and our customer still has his motorcycle. Needless to say, he picked up another Kryptonite Keeper.
Tip: When using a disc lock, ALWAYS attach a reminder cable or something similar to your handlebars to remind yourself to remove the disc lock before you try to ride away.
Alarmed Disc Locks
Bike thieves hate attention, so they HATE audible alarms. Disc lock alarms are convenient to use, lightweight enough to carry around, and are considerably less hassle than installing an aftermarket bike alarm. If the visual deterrent of the disc lock isn’t enough to turn off a thief, the sounding alarm should do the trick when they try meddling with it.
Below: Abus Trigger and Abus Detecto 7000 alarmed disc locks come in models that range from as low as $50 to as high as $140.
Most alarmed disc locks come with a remote that can turn off the alarm at a distance. Choose your alarmed disc lock based on how heavy duty you want the lock to be (consider the material and diameter of the locking bolt), and how sensitive you want the alarm to be. Alarm sensitivity varies widely from model to model, and the alarm can be triggered by major impacts or slight vibrations.
If you’re opting to chain up your bike (and not looping through a disc lock), you’ll need a good padlock. Look for a padlock with a shackle that is nearly fully enclosed within the padlock housing–this will make it harder to clamp down on the shackle with bolt cutters. Choosing an uncommon lock brand may also deter criminals who are familiar with breaking into the same kinds of devices over and over again.
Below: Even this basic $20 stainless steel Kryptonite padlock could deter a nervous bike thief. The OnGuard Beast padlock is slightly more expensive at about $35. Its short, protected shackle is hard to get bold cutters around, and the rubber case protects bike parts from scratches.
A would-be thief will walk away from the right kind of chain, and the right kind can’t be easily cut with bolt cutters. Look for a chain with thick links—about 16 millimeters is usually enough to prevent even the most earnest bolt cutter attack. Multi-sided links or otherwise oddly shaped links make it harder for bolt cutters to clamp down. The strongest chains are made out of boron, carbon, or manganese steel.
Below: The cost of chains can vary widely, shown by these three chains by Abus and Krytonite, ranging from about $60 to over $200. Cost depends on the chain itself, the length, and the quality of the lock it comes with.
Tip: It’s easier to cut a chain that’s lying on the ground, so always loop your chain in such a way that it is suspended in the air. Don’t leave much slack either–that may mean you need to notch part of the protective sleeve and lock up a shorter section of the chain.
If you’re using a chain you’ll need to attach it to something secure, but finding a good anchor in the wild can be challenging. Kryptonite and Oxford offer some good ones you can install yourself, and they include all the necessary anchoring hardware. Consider finding a safe spot to mount one outside your home or work.
Below: The Oxford Rota Force Anchor and the Kryptonite Stronghold Anchor are both around 100 bucks.