It’s an unfortunate reality of the electric bicycle world that ebikes make great targets for thieves. The combination of a high value ebike and commonly inadequate anti-theft protection make electric bicycles low-hanging fruit for the scum-of-the-earth that are bike thieves.
Electric bicycles, like all bicycles, are usually stolen in one of two ways: either by having parts scavenged from the ebike or by having the whole electric bicycle stolen in one fell swoop. Your best bet is to protect yourself from both of these scenarios. Follow these tips to protect yourself and your ebike.
1. Location, Location, Location
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. This may be common sense, but it still needs to be said: be careful where you lock your ebike. You know where the bad parts of your town are – just don’t park there. Why needlessly increase your chance of theft?
Do your best to avoid shady areas that are likely hives of bike theft activity. If you know that a few certain blocks are notoriously bad areas, park a little farther away and walk the last bit of distance. Not only will it decrease the chance of having your ebike stolen, but you’ll get some free exercise too!
2. Bring your ebike inside with you
Sometimes you can’t avoid trips to bad areas of town. Maybe that’s where the farmer’s market is, or the best pizza place in town, or the only Wal-Mart (heaven forbid). If you have to park somewhere shady, try to bring your ebike inside with you.
Many retail establishments, such as supermarkets and shopping centers actually allow people to bring their bicycles inside the building. Ask an employee if it is ok to bring your bicycle inside and leave it near the door. Then, lock the wheel to the frame so that no one can easily wheel it out. It will be pretty obvious if someone is trying to drag a heavy, locked up ebike out of the store to their vehicle.
3. Don’t fall into a routine with your ebike
Avoid parking in the same place everyday. Electric bicycles make great commuter vehicles and for that reason ebikes are often part of a daily routine. Many people use their ebike as a daily driver to get to work, school, etc. However, when you park in the same place every day, this gives diligent thieves a chance to study your pattern and locking system to prepare a targeted attack.
These types of theft are hard to defend against because the thief can take weeks or even months to prepare for your specific lock, schedule of traffic in the area, and even set traps. I’ve seen thieves hack sign posts so that they slide out of the ground. Unsuspecting riders lock to a stop sign like they do every day, but on this day the thief simply lifts the sign out the ground and walks off with the bike. Another good reason to double check that any object you lock to really is secure.
4. Park in well lit areas
At night, park in an area with good visibility, preferably directly under a streetlight. Thieves don’t like to be the center of attention during their activity, and having a giant spot light shining on them while they work is a strong deterrent.
The jury is still out on whether it is better to park the bike near lots of foot traffic. Unfortunately, many experiments have shown that, at least in the USA, almost nobody will interrupt a bike thief at work stealing a bike. Studies have shown the fear of confrontation causes most people to ignore a bike thief at work or walk quickly by, avoiding contact. This means putting your ebike near an area with high pedestrian traffic won’t necessarily keep thieves from trying to steal it.
In fact, putting your electric bicycle in a well trafficked area actually exposes your ebike to many more eyes, and thus more opportunity for thieves to notice it as a target. On the other hand, parking in a back alley means less chance for thieves to know your ebike is there, but guarantees less chance of someone confronting a bike thief in action if he does find it.
When in doubt though, I still prefer a crowded area and hope for the best in people. Just because studies show most people won’t confront a bike thief, that doesn’t mean the thieves will have big enough cojones to test that theory.
5. Bike locks: the more the merrier
Use more than one bicycle lock, preferably of different styles and brands. If one bike lock is good, then two bike locks are better.
Here is how a common bicycle theft operation goes down: a bike thief surveys a potential target bicycle and weighs his chances of successfully opening the lock (never a guarantee) with how long it will likely take and the chances of getting caught. It’s not uncommon for a rider to return to their bike to find a mangled but still intact lock – indicating a thief who lost on his gamble and decided to cut his losses and bug out.
When you add a second lock, it greatly reduces the bike thief’s view of his chances of successfully stealing the bike. Not only is he taking a risk on one lock, but now he’s got two locks to deal with, and neither of them are a guarantee. All but the most brazen of bike thieves will see two sturdy locks and immediately pass over the bike, instead looking for an easier target. This is one of the single best methods for increasing resistance to electric bicycle theft: simply add a second lock.
6. Plan your locking method for maximum destruction
Lock your electric bicycle in a way that requires it to be seriously damaged in order to remove it from the lock.
This means you have to factor in a few things. First, whatever object you lock to should be stronger than your bicycle (and preferably stronger than the lock). Stick with things like solid metal posts, street lights, concrete barriers and steel parking meters. Avoid locking to flimsy objects like a chain link fence, wooden post, tree thinner than your arm, etc.
If the lock and anchored object are stronger than your bike’s frame, that means that your bike is now the weakest link, forcing the bike thief to cut through the bike to steal it. If a bike thief’s only option is to destroy the bike to steal it, he’ll look elsewhere.
Next, ensure that however your lock passes through the bicycle requires the most possible damage to the bicycle to remove it. The lock should ideally pass through both the frame triangle AND at least one wheel, preferably the hub motor wheel. This means that a bike thief would have to cut through the frame of the ebike, effectively ruining it, AND cut through the hub motor rim, ruining it as a usable wheel.
On a standard bicycle this would usually be enough deterrent, as the unusable bicycle wouldn’t be worth much anymore after its frame and wheel were destroyed. However, this has somewhat less deterrence for electric bicycles because the motor, battery and other parts can still be sold even if the thief has to destroy the frame in the process. However, it still makes more barriers that can dissuade a potential bike thief. The more of a headache you can make your electric bicycle, the more chance a bike thief will move on.
7. Lock your parts to your ebike
Lock the individual parts of your electric bicycle to the bike itself.
Start with the battery. Ebike batteries are the single most commonly stolen part of any ebike. If you have a battery designed for easy removal, such as an aluminum or plastic case battery that slides on and off, you need to find a good way to lock it securely.
These types of ebike batteries almost always come with a factory locking solution, but it’s never enough for the good bike thieves. The type that slide onto an aluminum or steel plate often require only the smallest of handheld snips to cut an opening in the plate and release the pin. Sometimes you can even simply bend the plate out of the way with a screwdriver, releasing the battery.
To counter this, run your lock through the handle of the battery, if it has one. This provides a little more deterrence for casual bike thieves, but won’t stop any serious attempt to steal the ebike’s battery. For more theft deterrence, consider adding a chain, plate, block, etc that passes over the end of the battery, locking to the frame, and preventing removal of the ebike battery without your key.
Additionally, if you don’t plan on needing to remove the battery from the bike for charging, you can go with a more permanent method, such as bolting or welding a plate over the end of the battery. Keep in mind though that this could present a problem if you ever need to perform maintenance on the battery.
8. Camouflage your electric bicycle
This one is simple: make your ebike look less desirable. Many people won’t want to go this far, especially if you love the way your ebike looks, but uglifying your ebike could be a great way to protect it from thieves.
There are many different ways to camouflage a perfectly working bicycle into what appears to be a piece of crap. Some of my favorites include fake rust painted on, scraps of duct tape, random bits of spray paint, a grocery bag over the seat, mismatched hand grips, etc. Anything that keeps your ebike from screaming “I’m a brand new, expensive toy!” will reduce attention from bike thieves.
9. Choose your company well
Park next to something more attactive. By this I mean choose a spot with better options of bikes to steal than yours.
Maybe it’s a beautiful, brand new, candy-apple-red racing bike.
Maybe it’s another bike with a flimsy cable lock next to your ebike with two U-locks.
Maybe it’s a more expensive ebike than yours.
Anything that makes a bike thief want to pass your bike over for something else will work. Some people might object to this rather selfish approach, but the fact of the matter is that you can’t stop all electric bicycle theft, you can only stop YOUR electric bicycle’s theft. There will always be thieves trying to steal bikes. The best you can do is just try to keep it from being yours.
10. Get creative with your defenses
Put a fake GPS tracking sign on your ebike. I made a simple, fake GPS tracking logo on my computer, printed it on glossy sticker paper, and slapped it on an easily visible part of my bike. It works just like the home security company logos or “beware of dog” signs people put outside their homes. Even the mere suggestion that there are hidden forces at work, tirelessly standing guard 24/7, is enough to make many bike thieves look elsewhere.
Sure, maybe they’ll question whether or not you’re fibbing. But at least they are thinking about it. Again, all of this weighs into their mental calculation of the gamble they are taking. It’s up to you stack the odds against them.
Oh, and also you could use a real GPS tracking device too.
The bigger picture of electric bicycle theft
Many of the electric bicycle theft protection tips described above are simple behavioral changes you can make to better protect your ebike from theft, while others are hardware options that require forking over a bit of cash. How much your ebike is worth to you is your call.
When it comes down to it, you are really battling two different types of bike theft: theft of opportunity and deliberate, targeted theft. Theft of opportunity is where someone walks by and sees an easy chance to snatch your seat or battery. Deliberate, targeted theft is where someone studies your ebike and comes prepared for the job. The best bet to deter both types of electric bicycle theft is to combine a number of diverse options listed above. The harder it is for the bike thief, the more likely it is that he’ll look somewhere else.