On 50lb bicycles and the lockability thereof

Mike Estee responds to the cyclist's old saw: "All bikes weigh fifty pounds. A thirty pound bike requires a twenty pound lock. A forty pound bike requires a ten pound lock, and a fifty pound bike doesn’t need a lock, because really, who wants a fifty pound bike?"
What is the utility of a fifty pound bike? Would anyone ever ride it? What if we took the idea of building the fastest and lightest bike, and flipped it on its head. What if we designed for more weight instead of less? How heavy would a bike need to be to not require a lock? How would this change our social interaction with the humble bicycle?
And MAKE:'s Michael Colombo takes the question seriously: "Short of mechanically hoisting your bike up a lamppost, what else could be done? Are all bikes really fifty pounds? In most large American cities a burly U-Lock and/or chain is essential. The Kryptonite New York U-Lock weighs in at 4.5 pounds, and the Kryptonite New York Noose chain is a hefty 6.8 pounds. This doesn’t quite live up to the fifty pound joke, but it can drastically increase the weight of your ride. Most urban cyclists keep both a chain and a U-Lock for versatility’s sake, since they can never be sure what they’ll be locking to. Let’s hear it in the comments. If you had an extra twelve pounds to make your bike theft-proof, how would you do it?"

The resulting discussion is pretty interesting.

Bike Theft: Thinking Outside of the Lock

(Image: Never enough, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from rednuht's photostream)


  1. I know several people with (close to) 50lb bikes, bicycles they never dare leave outside, locked or not, but then, those are downhill bikes where the extra weight might even be beneficial :)

    1. “Downhill bikes where the extra weight might even be beneficial”

      That theory was disproved in 1589.

      1. “That theory was disproved in 1589.”

        For a perfectly spherical downhill bike operating in a vacuum.

      2. momentum = mass * velocity, and momentum is conserved in collisions (more or less).   If you were to drop the heavy and light bikes from an airplane, they’d fall at the same rate.  But riding downhill in the real world, I think the heavier bike will be slowed down less by all the myriad minor collisions with rocks/rugged ground. 

        1. Every rock or bump is a little hill, and the bike must fight gravity to roll over it. You could say the lighter bike would have an easier time getting over them.

          But seriously, that’s just hand-waving. I’m sticking with Galileo.

  2. Make your bike thief proof and they’ll just take what you haven’t locked down as I discovered this morning at London’s Highbury Corner. My well-locked bike was minus saddle, lock bracket and most of the hex bolts from the pannier rack. 

  3. I had a lovely bike I’d built myself, back in the ’70s; lightweight frame, high-end non-Campi components; it got stolen in NH. Just before moving to Boston a year later, I got a call from the local police saying they had recovered it; it had been tossed into a local river. Stripped it down and re-built it, sanded the rust off much of the frame and gave it the ugliest paint job I could, with multiple drips and runs, in flat grey and red primer over its original yellow. Made that puppy ugly as sin.

    Rode it in Boston for years, with just a U-lock. No one ever touched it, probably for fear of gangrene.

    1. Nice!  How extreme could that go… how could one make a bike look so decayed that a would-be thief would worry he’d get testicular tetanus the moment he swung a leg over it?

      1. Nice! How extreme could that go… how could one make a bike look so decayed that a would-be thief would worry he’d get testicular tetanus the moment he swung a leg over it?

        Justin Bieber wheel covers.

      2. I think boingboing linked to an instructable a few years back about this. Wrap duct or electrical tap in reverse (sticky side out) on your bike’s frame and rub dirt and sand on it, hit it with whatever paint/sealer you want and make it look like the biggest POS ever and no one will touch it. When you want your bike to look good again just peel off the tape. Voila!

  4. I like the “make it a bicycle nobody would want to be caught dead riding” idea.

    I’m still using the old Schwinn 5-speed I got when I was about 16. Haven’t weighed it; I’m not a serious enough rider that I’ve consider it worth the effort and cost of upgrading.

    In Boston, you generally do need at least a U-lock; bike theft is a serious business here. Last time I checked the police numbers, there was still a net traffic of stolen bicycles out of Boston and a net traffic of stolen cars in.

  5. I would strap a huge Bible to it because as we all know religion always makes people act honestly.

    1. Actually when I lived in a heavily Hispanic neighborhood during college the only cars that were smash and grabbed over the party weekends were the ones with crosses hung from the rear-view. We started following suit and never had a major incident again. You never know when superstitions can work to your favor.

  6. As a cyclist who worked for a second-hand sporting goods dealer for years, I’d just like to strongly recommend to all reading that (new or used) they hang onto their receipt for their bike, or at least record the make, model, frame size, color(s), and especially the serial number. (It’s usually stamped into the bottom bracket shell of the frame, but sometimes not. Contact a dealer of your brand to help you out, if needed.)
    Bike thieves tend to be lazy and stupid. (Surprise!) More stolen bikes are actually recovered by police than most people think. They just don’t know who to return them to because a) they weren’t reported stolen in the first place, or b) the people who reported a bike stolen have no idea what the serial number was. A serial number is unique to that bike and absolutely differentiates it from a similar make and model. It is your proof that the bike is actually yours.

  7. Hah! My NY Legend 1515 is well over ten pounds, and that’s not even counting the secondary cable I use for my quick release wheels.

    1. “Lbs” as it’s commonly written, is an abbreviation we use here in America for pounds, like the unit for measuring weight. Yes I know it makes no sense, but it’s true.

  8. Google could probably answer this, but has anyone devised a bike where the frame serves as a lock?   Yeah, I know putting any kind of hinge or gap in the frame makes it inherently weaker.  But sawing/breaking the frame might be a disincentive to anyone wanting the bike.  Wheels would still be up for grabs.

    Oops, rtfa and someone suggested that.

    1. When I lived in Japan, I had – in fact, everyone had – bikes with integrated locks. You simply stuck a key into a part of the frame near the back wheel and the bike locked. You couldn’t move the wheel. It was great. I’m surprised they don’t make bikes like that anywhere else. :T

      1. The integrated lock would only help in those cases where the thief is intending on riding away on his ill-gotten steed(assuming the best-case scenario where the integrated lock actually works, and can’t be opened with a bic pen or a big mean screwdriver in 15 seconds…)

      2. I saw the same thing when I visited Tokyo. Hundreds of bikes that the only locking mechanism was to prevent the wheel from turning.

        That wouldn’t work in the US, where someone would just pick up the bike and walk off with it.

        1. I think that is heading down the right path, but I would say that a great solution would be quick and lock down thw whole bike.  I often struggle with the idea of taking my bike to get lunch just because I feel like locking it up would take almost as much time as riding it.  My car on the other hand,.. one button.

      3. The problem with the rear-tire locks on our Japanese mamacharis is that ruining the rear tire lock, say with cutters or a saw, wouldn’t ruin the frame; an even slightly determined thief could ride your bike away faster than you can say Gatchaman. (Also, see what I did there?)

      4. The reason they’re not in use anywhere else is because you can pick them with a paperclip or just pick the bike up and walk away. The fact is you don’t need a lock in Tokyo. No one steals bicycles. I live in Tokyo and I don’t have a lock on mine (and my bike is old but it’s actually still a pretty nice bike).

        It’s so nice to live somewhere where you don’t have to worry about your stuff getting stolen.

      5. The reason they’re not in use anywhere else is because you can pick them with a paperclip or just pick the bike up and walk away.  The fact is you don’t need a lock in Tokyo.  No one steals bicycles.  I live in Tokyo and I don’t have a lock on mine (and my bike is old but it’s actually still a pretty nice bike).

        It’s so nice to live somewhere where you don’t have to worry about your stuff getting stolen. 

    2. Puma had that where the down tube was actually a cable (no idea what that did for stiffness) and it could unlock and relock around things. Only thing is, locking that around something vertical would make you the asshole with his bike sticking out into the footpath.

  9. So far, about only 5 of the 6,000 “Boris bikes” in London have been stolen. So the answer seems to be: have a docking station instead of a lock and make sure your bike has a scrap value of just £35.

  10. hahaha pounds. an lb is just a measurement time.
    ride a 10 speed specialized tricross and its the only bike ill need all my life.
    only had it for about a year and have had the seat stolen twice and have came back to my bike to watch someone with bolt cutters hacking at my kryptonite lock

    1. Scooters are easy to ride, so they get stolen in greater proportions than motorcycles*. Just make the bicycle hard to ride – like a reverse steering bike: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K8W4fqRO_CY

      * I can’t verify this claim – heard it somewhere

    2. Yep, my friend had is Harley stolen by a crew of guys that were apparently driving around in a van and just loading them in, and then parting them out. Here in Chicago, I would not leave my bike out without my kryptonite lock, and even locked up I wouldn’t leave it unattended for very long.  As other people mentioned, they’ll start stealing parts then…

      I also would ditch all quick release components.

      I just weighed my u-lock and it’s about 3.5 lbs, doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up when you start putting other items in your bike bag: groceries, BEER!, etc…

    3. scooters don’t require the user to expend energy to use them. most 50cc scooters weigh about 100lbs. A 100lb bike would probably not have to worry about being stolen because the thief would have to expend energy to make it move. A scooter on the other hand will move itself once you’ve got it home and hotwired it. 

  11. Here is a similar strategy for computers, where a guy filled his computer with cement and left it outside:

    Regarding bikes, I’ve always wondered if people who ride for exercise aren’t defeating the purpose by buying ultralight bikes. Although regular commuters can leave a lock at their work, which overcomes some of the argument against heavy locks.

    1. … defeating the purpose by buying ultralight bikes….

      But ultralight bikes are _fun_ to ride. A bike’s exercise potential is zero if nobody wants to ride it.

  12. I bike in Boston and only carry a U-Lock. 

    I used to always carry the U-Lock and a cable, and go through the laborious ritual of looping the cable through my wheels and seat post each time I locked up.

    Then I bought locking skewers for my wheels and seat, and have never been happier. Just lock the frame — or even through just a wheel and nothing else if you’re trying to squeeze into a full bike rack — and away you go. They can’t remove the wheels from the frame unless they have power tools.

    … but that does remind me of how I always see bike after bike after bike locked in bike racks with a chain going very diligently through the front wheel, with the back wheel left free. Somehow the myth that back wheels are harder to remove has wormed its way into every biker’s head, and they leave the more expensive wheel hanging out for any thief with a spare 20 seconds on his hands…

    1. I learned this lesson the hard way many years back, and the real wheel was not quick release.  I lock through the back now.

  13. “If you had an extra twelve pounds to make your bike theft-proof, how would you do it?

    1 lb of fabric to cover the bike completely
    1/2 lb of paint and signage warning would-be thieves not to steal or even try to move this bike
    9 pounds of explosives
    1 1/2 pounds of electronics to make it all work

  14. I have a cargo bike that weights more than 50lbs, and then two heavy chains for it, because I would be very sad if it got stolen. Granted, this was more of a risk in Holland, where I bought it and nobody cares how much bikes weigh because the country is so flat.

  15. My entire rural area is invaded on weekends by hordes of bicyclists. It’s a recreational area for them but meanwhile those of us who live here have places to go and things to do. If their pack is large enough, they get off their bike paths and form a huge moving roadblock on the road, which is too curvy to pass safely.

    I mean, I don’t head to their neighborhood and spend hours idling my car around their streets as a form of entertainment.

    I have never thought about theft as a partial – but profitable – solution, so thanks Boing Boing!

    1. Fortunately, as a bike rider who loves on the edge of a town precisely because it’s very easy to go ride in the beautiful, quiet country lanes nearby, I’ve found the vast majority of people who, like you, live there, are gracious, well-mannered and were taught by their parents to share.

  16. My anti-theft strategy includes fixing both wheels with Pitlock axles. You need a specifically shaped nut to unscrew them (there are 256 variants). This allows me to take only one (top of the range Kryptonite or Abus) U-lock and make sure my bike stays where I leave it.

  17. Integrated locks are a great idea…and why the heck don’t they make bikes with integrated ALARMS?  Stealing a bike with a 120db squealer on it would be…annoying.  Not the “easy target” most thieves are looking for.  

    Not to be negative, but I wonder if integrated locks/alarms not being an option is a bit of purposeful neglect…planned obsolescence.  You sell more bikes that way…

    Found at least one bicycle alarm available: http://www.ducharmealarmsystems.com/

    1. I…why the heck don’t they make bikes with integrated ALARMS? Stealing a bike with a 120db squealer on it would be…annoying.

      If someone steals your bike, you might get it back. You can’t do much with a bike that’s been sledgehammered to pieces because the alarm pissed off the neighborhood.

  18. When I moved to NYC I bought a very ugly used bike on eBay for under $100 and then spent almost as much on a fancy Kryptonite lock and chain.  Sure enough, nobody ever tried to steal my bike.  But they did break my lock and steal my Kryptonite chain (leaving the bike behind).  Sigh.

  19. It would not be inexpensive; but contemporary low-power microcontrollers and GSM hardware would probably allow you to embed a cellular tracking device and several months worth of lithium primary cells directly into the tubular frame elements. Have a physical cut-off switch that keeps the system unpowered until somebody forces an easy-to-defeat wheel lock or similar, to save power, and then have it start phoning home.

    With the low self-discharge of lithium cells, such a system should be good for a decade+ without replacements if inactive. Longer than that, or after activity, you’d start having to consider whether the risk of discovery and deactivation is worth making replacement easy, or whether permanently entombing it is more your style….

  20. Why not get a folding bicycle? I have a Brompton – folds small enough to take with you on public transportation, to library, office

  21. Not every place is so crime-ridden that bikes need such robust locks. There’s a fair amount of bike theft in my town, but nothing like NYC or Amsterdam, and I get the impression most of that theft falls under the category of “crime of opportunity.” I lock my street bike with an ordinary U-lock, but could probably get away with less. I rode across the USA and, stopping mostly in small towns, never locked my bike once.

  22. As much fun as it would be creating the heaviest bike possible to foil thieves, it just seems easier to have a POS bike that no one would want to steal in the first place. A crappy paint job, rust every where, and a worn/torn seat to top it all off.

  23. When I lived in the city I had a folding Brompton bicycle.
    You can take it with you on public transportation, to the office.

  24. I’ve had my nice 10-speed racer over 25 years. The frame’s rusty; the paint’s worn off in places; the chain’s gunky; there are usually a few cobwebs here and there as I have to store it in our barn. It rides like a dream, though nobody realises this, and I just lock it up with a fairly cheap bike lock, which is just there to deter opportunist thieves, kids who’ll ride off any anything that’s not tied down. It doesn’t look like it’s worth anyone’s while trying to break the lock. Mind you, it probably helps that we live in a rural area where there’s very little crime…

  25. in rotterdam, you always knew the going price of one hit of heroin by how much the junkies were charging for a stolen bicycle.

  26. If you paint your bike bright blue with gold sponge-splotches and have a fluffy sheepskin seat cover…. nobody will steal it. Or if they do, they’ll return it once their drunken desperation turns into shocked hangover. 

    1. I’m sure some drunken Hipster would love to get their mitts on that. Congratulations on making your bike a theft magnet.

  27. I built a bike. As in I welded the frame out of a pile of tubes, not just upgraded the wheels and derailleurs and consider myself to be an expert bike builder… Anywho… I built a front loading cargo bike that can truck around 200lbs without too much trouble. The bike itself is 50+lbs (I blame the damn massive wheels). I can tell you that this bike is not hard at all to pedal. It in fact moves much better than my crappy cruiser. The problem with a 50lbs bikes is not the starting, its the stopping… It just wants to keep on keeping on and if it wasn’t for disc brakes, it probably would. I can’t speak to it’s ability to get stolen as I’m very protective of it, but I can say that its a nightmare to lift and lock into the bike stand for maintenance…

    1.  I built a front loading cargo bike that can truck around 200lbs without too much trouble.

      I don’t know what my bike weighs, but it trucks around well over 200 pounds as well. Though I don’t really consider that cargo.

      1. haha! Yeah, the exact situation was average girl pedaling around a very tall man in the cargo area… I’m not sure of the rider tolerances on this guy, but anything beyond 200lbs in the cargo area and the steering becomes very squirrelly. Still, that being said, if you can lift it, you can steal it… this guy just might be a bit more difficult to pop in the back of a truck due to it’s length… I suppose I could uncouple the steering mechanism to discourage it from being ridden off. It’d be funny to see what would happen to a potential thief when the front wheel spins and locks… XD

  28. Just put a sticker for the band This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb on your bike and you’ll be fine.

  29. I’ve had a heavy old Raleigh for 13+ years, It was already rusty when I got it but I ductaped bits of it and even tho I had a brand new comfy seat I totally covered it with more ductape and stored a rainyday plastic bag under it, it looked ghetto and tho I live in the ghetto, no one ever bothered stealing it, most times I would just lean it against the bike parking without even locking it up –this is in Toronto during the Igor Kenk days too http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Igor_Kenk and yep, its still haulin me around, my bike is a workhorse and goes like the wind, just goes to show ya, duct tape for everything!

  30. Most of the urban outdoorsmen/housing challenged in my town are riding around on bikes with disc brakes and high end derailleurs.  Hell I’m tempted to steal from them since after all I would just be recycling the ownership of the bikes, at least this is my current rationalization.  

  31. Lots of great ideas that would be completely and neatly defeated by a guy throwing the bike in a truck.

  32. Drunk people are surprisingly strong. I know many of the bikes that are stolen are done during the drunken walk home at 3am, and seeing possibly a better conveyance, it gets a joy ride to the local river for a toss. I doubt then short of herculean chains, that it really matters what kind of bike it is, or how ugly, or expensive it might be… Its just a temporary solution to the problem of walking.

  33. I think the urban camouflage is probably the easiest and effective way to deter a thief. Most couriers i saw in Boston/NYC make their rides look as crappy as possible (Although it doesnt do much for the wheels) . And locking your ride up at night is giving them all the time they need to come back with the right tools for the job. How about the easiest and most common way of deterring a theft – community awareness? If someone sees a bike being stolen, intervene and either prevent or draw attention/record the thief. Doing the right thing in these instances, would cut down immensely on thefts and be imminently more workable than expensive fixes or future technology. 

  34. I had a late 1930s Elgin Bluebird. It was distinguished by its angled seatpost and skip-tooth front sprocket.  Oh yeah, it weighed 55-pounds!!  And was awesome!  I miss it…a lot.

  35. Pitlock and Pinhead brands make security bits for your quick release wheel skewers, threadless headset, and seatpost. I’d also recommend the Tange T-3330 removable lugged head seatpost if you have a nice saddle (such as a Brooks). Then, you’d only have to augment the setup with a minimally sized U-lock around the frame. 
    To further save weight, if you find you go to the same few places, then just buy more U-locks and leave them behind, much like the photo for the post. 

    Is it me, or are the comments starting to look like YouTube?

  36. Why don’t they make bikes that lock? Like the wheels, handlebar and pedals all can be keyed to lock, so that if you did cut the chain, you would have to carry it away and then cut it apart just to use any part of it, and if you had to do that the value would be very low.  Instead, its a speedy getaway, an $80 sale. all for cutting a $20 lock.

  37. They used to hang people for stealing horses, didn’t they?

    On a side note, I’ve always thought local TV news operations could have a field day with ‘To Catch A Predator’ style video stakeouts for bike thieves.

  38. I just purchased a Stromer electric bike the other day.  It weights 62 pounds.  Still trying to determine what kind of lock to buy for it.  The best bet so far appears to be a kryptonite series 2 or 4 lock.  I am still deciding which to get, I have been seeing a number of complaints about the series 4 locks.  I have a small series 4 lock that I have had for a few years and never had a problem with it.

    What is the logic behind using a very heavy lock with a heavier bike ?

  39. I’ve had some issues with locking my bike, though the truth is there is no such thing as the “theft-proof bike”. Keeping it in a safe place and with a U-lock seems to be the best you can do, though the TiGR lock that just got Kickstarted seems like another possibility. Like a lot of other people are saying in the comments, making it unappealing to steal goes along way, or just parked next to someone who’s bike is more ripe for the taking isn’t a bad option either.

    On a lighter note, I wrote two comics about locking your bike up, as I’m both a comic artist and a cyclist. If there was ever a post to share these with likeminded people, this seemed like it. Here’s the new bike lock I created (comic): http://www.notquitewrong.com/rosscottinc/2009/07/20/the-system-248/
    And one on locking up in general: http://www.notquitewrong.com/rosscottinc/2009/10/09/the-system-286-locking-bikes/

  40. I’ve had many bikes stolen, most of them were locked.  I’d use a 50 lb. bike lock if I thought that’s what it took to make it pretty safe.

  41. I own 2 bikes:

    – A high quality bike with a computer and other accessories which I use for long recreational rides and never leave locked anywhere. I also go to work on it and bring it inside with me.

    – A cheap, functional, bare bones bicycle which I use to run errands or go downtown. I lock this one outside and wouldn’t care that much if someone stole it..

  42. I’m kind of getting the “old cyclists’ saw” that you quoted. “Uglifying” a bike is an old technique for discouraging thieves. The thing is, though, that the people with really expensive bikes won’t want to do that, because then their bike isn’t shiny and pretty and an object of envy for others. So, the guy who insists on carbon-fiber everything ends up getting that heavy New York-rated lock and chain.

    Also, I wonder how much cycling experience Mike Estee has, if he considers a 50-lb bike heavy; certainly most touring bikes are in excess of that loaded, and for that matter a lot of cyclists could decrease their rolling weight simply by taking it off themselves.

  43. In India, virtually all bicycles have a nice easy keyed locking mechanism that lives over the back wheel and locks the rear wheel when not in use. Doesn’t prevent someone from driving off with it, but thoroughly prevents rideoffs. A great solution for short stops during the day, and/or on cheaper bikes.

  44. small thread of steel or Zylon-fiber line, about 20 meters, and a simple bike chain.  if they break the chain and take off with the bike… time to mix in some benny hill soundtrack.

  45. What I actually use are pit locks. What I fantasize about every time I come out of my office to find my bike knocked on the ground (still locked to the meter) by some FiDi douchebag, or the brakes disconnected by bike messengers (yes, this seriously happened- there was a Passive Aggressive Note that would have been hilariously pathetic if it weren’t so busy dripping with delusional entitlement) is electrifying as much surface area on the bike as I could, with some sort of beeper to activate/deactivate the Shock The Shit Out Of You If You Touch My Bike Device. I haven’t looked into it on the basis that such things are part of the slippery slope down to obtaining my own private skull-shaped island, but man. Tempting.

  46. Maybe a really cheap plywood bike would be possible and would solve the problem? (cut on an open-source CNC router, 1″ plywood) http://boingboing.net/2011/07/05/kickstarter-project-2.html
    With plywood wheels! (And just take your cushioned seat off, leaving a plywood seat for “borrowers”.)
    The drive-train is an obvious difficulty, use up-down foot motion?
    Maybe not for long rides (no shocks, wheel traction problems) but a simple cheap bike that snaps together is appealing!

  47. I ride a $20 bike with a $3 lock. I figure a bike is like a tank of gas; it gets me a few hundred miles then i get another.
    The technomad bike had the electric shock feature, as well as a computer-spoken warning system.
    appropriate system: gps tracking device, warning sticker, shotgun. sometimes just the warning sticker.

  48. What we need is a cheap source for lightweight  case-hardened steel chain. (I haven’t found it).  Thread it through all, and a small case-hardened lock, if such a thing exists. I don’t believe one can cut or saw through case-hardened steel without a huge amount of work, so it should be a good solution.

  49. When I lived in Tucson back in the early 90’s, there was a local character known as The Lead-Filled Bike Guy who was an aging body-builder. He had filled the frame/tubes of his single-speed bike with lead shot. You’d see him on the hottest 100-plus degree days, wearing nothing but a green Speedo  – not even shoes – slowly and painfully pedaling. He used the bike as part of his extreme weight-training routine. He’d have to stand on the pedals and he’d be breathing through his clenched teeth – HEESH! HEESH! HEESH! He kinda looked like ‘Locke’ from Lost.

    I heard an engineering student estimate that the bike weighed 400 lbs., but you know engineers and their grasp of real-world applications.Somehow, I feel this is not the audience for a discussion of the merits of intentionally inefficient physical labor for the purposes of strength-training…

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