Keeping your Bicycle Secured while Touring / Camping

When I am bicycle touring my bicycle quickly becomes the most important possession that I have with me. This isn’t really hard to understand since it’s also my ticket home.

Keeping your bike secured during your bicycle touring adventure

Thoughts often turn to keeping the bike safe while you sleep or stop in at various places during your tour.

My motto is there should be one of three things on your bike at all times: Your hand, your butt or a good lock.

Jim Foreman

When you carefully think about this remark it makes a lot of sense so let’s talk about it a bit.

Your hand implies that you are right there talking to someone with your bike right next to you. It’s unlikely that someone will steal the bike from you in this circumstance.

When riding the bike your butt is likely to be on the seat and once again it’s unlikely that your bike will be stolen with you right there especially when you are riding it down the road.

Finally, we come to the comment about a good lock. There are many different locks available for purchase from locks like the Kryptonite New York ULock right through to simple combination chain locks like the ones I used when I was a kid.

Bicycle locks can help secure your bike but are they enough? Shown here are a Kryptonite New Yorker ULock, a Kryptonite Cable lock and the lock that I typically take with me when touring.

The New York ULock is great for protecting a bike. It’s strong, hard to break and has insurance to boot but it’s also HEAVY and somewhat bulky. Neither one of these characteristics is exactly desirable to a bicycle tourist.

The combination chain locks are a very minor nuisance to a bike thief. Chain tools or wirecutters are likely to be able to make quick work of them and if not then I can remember forgetting my combination when I was a kid and being able to quickly figure it out by listening to the clicks.

Padlocks aren’t necessarily much better depending on the design. I can remember losing the key to a shed when I was growing up. A few quick strategically placed whacks with a hammer rapidly destroyed the lock body allowing the shackle to release and bringing the door wide open.

As you can tell from what’s written above there are also different types of locks. You have ULocks which work by passing the U part of the lock through a wheel and alongside the seat post. You then disconnect the front wheel and add it to the UBar before snapping the whole thing shut. This is likely great for a city commute or shopping trip when you need a good lock but taking a front wheel off a fully loaded touring bicycle is never going to be considered a fun-filled activity!

Wire or chain locks work by wrapping the chain through the wheels and frame along with something secure and solid like a bike rack. These chains work well but they are also easier to break or cut from what I’ve heard.

The highly recommended solution in crime-prone cities seems to be to use both on the theory that a thief prepared for one type of lock may not be prepared for both. Remember that even in that circumstance you still have unprotected parts on the bike that could be easy to steal like the seat, derailleurs and any other part that’s easy to get at when the bike is unattended.

Ok, enough theory, what is my experience with locking the bike?

When I tour I generally tour in less urban settings. I have nothing against cities in particular except that I live in one so when I tour I generally want to get away from traffic and overpopulation along with all of the problems that bring to get out into the country where life seems much more relaxing and different. Crime seems to be much less of a problem in the smaller towns or in the countryside although you should never relax your guard entirely. After all, if someone does steal your bike with all your gear then you are looking at a pretty big adventure trying to find a way to get home!

In more rural settings I typically lock up my bike using a cable lock. The lock winds through the wheels and often a nearby picnic table or tree. Additionally, I try to lock the bike up relatively close to my hammock so that I can hear people when they attempt to steal the bike or go through the saddlebags.

Yes, I leave my saddlebags on the bike. For touring I prefer the Arkel’s for a number of reasons, not least of which, is that it generally takes an Allen key to remove the saddlebag from the bike. With practice, this doesn’t take much time and could be done relatively quietly but it is still a longer amount of time than how quickly and quietly you can remove a set of Ortlieb’s with their very nice quick release design.

Some people take their bags in their tent for the night partly to protect against theft, partly for convenience and partly to prevent animals from going through their things looking for a free meal.

If you do want to leave your saddlebags on the bike you can also obtain small cable locks that you could use to lock two saddlebags to the rack and each other.

Finally never forget the old saying “Out of sight, out of mind”. While not perfect it’s amazing how well a camouflaged tarp can hide a fully loaded touring bike. If someone has already marked out your bike for harvesting then it may not help that much but someone just cruising could easily overlook the bike entirely.

A lot of these comments appear directed at protection in a camping situation but they also apply to those times when you stop for a lunch break or a visit to a historical site. Be aware that another alternative especially at a tourist attraction is to explain that you are on a bicycle tour and that you are unsure about the safety of your bike on the outside bicycle rack. Make sure you nicely emphasize that the bike is your ticket home so it’s rather important to you right now.

I’ve used this approach four times when I haven’t liked the bicycle rack setup. In three cases I was invited to bring the bicycle inside and store it in a stockroom or someplace similar. In the fourth case I was shown a hidden video system and assured that they would put extra effort into watching my bike for me. I believe that they actually did this too since they called out to me and wished me well when I was unlocking the bike to go.

When I’ve stayed in a motel the bike has ALWAYS come into the room with me. This is a non-negotiable condition for me. I am definitely not going to have my bike sitting outside waiting to be grabbed while I am inside in a relatively sound deadened room. I haven’t had a problem taking my bike inside but if the occasion arises when this is a problem then I will be either moving on to look for another motel/camping location etc or accepting a reasonable and safe compromise that doesn’t involve endangering my bike and/or gear.

When staying at a campground I make it a habit to be friendly to people around me. They soon become well aware that I am riding a bicycle and as a result, they also tend to keep an eye on the bike for me when I leave to take a shower etc. When in doubt I have been known to ask people to keep a weather eye on the bike too.