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There’s a joke among cyclists that goes something like this:

“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?”

In a post that takes this question seriously, Mike Estee writes…

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?

Mike suggests that one way to start would be to fill the seat tube with cement and sink a GPS unit into it, so you’d always find the bike if it were stolen. I’d pick a unit that consumed little power and use a Faraday generator so I’d never have to give it a second thought.

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?

More:

Michael Colombo

Michael Colombo

In addition to being an online editor for MAKE Magazine, Michael Colombo works in fabrication, electronics, sound design, music production and performance (Yes. All that.) In the past he has also been a childrens’ educator and entertainer, and holds a Masters degree from NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program.


  • http://mrfnk.tumblr.com/ mrfnk

    I just drag the bike in the liqueur store with me.

  • http://twitter.com/ivjames Jim(my) Orr

    First idea off the top: Arduino + accelerometer + keypad for lock/unlock codes + siren + GPS beacon

    If you “lock” the bike, the accelerometer will notify the Arduino of movement, which will signal the siren to squeal. Keypad allows for one-button locking and multi-digit unlock codes. Weld the enclosure in an unobtrusive spot on your frame. Will of course need batteries, maybe these can recharge either from external power or dynamo-rig.

    The GPS Beacon’s a bonus for finding the bike in case the deterrent fails to deter.

  • Anonymous

    Just get a decent operating bike from your favorite auction (police, craigslist, ebay, farmhouse), and paint it and scratch it up ugly as sin.

    Or mount a dead dear-head on it, or something as tacky.Yes, no one wants a 50 lb bike, but thieves also don’t want a ugly one either.

    When it comes down to it, the bike is a mobility tool. It’s not a decoration.
    So it need not be pretty, to get you where you’re going.
    But if it’s extremely heavy, and you’re exhausted and on a hill… then a 50lb bike..will.

    • Anonymous

      I went the freecycle route, and got a cheap, almost new 18 speed mountain bike. 10 mins with marker pens, paint and files added a bit of age, 6 months of commuting have added grunge and rust (the chain and vital bits are looked after!), and its locked with an £80 motorbike lock, that stays where the bike is parked. – This makes a better deterrent as its a bitch of a lock so the thieves are more likely to go for a neighbouring bike that is a) cleaner/nicer and b) easier to steal!

    • Hugh Daly

      works on my car: https://fbcdn-sphotos-a.akamaihd.net/photos-ak-snc1/v2666/146/31/75900453/n75900453_30857552_7466217.jpg

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=77000939 Greggawatt Horton

    Electrified frame, and CS gas that goes off when you try to remove the wheels/ seatpost

  • http://www.facebook.com/Upir1 Rob Colby

    A mercury trigger and a block of C-4…?

  • Anonymous

    Build the lock into the bike! Place the lock (either key or combination) near the front fork and have the bolt slide into holes drilled through the fork when it is turn 90° degrees. When it is locked the thief can only ride around in circles. Bicycle racks could be built to accommodate the new lock, but they would take up more space. Busting the lock would damage the bike.

    • http://www.facebook.com/aspearce Adam Pearce

      Actually I have an old Raleigh with a built in fork lock that locks the front wheel straight. Effectively does the same thing since it stops the rider from dynamically balancing. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/aspearce Adam Pearce

      Actually I have an old Raleigh with a built in fork lock that locks the front wheel straight. Effectively does the same thing since it stops the rider from dynamically balancing. 

  • Rkt88 Edmo

    I ride a “longtail” cargo bike, a Surly Big Dummy to be exact.  It is ~45#s as normally outfitted by me and may even be 50#s when wearing the kids seat I designed for the long deck.

    Even though longtail bikes are heavier, larger, and more readily identifiable due to scarcity, theft problems definitely still exist.

    Maybe @ 70#s it might make more of a difference.

    • http://twitter.com/mikeestee Mike Estee

      You come to the heart of the point I was trying to make ;) A long tail bike still has a lot of utility at 45Lbs, a 50Lb fixi? not so much. But where is that tipping point? I think it’s a fun thought experiment :D

      @TwoReplies:disqus observation that you’ll probably get more milage out of uglifying your bike is spot on. I’d also be interested in seeing how long an ugly bike takes to get boosted if left unlocked.

      I think there is a research paper or three in the psychology of bike theft.

      • Rkt88 Edmo

        But you are measuring the utility and weight issue from a reasonable point of view which I don’t believe is shared by thieves.

        They aren’t so much into the utility of something, if they can steal it with a seemingly low risk at that moment, they will.   A 50# fixie is still a bike they can sell for $20.

        I did a full 100mile century on my dummy, so that may impair my own claim to reasonableness.

      • Rkt88 Edmo

        But you are measuring the utility and weight issue from a reasonable point of view which I don’t believe is shared by thieves.

        They aren’t so much into the utility of something, if they can steal it with a seemingly low risk at that moment, they will.   A 50# fixie is still a bike they can sell for $20.

        I did a full 100mile century on my dummy, so that may impair my own claim to reasonableness.

  • http://grathio.com Steve Hoefer

    Integrate the lock into the frame.  If you cut through the lock you’ve cut through the frame and ruined the bike.

    (Though @TwoReplies:disqus idea of uglifying a bike works a lot better than you’d think.)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=37705553 Scott Rocca

      If you look at the basic bike frame and how it works, this is a very easy thing to accomplish. Not only that, but if done right, the extra weight can be used to thicken the walls of the bike’s frame tubing to help to account for anti-theft. A good 8 to 10 lbs heavier spread out across thicker walled tube could accomplish this.

      Humm… To SolidWorks!

    • http://twitter.com/mikeestee Mike Estee

      this is a really great idea :) the top tube on a pivot of some sort seams like the first place to try this out. As Scott says “To SolidWorks!” :)

    • http://twitter.com/NevynPA Jeff Haskell

      Make the upper crosstube two pieces – one welded to the seatpost, the other welded to the fork tube, with a chunk at each end that is solid instead of hollow. Put a relatively deep tongue and groove joint about 2/3 of the way out from the seatpost, with a key lock built in. Lock it to ride, so that the frame is rigid. Unlock at destination, and it should have just enough flex to go around modest items (up to 3 or 4 inches maybe?). Re-lock the frame. I think that’d be just about perfect for keeping it locked, and only add 6-10 ounces to the weight.

    • http://twitter.com/NevynPA Jeff Haskell

      Make the upper crosstube two pieces – one welded to the seatpost, the other welded to the fork tube, with a chunk at each end that is solid instead of hollow. Put a relatively deep tongue and groove joint about 2/3 of the way out from the seatpost, with a key lock built in. Lock it to ride, so that the frame is rigid. Unlock at destination, and it should have just enough flex to go around modest items (up to 3 or 4 inches maybe?). Re-lock the frame. I think that’d be just about perfect for keeping it locked, and only add 6-10 ounces to the weight.

    • http://www.facebook.com/nickskvarla Nicholas Skvarla

      I like the adjustable u-locks (http://www.kindminds.com/adjustable-motorcycle-u-lock-K343-15.html) with the locking bit integrated into the frame. You’d have to make it so the keyhole is at right angles so you can unlock it.

  • http://twitter.com/gingerjet gingerjet

    A problem that is being worked on:  http://tigrlock.com/pages/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kevin-Bates/1173018076 Kevin Bates

    How does a heavy frame prevent theft?  I can just be ridden away…  Unless the point is that its so unable to be ridden that you cannot use it either…

    • Michael Colombo

      A 50lb bike would be a bit extreme of course, but if you’re already carrying a bunch of weight in your locking hardware…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=531946211 Benjamin J. Heckendorn

    RFID tag sensor in seat, card in pocket, deactivates alarm.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GSLO4RIXWYPAI2EPRQTF25KLRQ Br.Bill

    Two words: square wheels.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eric-Stinger/660297448 Eric Stinger

    obviously one needs to connect an electrical fence energizer to the bike…just don’t forget to disarm it!

  • Anonymous

    I think instead of theft prevention, we should be encouraging the theft with honeypot bikes. Let’s make bike thievery too expensive by catching every thief we can. Maybe the bikes take pictures of the thief. But don’t stop there, let’s get the next level up. Who pays for these stolen bikes?

    Can anyone think of a way to make private bike registration? Maybe you can’t sell a bike without title. RFID tags can provide the vin. Lookup the current owner at BikeVIN.com.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Anthony-Scalia/706825694 David Anthony Scalia

          I cannot agree more with a national registration system. Selling a stolen bike will be much harder if there is a sort of registration system.
            However, this type of registry has to be nationwide and recognized by law enforcement. Private bike registration is exactly the problem. Too many private companies offer bike registration and there is no communication between them and law enforcement.  I live in Italy and a company called EasyTag was the first to establish such a registry. I though it was a good thing but almost immediately others followed and no one wanted to register their bikes because there was no recognition by law enforcement.
         The only way a true bicycle registry can happen is if there is an equivalent of a motor vehicle dept. for bicycles. 

      • http://twitter.com/mikeestee Mike Estee

        the down side of a registration system is that it is highly likely it will become a source of tax income :/ not necessarily a bad thing if those taxes can be used to build up bike service infrastructure, but it’s a double edged sword.

        • Archer Sully

          There have been a couple of proposals for mandatory bike registration, in some cases requiring renewal, but none have gone anywhere. I think you are being a bit paranoid.

          Besides, a tax dedicated to bike infrastructure could be a good thing. Bike paths need maintenance just like roads, and if we pay for it ourselves, that gives drivers one less avenue of attack on cyclists.

    • http://twitter.com/mikeestee Mike Estee

      honeypot bikes are an excellent, excellent way to increase the opportunity cost of stealing a bike. they have been used in a few cases to great effect.

      maybe its a thing people (i.e. local bicycle clubs) could start setting up in co-operation with their local police departments? the main barriers to entry for this kind of program are the technical know-how, and the administrative time.

      here’s one half of that equation:
        http://hackaday.com/2008/07/26/honeybike-bicycle-thief-honeypot/

  • http://www.facebook.com/ytouchette Yves Jr Touchette

    You don’t need a lock if you ride the proper urban bike: http://www.bixi.com

  • http://twitter.com/davidharvey David Harvey

    High voltage capacitors on the lock, seat, and handlebars. They’re light, and could be easily charged with a dynamo or solar. Small rubber flaps cover the contacts when you are using the bike, and are removed when you leave it. It’s better than a siren – the thief’s screams and stream of expletives upon being zapped will be loud enough to attract attention.

    • http://rahere.livejournal.com/ Rahere

      Someone actually did that with a Porsche, after it had been considerably interfered with back in the 1970s. Turned out it was the garage safety guy who sued after he was thrown in a somersault ofer two cars and landed on his head. He lost, thankfully.

    • http://rahere.livejournal.com/ Rahere

      Someone actually did that with a Porsche, after it had been considerably interfered with back in the 1970s. Turned out it was the garage safety guy who sued after he was thrown in a somersault ofer two cars and landed on his head. He lost, thankfully.

  • Anonymous

    Well, cutting the metal of a U-bar could generate a small electric current, or once totally cut, open the circuit. Simply replace the other part with one that have a siren or if you’re a lot more evil, a pipe bomb. Ok, maybe something in the middle like fireworks, wouldn’t necessarily harm the thief but would definitely won’t go unnoticed.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Roberts/61407116 Jonathan Roberts

      Quite a few terrorists come to premature ends because of their lack of expertise when preparing explosives – I’m not really confident enough in my home made explosive skills to feel comfortable riding around in a mobile bomb. It’s also got to add quite a bit of weight to the frame, and doesn’t really eliminate the need for a u-bar lock. After some consideration, I’m going to stick with more conventional means.

  • Anonymous

    Well, cutting the metal of a U-bar could generate a small electric current, or once totally cut, open the circuit. Simply replace the other part with one that have a siren or if you’re a lot more evil, a pipe bomb. Ok, maybe something in the middle like fireworks, wouldn’t necessarily harm the thief but would definitely won’t go unnoticed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dan.retzlaff Dan Retzlaff

    While thinking about the most basic car theft prevention (the keyed ignition), I hit on the idea once of putting a lock on the crank that is integrated into the frame.  It wouldn’t weigh much, but would stop someone from riding it away.  Also, cutting it off would ruin the frame. (Though you’d have to somehow account for people who steal wheels :( )

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=772844145 Anne Speck

      Hmm… and the secondary car prevention is a club lock through the steering wheel — you could do something like that through the chain ring with an arm into the frame to keep it from turning. Still just a deterrent, but pawn shops are far less likely to be willing to disassemble/reassemble the drive train in order to sell a bike.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=809904893 Lisa Parratt

    Motorbikes weigh considerably more than 50lbs, but still get stolen frequently.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=809904893 Lisa Parratt

    Motorbikes weigh considerably more than 50lbs, but still get stolen frequently.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=809904893 Lisa Parratt

    Motorbikes weigh considerably more than 50lbs, but still get stolen frequently.

    • http://www.facebook.com/r.paliwoda Rebecca Paliwoda

      Motorbikes have a motor. Weight isn’t as much a factor when the rider doesn’t need to power the device.
      My bicycle is actually heavier than the ones my parents use, despite being smaller; I need to put a bit more effort into using it than they do over an equivalent distance.

    • http://www.facebook.com/r.paliwoda Rebecca Paliwoda

      Motorbikes have a motor. Weight isn’t as much a factor when the rider doesn’t need to power the device.
      My bicycle is actually heavier than the ones my parents use, despite being smaller; I need to put a bit more effort into using it than they do over an equivalent distance.

  • http://rahere.livejournal.com/ Rahere

    Park your bike opposite a café, enjoy a coffee with a steel bar alongside you, and watch.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/opspin Thorbjørn Kühl

      I think this and a whole lot of other suggestions unfortunately falls under vigilantism :-/

      It feels great, but it’s illegal, a better option would probably be to record the bike thief in pictures and video, then take these to the authorities, when the police refuse to do anything about it, you could post them on the interwebz, still vigilantism though :-/

      There was a danish television broadcast where they installed a TrippleTrack GPS (http://www.trippletrack.dk/) unit on a cargo bike (common theft object) and had it stolen, the bike thief even admited on tv that he’d stolen lots of bikes, sadly, consequences were never any different.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/opspin Thorbjørn Kühl

      I think this and a whole lot of other suggestions unfortunately falls under vigilantism :-/

      It feels great, but it’s illegal, a better option would probably be to record the bike thief in pictures and video, then take these to the authorities, when the police refuse to do anything about it, you could post them on the interwebz, still vigilantism though :-/

      There was a danish television broadcast where they installed a TrippleTrack GPS (http://www.trippletrack.dk/) unit on a cargo bike (common theft object) and had it stolen, the bike thief even admited on tv that he’d stolen lots of bikes, sadly, consequences were never any different.

  • http://twitter.com/buods Martin Spong

    GPS built into the frame charged by the bike and synced to iphone app. I have heard of pneumatic clamps fixed between frame and wheel to stop wheel aways, still doesn’t stop 2 guys in a truck going around and just lifting them in.
     A friend used to have a ‘trick seat’ in his backpack that had spikes (sharpened nails) welded to metal base just sticking through normal looking black pvc. He said he would come out of the shop many times to a guy rolling on the ground holding his backside often being laughed at by his own mates.

  • http://ackack.eu/ daniel

    You should have a look at this nice Dutch bike (chain lock built into the frame).

    http://www.vanmoof.com/vanmoof-no5

    • Anonymous

      I can’t stand the inadequate lights on these bikes. Many riders, I notice, won’t supplement them with better lights–because hey, why get more lights when you’ve got built-in ones?–and it makes them in-freaking-visible to cars on the road.

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