The information presented here is intended for students in Palo
Alto schools, to help them lock their bikes as securely as
possible given the type of racks that have been provided for
Parking a bike is
not like parking a car...everything is exposed and vulnerable. That
means that it is important where you lock your bike and how you lock it.
The best places for your bike are (in decreasing order of preference):
your home or office (lock it to a desk or table if you
aren't always there)
locked bike room with limited access
fully-enclosed bike locker
In a bike
a fence, tree, post or other immovable object
only to itself or to another bike
The rest of
this page is for students who can't store their bike inside or in a
locker, and it should help you to do the best job possible in your
should always lock your bike as securely as possible. If it is not fully
enclosed you should remove any expensive accessories (lights, computer,
tool bag). You can't lock a bike securely enough to foil determined
thieves, but you can slow them down or discourage them enough that they
may move on to another bike.
don't like to be watched. They prefer out-of-the-way locations
to busy areas. Unfortunately, many schools
like to put the bike parking in out-of-the-way locations that
allow a thief plenty of time and privacy to break your lock. You
may be better off using only a frame and front wheel locking job
to a post in a busy area than a frame and both wheels locking
job to a rack in a hidden location. On the other hand your bike
is exposed to many more people in the busy area, and the higher
visibility puts it at risk for vandalism.
lock your bike to some immovable object. Locking the bike to
itself only prevents someone from riding it, but it is easy to
carry the bike away and cut the lock later. You should try to
lock both wheels and the frame to the object, or you
can end up with one of the situations shown below.
Oops! Forgot to lock the frame.
Oops! Forgot to lock the wheels.
are three main types of locks: U-locks, cable locks and chain
locks. U-locks cannot be cut with clippers and must be sawed or
broken by prying apart the arms with a jack or with levers. Some
key mechanisms were easy to pick at one time, but that
defect has been corrected in newer models. Use the smallest
U-lock that works for your bike to minimize the amount of space
available for thief to insert a jack or levers. Cable locks come in
different diameters, and the larger ones are stronger. Some have
sheaths that make cutting more difficult. Chains are less
convenient to use than cables because the links get caught on
spokes and other things, and most can be cut easily with bolt
cutters. A good chain is also very heavy. A Cable with a built-in lock
is better than a
cable with a padlock because the padlock is much easier to cut
than the cable. It also means you can't forget part of it, since
it is all one piece.
rack will allow the use of a U-lock. Unfortunately, not all
schools have good racks, so you might have to use a cable lock. The
best thing to do is use both types of lock. Each one takes a
different and bulky tool to break, and it is unlikely that a
thief will be carrying both.
Types of racks and how
to use them
A good rack will
support the bike at two points to keep it from falling over, and
will allow frame and one or both wheels to be locked to the
rack. A good rack should also be fastened securely to the ground
so the whole thing can't be trucked away. Good racks are
expensive and much less common than poor racks. This section
will show you how to best lock your bike to low-quality racks.
If you are fortunate enough to encounter a good rack, the
techniques below can still be used and will be easy.
These are the lowest of the low in terms of quality. The one
shown is slightly better than many, since it does have the
horizontal bar down near the ground to support the wheel.
Still, the bike tends to fall over sideways, especially if
the wheel is narrow compared to the spaces between the bars.
The photo below shows the intended usage. Only the front
wheel can be locked unless you have a very long cable or
Here are some ways to make better use of a comb rack. If you
have the strength and space to lift your front wheel over
the rack you can lock the frame to the rack. The first photo
shows the frame locked with a U-lock, while the second one
shows frame and both wheels locked with a cable lock. Even better, do both!
The best way to use a comb rack is sideways, as shown below.
This allows frame and front wheel to be locked with a cable
lock, and the rear wheel (which also secures the frame) to
be locked with a U-lock. This uses most of the rack for one
bike, though, so you might not always be able to do this.
Note that if you secure your rear wheel inside the rear
triangle, as shown above, you are securing the frame
automatically since the wheel can't be separated from the
Ignoring the inside of the rack and using the end as a
simple post also works well, as shown below, where frame and
front wheel are locked with a cable and the rear wheel with
a U-lock. There are only 2 ends per rack, though, and they
fill up fast in heavily-used locations, so try to show up
early to get one of these spaces.
These look similar to the racks used for cooling toast. The photo below shows
the intended use for these racks, which again only allows the front wheel to be
locked unless you have a very long cable.
Putting the bike in "backwards" works much better, as shown below, allowing
frame and front wheel to be locked with a more normal length of cable.
Even better is to ignore the wheel slot completely, and roll the bike so that
the seat tube is near to the high point of the wheel slot. The photo below shows
the front wheel and the frame locked to the rack with a cable and the rear wheel
(and the frame) locked to the rack with a U-lock. You need room on both sides of
the rack to do this and you don't always have that. Also, some toast racks have
a horizontal bar across the top, and you have to lift your bike over that to get
it in backwards. Still, with some ingenuity and extra space you can usually make
it work. Proper positioning of the pedals makes it easier.
A simple vertical post such as a parking meter, small tree or porch column can
serve if there is no rack available or if the racks are full. Be sure to pick
one that doesn't allow the bike
and lock to be lifted up and slid off the top. Only very skinny posts allow the
use of U-locks, but a cable lock works with all sizes. Be sure to go all the way
around and through both wheels. Position the pedals properly to get the bike as
close to the post as you can to make it easier. The support post of a chain link
fence is better than the fence itself, since the fencing material is much easier
to cut than a bike lock or the post.
This is a bad choice
of posts. The bike can be slid off the top, and
you might get in trouble for blocking a fire
This is a good
choice of posts, although the fence support
behind it might be even better, since it is
skinny enough that a U-lock might fit.
tips and tricks
are absolutely unable to lock both your wheels, you may want to
make your wheels harder to remove by using locking skewers.
These have a removable lever that acts as a key, and the wheels
can't be removed with normal tools.
seats with quick release clamps can be easily stolen. If you
don't need to adjust your seat frequently, and most people
don't, you can replace the quick release with a fixed bolt. If
you want to keep the quick release, there are several locking
mechanisms available to keep your seat from being stolen. You
can also pull it out yourself and either take it with you or
thread your cable through the seat rails and lock it along with
your bike (this isn't' possible with some combinations of
saddles and cables). Use a piece of tape on the seat post so you
can easily get it back to the same height. You can lock your
helmet the same way, threading the cable through the straps, if
you don't want to take it with you.
License and/or register your bike. Most states have optional
licensing programs, although there are places, such as Stanford
University, where licensing is required. There are also private
bicycle registry programs. These don't prevent your bike from
being stolen, but they greatly increase your chances of
recovering a stolen bike. There are also insurance programs
offered by the major lock manufacturers.
Click here to get a
printable, one-page PDF file that is a short version of the
information above, aimed at bike parking at schools.
here for the Wikipedia entry on bike locks
for bicycle theft information from Bicycle Source
Click here for Jim Langley's advice on How to Lock a
here for bike locking information from Sheldon Brown
Click here for bike locking information from the Missing
Link Bike Co-op
Click here for information on bike locks from "Why
for information on the National Bike Registry
Click here for the bike parking guidelines from the
Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals
Click here for Chapter 10,
the bike parking chapter, of the VTA Bicycle Technical