With nearly 40000 stolen motorcycles a year in the UK it is in every owner's interest to become somewhat familiar of best practices to deter thieves as much as possible.
A motorcycle is one of our biggest assets, but easier to steal than a car and can cost just as much. The following article describes how motorcycles are stolen and best ways to proactively act against it.
To become best prepared against theft we need to understand how the are performed. The following is not to give ideas to thieves (as are they already doing these), but to shine some light on what is actually happening to the general public to raise awareness.
You may see videos online of people showing how quickly high-security locks can be picked. Keep in mind those videos are made in the most ideal conditions: placed standalone on a table for easy access, well-lit conditions, no pressure from bystanders and even then the fastest times are posted online. In reality this is a very rare case, noone will sit on the ground for an uncertain period of time trying to get lucky picking your motorcycle locks while under pressure from being detected and potentially confronted by pedestrians or drivers. Locks will also be harder to access, see and work on.
Motorcycles are light enough to be partially lifted off the ground by two men holding each side of the handlebar making disc locks useless (especially applied to the front wheel). Thieves (obviously) want to move the bike away as fast as possible, that's why locking it to an immovable object is crucial.
Thieves don't need to start the bike to take it away. As long as the bike can roll freely one can steer it while the other actually pushes it with his foot riding another scooter or motorcycle. This makes it look like as if two people riding very closely to each other.
Brute force attacks are possibly the most common methods targeting physical security devices directly with crowbars, sledgehammers, freeze-sprays, bolt-croppers, hacksaws and even grinders. The fact is that sooner or later they will succeed, our aim is to make it so much effort that it just won't be worth it.
"You don’t have to run faster than the bear to get away. You just have to run faster than the guy next to you.".
A group of thieves may even attack riders on the move in hope to gain full access including the key. You can spot them mostly on mopeds in pairs wearing balaclavas. This type of attack became increasingly popular after 2010 when thieves believed police are not allowed to chase and knock them off their moped when not wearing helmets due to endangerment to their precious lives. Fortunately this has changed and these petty criminal lost their get out of jail free card resulting in a deep decline of this type of crime.
This type of attack highlights the actual intellect level of these people: a group of 4 to 6 thieves physically attacking individual riders even on low value scooters. The risk to gain ratio is just out of proportion. The crime has just elevated from theft to premeditated gang assault in order to gain a small of share of a stolen scooter (that could worth just £1000 sold legally), so split it 5 ways minus all the waste you can't sell and each got just about enough for a happy meal. Simply genius. It just solidifies the point made earlier why these cunning criminal masterminds wouldn't start carrying out sophisticated heists picking locks in silence.
How to be prepared for this? Be aware of your surroundings, keep an eye on the mirrors at traffic lasts and be prepared to pull the key out in case you cannot get away in time. They count on being able to ride the bike away with the keys in quickly. Having to fight for the keys in your hand (or better yet pocket) just makes it too slow, too much hassle and more risky even for them. Not to risk any more physical encounters you can throw the key away to a nearby lake, sewer, grass or somewhere similar - a slight inconvenience on your part (you should a have second key at home in case you can't recover it), but it's better than losing the bike.
Another type of physical attack is targeted at bystanders, where a group of thieves surround a locked motorcycle attempting to scare potential intruders away while some of them are using brute force attacks to free the motorcycle from its shackels. This is also rare, high risk and can be slow depending on the physical security applied to the motorbike. Always call the police immediately if your spot anything suspicious like this.
Instead of ranking actual brands, we'll just talk about the most and least effective security devices.
The bare minimum and only deters absolute opportunists from pushing the bike away. It can be broken in a second with a longer nailbar.
Some motorcycles ship with immobilizer built-in, for example H.I.S.S for Honda Ignition Security System. This may be good enough helping to prevent starting the bike without the actual key, but in real life motorcycles are rarely hard-wired when stolen making it almost useless fighting theft. Manufacturers instead should focus on creating anchor points or gaps on frames for chains providing much higher security.
Probably the most commonly used motorcycle security device due to its price, ease of use and transport. While most people lock the front wheel, it is more secure to apply it to the rear. The front wheel is held by an axle only that can be removed and replaced quickly and silently. Alarmed disc locks are also available, but their motion sensor can be quite sensitive and using them in windy areas can trigger fake alerts.
Thickness and material of chains matter. Always buy a high grade (like boron steel) security chain with at least 16mm link thickness. Thick boat anchors are also available cheaper, but they are also much softer and faster to cut through, although they are still tough and can act as a good deterrent.These chains are heavy with 16mm being almost the only secure and light enough to carry around. The outer link dimension of a 19mm chain is nearly identical to the 16mm (63mm vs 62mm) meaning if you can pull a 16mm chain through the frame of your motorcycle, chances are the 19mm will fit as well whilst providing extra security. 22mm high-security chains are also available with outer link dimension of 78mm. If you commute to the same place on a regular basis it's better to keep any of these chains at work and also one at home. They are not cheap, but think of them as life-long investments.
How secure are motorcycle chains? 14mm and below can be bolt-cropped by hand, which is fast and quiet. 16mm link thickness and over require powertools (or specialist hydraulic cutters). Grinders will eventually cut through any of them, but super strong 19 and 22mm motorcycle chains can take over 15 minutes of constant grinding chewing threw discs and battery life. One must really be desperate to attempt to steal a bike secured so well.
16mm plus chains are just simply too thick for bolt-croppers to get an initial bite and also too tough for someone to attempt cutting through with a hacksaw. Round chains are also harder to grip with bolt-croppers than squared ones. This eliminates all the quiet attacks.
Use a high security lock along with it not to make it the weakest point to attack while keeping it off the ground. The lock being off-ground now eliminates the chances of using a freeze-spray and sledgehammer attack.
Ideally chain the frame of the motorcycle and/or the rear wheel to a ground anchor or post. This eliminates the possibility of the quick grab and drag method.
Some motorcycle locks, like the roundlock also double as a disc lock to carry around.
Alarms are useful to raise awareness, but don't rely on bypassers heroism to foil a theft attempt, so they are useful as long as you can hear them. A better option is alarms with text messaging capabilities. That way the motion sensor won't just issue a nearby audible warning, but can also make you aware from further away.
GPS trackers provide reactive ways to recover already stolen motorcycles. Ensure it is installed hidden using a secondary power supply (battery or power bank) as thieves are likely to rip out the main motorcycle battery, then leave it somewhere and wait a few days to see if anyone recovers it.
Any chain below 16mm thickness can be bolt-cropped by hand, no matter how sold secure rated it is!
A chain is as strong as its weakest link, don't let it be the lock itself.
Prevent sledgehammer attacks by keeping the lock off the ground in a hard to reach place (e.g. near the side frame between other motorcycles).
The more awkward it is to fit the lock the harder it will be to get to for thieves as well.
Most insurance companies also require the use of a ground anchor when declared parked in garage overnight.
Better motorcycle parking spaces are equipped with ground anchors, otherwise park near a lamp post or fence railings. Some ground anchors are bolted down leaving full access to the head of the bolts defeating their own purpose. Instead use motorcycle Y anchors, which need to be concreted into the ground leaving no weak part exposed to hold onto or use bolted anchors with a plate covering the bolts when in use. Make sure they cannot be pried up.
We are not here to promote different brands, but to point out their usefulness and that they don't need to cost a fortune. There are popular and highly recommended brands that your local garage can install and they mostly come with an annual subscription fee for tracking.
The alternative is to search around on amazon, ebay or any other trusted online shopping site and you'll find some well rated ones with all the features you need for less than £50 and they actually work. In some cases alarms can be optionally connected to the motion sensor and the unit can be controlled via text messages (you'll need to fit a mini or micro sd card from the mobile provider and subscription of your choice). They may also come with a fob. Some models can even cut the pump stalling the motorcycle (at low speeds only for safety) in event of theft.
Don't settle just for one. Combining security devices greatly lowers risk.
Unfortunately not everyone has the luxury of keeping their motorcycle in a garage or even a shed. It also lowers insurance premiums, so it may pay for itself in the long run to even buy or build a storage provided you have the space. Installing a wireless motion sensor alarm in the garage or shed can be easy, cheap and effective. You can also chain multiple motorcycles together with a longer chain to a ground anchor.
Parking at work the opposite applies, find parking on high streets or busy locations if possible.
As sad as it sounds this may be the way for some to keep their rides. Personally I had my Fireblade stolen twice within a single year (second time never recovered whilst stolen midday from a CCTV operated public car park). Downgrading to a cheaper, older, more average 600-ish motorcycle afterwards allowed me stick with it for the next 5 years in the same area. This does not necessarily mean to completely sacrifice your dreams, maybe just a little from Monday to Friday, then get your other hidden treasure out of the garage for weekend fun (if can afford to do so).
Keep in mind that a lower value motorcycle does not necessarily mean less chance for theft. Thieves are attracted to sportier looking bikes, even 125cc that worth less than higher capacity naked models. This also explains why insuring a Yamaha R125 would cost more than a Suzuki Bandit.
Insurance claims for theft are considered fault-claims from the insurer's perspective. This means insurance companies will practically blame you for having your motorcycle stolen resulting in increased premiums to recover payouts. Following the earlier example of my stolen Fireblade if I decided to replace it with an identical model of the same year and value my premium would have quadrupled (from around £600 to £2400/year - and this was the best quote shopping around, not sticking with the same provider).
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