Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

06 October 2015

Can You Steer Someone Away From Stealing Your Bike?

The first person I ever knew who rode a fixed-gear bike outside a velodrome was a librarian at Rutgers, the college I was attending.  

Like many campuses, Rutgers suffered more than its share of bike thefts.  So did the surrounding city of New Brunswick, which was going post-industrial before anybody started using that term.  The problem was, nobody figured out what would replace those industries that were leaving the city.  (Rutgers?  What an idea!  Why didn't I think of that?!)

Still, this librarian--who looked like a Zen monk, though I couldn't have told you that because, at that time, I had no idea of what a Zen monk looked like!--never locked his Schwinn Paramount track bike whenever he went into a store, another Rutgers building or even when he went to see a film.  He wasn't worried, he explained, because bike thieves "don't know how to ride one of these bikes."  Someone who "borrowed" his steed, he said, "would break his legs" the moment he tried to coast or stop.

In those days, that was probably true.  Most thieves would have gone for a ten-speed bike from one of the popular makers of the time, such as Schwinn, Peugeot, Fuji, Motobecane or Raleigh.  Of course, a desperate person or a thief who didn't yet know any better would probably steal anything, but the common wisdom of the time said that thieves were thinking about quick turnaround and high resale value.  Back then, most thieves' potential customers would have turned up their noses at a bike with "only one" gear, probably conflating it with kids' bikes that came with coaster brakes.

In all the time I knew and rode with that librarian, he never had his bike stolen.  I wonder if he ever lost it later, when fixed-gear bikes became more popular.  For that matter, I wonder whether he's still riding or even alive, as he wasn't a young guy (though he rode like one) in those days!

I got to thinking about him and his bike when I saw this:

On Cool Things

Apparently, the lock in the cap keeps the bike from being steered.  So, if a thief makes off with your wheels, he can only ride in a straight line--even if a truck is directly in front of him.  Or someone crosses in the middle of the block.  Or someone with a leash longer than the Verrazano Bridge lets her dog run into your path.  

The librarian/rider said a thief would probably break his legs before he got anywhere with the bike. If someone takes a bike with the cap-lock, he or she will break--just about everything else, on his or her body, and the bike.

Or, someone could just pick up an unsteerable bike and load it into a truck or van.  If a human makes a lock, another human can find a way to break--or get around--it.

Hmm...Maybe there is no better deterrent to theft than a bike nobody else knows how to ride!


  1. As in the case of motorcycles, locking the wheels and making the item "nonportable" are the most effective. The most efficient way of doing that in the case of a bicycle is to use a U lock and cable and secure it to something immovable. Neat idea, however.

  2. Steve--The method you describe is the only one that gives you a chance of not losing your bike when you park it in most urban areas.