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Motorcycles are highly susceptible to theft. They are like cars with no doors and no hood. Anyone walking by can get at the engine and the electronics, and once they do, they can drive off. But motorcycle security is also like bicycles security because they can be anchored or lifted away. So security is forced to be a hybrid between the two. The owner of the vehicle must take into account the weaknesses and strengths of their transportation. By finding the security flaws and understanding the criminal’s methods, theft prevention can become a lot easier. When is a motorcycle the least secure, and what can increase that security? Understand why something happens and it can allow you to go beyond the expected lines of defense. Know the danger so that you can better protect yourself.
The Basics of Motorcycle Security
(Image Source: Flickr)
Having your motorcycle stolen is every biker’s nightmare and unfortunately, particularly in cities, it is still a big problem. Security is something every biker needs to consider; below we have listed some of the most effective and popular security measures you can use to keep your bike safe and out of the hands of criminals.
Often the first line of defence against thieves, the humble steering lock is easy to use and something that you should already have. Unfortunately, steering locks are not unbeatable, as if enough force is applied to the bars they can often be broken. Having said that, they are a deterrent and may make them think twice before they attack your bike.
There are a wide range of different methods and schemes for applying forensic security markings to your bike, so that it can be traced if the bike is stolen. Popular methods include Datatag, Carole Nash DNA+ and Alpha Dot. While the markings themselves won’t prevent a theft, they will help the police trace and recover your bike. As many bikes that are stolen are stripped down and sold for parts, security markings will help to pinpoint different parts of your bike, increasing the odds that more of your bike will be recovered and the chances of a successful prosecution.
A tracker is a device that is installed in a concealed location on your bike. The device uses mobile networks or VHF to transmit the GPS location, either back to you or to the security company that installed it. If your bike is stolen you should hopefully be able to track its location, allowing the police to intervene and recover the bike.
Alarm and Immobiliser
There is a good chance one of these was already fitted when you first bought the bike. If not, there are a lot of companies out there that will fit one for you. A loud alarm is a good method of alerting you when someone attacks your bike, and hopefully, if someone investigates the noise, they will disturb the thieves. The immobiliser is an effective way of preventing your bike being hot-wired but if the thieves manage to transport your motorcycle to a lock-up without starting it, the immobiliser can be removed at leisure.
A ground anchor is something solid and immovable to thread your security chain through, making it more difficult for someone to take your bike away. There are two set ups for these, a strong metal ring which is bolted to the floor or wall, or a U-shaped tube sunken into the floor. The bolt versions are good if you have a solid wall to bolt to. The disadvantage is that they are still vulnerable to attack using power tools. The sunken U-lock requires much more installation work but has the advantage of being nearly impossible to attack.
At the end of the day, no single security device will offer 100% protection. However, if you deploy a combination of security devices and tactics you can make it very hard for a thief to take your bike.
Motorcycle Security Guide
The most recent statistics from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) show a decrease in motorcycle theft, that is in line with the overall drop in crime. But even with that decline, the reported annual theft of motorbikes is placed at 45,367. The breakdown of most commonly stolen bikes is Honda (8,557), Yamaha (7,038), Suzuki (6,378), Kawasaki (4,736), and Harley-Davidson (3,907). Every brand has a declined theft rate with the exception of Harley-Davidson, which has increased by 152. California has remained the top state for motorcycle theft, with an annual total of 6,637 stolen bikes. The number of thefts has also increased, along with Texas (remaining #3 on the list). Though California has increased by 555 and Texas has only seen an increase of 7. In city ranking, New York takes the top position with 1,001 and LA in fifth place with 545.
Chart Taken From NICB Report
The other key factor, other than location, was the time of year. Because of the open air nature of motorcycle riding, bikes are used most often in the summer months. The increase in usage makes the vehicle type more available. The peak theft month is July, with a total of 5,360 stolen bikes. The next highest was August with a total of 5,288 and a continuing dip into September. This goes to show that when people are using their motorcycles, they are more likely to be taken. These bikes are not disappearing and reappearing from existence. Instead, they are being kept safely guarded and out of site during the winter months.
In addition to the protection afforded by the lack of use, motorcycles are more in demand during the summer months. A high demand allows criminals to fence the stolen vehicles and parts much easier. With California’s year-round mild temperature, there are very few days that people cannot ride, attributing to its first place ranking in the number of thefts by state. There are many factors, but in the end, it adds up to a motorcycle theft about every 11.8 minutes (which is a much closer approximation than the 9.4 listed on NICB’s Motorcycle Theft Fraud Brochure).
How They Steal?
A very commonly proposed method of theft is the use of a van or truck. The bike is simply moved into the vehicle and the thieves can drive away. If it is unlocked, then it may be rolled up a ramp. If one wheel is locked the criminals might place that wheel on rollers, or using a crew of people, lift the bike into the back. With a van, the motorcycle will be invisible to onlookers, but in the case of the truck, the motorcycle can still be seen (assuming they do not use a tarp). Low jack and other security devices will be removed or deactivated at a secondary location. Though many people talk about this method, it was criticized very publicly on Reddit AMA with an ex-motorcycle thief. His claim was:
The people who get CAUGHT load bikes into trucks and vans. Your career will be very short if you’re loading a 185mph rocket (that likely has a tracking system) that will outrun the police into the back of an 85mph van that will take you to the scene of your arrest. If you can’t start the bike and ride off then you damn sure can’t find and remove lojack.
Although he is a thief (or was), I do trust his experience. Though when I was looking into how easy it would be to build a Faraday Cage (which would stop any incoming or outgoing electronic signals) the YouTube add that I skipped was trying to sell me a Mercedes-Benz Van. There are going to be people that put those dots together, and there a most certainly criminals that already have. If you are relying on criminals to make the mistakes, then your security needs a redesign.
What the ex-bike thief proposed instead, was to ride away on the bike. It is as simple as two steps, that can be done in any order. Break the locks, and start the bike. A lot of people do not lock their bikes up at all so that just leaves starting the bike. Try-out keys and double sided wafer picks can start most bike ignitions. Other than that, the thief can also place a copper wire into the plastic connector for the ignition wires. The ignition can also be broken out and started with a screwdriver. If you do have locks, they can be removed in many different ways. The most basic of which ar leveraging and cutting. After the rudimentary attacks, things start to get wild. Blow touches and liquid nitrogen will sometimes be implemented along with angle grinder cutting attacks. If professionals are using these methods then they will most likely work, but you can still use your security to buy yourself time.
A ground anchor will keep the bike fixed to the concrete floor of your property. It is meant to keep the bike safe at the location it can be most commonly found at. Often this type of fixed anchor point will be installed in a garage to provide the maximum level of protection. For the best result with the anchor, it is ideal that the concrete is left to set once the anchor already installed. It is completely understandable if this cannot be done, but if it is possible, it is the most advisable option. If you must drill into pre-existing concrete, make sure that you have the proper binding agent, depth screw sizes, and adequate concrete. The easiest one to overlook is the quality of the concrete. Before anything is done with the anchor, you must check the area you are planning to place it for pipes and underground electrical wiring.
Once the section has been properly investigated, the first thing that should be done is to test the concrete. You can do this by drilling a test hole into the floor (some place the anchor will cover if it can be installed). Look for any crumbling or cracking that is taking place. When the non-spinning drill bit is in the hole can it remove large amounts of concrete simply by scraping the sides of the hole? If there is no crumbling, cracking, and the hole is staying together under moderate to light force then the anchor can be fitted. If you are going to pour new concrete yourself, make sure that you have a quality product. Decide if you want the anchor inset or protruding from the ground. For placement take into account practicality and protection. It must be practical enough that you are going to be able to access the motorcycle but protected enough that it is not easy for a criminal to access.
Because you are creating a permanent anchor, it is very important that the property is yours. If you do not own the land, you must get expressed permission from the owner before you install anything. Any place that the bike will be left unattended for a significant amount of time should also have a permanent structure that it can be anchored to. This is true of your workspace as well. Before asking the building owner, or disrupting the existing ground, see if you can locate a secure and permanent structure. This structure can be anything that is solidly constructed out of metal or concrete. Check to see that the device will not be easy to remove, break, or otherwise undermine. An existing anchor point can also be used at your home.
High Security Locks
Many bikers prefer the U-Locks and Disk Locks to a padlock because they replace the need for a chain. A U-Lock is often regarded as more convenient, for the user, but you are going to need more than one if you are discarding the chain lock altogether. The U-Lock will need to go through the wheel so that the lock will stop the wheel from spinning. With the U-Lock, you can also lock the wheel onto some sort of anchoring point, such as a post or pole. It is important when you are buying your U-Lock to make sure both sides of the shackle release. If only one side of the shackle releases, then the thief will only need to cut one side. A double release will demand that both sides be cut, which will cost the criminal time.
With Disk Locks, you cannot secure them around an anchor. These devices are used by securing the bolt through one of the holes in the disk break. This will stop the bike’s wheel from spinning. Ideally you should be placing locks on both wheels, but if you can only secure one, keep in mind that it is much easier for a criminal to remove your front wheel. Never forget to remove the disk lock before trying to ride off. The results can be disastrous if the lock catches and stops your wheel. Remember that wheels can be removed, but most thieves will try to ride away on the bike. This means that they will attempt to pick, or more likely, break the lock.
When it comes to padlocks, the options are almost limitless. You can buy padlocks for a few dollars or a few thousand dollars. When you are buying, what you should pay attention to is weight, thickness (both in the lock body and in the shackle), and a shroud (metal that will cover the sides of the shackle so there is less accessibility). Look for rounded cuts on the shackle of the lock as this will indicate that the lock has ball bearings. A padlock with ball bearings cannot be shimmed. Stay away from Master Lock products, as these are often not made of sturdy materials. And don’t be afraid to spend some money. With security, the price is often an indication of protection.
It is not only about what lock you use, but about how many locks you use. Always think about layers when you are dealing with security. Two dissimilar high-quality locks are going to be quite the deterrent to a thief. This is a motorcycle that they are stealing, not a locked box or a treasure chest. The thief can see as plain as day what they are stealing. Having two locks on a bike that might not warrant that level of protection is a nonstarter for thieves. The materials might not cost them anything, but their time is their expense. If they see that they will need to spend the time in removing several locks, all of which require some different method, that person is going to make a value judgment. The time they will spend versus the worth of the bike.
If they can’t break the lock, they will break the chain. Knowing this, if you are going to use a chain you should try and get the sturdiest one possible. I would suggest having a high-security chain to add to the layers of your security. Chains can be secured at multiple points so that locks can be added and security can be changed. Chains also allow the user to weave between the wheels, frame, and anchor point. With a high-security chain, the thief will need to make two cuts in one link, similar to a full shackle release U-Lock.
The most important tool that the chain will need to be able to defeat is the bolt cutter. If the chain is not as hard as the bolt cutters then it will be cut. If the metal in the chain is harder than the bolt cutter, then the bolt cutters will be damaged. This means that the chain will need to exceed a 48 rating on the Rockwell Hardness Scale (the hardness of top grade bolt cutters will be 62 on the high end). Take this into account when you are selecting a chain. If you are not big on research, the Pewag Hardened Square Line Ultra Alloy Chain meets this criterion with a 63 rating on the Rockwell scale. Something like the Pewag or any other chain will not prevent from angle grinder attacks. The hardness will increase the time that it will take to cut the links, but eventually the angle grinder will overcome any chain.
Different alarm systems offer different features. There are proximity sensors, shock sensors, tilt sensors, remote kill switches, GPS notifications, etc. A proximity sensor will go off if someone is near the bike. A shock sensor will go off if someone hits or rattles the bike. Often this sensor can be calibrated so that it is not going off with a gust of wind, or ignoring anything shy of getting hit by a hammer. The tilt sensor is activated if the bike is moved to one side and then the other. The tilt motion being detected simulates moving the bike off the kickstand. A remote kill switch will allow you to disengage the bike by severing the connection between the battery and the starter. With the kill switch engaged the bike will not start. And GPS notifications will update you on the current position of your bike. Depending on the system this feature may only activate when it has been triggered, or it may be available at any time.
Motorcycle gear is much easier for criminals to steal and sell. The most stolen items are helmets. This is a mixture of their high cost, size, how easily they can be resold, their light weight, and the low-quality protection they are given. Often they are left on the bike with little more than a strap to keep them from falling. The highest security that seems to be used is a cable lock, which most thieves will be able to cut with the tools they have on their person. Some people will also lock backpack and saddlebags to the bike. Bags assist the rider with carrying chains and locks that they can use to secure their bike, but once the bike is locked, those bags should be empty. If you need it in a bag then you should be using it. The bag itself might also be taken if it is high quality or a name brand. Carry your helmet, bags, and any other materials with you when you leave the bike.
There are several steps that you can take with your ignition security. You can replace the ignition with something that has higher security. Keyless ignition systems are also available and some models have the ability to replace the current ignition cylinder. But as long as you have an ignition, there is a chance that it can be broken out of its housing and started with a screwdriver. The way to get around that is to have the ignition be removable so that it becomes your key. This method may also prevent the copper wire override. All of these security precautions will have a bypass if the bike is able to start, but with unique customization a thief will not be prepared.
The last thing that you can do is protect yourself if you cannot protect your property. With insurance, there is financial protection, which will help you replace your vehicle. A bike is an investment, and the security is also an investment. So while you are investing in everything else, it makes sense to spend the extra money to insure the motorcycle. Make sure that your insurance does cover theft. If the bike is ever stolen be sure to call the police before the insurance company, so that you have the highest chance of getting your vehicle back. When you contact the police you can also capitalize on a different kind of insurance.
Besides the kind you pay for monthly, you can also insure your motorcycle by taking photos of it, keeping detailed purchasing records, and marking it. Photos will allow you to establish ownership if the bike has not been harmed beyond recognition. Purchasing records may assist in identifying parts if the bike has been disassembled. And markings will show that each one of the parts is yours. There are several brands of motorcycle marking products such as SmartWater and DataDot. When you mark the parts of the motorcycle make sure that you record the specifics so that you can find the markings, or assist officers in locating them.
First off, take the easiest step and lock the handlebars. After that, having a firm line of site with your property is always a safe bet. Although motorcycle thieves can steal a bike quickly, the fact that someone is looking at them might be enough to send them on their way. If you are not able to run out in time to stop them, you will still be able to report the crime promptly and provide the authorities with a very detailed description of the criminals and their methods. It is best, for this reason, not to take your motorcycle to the mall or to the movie theater. Anytime the bike will be left unattended in the general public consider alternative means of transportation.
Make sure your layers of security are separate. If the security is too linked then defeating one lock will defeat multiple, or all, methods of protection. So if your chain wraps through both your wheels and into the frame, and it has a single padlock securing it, defeating the chain or padlock will undo all the security. Mislead and misinform the thief on what type of bike you have. Keep it covered, and if you have a Ducati, use a Mitsubishi cover. A tarp with no marking might also help to deter a thief. In the same AMA mentioned above, the thief admits, “I personally would think the tarp is somehow booby-trapped and wouldn’t mess with it, but others might.” So you have at least deterred one criminal. Visible stickers may actually deter a criminal from taking the bike. It will make the vehicle more recognizable, and will decrease the resale price (for you as well as the thug). And there is always the extreme.
Motorcycle riding is about having fun. If you cannot relax and feel safe leaving your bike in the public, then you are missing out on enjoying life. It may seem easier going to get off your hog and not caring, but it is way harder to look cool while you are calling the police and waiting for them to arrive, then it is to look cool putting some locks on the thing. By implementing these safety precautions, you can get back to living free and easy. Get high-security locks, a great chain, and find a place to tie it all together. Get creative with other methods and stack layers onto one another. Alarm systems might be the way to go so that you can take your eye off of the bike every now and again. Do what works for you. Keep your protection practical and effective. Don’t let yourself go crazy trying to outsmart theoretical criminals, but keep it in mind. Thinking about your security is the best first step in implementing your perfect strategy. Be safe while you ride, and keep your ride safe when you don’t.