Make your new bike theft-proof... through aesthetics!


Bicycle theft is more endemic to some cities than others. In Berlin, bicycles don't seem to be stolen very often, and you'll often see unlocked bicycles parked at the sides of roads... mostly temporarily, to jump into a shop, but sometimes for longer periods with careless confidence. It seems to be as much an aspect of German character as anything: where as I, an American, tend to have the feeling that anyone who doesn't lock their property down kinda-sorta-deserves to have it stolen, the average German wouldn't even consider it.

On the other hand, a few hundred miles away in Amsterdam, I have friends who tell me that they see no point in spending more than five euros on their bicycles, so invariably certain is any stray velocipede to be stolen. One friend of mine habitually buys his bicycle back every few weeks from the same junkie who stole it. The Dutch sigh and blame the problem on a lot of transient drug addicts, but they accept their plight: the Dutch have a long history of being the victims of bicycle theft, going all the way back to the mass German bicycle thefts of World War II... which they still mumble dourly about during Germany vs. Netherlands football matches. For some reason, the Dutch have been cursed as a people who are not allowed to own a bicycle in peace.

In any city, though, there's a few common sense rules for not getting your bicycle stolen. Always lock it up. Spring for a good lock. Bring it inside when you can. And, most importantly, try to buy a bicycle that looks bad but is actually quite good. Used bikes, in other words.

But what if you've got a great new bike? What then? MAKE has an article up, giving a blow-by-blow account on how to absolutely ruin its finish while maintaining its structural serenity. I can't see a lick of sense in destroying the finish of a new bike when you can buy a good, used bike pretty easily, but I feel a certain ghastly fascination watching a gorgeous bicycle scraped, sanded and rusted to death. Torture porn for bicycle enthusiasts, perhaps.

U-G-L-Y Your Bike [MAKE via core77]

Join the Conversation


  1. As a kid I would build the wildest (read crappy) looking every-day riders.

    One day at school someone came and stole all the bikes off the rack…except mine.

    Everyone was crying and pissed off…except me.

    I rode home that day knowing the lesson that’s being taught here.

    Ride what APPEARS TO BE a piece of crap and be happy. 😀

  2. I’d love to read the article, as I’m considering buying a rock-hopper, but Firefox 3 on Kubuntu Hardy Heron doesn’t accept the cookies on the Make site. Apparently.

  3. Hey There, Greetings from Berlin !

    If you think, stealing Bikes in Berlin is unthinkable, you’re wrong. In the last few years i came acros no unlocked Bikes (where is one if you need one 😉 ). Even locked Bikes get stolen and if they are located too publick to bring devices for cutting the lock, they vanish part by part, leaving just the locked part alone (wheels locked to a fence can be seen almost everywhere).

    Also, the “vintage” bikes seem to be sort of a trend nowadays …

    my bike got stolen out of the backyard, along with my flatmates one…

  4. I’d love to read the article, as I’m considering buying a rock-hopper, but Firefox 3 on Kubuntu Hardy Heron doesn’t accept the cookies on the Make site. Apparently.

    I don’t think its just Firefox 3 or Linux. I can’t get to the site from Firefox 3, Opera 9.5, or IE7 on an XP machine. It says I need to accept cookies, but I already do, and even if I add that site specifically as allowed it won’t work. Oh well, this article sounded pretty cool too.

  5. It looks to be part of the Make Digital Edition, which requires you to be a subscriber.

  6. Just cover your bicycle in tape, instead of going through all the effort of actually destroying the finish. Once its covered in tape, ride it through gravel for a while to get that nice old beat up look, and it’ll be practically invisible. If you ever want to sell it, or need it to look fancy, just peel the tape off and clean the glue off with some solvent, and you’re good to go.

  7. Ahh, here’s the trick: Go to Core77 first, then follow the link from there. Must be some sort of odd authentication they pass through on the way to Make.

  8. I’ve had a multitude of bikes stolen. This invariably happens just after I’ve spent all day cleaning and tuning a bike to perfection. I don’t think the current trend in vintage lightweights has much to do with it, because the people who steal my bikes are mostly drug addicts who are trying to get from point A (where the drugs have run out) to point B (where drugs are plentiful). In order to get to point B faster, they will usually ditch their current ride (a child’s bike of department store quality, made mostly of rust, with bald, flat tires) for my impeccably restored vintage one-of-a-kind Japanese racer. Finding the rolling work of art you just fell in love with replaced by a pile junkie offal is no way to start your day. Next junkie I catch with his peepers on my bike is a dead man.

  9. I forgot to share my funny bike theft story. I was given an old, broken Mongoose that was only marginally passable when not broken. I was going to cut it up and use pieces for bad art, so I left it unlocked alongside the house. It was stolen, and a nicer old Schwinn that had a flat tire was left in its place. Figured I’d replace the tire and have a bike for visiting friends to ride. But no, it was not to be, for a week later that bike was stolen and no Bianchi was left in its place. Just an empty hole where once was a magical upgrading spot.

    When a bastard stole my Nishiki years ago, they didn’t leave anything either. I need to learn to never leave a bike unlocked, no matter how marginal it might look.

  10. I have a rather beat-up used bike; I augment that by taking the seat out whenever I have to leave it out in public and locking it in the shed when I’m not using it.

  11. Spokesman V/O: If you’re a luxury car owner, there’s something you should know. Luxury sedans are stolen at the rate of four per minute.

    [ show couple walking to curb from restaurant; his car is nowhere to be found ]

    Man: My brand new BMW! I just got this car two days ago!

    [ Spokesman enters foreground ]

    Spokesman: Frightening, isn’t it? Suddenly, the idea of buying a car for the caché of a hood ornament seems outdated. In the 90’s, you don’t need a car to tell the world you’re wealthy; you need a car to tell the world you’re smart.

    [ show luxury car under wraps, as a breeze sends the cloth flying to reveal a junky-looking vehicle underneath ]

    Spokesman: Introducing the Chameleon XLE for 1993. Finally, a luxury car that doesn’t look like a luxury car. Inside, the Chameloen XLE has everything you would expect in a luxury sedan of its class. Soft leather seating, a contoured instrument panel, and fine wood. But there’s more – much more. Authentically distressed fenders give way to a partially padded roof of blistered vinyl. While under the hood, a simulated transmission-fluid drip whispers, “Hey, not worth the trouble.” This is craftsmanship no one will steal. This is engineering for the inner-city driving experience.

    [ Spokesman places ball-bearing at the top of hood, which rolls forward into a rust hole at the bottom of the hood ]

    Spokesman: Every inch of the Chameleon XLE is a pinnacle of urban design. There’s attention to detail. Like three mismatched wheel covers, and one exposed rim in school-bus yellow. Standard. A broken taillight repaired with duct tape. Standard. Retractable antenna. Standard. The body of a Pontiac with a driver’s-side door from an Oldsmobile Delta ’88. All standard. A car thief takes one look at this, and keeps right on walking. Of course, it’s equipped with an automatic alarm system – but do you really think you’ll need it?

    [ Spokesman turns on alarm, which renders the car even more useless ]

    Spokesman: The Chameleon XLE. They might tow it away, but they’ll never steal it.

  12. I agree with my fellow Berliner #4 that this…

    “In Berlin, bicycles don’t seem to be stolen very often, and you’ll often see unlocked bicycles parked at the sides of roads…”

    …is nonsense. You’re far more likely to see bicycle frames that have been stripped completely bare locked onto lampposts with huge Kryptonites.

  13. I guess it’s just where I’m living then, which is the admittedly hoity-toity area of Prenzlauer Berg. That said, even when I go into Kreuzberg, it’s still a pretty rare sight. So either I’m just missing the decomposing corpses, or what locals think is a common occurrence is actually rarer by international (and especially Dutch) standards.

  14. hohum: yeah, kind of a bad example, isn’t it?

    Well, since I can’t read it either (hint to John: posting sub-only links is automatic fail), I don’t know how much they really put into uglifying the bike, but it’s really unnecessary. Put some stickers on your bike that would take a little time to remove, plus a decent cable lock, and thieves are going to pass it over for one that isn’t uglified.

  15. Here in Newcastle, EnglandLand, the little scrotes are more likely to just kick a 90 degree bend into the wheel of any bike left out for long enough just for shits & giggles. However, this means that there are a lot of vandalised bikes attached to bike-locking points throughout the city, which makes for a handy supply of free parts…

  16. @ Gilbert Wham –

    Yeah, while theft is a problem, vandalism is worse. Just this weekend, I’d left my brand new bike parked at Newport near Cincinnati, and found that some idiot had (knowingly or unknowingly) scratched up the front badly.

    And I’ve had my headlights, my rear safety lights and my cushioning seat covers stolen on multiple occasions. To the point that these days, I just use one of those clip-on ones, and take them with me when I lock my bike somewhere. The only inconvenience is that I’ve to actually carry a backpack (or wear tracks with pockets) whenever I go out on a ride.

    Another thing that is unfortunate about the US in general is the absolute lack of bicycle knowledge or safety – there are so few riders, and it’s impossible to ride on the roads or on the sidewalks. Even the cops are ignorant of the laws. I carry a copy of the local bicycle laws on the bike with me when I ride. Pedestrians are just as bad as motorcycle riders, and neither want cyclists anywhere on the road.

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