You can’t really overstate the importance of bicycle locks as the first line of defense, and usually, the only deterrent against would-be crooks. As most police departments, particularly in large cities, are often overwhelmed with serious felony cases such as murders and burglaries, investigations into instances of bike theft tend to be treated as a much lower priority. And with such little recourse, the chances of owners actually recovering their bicycles is, sadly, around 5 percent.
“We make it easy for them (bike thieves),” Sgt. Joe McCloskey of the San Francisco Police Department told the San Francisco Bay Guardian a few years back. “The DA doesn’t do tough prosecutions. All the thieves we’ve busted have got probation. They treat it like a petty crime.”
Where there’s such an obvious blind spot for criminal activity, there will be rampant opportunism, naturally. The thievery of individual bike components has become increasingly popular since they don’t have serial numbers and thus represent an untraceable source of profit for black market dealers. ETA, a U.K.-based bicycle insurance company, reports that the the number of claims filed for stolen bike parts in 2011 doubled from incidences in 2010. “When you next park your bicycle, count the number of easily removable components and accessories on neighboring bikes and you’ll get an idea of the haul a thief can expect from a single bike rack,” Yannick Read, spokesperson for ETA told The Guardian.
In a world where high-performance road bicycles can cost $5,000, individual components, such as the saddle, can sell for hundreds of dollars. Professional bicycle thieves know this—and standard bicycle locks won’t stop them from swiping pricey parts.
In light of this, a few startups have developed specialized locks to prevent devious people from stealing the most valuable parts of a bicycle. A British company named Atomic22, for instance, offers a locking system that requires a one-of-a-kind key. However, it also means carrying around another key that you might possibly lose. Now, Sphyke, a German startup, has developed a similar device called the Sphyke C3N that offers security, without sacrificing convenience.
Sphyke security locks are designed to protect the saddle, seat pole, wheels and handle bars—vulnerable components that thieves typically target. This is achieved by replacing the standard mounting bolt screws, which keep these parts fastened to the bike, with a sturdy two-piece metal locking mechanism called a “lock nut.” As demonstrated in the instructional video for wheel locking, once the middle and back end known as the “skewer” and “cone” are in place, the user simply needs to tightly fasten the cylindrical “shield” part of the lock nut into place with a wrench and then slip the combination lock over it to secure the lock. A rubber protection cover is then fitted over the head as an aesthetic finish.
The company’s site says that the lock nut should fit most wheels, but for quick-release wheels bike owners would need to purchase the 4-piece product that includes a Sphyke-specific skewer and cone.
The kits, which vary from €22.90 ($30) for a simple seat post lock to €59 ($80) for a set that secures the wheels and saddle, also come with instructions for how to set your own combination. The important thing, of course, is to not forget the code you choose, otherwise you’ll have a whole other problem on your hands.