Rookie Commuter: Locked down

My favorite solution for problems is to ignore them.  I haven’t gotten a physical in years, and as much as my girlfriend hints that I should pay the doctor a visit, if something is wrong, I’d rather not know.  When I told my co-worker about my hiatus from a checkup, she said “What if you have a terrible disease or something?” To which I replied, “Then I’ll probably die, I suppose.”

I’ve been using a similar mentality regarding my bike.  Rather than be prepared for the worst, I’ve removed the possibility of any problems from my mind.  Not a smart, or mature outlook.  For instance, flat tires happen.  They happen to almost everyone who regularly rides a bike.  And usually, at least in my experience, they happen at the most inconvenient time.  Like at one in the morning when biking home from the movies, wondering why on earth I biked to the movies in the first place.  If you aren’t prepared, a routine problem isn’t routine at all.  Instead, it sends you careening into psychosis, questioning your life decisions, and moving to Nepal to find yourself.  Perhaps not that bad, but not being prepared is a pain.

A car comes with the essentials —  a spare tire latched on the back or under the liner in the trunk, headlights, and locking doors, to name a few.  A bike comes with… a bike.  That’s it.  Now go have fun out there.

So over these next few columns, I’m going to address the essentials.  And I’ll start with the most important, which, in my mind, is a lock.  Because what’s the point in having a bike to get you around, if you could suddenly no longer have a bike to get you around?  It would be nice if people weren’t terrible, but most are, so lock your bike.

My bike is my sole means of transportation, and I’ve been using a lock which — my roommate told me — could be cut by a 10 dollar bolt cutter.  Not ideal security for my only way to and from work.  The day after my roommate told me this, I made my way to Bicycle Village on 28th Street, in Boulder.

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The old, and the new. Hopefully the new is slightly more secure, and it’s the color of a bumblebee. I like that.

There are a variety of bike locks, each with its benefits and drawbacks.  Cable locks, what I was using, tend to be light and easy to lock to odder shaped signs and fences, but are also much easier to cut.  Despite its weight, a U-lock is what I needed, as I learned from the people at Bicycle Village, not only for the difficulty in breaking, but also as a deterrent.  If a bike thief is dead set on having your bike, there isn’t much you can do.  But the goal is to make stealing your bike enough of a pain that it’s not worth their trouble.  Another way to protect your bike is to park it around more expensive, or expensive-looking bikes.  Not very difficult for my beat-up piece of junk.  

But back to locks.  U-locks are those heavy bastards with a shape so distinct, or people naming the lock so uncreative, that the design matches the name.  A curved piece of metal fits into a straight base with either a key insert for those with memory issues, or a combination for those with organizational problems.

Always lock to the frame, and also the front wheel when possible. The folks at Bicycle Village said that front wheels get stolen more often than you'd think. But not more than I'd think. I'm paranoid

Always lock to the frame, and also the front wheel when possible. The folks at Bicycle Village said that front wheels get stolen more often than you’d think. But not more than I’d think. I’m paranoid.

I decided on a combination U-lock, because, spacey individual that I am, I’d end up dropping the key in a toilet and need to steal my own bike.  I wanted my lock mounted on my bike, as I had seen on other bikes which looked very practical and handy.  But Shawnee McGovern, the Service Manager at Bicycle Village, told me a better choice was to carry the lock in a bag, because the equipment that is mounted on the bike is made from plastic, and is unreliable if you hit a pothole, or something else jars the bike while riding.  This could drop the lock out of the mount, creating a dangerous situation for both the rider and surrounding traffic.  This does mean a bag has to be carried at all times, but for a commuter, this is already the norm.  I mean, I can’t leave home without several outfit changes and my hair products.

A good lock is an investment, but it comes with piece of mind.  I can now search the library for hours, looking for books on how to cook, and after that, how to eat my bad cooking, without constantly worrying about the safety of my metal companion.  So treat yourself, and your bike.  At least make theft a bit of a challenge for potential thieves.

Becca Heaton

Becca Heaton is the program coordinator and editor for BikeLife Cities' city magazines and website. An avid cyclist, Becca is "embarrassed" to share that she has 5 different bikes... and she rides them all!

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