Read our Motorcycle Theft Prevention guide to understand how thieves operate and how to prepare the best defense possible, so you hopefully never have to experience that gutwrenching feeling of seeing an empty spot where your bike used to be!
Motorcycle Theft Prevention
Getting any of your personal property stolen is upsetting, but getting your motorcycle stolen from you can really hurt. For most of us, our motorcycles are not just a form of transportation a they are our pride and joy.
But as much as we love our bikes, so do thieves. The fact is that bikes are easy money for criminals: easy to take, easy to part out, and easy to sell. Here in San Diego, we know this well; we have among the highest rates of motorcycle theft in the nation (over 850 motorcycles were stolen in San Diego County in 2013 alone!)
Thereas not much we can do to make motorcycles less appealing to thieves. But what we can do is take responsibility for our own security, and make our own bikes as hard to steal as possible.
Looks like someone got busted stealing a bike…unfortunately, this rarely happens.
How Do Motorcycle Thieves Operate?
Like any kind of criminal, there isn’t one “type” of person that steals motorcycles. They come in all shapes and sizes, from skinny teenage introverts to tattooed muscleheads, and they all have their own different methods by which to separate you from your precious ride.
There are, however, generally only a couple of ways the bike itself gets taken – either by hauling the entire bike off in a truck or minivan, or by riding the stolen bike away. Every rider’s anti-theft strategy should anticipate and prepare for both.
The Minivan/Truck Method
An astonishing number of motorcycle thefts, especially of sport bikes, are done this way – a couple of guys will spot an unsecured motorcycle, pull up close to it with a minivan or pickup, throw it in as quickly as possible, and leave. Your motorcycle can go from parked on the street, to on its side in the back of a van on its way to a chop shop, in literally only a few seconds.
This method is low-tech, but it works very well. Because of the speed in which this can be done, and the concealment the van itself provides, it can even be carried out in broad daylight, in high-traffic areas. The vehicles used in these thefts are usually also stolen, so even getting the license plate number is a dead end. Because the entire bike is picked up – steering locks, disc locks, alarms, and all – these devices do next to nothing to prevent this type of theft.
The Ride-Away Method
Another kind of thief thinks “why ride off in a slow minivan or truck where I could easily get caught by the cops, when I could ride off on a fast, agile bike? Besides, I’d rather work alone anyway.” This is the thief that would rather ride your bike away, and he operates by a different set of rules than the throw-and-go minivan/truck types.
This thief is more likely to be skilled and, you might say, “professional” in his execution of the theft; he will know how to test for an alarm, find it and disarm it, possibly bring and wire up a separate ignition switch to start the bike, and pick, remove, or cut disc locks and chains. He might even use a cover story or disguise (for example, wearing a helmet and riding gear not only makes him fumbling with a bike “that wont start” look legit, it makes him a lot harder to identify!)
A thief skilled enough to defeat all these systems is less common than he who goes after only easy throw-and-go scores, but he will probably be a lot more careful about the entire operation. He may be shopping for your bike in particular (thieves often work “on order” for a particular model, even color, of bike), and will probably have a well thought-out plan to get it.
So, knowing these are the two ways motorcycle thieves usually operate, how should you protect against both of them?
Protect Yourself From Every Type of Thief
With all motorcycles (but more so with lighter, smaller sport bikes, standards and supermotos) you have to protect yourself from both types of theft; that it could be ridden away, or simply picked up and hauled off.
You also need to take measures to prevent thieves from targeting your bike in the first place. Where you park, how you use your security devices, and whether you use a cover all play a part in determining whether or not a thief even begins to eyeball your bike to begin with.
The important thing to understand about theft prevention is that there is no one single product – no lock, no chain, no alarm, no GPS – that will prevent theft on its own. Individually, all of these products have gaping weaknesses that will be only a minor hassle for any halfway decent thief.
That is why you have to have a system of products that works together. There is no “magic bullet” (no, not even a .45 bullet) that will keep your motorcycle safe, because there are a number of ways thieves have to beat every one. You can’t make your bike completely theft-proof – that is just impossible.
The key is to make your bike such a time-consuming hassle to steal, the thief decides to move on and steal another bike instead. Time is a thief’s enemy – the more time he is forced to spend working on stealing your bike, the more likely he’ll get caught by police, or confronted by an angry motorcycle owner.
The key is to make your bike such a time-consuming hassle to steal, the thief decides to move on and steal another bike instead.
The point is, a good thief can defeat every anti-theft system in existence – all of them. Chains can be cut, disc locks can be removed, alarms can be disarmed, GPS systems can be shielded. But make it take so much time that the risk of going to jail or getting shot outweighs the reward of nabbing your bike, and you win the battle in advance.
An Effective (but Practical) Anti-Theft Strategy
The ideal anti-theft strategy would be to have a large and very territorial guard dog chained to your bike at all times, or perhaps an ill-tempered grandpa in a rocking chair nearby, two barrels worth of buckshot at the ready. Or heck, maybe even both. But for motorcycles, an anti-theft system has to be practical as well as effective, so we need to stick to things that we can carry with us.
The best anti-theft strategy is to have layered security measures. Because we know the fanciest alarm, the biggest disc lock, or the heftiest chain can all be defeated (and faster than you think), none of these alone will keep our rides safe. But all added up, they do combine to make stealing your bike such a time-consuming pain in the ass, thieves would just rather move on to another bike.
With that said, our recommendation consists of the following security measures:
1) Always lock your steering.
This should be obvious. This is a part of your bike already, and takes one second to do. Make it a habit to lock your steering every time you get off the bike.
2) Use a cover.
“Out of sight, out of mind” is the idea here. Using a motorcycle cover, especially a very nondescript (or even just plain ugly) one prevents you from drawing the attention of thieves to your nice, shiny bike. If a thief really wants to know what’s under there, he’ll have to approach the bike, possibly setting off alarms and exposing himself to surveillance cameras, so it’s also a deterrent.
These are relatively small and easy to transport, so they’re a no-brainer. If you leave your bike unattended for long periods of time in public places, you may even want to use two, one for each wheel. Get two different types, because there’s less of a chance that the thief will know how to defeat both.
Also, secure your disc locks in a way that minimizes the distance your bike can roll, like right up against the caliper or swingarm. Disc locks with integrated alarms are an even better idea; not only do they take care of the alarm component, but they remind you they’re on there so you don’t accidentally try to ride off with it on (which actually happens a lot!)
Many chains are easily defeated by bolt-cutters, and believe me, thieves own good bolt-cutters. Don’t cheap out on a chain; get a thick, high-quality one. They can still be cut – but using 4 foot-long bolt-cutters and acetylene torches make it a little more obvious that foul play is afoot. Loop it through the frame or a braced swingarm if you can. If you must loop it through a wheel, use the rear wheel, which is more difficult to remove.
Secure the chain in a way where it rests off the ground, where is can be cut or chiseled easier (you can twist the chain to shorten it as necessary.) Remember, a chain is only as good as where its anchored; secure it to something impossible to cut, like a pillar or a lamppost. It’s pointless – and laughable – to have a $250 chain looped around a wooden fencepost (and yes, that does happen.)
BONUS: An alarm system.
Most common crooks don’t have the electrical skill or tools to find and disarm an alarm, so this is a good deterrent for most thieves. Professionals can, but it adds a lot of time to the process, especially if they have to defeat locks as well. Better yet, many alarms come with paging systems that can alert you that someone is messing with your bike, and even with GPS tracking so you can see exactly where it is with a navigation app if it does get nabbed.
Anti-Theft Devices: Strengths and Weaknesses Chart
Other Helpful Anti-Theft Tips
- Put time on your side. When choosing your parking spot and locking your bike, always ask yourself the question “how much time am I giving a thief to work on stealing my bike right now?” You can have several anti-theft measures in place, but if you park your bike in a secluded corner hidden from view, you’re only helping the thief by giving him the gift of extra time.
- Living in “a nice area” doesn’t help one bit. Thieves shop for things to steal in nice areas where people have nice things (duh.) along with the false sense of security those areas give them. Don’t get lulled into thinking nothing bad can happen in a “nice neighborhood.” That’s how you make yourself an easy target!
- Never put faith in other people’s security. You should never put your faith in security guards wherever you park. Babysitting your motorcycle isn’t their job, and even if it does get stolen from somewhere with security guards, they won’t have any of the liability. At best, security guards are a deterrent – but you also hear of a surprising amount of guards giving tip-offs to the thieves themselves. Bottom line: someone else’s security is NO security.
- Apartment complexes/parking structures are a thief’s hunting grounds. The vast majority of motorcycle thefts occur in apartment parking lots and structures. High-traffic areas like malls and shopping centers are risky, and garages in homes can get you much heavier burglary charges (or shot!) But everything is in their favor at nice apartment complexes: plenty of bikes in the open, usually not locked properly, low security, and an easy getaway.
- In a pinch, remove your clutch lever and take it with you. If you have to leave your bike out in the open for a while, you can put your bike in gear and use a stubby screwdriver or multi-tool to remove the clutch lever. It can still be picked up and hauled off, but at least nobody’s going to be riding your bike away without that!
Special thanks goes out to Deputy Ed Frost from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department for giving us some helpful insights from years of working stolen motorcycle cases. Some key points he shared:
- Light and visibility are your friends. Thieves work in the shadows, so the more light you can get on your bike at night, the better.
- Stolen bikes are rarely recovered. For this reason, it is crucial to put effort into preventing the theft in the first place!
- Nothing will prevent all theft, but a simple combination of a cover, a high-quality disc lock, and high quality chain securing the frame/swingarm to a concrete or metal anchor is enough to make most thieves move on to something easier to steal!
Do you need to upgrade your motorcycle defenses? Check out our Motorcycle Security section for hundreds of security products from the most recognized names in the industry, like Abus, Kryptonite, On Guard, Xena, and more. Don’t be a victim – make your bike a hard target!