Riding bicycles is practically a national pasttime in China; even as thousands of new cars take to the roads every year, Chengdu is carrying on its pedal-powered tradition well into the new millenium. It’s no wonder either, since riding a bicycle is such a great way to get around the city. Whether you’re hopping up and down curbs on a mountain bike or cruising through gridlocked car traffic in the dedicated bike lane on your road bike, pedalling around town is pivotal to the China experience.
Unfortunately, getting your bike stolen is generally part of the same experience.
Whether you’ve dropped a few grand on a custom fixed gear or you’re pushing a rusty beater, no one likes getting their bike stolen. It’s a terrible feeling; I should know, I’ve had it happen to me four times in five years. But you can benefit from the lessons I’ve learned (read: stolen bikes) by adhereing to these five principles.
#5: Get a Good Lock
This seems obvious but you’d be surprised at how many people go for the cheapest lock, which costs less than 10 yuan. Bicycle thieves love this kind of thriftiness because it means they can break through it in a heartbeat – literally.
You don’t necessarily have to drop a few hundred yuan on a fancy imported lock, but a good quality U-lock is probably your best bet. This should run you about 30 yuan at the bike shops which are ubiquitous across China. When you use it, make sure to use the lock on the frame of the bike, not just the wheel. Because returning to your bike to discover a locked up wheel sucks.
An alternative is the chain-style lock which will work great in combination with your U-lock since both of these locks require separate (and very cumbersome) tools to break through.
#4: Use the Lock, Always
Once you’ve got your lock in order and its key on your keychain, make sure you use it at all times. If you think your bike will be safe for a minute unlocked while you run inside a building to grab something, you are wrong. It’s not safe – not even for a minute.
China is teeming with bike thieves and it makes virtually no difference where you’re located. If people are around, bike thieves are around.
I learned this lesson the hard way when I stepped inside a shop in my neighborhood to pick something up. The proprietor was expecting me and my bike, parked just outside the door, was left unattended for less than 90 seconds. When I emerge from the shop, the bike was nowhere to be found, even after looking in both directions. It was a dumbfounding experience.
#3: Don’t Leave Your Bike Unattended For Long
The longer you go without seeing your bike, the less likely you are to ever see it again. If you go on vacation for a month, leave the bike inside your apartment or with a friend. Once a bike appears to be discarded, thieves will wise up to the fact that the bike has been neglected and it’ll be identified as an easier target with fewer strings attached. Leaving your bike outside of a locked area overnight is really pushing your luck, regardless of where you are. The safest place to keep your ride when it’s not between your legs is in your apartment and as near your person as possible.
#2: Park in the Attended Lots Near Housing Complexes and Shopping Districts
No matter where you’re located in China, you’re bound to be stunned by the sight of hundreds of bikes parked next to eachother in these attended lots. Similarly to how apartment complexes in the West have parking lots for residents, you’re entitled to a space in the shared bike lot outside (or inside) your apartment complex in China. This is a safe place to keep your bike as long as you check on it or ride it a few times a week. Likewise, when you ride down to Carrefour or a shopping district, you’re bound to find a sight just like this:
Here’s how they work: when you arrive you’ll pay the parking fee (which in Chengdu averages 2 jiao, the equivalent of a few cents) and receive two cards on elastic bands, one of which you carry and one which gets affixed onto your handlebars. When you return to pick up your bike you return the two cards which prevents thieves from bringing in a beater and leaving with someone elses’ bicycle. Since these lots are supervised by attendants and you can’t extract any of the bikes easily, parking your bike here will dramatically reduce the chance of it being stolen. Especially if the alternative is locking it up by itself on the street.
#1: Don’t Have a Bike That Looks Expensive
If you buy a rusted bike with a basket on front for 50 yuan, you won’t have to worry too much about your bike getting stolen because thieves don’t stand to make much from its sale. But in the case that you’re comfortable spending some more money getting a bike that’s more comfortable and enjoyable to ride, you can greatly increase your chances of holding onto your bike by making it stand out less.
Essentially it comes down to this: if you think your bike looks great, so do thieves. New bikes are big targets which is why you often hear stories like “My new bike was stolen in the first day/week/month.”
Should you buy a name-brand bike, you can use sandpaper to remove the brand name, or just cover the bike in a new coat of paint. You can affix stickers onto the frame to give it an older appearance (while also hiding the brand of the bike), or you can simply buy a quality bike that’s seen a few years. You’re simultaneously saving money and protecting your investment.
Conclusion & Follow-up
Although there’s never a 100% guarantee that you won’t have your bike stolen in China, abiding by these common sense policies will go a long way toward protecting your bicycle from thieves. If you have any stories about bicycle thieves in China or tips on how to hold on to your bike amidst the persistant threat of theft in China, I’d love to hear them.
Note: As expected, the comments have yielded some great tips (thanks Daisy, Zach, Harland, and Maomao):
- Don’t park a bike outside overnight, ever
- Lock your bike to something that can’t be moved
- Get a lock from your home country, it’ll be unfamiliar to thieves