It is not true that nothing can be done against motorcycle thieves. There are multiple possible precautions that can be taken. From choosing the best anti-theft device to parking modes. From the classic chain and padlock to GPS-enabled alarms. Because if you know how motorbike thieves reason, you can avoid them!
“If they choose to steal your bike, they will manage it, and there is nothing you can do about it”. How many times have we heard this fatalistic sentence, which leads us not to take so many precautions to defend our vehicle and to limit ourselves to hoping that it will not happen?
Mistake! It is certainly true that thieves know how to do their dirty job well, but we have many ways to try not to be robbed.
Tell me what bike (or scooter) you have and I will tell you who and how to steal it
There are many different thieves for different vehicles. The amateur thief steals cheap vehicles that are easy to take away, also because they do not have basic electronic equipment – such as an immobilizer – and are often poorly protected by their owners. Then there are the thieves who steal on commission. They are those to whom someone “orders” a certain motorcycle. Finally, there are the itinerant thieves, the ones that go around in search of good opportunities. The latter move in the team, using vans.
The first typology, that of the “pickpockets” are those who typically steal the old scooter, the one that we would never have thought could be attractive. Sometimes they use it for spare parts, other times they use it for acts of petty crime, before abandoning it.
Those of the second type, thieves on commission, are the most prepared and dangerous. They are looking for the bike they need. Usually a prestigious vehicle, which is worth good money, also on the market of recycled vehicles. It is those criminals who, perhaps, we have the misfortune to meet on the street. Because they take note of the registration number, Request information about a vehicle or its registered keeper from DVLA, and then they come to take the bike in your garage. They are the worst because they know their trade, they are well equipped, and they prepare their criminal action calmly. But they are becoming a minority.
The most common type of thieves today seems to be travelling thieves, real gangs that roam in a van and steal what they find on the street. They often recycle stolen vehicles abroad.
Let’s make their task more complicated
We started with a sentence:”If they decide to steal your bike, they will succeed, and you can’t do anything”. This is a mistake because criminals choose what is easier to steal.
Put yourself in the thief’s shoes: in front of a car park full of vehicles, wouldn’t you choose the bike less protected and easier to take away? Because if he can choose, any thief will opt for the easiest and quickest solution, also to reduce the risk of being caught.
So the rule number one is: make them lose time. Make them work harder, perhaps adopting more anti-theft systems, which take time to be neutralised.
This rule certainly applies to the street thief, but it also helps in the garage. Thieves can be discouraged if they find a bike parked at the bottom, with other vehicles in front of it to move out before taking it away, and with one or more chains to cut to move it.
Start with hardware.
The starting point of the defence is a good motorbike chain lock or cable lock. At least one. And it must be chosen with care.
It is always better to purchase a product from a reputable brand. Because specialized companies invest in research, also relying on professional thieves for “quality assurance”, and they invest in R&D to improve the performance of their products. Starting from the key, for which the best typology seems to be that of Abloy type, from the name of the Swedish company Assa Abloy.
Quality is also due to the use of metal alloys and thermal treatments; details that translate into chains and padlocks that are impossible to cut with shears, and that take a long time even with angle grinders.
The best thing to do is to anchor our bike to a fixed support, such as a pole or tree. But you can also tie together more motorbikes, perhaps simply by connecting chain locks together one inside the other, so that if someone has to go away first, it can do so without having to wait for the owner of the other vehicle.
So the chain with the padlock is definitely the best mechanical deterrent. Then you can reinforce the protection with another good padlock to put on chain sprocket on the rear wheel. All this obviously trying to keep manageable the weight and volume we are carrying with us. And the cost too, since a good chain and padlock can cost from £170 to £250.
Does the disc lock also work? I would only buy it as an additional burglar alarm to make the thief waste time. Because in itself it is an easily neutralisable anti-theft device. And if you’re thinking about special shears, you’re off track: in many cases, you just need a 5 mm Allen key to unscrew the bolts that anchor the disc to the rim. Once this is done, the bike can be moved even with the disc lock inserted.
The way the chain is placed is important. Let’s not offer the thief a support surface – the ground – to be used to work with tools, whether they are shears or a sledgehammer to crack padlocks or chainrings. Make sure that the padlock and chain are not easily supported by a hard surface. On the contrary, if we have a lock with a key that thieves can think of opening with picks, position the lock so that they have little room to work and are uncomfortable with the position.
New types of anti-theft devices
A few mechanical burglar alarm manufacturers have already put together an effective mixture of mechanics and electronics. Today, therefore, a number of locks with siren alarms and others with satellite and GSM connections are available on the market. The latter, in addition to physically anchoring the bike, reports in real time the position to the owner through a Smartphone App, and in case of physical movement alert him. Service for which you pay an annual fee (from £30 to £55); affordable if you need to protect a valuable vehicle.
Then there are the sat-enabled anti-theft devices, which always monitor the position of the motorcycle and allow you to locate it in real time in case of theft, driving police forces on the spot. These can be installed as stand-alone devices, but a similar service can be obtained by installing a black box, perhaps in agreement with an insurance company. Also, in this case, you can have multiple services, from the support service to police forces for finding the vehicle, to an operating room that gets a warning in the event of an accident and contacts you to send you any help.
Systems that work and also very well, but that sometimes do not stop the best and most organized thieves. Because some people have shielded vans, and when the bike is inside it is no longer able to communicate with either GPS or a mobile phone line. And at that point, while the van is travelling, someone in the back of it can locate and make these electronic equipment harmless.
Precautions during parking
We have already said that it is advisable to anchor our vehicle to a pole. But we must also choose where to park.
Rule number one: let’s try to avoid attracting attention. A beautiful bike can be noticed much more if parked isolated and maybe even in plain sight, rather than confused in a myriad of handlebars and mirrors.
Rule number two: Let’s try to make their job difficult. A bike left in an angled parking space, in front of the road, maybe parked between two cars, is very convenient for thieves to take away. They approach it with their van and in a few seconds lift it up and load it from the side door. The story is quite different if we “hide” the bike behind parked cars, perhaps putting it on the pavement. In this case, the thieves will have to travel a much longer route, lifting it with their arms, perhaps even turning it to filter through two cars parked. I know, you cannot park on the pavement, but in some places and in some areas might be tolerated. Especially if the pavement is wide.
Keyless ignition? Convenient, but…
There are several keyless ignition systems that work at different frequencies and are more or less advanced and complex. However, in the automotive field, there are many warnings about the cloning of the electronic key. The latest one was launched by the Swiss Touring Club, which carried out an experiment, opening and launching 100 recent car models of various brands (of which the list was then published).
The strategies used by thieves are many and varied. For example, there are devices that copy keys in close proximity. The thief sees you arriving at your office, takes the elevator with you, and those few seconds together are enough to clone the key. At this point, he gets off and goes away with your vehicle.
Then there are the key repeaters, who pick up the signal even at a distance (up to 100 meters) and relaunch it to the vehicle. They are used to start the vehicle in front of your house and will keep it on even moving away from the signal of your electronic key.
Finally, there are the scanners, which sniff the combination of your lock and control unit; but they start to be obsolete because the vehicle manufacturers have protected their systems from this technology.
Where to find this equipment and how to learn how to use them? Internet, of course!
I made research of this kind in the past, but even in this case, a few carefully chosen keywords led me to find what I was looking for. Companies that market systems for cloning smart keys and others that offer equipment and software to unprotect the system of a vehicle for which you have lost your key and want to create a new one.
Prices? From £1500 to £11000 for top-of-the-range products. That almost never comes from the Far East. And this is a novelty: a few years ago these devices were usually from China, today they often come from the western world. With manufacturers who have taken care to add on the website the indication that such equipment is sold for lawful uses only; and that any illegal use will be the sole responsibility of the purchaser.