Motorcycle Security: Lock It Or Lose It
"I felt a sickly, sinking feeling in my stomach…"
"It was just like a nightmare…"
"I stared for about two minutes at the incredibly empty spot where I had parked the bike the night before…"
No matter how you look at it, walking out to discover that your
motorcycle has been stolen is guaranteed to make you sick.
Unfortunately, it's a feeling a number of AMA members have experienced
A few months ago, we asked you to send us your stories of motorcycle
theft. We knew you'd come through, not only with tales of misfortune,
but also with sound advice for others. And you did, proving once again
that you can't go wrong with the accumulated wisdom of 270,000
We've distilled scores of responses down to the following nine key ways to keep your bike from disappearing:
Keeping Your Bike 101, first day of class, lesson one: Lock it, or
you just might lose it. A determined, professional thief may get your
motorcycle no matter what you do, but plenty of motorcycles are stolen
by opportunistic miscreants.
Your fork lock is just a start. Adding a disc lock is better. But
why stop there? Use a strong, motorcycle U-lock and a chain to attach
your bike to a solid object, or another motorcycle. Looping the chain
through the frame is better than draping it through the wheel, which
can be removed.
Make the chain as tight as possible to offer less access for
bolt-cutters, and don't let it drape on the ground, where it can be
chiseled. Put the locks in hard-to-reach spots—if it's more work for
you to put the lock on, it's more work for a thief to get it off. Maybe
he'll move on to an easier target.
On some bikes, you can lock down the centerstand, so the motorcycle cannot be dropped off the stand and rolled or ridden away.
A lever lock on the clutch adds another layer of hassle for the
thief, especially if you leave the bike in gear, unbolt the shift lever
and take it with you.
And remember that the same chain you use to secure your bike can
also secure your gear. Run the chain through your helmet and jacket
sleeve so you won't have to carry them around all day.
No, a motorcycle cover won't stop a determined thief. But it might
mean your bike attracts less of the wrong kind of attention. So after
you've locked it, cover it.
A plain cover is best. After all, the purpose is not to advertise
your loyalty to a particularly valuable brand of motorcycle, but to
avoid letting thieves know what you've got.
A cover with metal grommets can be locked in place to help keep
prying eyes away, and to prevent the cover itself from being stolen.
Consider an Alarm
An alarm in conjunction with a lock can be a difficult combination
for a thief, especially if the alarm is hidden. Cutting chains and
removing locks is likely to set off the alarm, which could stop a theft
attempt before it succeeds.
But what if your bike is parked where you can't hear the alarm? What
if you live where nobody pays attention to screaming vehicles any more
because they're always blaring false alarms?
Simple. Get an alarm with a pager that notifies you when someone tampers with your bike.
Some riders find that an alarm attached to a cover can be really effective. Lift the cover, and the noise starts.
Don't Be a Show-Off
Some people are so proud of their bikes that they park them in the
front yard for everyone to admire. That just makes it easier for
thieves to case your ride.
Always park your bike inside a garage if possible. Keep the door closed and consider covering the windows.
If you must park outside, use a cover.
It's simple: The more your bike is out of sight, the more it's out of a thief's mind.
Reinforce Your Garage
Use your lock and/or alarm in your garage, just the same as
elsewhere. But don't stop there. Beef up your garage security as well.
Don't confuse a garage-door opener with a lock. A simple lock on the
frame inside the door will keep it from opening unless the thief
seriously mangles it. And by then, he might have created enough noise
to wake you up.
Installing a U-bolt in the garage floor gives you an easy way to
lock your bike. Want more protection? Consider a baby monitor. Put the
monitor in your garage and the receiver in your bedroom, and you're
less likely to sleep through a theft attempt.
If you're really serious, you can extend your home security system
to include the garage. Some people even mount a closed-circuit video
camera so they can check on their bikes from inside the house.
Lastly, use other vehicles as additional obstacles. Make the thief hoist your motorcycle over the car if he wants it that bad.
Disable Your Bike
Locking your bike to something stops a thief from lifting it into a
truck and hauling it away, but you can also temporarily disable the
motorcycle to keep someone from riding it away.
This can be as simple as removing the main fuse and dropping it into
your pocket after you park. Some owners install hidden cut-out switches
that disable the ignition. Just tap a secret switch onto the existing
kill switch circuit. Got fuel injection? A switch that cuts power to
the fuel pump will keep the engine from firing.
The key is to hide these anti-theft measures so that the thief runs out of patience and abandons the bike before finding them.
Choose Parking Spots Carefully
In a parking lot, don't park next to a panel truck, van or other
vehicle that can conceal thieves at work. For the same reason, try to
choose a spot where thieves cannot intentionally use their stolen-bike
transporter to block the view of your motorcycle.
On the road, ask the motel operator if you can park by the front
door, within sight of an all-night desk clerk. When you can, pick a
ground-floor room with a parking spot right outside the door.
We've heard of motel guests making a homemade alarm of sorts by
perching a glass ash tray out of sight on top of the rear wheel. It'll
clatter to the asphalt if someone tampers with the motorcycle.
Be Wary of Test Rides
Some thieves pose as buyers of used bikes. AMA member Bob Krus was
selling his off-road motorcycle a few years ago, and a potential buyer
showed up after dark, on foot, claiming a friend had dropped him off at
The buyer took off on a test ride. When he didn't come back, Krus
chased him down. Krus got the bike back, but he only caught the guy
because the "buyer" got lost on unfamiliar streets.
"Buyer beware" has always been good advice, but sellers should be
careful, too. Instead of a test ride, some sellers get payment first
and offer a money-back guarantee if the buyer brings the motorcycle
back in the same condition within an hour. It's a no-risk test ride for
If you let someone test-ride your bike, at least ask for
identification. Take down the person's drivers license number and the
license plate number of the vehicle in which the person arrived, and
gather any other information possible.
Mark Your Territory
If all else fails, and your bike is stolen, at least don't make the thief's job easier.
Professionals nab bikes so they can break them down into parts,
obliterate the VIN numbers and resell them here or overseas. If the
thieves get caught, you stand a better chance of getting your bike or
parts back if you've marked them so police can identify them. Consider
marking your drivers license number or other identification in hidden
locations on key parts, such as the engine and frame.
In addition, make sure you can quickly put your hands on all the
pertinent information about your bike, especially the VIN and license
plate numbers. The more time that passes before police have this
information, the less chance you have of recovering your motorcycle.
Don't leave documents, such as the registration, on the motorcycle, but
have it handy. It also helps if you have a photograph of the bike so
police know what they're looking for.
And finally, make sure you have theft coverage on your bike and
accessories. Don't assume your homeowners or renters insurance will
cover a vehicle stolen where you live—it likely won't.
Insurance won't keep your bike from getting stolen, but at least it makes the aftermath a little less traumatic.
Following all of these ideas is no guarantee your motorcycle won't
be stolen, but it will greatly improve your odds. However, if you
really want to keep your bike yours, you might try the approach used by
Mark Harrison of Covington, Louisiana.
Harrison attends Bike Week every year in Daytona, never locks his bike, and doesn't worry about theft.
Why? He rides a tank-shift Harley-Davidson with a Watsonian
Cambridge sidecar. The rig weighs more than 1,100 pounds and is wider
than many cars, so Harrison figures it's too big to roll onto a
trailer. And he has another advantage.
"The majority of riders today wouldn't even know how to get the thing to move, since it's a hand shift," says Harrison.
"It might be fool's luck, but it has worked for 30 years."
It never hurts to have luck on your side. But a good anti-theft strategy is even better.