Is it OK if I leave my bike outside?

Would you leave your bike unlocked?

The trusty steed in Devon: would you leave your bike unlocked?

The pub looked so inviting: a country inn, serving real ales, possibly some cider, and a lunch menu that included doorstep sandwiches. There was just one problem – what was I going to with my bike? I thought about leaving it in the street out the front, then noticed the gateway at the side which led to a small covered yard. I wheeled my bike through, and propped it against a wall, next to the bins and underneath a window which, judging by the conversation I could hear, I presumed to be in the pub’s kitchen. I took my phone, wallet and camera out of my pannier bag and then went into the pub.

This would have been unthinkable had I been in London at the time. But I wasn’t – I was in the small market town of Hatherleigh, in Devon.

Normally if I’m leaving my bike for even the briefest period of time I’ll remove anything that can be easily removed, and lock it – frame and wheels – to something immovable. This isn’t just paranoia – it’s a lesson I’ve learned from bitter experience.

I still remember the last time I left my bike unattended with the lights still attached. It was maybe nine or ten years ago; I was on my way home from work, which at the time was on Brick Lane, and had to drop something off at the Brady Arts Centre just around the corner. I was only going to pop inside and come straight back out again; I locked my bike up, but figured it was too much hassle to unfasten the lights for such a short amount of time. So I left them there.

I was inside the building for perhaps 30 seconds, a minute at most. But when I came out again my lights had disappeared, as had – funnily enough – the two boys who had been playing in the street when I’d arrived.

I’ve also had the seat stolen from my bike – again, while it was left unattended for a matter of minutes. My bike was locked up in Cavendish Square, just off Oxford Street. I’d gone off to do some shopping, and my then boyfriend was waiting for me by our bikes. I took longer than I’d expected, so he got bored and wandered off. There was perhaps a five minute gap when neither of us was by the bikes, and in that time someone managed to make off with my saddle.

I’ve also had two bikes stolen: one from outside a pub near Angel, and another from Upper Street (the latter in broad daylight).

So no, it’s not paranoia.

But Devon is not London. Over the course of my few days down there, I started to relax a bit. Like a scoop of ice cream in the sunshine, my London ways soon melted away. I developed a bit of a laissez faire attitude towards my bike and my belongings. So what if there wasn’t anything to lock them to? There was hardly anyone around who might want to steal anything, and even less incentive for anyone to do so.

So I stopped looking around for bike racks or railings to lock my trusty steed to, and started to lean it against shop windows while I went in to have a look around. I left it propped up against walls and benches while I went off to take photos. I left it in the car park, both panniers still attached, for most of the morning while I went to look around Lydford Gorge.

And then I came back to London.

My train back from Plymouth got in to Paddington at gone 11pm. By the time I’d cycled back to Stoke Newington it was around midnight. I was exhausted and just wanted to go to bed, but there was one thing between me and my duvet: I didn’t have any milk for my breakfast. Handily, there’s a 24-hour corner shop not far from my house. Less handily, the nearest bike rack is across the road from it. Ordinarily I would lock my bike up and nip across the road, but this time I couldn’t face the thought of lugging both my pannier bags across the road and back again, and I wasn’t going to leave them on there while I went in the shop. But nor could I face the thought of waking up in the morning without any milk for my coffee.

So, emboldened by a combination of tiredness and holiday spirit, I did something I’ve never done before. I left my bike unlocked outside the shop, leaning against a stack of boxes of bananas, while I picked up a pint of milk.

It felt strangely liberating to be able to do that. It’s not something I would do again in a hurry – I value my trusty steed too much to do that, and I only did it out of necessity. I also only did it because I know the shop and I trust the people who run it. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could just leave my bike anywhere I wanted to, safe in the knowledge that it would still be there when I came back?

5 thoughts on “Is it OK if I leave my bike outside?

    • Oh I am. There are only a couple of places round here where I would ever dream of leaving my bike unlocked like that – and even then only for a minute or so, and only where I can keep my trusty steed in sight

  1. I’m a bit late replying to this. I know exactly where you are coming from in terms of location vs security. I might point out that I’ve never even had so much as a pump swiped.

    I recently spent a lot of time in Dublin. There are no circumstances in which two locks wouldn’t be applied, nor would I leave even the light fastenings in place. Yet 15 miles away in a village called Greystones, there would be one lock and everything left on.

    But I live in a market town on the north coast of Northern Ireland called Coleraine. I would never leave anything on the bike, even nipping into a shop, nor would I be lazy with the locks. Yet when I am in Belfast – our largest town, I’m sure you’re aware of its reputation… 😉 – I would never have the same fears.

    I hope you’ll allow me a short rant. Despite all of this, the core of the issue isn’t how or where or in what circumstances we secure our bikes. The core issue is the lack of respect for other people’s property – the “if you have something nice, and I don’t, I’ll steal it for a tenner” mentality. I think back to the piece you did on cycling in Copenhagen, was it? And I can’t help think that bicycle theft – how it happens, how it’s dealt with, how it’s now an accepted thing – is actually a neat little metaphor for all the things wrong with society in this country.

    The thieving little scrotes.

    Rant over.


  2. Hi there, sorry this is such a late response to your post but I’ve just discovered your website and felt the need to comment. I’m originally from London so know the exact feeling of not leaving your bike unlocked.

    I lived in Bath for a couple of years and I would cycle to the gym and leave my bike outside unlocked for over an hour, I would do this 2 – 3 times per week and I never had a problem at all, a cyclist friend of mine was astounded by this!

    However, I did once leave my bike locked to an iron fence outside a train station in Bath overnight and came back to find someone had tried (but failed) to steal it, they had put a lock on the wheel and somehow managed to bend the railings (the bike I had then wasn’t even a particularly nice one)!

    Now I live in Bristol, which is a wonderful city for cycling in, but here I would also not leave my bike unlocked, in fact every time I stay at my boyfriends I carry it up 4 flights of stairs rather than lock it outside overnight. Although saying that, I have had a couple of times when I’ve been without my keys and nipped into a shop whilst leaning it against the window, which has always been fine but a hugely stressful experience though! My point is, no matter how safe a place somewhere can seem to be, you can never be completely sure, which is a very sad thing to say, like Paul says, it is just indicative of the lack of respect for on another in our society.

    • Exactly! Although I still don’t dare to leave my bike unlocked anywhere in London, I feel fairly secure that if I leaved it locked up somewhere for a few hours it will still be there when I come back.

      The one thing I’m really reluctant to do is leave it out overnight. That’s when thieves strike – they have the cover of darkness, and the empty streets. I rarely leave my bike out overnight, but had to one Saturday night recently after an impromptu trip to the pub. When I came back to it the next day, I discovered the saddle had been stolen. That’s the last time I’m leaving it out overnight.

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