Posted inOpinion

Bikes without Wheels and Wheels without Bikes

“Any bike’s theft diminishes me, because I am involved in cycling, and therefore never send to know for whom the bike’s bell rings; it rings for thee.”

As a Hertfordian, I feel obliged to misquote John Donne, one of our most renowned alumni, whose words of wisdom can provide great solace to an aggrieved victim of bicycle theft. Reflecting almost four hundred years ago on life and his own mortality, Donne beautifully captured the sense of camaraderie between people bound by an intimate, unspoken connection whose fate – death – was as inevitable as it was universal. Had Donne been studying in Oxford today, one wonders whether he would have reflected on the cycling community similarly. It now seems that having your bike stolen is an occupational hazard of student life, along with punting whilst inebriated, telling Hassan in the early hours of Saturday morning how much you love him, and laughing at Union hacks as they fritter their time away whilst you too fritter your time away laughing at them.

Recently, I succumbed to the first of these occupational hazards and had to endure the bottomless rigmarole of trying to replace my bike. Chained to the ground like the ghost of Jacob Marley, my bike was surely immune from theft. However, the cast of Porridge circumvented such unnegotiable conditions most skilfully…by just cutting through the frame to detach the lock from my bike. As such, my two wheels, frame, and seat became one wheel, a scattering of sawn-off metal, and an ashamed bicycle lock sheltering from my furious gaze. Appeals to fellow students came to nothing as no one could quite pinpoint when exactly they noticed the transition from a bike with wheels to a wheel without a bike, even though they did in fact notice the change and proactively informed no-one. Nonetheless, they helpfully chipped in with their top tips for securing your bike. However, judging by the number of dismembered bicycles I saw discarded in a bicycle rack the other day, many others seemed not to have heeded this sagacity. As such, I thought I’d summarise a few key tips to stop you from getting your bike stolen too.

1.  Ensure where you lock your bike is secure. On my last visit to Buckingham Palace, I was surprised to see the Queen’s Guard made of papier mâché, the Palace fences reduced to a garden gate, and the front doors wide open with a massive sign in front welcoming us in to an open-house auction. Obviously, this wasn’t the case, and if you so much as wave at these furry-hatted bouncers, you’ll have your balls blown off  before you can say ‘God Save the Queen.’ Would it not be wonderful if other places could emulate such impenetrability too? It turns out that some bike-racks only have dummy CCTV to deter would-be criminals. This security measure is apparently effective because, in the middle of the night, a thief would obviously notice a defunct black camera covered in cobwebs tucked away under a second-floor window and scarper. Some places with bicycle racks are also only guarded by short fences as opposed to secure gates, perhaps to try to help the environment by reducing the global demand for cheap metal. I’m sure people would rather see intruders jump over low fences like a pensioned pony having a last go at the end of the Derby than see money wasted on building something more impregnable. After all, at Oxford (and especially at Hertford!), we believe in bridges, not walls.

2.  Lock up your bike next to a Ford Focus with the keys in the ignition. That’s right, to protect your beloved two-wheeled friend, make sure you place it right next to something that’s far easier and more valuable to steal. In the spirit of John Donne’s humanity and collective sense of unity, recognise that at least one bike is going to get stolen that day and – ho, hum – why not consign the more avid cyclist’s pride and joy to oblivion whilst yours can remain to ride another day. Of course, remember that bike thieves are very short-sighted, so they can only see, at most, two bikes at a time, meaning there’s absolutely no danger at all of them standing back and looking at the whole bike rack and then figuring out which one to steal. When the bell rings out as the Artful Dodger pedals away on a two grand electric mountain rider, you can be sure that you did your level best to save your bike and protect the wider biking community.

3.  Smash it up with a hammer. If you’ve got any suppressed anger management issues, then this is the solution for you! Surely, in order to deter a thief from purloining your precious pedals, you need to make it as terrible as possible. That’s right, scratch your name into the frame as if you’re back in primary school and carving hearts onto the school’s trees, or perhaps just dent and scratch anything on any part of the bike. Puncture a tire, stab the seat, urinate on the gears, and throw it under an articulated lorry. Yes, nothing is too completely ludicrous to render your bike just not worth stealing. By personalising your bike to you, any thief would clearly be deterred from wanting to steal it. To those who say that we’ve completely vandalised our bikes and also rendered them horrible to ride, we, as committed acolytes of the Dutch’s answer to which mode of transport to use if you’re too stoned to drive, must retort that now the biker, and not the criminal, has the pleasure of operating such a mutilated being!

4.  Lock it somewhere where everyone is looking but somehow far away from any roads or civilisation whatsoever. The clouds seem to fit these requirements. The trick is to lock your bike somewhere busy so that people are attentive to their surroundings, but not too busy so that they’d have far more important things to be looking at that could pose a distraction from watching your bike. Sounds easy, right? Next, the bike needs to be away from anything affording vehicular access, which is really easy to find when we live in a civilisation connected by roads. Of course, always remember that bike thieves can just steal parts of your bike rather than the full Monty. As such, why not render your bike arthritic by securing your seat, wheels, and all other detachable objects with a special bike clamp? So, the next time you’re out and need to adjust the height of your seat and have forgotten the clamp’s keys, never forget that at least a potential thief can’t adjust the height too.

In summary, throw your bike off a cliff and then place it in a safe in a public square next to a pot of gold. Happy cycling!