Anyone who has had a motorcycle stolen knows there is no place in the universe more empty than the spot where your motorcycle used to be. After the wave of initial disorientation comes denial, swiftly followed by rage (exhibited in the spasmodic clenching of the fists), and the overwhelming urge to find the guilty party and bludgeon their head in with an old KZ550 fork leg. (Maybe even run a cylinder hone up their fundament.) And that's just for starters.
But it's too late. All of your mental and emotional energy is worthless now. The chances of seeing your bike again (at least in its original pristine condition) are slim to none. And your insurance company (assuming you have insurance) probably won't cover the full replacement cost of your bike, your various accessories and lovingly executed modifications; not to mention the grief and downtime you'll endure before you're rolling on a replacement machine. Obviously, the time to get revved up about motorcycle theft is not after it happens, but before it ever does.
Everybody's doin' it
Even the lowest estimates suggest that in excess of 26,000 motorcycles are stolen every year in America. The actual figure is likely far higher, somewhere around 100,000 units. Nobody knows for sure, due to the fact that the figures are based on thefts reported to law enforcement and insurance companies. An unknown number of thefts aren't reported to either type of agency (probably because of owners grabbing the aforementioned KZ550 fork leg and taking matters into their own hands). In the motorcycle thefts that are recorded, significant errors are often introduced into the statistics due to sloppy reporting. A despondent exowner or groggy clerk gets a digit or three wrong when they're listing the Vehicle Identification Number of a stolen Honda VFR750F, and voil-it gets entered into the vast crime database as a Honda Accord. Big difference. So we don't know precisely how many bikes are stolen, but we know it's a lot. And the trend is rising with approximately 10 percent more pilfered units every year.
Motorcycle theft by month...
Motorcycle theft by month
When it comes right down to it, the precise scope of the motorcycle theft problem is a minor issue. What matters is keeping the motorcycle you own from joining the ranks of the missing. Step one: Don't feed the monster by buying stolen bikes and parts. Step two: Make a relatively modest investment in security gear to reduce the likelihood of theft. Step three: Learn to think like a bike-nabber and alter your behavior to make your machine less of a target.
You can stop the bad guys, it all comes down to a test of who is more determined-you or them. Luckily you have a lot of resources at your disposal, and with a little forethought you'll never have a lonely ignition key as the only reminder of the motorcycle you once owned.
How the sleazeballs do it
The vast majority of motorcycle thieves aren't interested in joyriding on your swell scooter-they simply want to make a buck with it as quickly and safely as possible. Some lone wolves work solo, with nothing more than a slide-hammer (about the cost of a few six-packs) to pop your ignition/steering lock out. Next they turn the remains of the ignition switch on with a screwdriver, hit the starter button, and simply ride away. They might sell the machine to a bigger fish in the criminal sea (probably a pre-arranged deal), which could lead to its swift export or resale. Or it might be stripped of unmarked, easy-to-sell parts and dumped in some ravine. These ride-away thieves can often be encouraged to look elsewhere by security devices like disc locks, cable locks, or U-locks that bind up the wheels; or alarms-particularly the ones that kill the ignition or starter. They'll have to defeat all of this stuff on-site, and that takes time. Flailing around on the ground with bolt cutters, pry bars and jacks is not the way to lead a long and happy criminal career, so they'll look for an easier target.
Better organized theft rings favor what the lock companies call lift-away theft. Here's the drill: A few unsavory individuals drive around in a truck or van until they spot a likely target. When the coast is reasonably clear they quietly roll up and several brawny lads spring out and quickly lift the motorcycle into the vehicle. How it lands inside isn't very important. Everyone piles back in, and they drive back to their den of iniquity. Total time at the scene of the crime: one minute, tops. The best way to stop these brutes is with a beefy lock that ties your bike to an immobile object, and a bleating alarm that draws attention should they stick around and try to bust the lock.
As for when bike-nabbers are most active, the cover of darkness is always preferred (midnight to 6 a.m. is particularly good for rampant evil) but far from mandatory. These guys work so fast, broad daylight isn't a problem as long as they can find a moment of relative privacy.
You choose the playing field
Given the number of dirt bags out there trying to ruin your day, you need to take advantage of one of your most powerful weapons against theft: location. As you approach restaurant X, you probably have many options as to where to park your loyal steed. A well-lit, highly visible location is ideal; so is a place without easy access to lift-away theft. If multiple bikes are parked in the immediate area, do your best to make yours one of the hardest to reach.
Top 10 most stolen models
Honda CBR600 (15.8%)
H-D FLS series (13.4%)
Honda CBR900 (8.8%)
Suzuki GSX-R750 (8.1%)
H-D FXS series (7.8%)
Kawasaki ZX-600 (5.6%)
Kawasaki ZX-750 (5.2%)
Suzuki GSX-600 (4.9%)
H-D FLH series (4.5%)
Yamaha FZR600 (4.5%)
Levels of security
Depending on the threat, it's up to you to outfit your machine with the level of protection required to make your bike an unappealing target.
If you've got enough protection to make the bad guys look elsewhere, you've won-at least for the moment.
Mob scenes, like big-event parking lots, might require nothing more than poor access and a disc lock to make your bike less attractive than the unprotected one next to it. If you've got to park in a more dangerous locale-particularly one without other motorcycles around-you'll have to get more serious. Lacing a chain or cable lock through the wheels might be enough to demoralize a ride-away thief, but it won't slow down the lift-away guys a bit. To have any real measure of security, you've got to lock your machine to something substantial-something so immovable, the only way to steal your bike is to cut the chain or engage in some other time-consuming process. Streetlight poles and parking meters work well, whatever you can find that won't tear loose. If you're parking with your pals, lock all the bikes together so they make an ungainly lump that can't be thrown into a truck en masse.
Top 10 worst states for motorcycle theft
New York (7.0%)
N. Carolina (4.9%)
No place is truly safe
Even your own garage is vulnerable to thieves. That's why it's important to keep a low profile in your neighborhood. This will prevent window-shoppers from discovering the two-wheeled treasure that sits in your garage. Make sure you're not being followed on your way home, and be selective about who you bring by the house. Bike-nabbers like nothing more than enjoying your hospitality while being given a guided tour of your facilities and lax security measures. Even if you manage to maintain a discrete presence in your neighborhood, you can be sure that any number of bad people know that a nice shiny motorcycle is based at your home. A garage-door opener or cheesy padlock won't deter them, particularly if they know your daily pattern and the windows of opportunity.
Therefore it's wise to put your security to work even on the homefront. Lock your bike to an immobile object, and if nothing like that is available, install something like a Boltdown unit from Maximum Security Lockdown. Bolted into a concrete floor, it gives you an almost undefeatable method of securing your bike to planet Earth.
Gary Taaffe, the colorful Australian who invented the Boltdown, is full of homegrown strategies for scaring off thugs who want to have their way with your motorcycle. He sees theft prevention as sort of a demented game where the opponents try to outsmart each other-the winner getting the bike. His creative, off-beat approach turns the dreaded topic of motorcycle theft into an (almost) enjoyable mind game.
Gary recommends conventional stuff (like motion-sensitive lighting for your overnight parking area), and the not so obvious-like working out a way to shut off power (other than security lighting) to the garage overnight, so thugs can't use your own tools and equipment to bust through the locks on your bike. Depending on the setting, low-tech measures can be effective too. His favorite low-life countermeasure is a trip-wire system of beer bottles and fishing line that will pull a dozen or so empty bottles off a high shelf in fast succession before the crook even has a chance to lay a mitt on your motorcycle. Neighbors tend to ignore alarms these days, but most will respond to the sound of breaking glass. The bad guys will respond too.
Besides scaring off the thief, a home-built beer bottle trap also gives you and your buddies a perfectly good reason to get "pissed," as they say in Australia. Where is it written that stamping out crime can't be fun?
Statistics courtesy of the national insurance crime bureau.
This article was originally published in the December 1998 issue of Sport Rider.