Radical Cycle Storage: Don't Lock It

What’s stronger than kryptonite? Trust.

By Paul Rauber

June 15, 2019


Photo by Danilo/iStock

I would like to stipulate up front that I love my commuter bike—a mid-1980s steel Bridgestone RB2. Classic without being ostentatious, it's gotten me where I need to go for 20+ years. But I don't always lock it up.

It happens, right? You're halfway to work and realize that you've forgotten your lock. You loaned it to your kid and forgot to get it back. Or you have the lock but forgot the keys. Now you're out in the world, stark nekkid in a harsh environment where 1.5 million bicycles are stolen every year, even when they’re locked up like Fort Knox.

What are you gonna do? Of course, you could give up, go back home, and get the car, but we all know how wrong that would be. Or, you could stop at your LBS (local bike shop) and buy a new lock. That's what I thought I'd do recently when I found myself in Uptown Oakland without a lock, but then I was reminded that my LBS was the awesome Uptown Bike Station, which—thanks to funding from our enlightened local government—would store my bike for the day for free. 

Or, you can find another way to deal with the problem. Here's the catch, and please hear me out: It involves human interaction. Some months ago, I arrived at the parking garage at work without my keys. Instead of stashing my bike behind some pillar, I asked a parking attendant if there was a safe place to leave it. That’s how I made the acquaintance of Clarence, who actually keeps a loaner bicycle lock on hand just in case. Problem solved! Plus I met another #Warriors fan.

Another time, I arrived at the local grocery store without a lock. There was a nice lady sitting on the planter outside, eating a bagel. “I'm sorry, ma’am. I've forgotten my lock. Would you mind watching my bike for just a few minutes?” “No problem,” said Nice Lady. Unfortunately, I chose the wrong checkout line, and it was more than a few minutes. I came back out—bike was still there, but Nice Lady was gone. Happy at my undeserved luck, I started to get on it to leave. “Wait!” said Rando Dude, sitting in Nice Lady's spot. “Is that your bike?” “Why yes,” said I. “Alrighty then,” said Rando Dude—whom Nice Lady had recruited to mind my bike in her absence. 

A frequent bicycle stop for me is the LCS (local coffee shop), where I also sometimes find myself lockless. I’ve learned, though, that there are generally a bunch of Ethiopian gentlemen sitting out front, sipping the brew that their ancestors may well have discovered, who are happy to keep an eye on the bike while I'm inside. 

On a recent morning, however, I arrived once again without my lock, but the coffee klatch was elsewhere. The only person around was an apparently homeless dude drinking a cup of water, the only beverage served inside that could be had for free. “Hey man, I forgot my lock. Could you watch my bike?” I asked. “No problem,” said Homeless Dude. “Thanks! Can I get you a cup of coffee?” “Sure,” he said. “How do you want it?” I asked.

Homeless Dude had very exacting specifications: “Pour out half the coffee. Add lots of milk. Then lots of syrup.” Of course—maximum calories. So I got my coffee, Homeless Dude got his breakfast, and everyone was better off than before. 

Would I recommend this method to someone in NYC? Maybe not. Would I do it every day? No way. But do I sorta kinda not mind forgetting my lock and having to figure out how to wing it? Absolutely.