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Suggestions on preventing theft on tour

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Suggestions on preventing theft on tour

Old 03-04-08, 12:52 PM
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loikng
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Suggestions on preventing theft on tour

I am looking to do some long distance cycling touring for several weeks on end and was wondering if some more experienced riders had any advise on what locks work well given that weight is a concern, how to mount the lock, and tricks in general for preventing the bike and or panniers from being stolen when I need to step into a grocery store or otherwise take my eye off the bike. I have had a pretty nice mountain bike vanish without a trace within five minutes and I don't care to go through that again. Right now I am riding the Specialized Sequoia Comp which I love and it it totally smooth, but in general I am inexperienced with touring. Any suggestions appreciated.
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Old 03-04-08, 02:55 PM
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You'll get better responses here in touring. Long Distance is more geared to randoneuring and long distance racing.
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Old 03-04-08, 03:07 PM
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Originally Posted by loikng View Post
...Any suggestions appreciated.
Stay out of high-theft areas.

Plan tours that stay in safer, more rural settings.

Still be cautious.

Don't leave your bike unattended. Shop at fruit stands, farmers' markets, or other places where you can keep an eye on the bike (at some small markets you can park the bike where you can see it). Lock it anyway.

Have someone (a trusted riding partner, for example) stay with the bike.

Trade off; take turns staying with the bikes.

Stock up so you don't have to shop as often.

Revise your shopping habits.

Learn which foods have the best calories-to-weight ratios.

Always keep valuables with you (in a hip pack, for example).

If it feels risky, don't do it.

Stay with your bike as much as possible.

Use your innate common sense.

Murphy's Law can be restated: If it can't happen, it won't happen.
(i.e. just don't leave yourself open....)

Last edited by Niles H.; 03-06-08 at 12:56 PM.
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Old 03-04-08, 03:23 PM
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I often take my bike into larger grocery stores and push it around the aisles as I shop. It's not that much bigger than a shopping cart, really. If taking it inside won't break or soil anything or block any emergency exits, what's the harm?
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Old 03-04-08, 04:08 PM
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Originally Posted by loikng View Post
I am looking to do some long distance cycling touring for several weeks on end and was wondering if some more experienced riders had any advise on what locks work well given that weight is a concern, how to mount the lock, and tricks in general for preventing the bike and or panniers from being stolen when I need to step into a grocery store or otherwise take my eye off the bike. I have had a pretty nice mountain bike vanish without a trace within five minutes and I don't care to go through that again. Right now I am riding the Specialized Sequoia Comp which I love and it it totally smooth, but in general I am inexperienced with touring. Any suggestions appreciated.
I use an On Guard cable lock and lock the bike even if I'll only be away from it for a while. I always take my handlebar bag with me as it has my personal stuff and I carry my wallet on me. I don't worry about someone stealing gear as it is easily replaced, but I have though of using a motion activated alarm to frighten away thieves or let me know the bike has been disturbed if I'm in ear shot
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Old 03-04-08, 04:11 PM
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I've been pretty fortunate with theft while touring. Lost a rear light in Fort McPherson, Yukon and a bicycle bell in India. I did have a bicycle stolen from in front of a local grocery store here in Fort Collins but that wasn't touring.

Biggest thing I've done is take turns when going into a store and parking the loaded bikes in an obvious (and hopefully visible) location if we go into a restaurant. I also have the crucial valuables (e.g. $, passport,...) on my person. Many trips when I've gone, I haven't carried a lock, but after my bike was stolen in Fort Collins, I've taken to having a lightweight cable and lock while on tour.
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Old 03-04-08, 07:56 PM
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All the above points are valid. My two cents would be that "locks only keep honest people honest". They won't really deter the thief or determined hooligan unless it is the mega heavy ulock type affair.

What I do is observe most of the points above (use your intuition, stay near, take valuables with you etc.) and use a regular padlock and some small plastic coated braided cable from the local hardware store. It would weigh a 1/2 pound or so, but as in my case I can string it through my wife's bike and mine, and also some part of her trailer and mine if we park them just so. Then we grab our fanny packs or whatever (where our money and ID and valuables are carried) and go into the store quickly. A thief will not be deterred. But your average thief is not hanging out in front of the grocery store in the daylight waiting for the only marginally secured bike and trailer.
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Old 03-04-08, 10:00 PM
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Keeping in mind that I haven't toured as extensively as some, I have (knock on wood) never had a theft issue.

And I've done about a dozen of the things Niles says not to. I do lots of solo riding, as do many tourists. When I have traveled with people, we've left the bikes outside while going into the restaurant or shop. I keep the critical items in a handlebar bag (e.g. phone, wallet, camera), and tote that around with me. The bike gets locked up.

Also, keep in mind that bike theft is a big issue in urban areas, but as far as I can tell isn't a problem in rural areas.
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Old 03-04-08, 10:06 PM
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I'm a lot less worried than some of the above folks.

My handlebar bag is my purse, it has the really important stuff - wallet, camera, passport, plane tix, ipod -It goes with me at all times. Even to midnight trips to the camp bathroom. Everything else is just camping gear and dirty laundry.

I use a light cable lock so someone can't just walk off with the bike on a whim, but if someone wants your bike they'll get it. That said, no one wants an 80 pound bike. The panniers themselves are a deterrent. Just use common sense. I never take my loaded bike into a business without permission. Occasionally, if I want to walk around for a long time without my bike, i'll ask the visitor center or a business if i can stash it inside - did that in a movie theater once. I do make it a habit to lock it up, but as long as I'm not in a big city, I just don't worry about it.

But mostly I just trust people.

I like having an ordinary looking not-fancy bike on tour. I think if I had a Rivendell or something really neat looking I would worry.
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Old 03-05-08, 12:27 AM
  #10  
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I've got a decent cable lock. It adds a bit of weight, but it's well worth it. The lock either rides at the top of one of my panniers or it gets strapped to the front or rear rack. If I'm away from the bike for more than a few minutes, I'll lock it up but otherwise, if I can keep the bike in sight, I usually don't bother.

In rural areas, villages and small towns, I feel safe going into a store or other building and leaving my bike unlocked. In tourist towns or high-traffic areas, I'll lock up. In areas where I'm uncertain, I'll either hide my bike, lock it up or position it in clear view. It depends on how I'm feeling at that moment. I'm learning to trust my instincts.
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Old 03-05-08, 04:56 AM
  #11  
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Originally Posted by valygrl View Post
I'm a lot less worried than some of the above folks.

My handlebar bag is my purse, it has the really important stuff - wallet, camera, passport, plane tix, ipod -It goes with me at all times. Even to midnight trips to the camp bathroom. Everything else is just camping gear and dirty laundry.

I use a light cable lock so someone can't just walk off with the bike on a whim, but if someone wants your bike they'll get it. That said, no one wants an 80 pound bike. The panniers themselves are a deterrent. Just use common sense. I never take my loaded bike into a business without permission. Occasionally, if I want to walk around for a long time without my bike, i'll ask the visitor center or a business if i can stash it inside - did that in a movie theater once. I do make it a habit to lock it up, but as long as I'm not in a big city, I just don't worry about it.
This is similar to what I do, and I've never had a problem on tour. I even locked my bike outside Stirling Castle for hours on end when I was in Scotland, and nobody bothered about it. In the bigger cities, I tend to lock it inside my place of accommodation if possible and just walk -- although I locked it in a busy area in Glasgow for two hours without a problem. I did, however, always keep my personal valuables on my person at all times. The way I see it, if a thief wants to spend hours sorting through sweaty cycling clothes that are due for a wash, they're welcome to it.

When I'm looking for a place to lock my bike, I tend to look for an area that has a lot of passers by (thieves aren't as brave when there's a possibility they might be seen), or an area with something that might be more tempting to a thief than my bike. A lock won't physically stop a thief if they really want your bike, but it might deter them if there's something else around that might be worth a few more dollars. A little bit of dirt on the frame can also "cheapen" the appearance of your bike and make it that little bit less appealing. I also go with my gut feeling about particular places, but so far that hasn't deterred me anywhere I've toured.

Something that hasn't been touched on is locking technique. Whatever lock you use, make sure it can secure the frame of your bike to a stationery object that can't be moved. I've seen a lot of bikes stolen in this city in situations where the thief didn't even need to break the lock because it was locked poorly. If there's one aspect of bicycle security you should be anal about, it's this one. Lock it properly.
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Old 03-05-08, 05:36 AM
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It depends on where you tour. This Summer on the TA I only worried in larger towns. In most of the places we were I didn't even bother to lock, but in some I did everything I could and was still worried. Large bike friendly towns are the worst. A tiny town of 39 where no one locks ANYTHING and the next town is 40 miles away, I wouldn't dream of locking. I do keep money, credit cards, camera, etc. in the handlebar bag and take it with me.

Like valygrl said "mostly I just trust people".
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Old 03-05-08, 07:13 AM
  #13  
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my secret is to always park next to a more expensive bike. :-)
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Old 03-05-08, 12:29 PM
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* use a basic cable combination lock
* if you can't live without something, don't leave it on the bike
* make your bike look cheap with ugly stickers or reflective tape
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Old 03-05-08, 02:00 PM
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Originally Posted by loikng View Post
I am looking to do some long distance cycling touring for several weeks on end and was wondering if some more experienced riders had any advise on what locks work well given that weight is a concern, how to mount the lock, and tricks in general for preventing the bike and or panniers from being stolen when I need to step into a grocery store or otherwise take my eye off the bike. I have had a pretty nice mountain bike vanish without a trace within five minutes and I don't care to go through that again. Right now I am riding the Specialized Sequoia Comp which I love and it it totally smooth, but in general I am inexperienced with touring. Any suggestions appreciated.
There's another thread somewhere on bikeforums.net that links to some excellent youtube videos of thefts in progress, and theft techniques.

As you can see, there are different viewpoints on this subject. Those of us who have lost bikes tend to be more cautious. Those who haven't had these experiences tend have a harder time getting on board with these concerns.

I would not be careless. You can take your valuables with you -- but the bike itself is also a prime target.

Also, many people have had panniers lifted (with contents). It helps to secure the panniers well to the racks, so they are difficult to remove.

You can be careless and still come out ok, and some people do. But others do not. It usually isn't that difficult to take precautions.

Riding the Spine (www.ridingthespine.com) were just robbed.

There are many other examples.

****
"...any advise on what locks work well given that weight is a concern, how to mount the lock, and tricks in general for preventing the bike and or panniers from being stolen...."

I use a cable lock (key-operated, with extra key), and do not trust it in risky areas or situations. It is supplemented with a second, lighter cable that just has loops on both ends. This second cable is very useful at times, extends the versatility, and doesn't add much weight. Realizing that the cables can be cut quickly, if someone has the cutters with them, and that they are only a partial deterrent, I act accordingly. (They are only one element, not 'the' element determining safety.)

I keep both of them in a lower outside pocket of a rear pannier (they coil automatically, and fit nicely inside), where they are easy to access. (Difficult access tends to deter or inhibit usage a bit, and certain items are best carried where you can get to them, take them out, use them, and put them back easily and quickly.)

****
I know a guy who lost his bike from the back of a pickup right in front of a bike store, while he was briefly inside. He was a top-ranked racer (no. 2 or 3 in the US at the time, in cross-country MTB racing), and was on his way to an important race. The loss set his career back, and set him back financially as well.

Some thieves are very quick. Some are watching, and they see you go inside. They time their moves.

Some are opportunists, and they will make their moves very quickly when they see an opening.

Some will strike in broad daylight right in front of people. You can see examples on youtube. One of the videos was shot by a couple of guys sitting at an outdoor cafe, across the street from the theft while it was in progress. They were watching the thief and his efforts, and were talking about it but doing absolutely nothing.

****
On rare occasions (in some higher risk situations), I have taken the step of removing the front wheel (most thieves want to ride the bike away, and this deters them), then locking the bike and taking valuables inside, plus taking the step of wrapping and securing the tent fly around the panniers to make it difficult (or much slower and more noticeable) for anyone to unzip a pocket or otherwise get inside.... -- and then still keeping an eye on the bike.

Once I did this while inside a Borders bookstore. I was sitting inside watching the bike when I saw a very suspicious character stop and look the bike over. He wanted to go for it, but saw some problems. He was still thinking about it when he looked up and inside the bookstore, and realized people were looking at him. That was enough. He immediately moved on, looking a bit defeated. [The cable lock was also under the fly -- so removing the fly (which would have been conspicuous) would have been a necessary and slowing first step before he could get anything else done....]

If it hadn't been locked or covered (and the wheel had been on), he might have jumped on it anyway -- it takes a while for people to mobilize (many thieves are aware of this), and he could have been well down the road and around a few corners by the time there was any response by the police or anyone else.

If the panniers had been easier to remove or open, he might have tried that. I've seen these sorts of guys take off running after taking something (purse snatchers do this sort of thing routinely). They disappear into the crowd or around the corners pretty quickly.

Tourist areas often attract thieves. They blend in with the crowds and look for opportunities. I'm sure this can be confirmed by law enforcement, or by searching online.

****
They also take bikes at night at campgrounds. It's best to secure the bike well or to sleep next to it, or with it inside a vestibule, etc.

Just recently I read about a couple who lost their bikes at night while camped in a field in Romania. They woke up to find them gone, panniers and all (as I recall they had locked them together outside the tent -- so one or more thieves may have carried them away, or cut or defeated the lock).

****
Some people have enough money to absorb the loss of a bike or gear (or both) without feeling the pain of it too much. Others' funds are not such that the losses are so easily replaced. Some people have had their tours completely derailed by thefts. A couple of cyclists in India lost their touring bikes to theft on a train, and it ended their long and much-anticipated journey.

****
"I have had a pretty nice mountain bike vanish without a trace within five minutes and I don't care to go through that again...."

I hear you. It's happened to me too, and it's worth avoiding the repetitions. It doesn't take all that much to avoid or prevent these problems. It isn't that hard; it's just a matter of doing it properly.

****
"Right now I am riding the Specialized Sequoia Comp which I love...."

Don't lose it, man.

Just don't let it happen.

Last edited by Niles H.; 03-06-08 at 01:01 PM.
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Old 03-05-08, 02:56 PM
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Originally Posted by loikng View Post
Any suggestions appreciated.
Never leave your bike in a place like this, even if it is very well locked,

http://www.bikeforums.net/showthread.php?t=393995

****
[He's lucky he didn't lose more. They often strip other components and parts, and many U-locks -- though they tend to be a better deterrent than most cable locks -- are also easily and often defeated.]

A local guy told me about leaving his bike (locked) for a few minutes outside some local stores (in a seemingly safe, small-town area -- and it's certainly safer than most urban areas), while he went inside. He/she/they just cut the cable. The bike was gone when he came out.

Locks only deter some of these people. They're better than nothing, but not really that good in some situations.

Last edited by Niles H.; 03-05-08 at 04:43 PM.
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Old 03-05-08, 04:02 PM
  #17  
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I carry a light cable with a small padlock for it. It is long enough to lock both wheels and the frame to a tree. I always park it by a window at a restaurant and sit by that window so I can keep an eye on the bike. I agree with others here that a fully loaded touring bike is not something anyone is going to walk away with easily, but if they want it and have a bolt cutter, and a truck to put it in, it could be gone. When I go into libraries, grocery stores, and other businesses where I will spend some time it is always a risk. So far it has not been a problem. But, if I am in a city, I put the bike inside a business after asking permission, and walk around from there. In the U.S. it just isn't a problem in most places.
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Old 03-05-08, 09:20 PM
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Originally Posted by truman View Post
I often take my bike into larger grocery stores and push it around the aisles as I shop. It's not that much bigger than a shopping cart, really. If taking it inside won't break or soil anything or block any emergency exits, what's the harm?
I've gotten in trouble for that occasionally -- especially at malls (god forbid having to go to a mall on a tour). Gotta love it though... especially coasting down halls with one foot on a pedal...
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Old 03-05-08, 10:54 PM
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Two thoughts I haven't seen in previous responses.

1. I was able to change my home owner's insurance deductable to $250 and photographed everything I took just before a long tour and left the files with my insurance agent with a list of values. This insurance coverage is probably limited to a tour within the U.S. Therefore, the most I would have been out would be the $250 deductable. I know this doesn't make the loss of a bike and gear a pleasant thing, but it certainly helps reduce the pain.

2. Don't be afraid to ask a stranger if they mind keeping an eye on your bike while you take care of something that absolutely requires you to be away for a few minutes, and there will be such times no matter what you think; at least on a longer tour. The very, very vast majority of people are decent, honest individuals and are usually happy to help out.
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Old 03-05-08, 11:32 PM
  #20  
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Originally Posted by Old Hammer Boy View Post
I was able to change my home owner's insurance deductable to $250 and photographed everything I took just before a long tour and left the files with my insurance agent with a list of values. This insurance coverage is probably limited to a tour within the U.S. Therefore, the most I would have been out would be the $250 deductable. I know this doesn't make the loss of a bike and gear a pleasant thing, but it certainly helps reduce the pain.
After listening to friends and family members in the insurance business, I'd be reluctant to go that route. I've got a decent bike and touring gear, but if it's stolen, I can afford to replace it myself, even though I'll feel the pain.

However, if I make a claim, my insurance premiums would go up by around 10 per cent. This is not a big deal. But if I were to make a second claim within a few years, my premiums will go way up and they'd stay high for quite a while. It's that second claim that has me thinking twice.

The way it's been explained to me, claiming on insurance is best left for the big things you can't otherwise afford to replace. If a fire or flood ruined my home, I probably won't be able to handle those costs on my own. That's the time to file an insurance claim.

You may wish to discuss this with your insurance company to find out how it affects you in the long term.
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Old 03-06-08, 11:39 AM
  #21  
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I have noticed some places are worse than others to leave a bike.

When I am in the country, where I do most of my tours, I do not really worry about leaving my bike unattended, unless the place I am at is on a route that is right off of a main highway. These are places that many people will get off the highway to get gas at the small town. Anytime I have went to theses places I notice people eying my stuff like they want to make it theirs. In most country towns bicycles are not even noticed, so no one really cares if there is a bike leaning against the general store.

Another thing I do is leave the bike in the highest gear when it is parked. I will also loosen the front QR. At other places I will park the bike against a window where other people are sitting so it looks like it is being watched by them.

In a city, especially bigger ones I will not leave the bike alone. It comes with me. If you are quick you will have what you need by the time you get kicked out of the store. If I am in an area and there are no bike racks I will bring the bike inside. If anybody says anything I will explain that since they don't provide a place to lock my bike it means that it is OK to bring my bike inside.

The important thing to remember is that each situation is different, so it requires that you do a proper assessment at the time. Always carry contingency items like extra food. So if your assessment reveals that your are at high risk of theft, you can go a bit longer before stocking up.

A line that I have heard snow-mobilers use is, "If you don't know, don't go." I am not saying skip your tour but you need to assess and plan, so you can minimise the threat of adversity. Don't act without thinking.
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Old 03-07-08, 09:50 AM
  #22  
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I'm glad that this thread got started, because I was about to start one myself. I'm starting my semi-solo TransAm tour in April. A few additional questions:

1. Should I get the specifically designed raincovers for my panniers? I figured that having tight fitting covers would help prevent grab-n-go theft, but the covers are kinda expensive. Worth it? or should I just get some plastic bags, heavy duty tarps, etc?

2. In what types of places do you ask people to store your bike? One of the reasons that I am touring is to spend time in places that I have never been. Of course I'll be on my bike most of the time, but I want to 'stop and smell the roses'. I'm taking a pack for my valuables, but I can't really afford to replace anything if stolen, either.

3. How are camp sites, national parks, etc? My other goal on my tour is to stop for hikes. I assume that in the bigger parks I'll be able to stow my wheels in a visitor center or a ranger station. Does anyone have experience with this? Any tips for these types of situations?


I'm generally a pretty 'street smart' person, and I am preparing for as many situations as I possibly can. I want to have as much experience-based information as I can possibly get, though. Thanks to everyone for posting!

-Charlie
PGH, PA



EDIT: I'm meeting my sister about half-way, hence the 'semi-solo'.
My panniers are yellow and waterproof, which is why I didn't buy the raincovers in the first place.

Last edited by cptpitt22; 03-08-08 at 09:08 AM.
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Old 03-07-08, 10:34 AM
  #23  
staehpj1 
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What is semi-solo?

1. My rear panniers had rain covers and my companions had waterproof panniers (as were my front panniers). The high visibility yellow/green covers were nice for being seen and being waterproof was nice. That said I don't see why plastic bags wouldn't be fine. I never considered them as theft prevention and really just didn't worry about anyone snatching my clothing or gear even in the few cities on the TA.

2. I never did that.

3. We had no problems in national parks or other campsites except at Oh Kentucky! Campground in Berea (I don't recommend the place) where someone stole my cell phone while it was left unattended charging in the bathroom. When we went on side hikes in places like Yellowstone we just locked our bikes at the trail head with a cable lock.

In big bike friendly cities like Florence, Eugene, Missoula, Pueblo, etc. we were very careful where we left our bikes and always locked. If there is much chance of your bike and gear being stolen it will be in these larger towns. The larger and more bike friendly they are the higher the risk. That said 99.9% of the time you will be in rural areas or very small towns, we took no precaution beyond carrying our handlebar bags (in which we carried anything that was likely to be stolen such as money, camera, credit cards, etc.) with us in these small towns. In these towns with double digit populations folks don't lock their houses when they go on vacation, so I didn't see the point of locking my bike or worrying about someone stealing my dirty clothes and well worn camping gear.
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Old 03-07-08, 12:19 PM
  #24  
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buy a cheap wallet, stuff it with old cards and a dollar bill wrapped around a convincing wad of fake money, and a note that says "f*** you" and leave it sticking out of a pouch, in a way that makes it look like an accident. this would be an easy swipe for a thief and could prevent real damage from being done.
of course it could become costly if the wallet is stolen several times.
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Old 03-07-08, 03:11 PM
  #25  
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From the way you describe it sounds like you haven't actually tried this. Where I come from, thieves can have kind of sensitive feelings, and I know (from having known some personally) that they'll happily trash your stuff, sometimes because you have the cheek to protect it from easy theft. I'm not confident this type of bribe-plus-invective is going to work, though there's definitely some humour value in it.
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