By Jim Langley
If you live where you can leave the garage door open and front door unlocked 24/7, there’s no need to read this Tech Talk. Feel free to just hit the Next button below to turn the virtual page.
Unfortunately, in some places, you have to keep everything locked – and even when the doors are secured, valuables aren’t necessarily safe. Just as unfortunate is that bicycles are among the most commonly stolen items. Because they’re valuable, desirable and easy to sell.
In my region, the Bay Area of California, the newest crime is breaking into garages to steal bicycles. It’s frequently reported on the social media neighborhood app Nextdoor and on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Note that my account here of how these crimes are pulled off is a little vague. That’s not because I couldn’t fill in the details of how they’re committed, but because I don’t want to give all the details here and run the risk of a thief reading this. But I’ll give you an overview so you know enough.
The crooks often work in pairs during weekdays when everyone’s at work. Somehow, they’re tipped off by someone that there are bikes worth stealing in the garage. They then drive by the house and when no one is home, one person jumps out of the truck. The driver circles around the neighborhood giving the first guy time to break into and enter the garage.
The Achilles Heel of many garage door openers
One easy way to break into many garages is to pull the pin that’s designed to disconnect the door from the opener in the case of an electrical outage. When the pin is pulled, you can lift the door by hand because the door is no longer connected to the motorized chain-lifting mechanism. Well, it turns out that it’s possible to reach and pull this pin from outside of the door if you know how – and these garage thieves do know how.
Some homeowners realize that thieves can open a garage door that way, so they secure the pin with a zip tie (search YouTube and you’ll find a video about this). That’s a good move. However, determined thieves have a second way to get in. Which is to break in through the side door that most garages have. These doors are normally on the side of the house and out of direct view. And even better for the thieves, they typically have windows, so getting in is as easy as breaking the window, reaching in and unlocking the door.
Everything may be at risk
Once the thief is inside the garage, they shut the garage door. In fact, if they get in through that door, they only open it a few feet, roll under it and shut it quickly. It happens so fast, even if you have attentive neighbors, they probably won’t notice.
Inside your garage, with the door now shut, the thief might have access to your house. If so, they might ransack it looking for valuables. If not, they’ll put the bicycles and anything else they want inside the garage next to the door. Then it’s simply a matter of calling their accomplice in the truck, who drives into the driveway, helps load the truck and they drive away, while you can say goodbye to your bikes and other possessions.
I haven’t been able to find out if it’s true or not – but it’s rumored that these thieves also sometimes use an electronic device that opens some garage doors just as if they had your remote control.
Locking down your garage
I’m not a paranoid person, but the frequency of garage break-ins and bike thefts around these parts worried me, so I decided to improve my garage security with four measures. I’m explaining what I did in the hopes it’ll help you safeguard your garage and protect your valuables, too.
1. I padlocked the side door to the garage. My door only had a doorknob lock – easily unlocked from outside if you break the window. So I screwed a clasp-type latch to the inside of the door so that the only way to open the door was if you have the key and can unlock its padlock.
2. I made a deadbolt lock for the garage door (photo). I have an aluminum garage door that goes up/down on tracks on either side of the garage. Looking at it, I realized that I could prevent the door moving with a deadbolt. All it took was attaching a wood block to the edge of the garage door and drilling a hole through the wood block and into the door track. With the wood block in place, I simply slide a long 3/8-inch diameter bolt through the block and into the track and the door is locked. (The piece of white PVC is for holding the bolt when it’s removed.) I also used the zip tie trick to keep anyone from pulling the pin, but that’s not really needed with the deadbolt.
3. I disconnected the opener motor. While the deadbolt keeps the door from opening, I thought I or someone else might remove and forget to put the deadbolt back in. And, I believe it’s possible thieves have an electronic door opener. So, to stop that attack, I ran an extension cord to the garage door opener motor and plugged it into a separate power strip with its own on/off switch. By simply turning off that switch on the power strip, I turn off the power to the opener, so even if the crooks have a remote that opens garage doors, mine won’t respond.
4. Last but not least, I locked up my best bikes inside the garage. That way, even if they get past my other safeguards, it’s still not going to be easy to take the stuff I care about most.
I hope these tips help you keep your bikes yours. Please share any additional suggestions or tips in the Comments.
Jim Langley is RBR’s Technical Editor. He has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for more than 40 years. He’s the author of Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check out his “cycling aficionado” website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim’s streak of consecutive cycling days has reached more than 8,000. Click to read Jim’s full bio.