More bike thief tools of the trade (and how to protect yourself from jacking attacks)

Our Bay Area bike-fighting superheroine Platty Jo forwarded this photo from Matt Friedman of the San Francisco Police Department’s Anti-Bike Theft Unit of evidence from a recently arrested bike thief.

Bike thief tools - carjack, pry bar, bike tools

These were collected from 37 year old Shawn Sixta, who was arrested last Friday by University of California police. He was in possession of stolen property and bike theft tools. The three cell phones suggests bikes isn’t the only thing that Sean Sixta allegedly steals.

The car jack is used to break open u-locks. This is why I’ve long recommended the use of smaller u-locks instead of long shank locks — the shorter locks give thieves less room to work with as they try to angle the jack inside of the lock.

In spite of what KTVU suggests in this otherwise excellent report, this is not a new trick. Kryptonite introduced the Mini years ago specifically to combat this type of jacking attack. “Bad Bones” and similar space filling bars are designed to keep u-locks safe against jacks. The shackle and “U” insertion interface is even engineered as a defense against car jacks in better locks.

How do you protect your bike against car jack attacks?

Some people question the wisdom of disclosing bike theft techniques like this, but criminals already know the tricks of the trade. Full disclosure helps potential victims. When we know how thieves steal bikes, we make better informed decisions on how we protect our bikes. You understand the utility of short locks like the Kryptonite Mini and “bad bones” style loop fillers.

To protect against this type of attack, you make it difficult for a criminal to insert his jack inside of the u-lock. Use a smaller u-lock, like the Kryptonite Mini Evolution. For about ten bucks you can also buy metal bands that fit across a u-lock and fill the empty space where a thief might insert a jack. I’ve also seen u-locks with adjustable shanks.

Realize also that using a jack takes some time. Bolt cutters slice through most cable locks in seconds. Experienced thieves deftly retrieve the cutters, slice the cable, and collect their prize with a series of smooth, barely noticeable moves, but operating a jack takes a little more time and effort. If you have two different locking methods, that’s even more time and two sets of tools a thief must utilize, which defeats the practiced smoothness a lot of these guys prefer. Note also that this collection shown above doesn’t include a bolt cutter, so a simple cable lock would completely frustrate Mr Sixta if he attempted to swipe your bike.

Monster chains like the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Chain are heavy and expensive and take more specialized effort (namely more expensive bolt cutters, maybe in conjunction with freeze spray) to defeat. I have no experience with specialized niche products like the $200 TiGr flexible bow lock, though online reports elsewhere aren’t promising.

Thieves don’t even need to bother with car jacks when breaking truly cheap u-locks. That pry bar can bust any u-lock sold at mass retail stores for under $20. For some of these locks, you can even use the bike frame itself as a lever — just twist the whole bike around until the lock busts open.

The thing I haven’t figured out yet: Are those building access badges? What does Sixta use them for?


  1. I’m thinking that the building badges might give him access to buildings with bike racks or storage areas. People may think an area is secure because it takes a badge to get into and not lock or use a minimal locking system.

  2. The badges could also be a simple disguise granting an air of authenticity, perhaps even allowing him to social engineer his way into secure areas.

  3. Building badges are probably not just for bike storage areas, but perhaps any sort of opportunity (open office doors with laptop computers, in particular). The KTVU article characterizes him as an opportunist, for whatever that’s worth.

  4. Scary – what’s that electrical wire thing for too? The yellow and black thing.

    Oh and you should see my anti-thief kit I carry with me. The weapons, I mean er, tools, look not too dissimilar to the above. Just pointier.

  5. The U-lock (a good one) is still slightly more difficult to defeat. I recommended having one on my essential list of bike equipment Sadly, it’s far from the ultimate solution, and a determined thief will walk away with your bike. I would maybe go for a dual lock (U-lock and flexible one), just to make your bike more effort than the other ones parked on the same rail.

  6. You forgot to mention one of the most obvious ways of defending against the jack attack, which is to lock through your chainstays and back wheel when you secure your bike to the stand.

    The frame and wheel fill up the gap in the lock, your back wheel (often the most expensive component of your bike) is secure, and it also makes it harder for the thief to crack your lock without damaging the merchandise.

  7. My strategy is the folding bike that fits under my desk at work. The folded Xootr Swift is too big to bring inside stores though, so on those rare occasions when I do have to lock it up, I pack a U lock for the frame with a cable for the wheels, and a cable lock for the seat post.

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