Uglify your bike: Does it work?

To make your bike less likely a target for bike thieves, you’re told to sloppily rattle can and sticker your frame. I knew a guy who completely wrapped his frame in duct tape, which very effectively uglified it.

I’ve long been skeptical of the usual advice to “uglify” your bike to make it less appealing to thieves. When I look at stolen bikes recovered by police they’re almost always ugly. Take a peek at the bikes in the Santa Cruz PD property room.

Indeed, one of the takeaways from this story about Sacramento bait bikes seems to be: don’t bother.

The value, type and condition of the approximately 20 bait bikes varies, [Sacramento Police Sgt Rachel] Ellis said, adding that thieves are as likely to steal an inexpensive bike as an expensive one.

“It’s pretty surprising,” she said. “Even some that don’t look that appealing are getting stolen.”

Bait bikes are bikes equipped with GPS trackers and left in areas with high bike theft and other property crimes. Police track the bikes, find the perps, and arrest them.

If bike theft is a problem in your area, other tidbits in that story might help convince your local P.D. to start a bait bike program. According to the Sacramento police sergeant who runs the program, the bait bike program is supported by local businesses who see a focus on low-level crimes like this improve the quality-of-life overall. Police believe the suspects they arrest are guilty of other property crimes as well. They might not have sufficient evidence to prosecute for shoplifting, but the bait bike theft is an easy conviction.

Bait bike programs are also a high-profile way to let potential criminals that the police are watching. San Francisco Police, which also runs a bait bike program, distributed 25,000 “Is This A Bait Bike?” stickers to cyclists. These stickers are also on the real bait bikes. They report bike thefts are down 8.5% in San Francisco over the past year. I suppose these stickers can be considered a variation on uglifying.

Read more in the Sacramento Bee: Sacramento police say bait bikes’ crime-fighting role goes beyond deterring bicycle thefts.


  1. If they’re stealing your bike to ride it themselves, they may want an ugly bike so it will be less likely to be stolen. Hmm, recursive?

  2. Perhaps ugly bikes are more likely to be left unlocked, or poorly locked, and this explains the high number of them stolen?

    I can imagine someone bothering to steal an expensive bike even if well-locked, but would they do the same for an ugly bike?

  3. The consensus when I studied in Linköping, Sweden*, was that impromptu bike thieves would ‘borrow’ the really ugly bikes in order to get someone home from the pub at 2am, because “nobody could possibly miss this piece of **** anyway”.

    The recommendation of the street there was to make sure the bike was neither too good-looking, nor too ugly.

    *This is very much a university town

  4. Steal an ugly bike, the owner writes it off. Steal an expensive bike and the owner crowd sources a jihad to go find the thief. Either way, they can be fenced for approximately the same amount of money by the original thief.

  5. colin878 – there’s some truth to that. When my good bike was stolen in a university town with a rampant theft problem, I replaced it with a $7 sloppily painted used 3-speed clunker. Then I slopped more paint on it. I reveled in the fact that I could leave it unlocked all over town and no-one messed with it. It was so distinctive that it would be easy to identify.

    Then one night a year later someone stole it while parked in my front yard. It was of course unlocked.

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