I Have A New Bike, Should I Make It Ugly?

giant-boulder-bike photo ugly
(Karin’s new bike, from a bike store in Jaffa.)

After moving from the hilly terrain of Jerusalem, back to Jaffa, I decided it was time  to get serious about biking around the city. Not for pleasure. Bah humbug. But for getting from point A to point B. To help me make quick runs to the bank machine, which, in Jaffa is not within walking distance to my home. And other stuff too. 

I’ve had about 6 bikes stolen over the years in Tel Aviv, and then later when my ugly little Ukrainian throwback got stolen, possibly “removed” from my street in Jerusalem, it got me thinking about the best strategies for keeping my bike safe and sound. 

When I buy shiny new bikes, I take care of them. I bring them in my house, I buy them a good lock, they feel safe and secure to drive… but after my last new metallic purple street bike got stolen, I imagined it was time to buy the ugliest bike I could get my hands on. Certainly no thief wants an ugly bike. It turns out they do, but it takes longer for the ultimate act to take place. 

So last week, I went to the best bike store in Jaffa –-possibly Israel –– and laid down more money that I’d planned. I bought a decent mountain/road bike, which felt reeeaally good to drive. Perfect for jumping curbs, and flying through the streets of Jaffa and Tel Aviv with Tasha, my wonder pooch who sometimes gallops beside me. (She whinnies, and neahs and kicks her legs up in the air like a young colt. I swear.)

The question I have for you, dear readers, is should I make my new bike ugly to deter thieves? Read below for my experiment and some tips on how to do it. I’d love your suggestions and ideas in the comments section. You can also read my Huffington Post piece on When Ugly Is Greener

Consider the following examples from an ongoing experiment of mine:

Bike #1: A new 21-speed mountain bike loaner from a boyfriend.
Time till stolen: About 1 week, from my office in Tel Aviv. 
Ugliness factor: 2 (scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the most ugly)

Bike #2: A new flashy city cruiser, with wide handlebars, painted in metallic purple, a real head turner. Bought from a friend returning to New Zealand. 
Time till stolen: About 2 months, off the front porch of my ceramic studio where it was locked. Later it was found, but new “owner” chased after me wielding his fist when I tried to reclaim it. 
Ugliness factor: 0

Bike #3: A rusty 1960s super cycle, painted baby blue, with white-rimmed tires and a basket. Pedal brakes. 
Time till stolen: 2 years, from the lobby of my apartment where it was unlocked. Last seen in south Tel Aviv converted into a rickshaw. 
Ugliness factor: 6

Bike #4: A super ugly, rusty, lime green Polish/Ukrainian version of a BMX bike. It was so ugly that I was sure that this was the last bike I’d ever have to buy. 
Time till stolen: About 2 years, from the electricity pole outside my apartment in Jerusalem. 
Ugliness factor: 9

Notice a pattern? Ugly lasts longer.

Some tips to “ugly” your bike:

1. Remove any flashy stickers or brand name labels from your bike.

2. Buy second hand so the bike already looks worn.

3. Repaint it with a cheap matte black or army green spray paint. Don’t be modest with the paint. Over-spraying is a good thing. Not on the gears, chain, or brakes though. 

4. Decorate it with ugly stickers, possibly a car air freshener, or fake animal fur.

5. Attach a milk crate or a rusty rack for carrying stuff.

6. Fake rust your bike with modern spray paint from the hardware store.

7. Tear a hole in your saddle (when it’s raining cover with plastic bag).

8. Add some duct tape to the frame.

9. Consider adding some streamers or spokey dokeys.

10. Visit U-G-L-Y Your Bike, a great how-to guide that offers step-by-step tips to keep your “first class ride” from the hands of thieves.

Writes Rick Polito, author of the guide:

“Nature is a master of disguise. The tiger swallowtail caterpillar starts out as a bird dropping to discourage hungry birds…having an ugly bike doesn’t mean having a junky bike. A bike thief may see the gem under the Krylon, but he also knows he can’t sell it as quickly as the tricked out speedster at the other end of the bike rack.”

So what’s the verdict? Should I make my bike ugly, and if so, how?

21 thoughts on “I Have A New Bike, Should I Make It Ugly?

  1. Pingback: Fashionable Foldylock Keeps Tel Aviv Bicycle Thieves at Bay | BaikBike.com

  2. Yael

    Nice post…do you think the thieves recognize the old classics — schwinn and raleigh from the 60s or are they only looking for the hip road bikes and mountain bikes?

    Reply
  3. Karin Kloosterman Post author

    Most of my bikes were stolen in Tel Aviv, north and south. I don’t understand your reasoning. Move to a boring suburb so my bike won’t get stolen? Seriously? Do people even bother to ride bikes in Savion – an upper class city that requires personal transport to move you throughout suburbia for basic needs like groceries, blood tests and a good coffee shop? No thank you. Savion is exactly the opposite of where I would like to live.

    Reply
    • daniella

      i live in a suburb (givat shmuel) and i have had 3 bikes stolen in the past 6 months (from right next to my building). two of them were ugly and one was not. the ugliest one was actually stolen after the least amount of time. people just steal for regardless of where and what and the only solution is to bring it into your apartment. either that or install video cameras.

      Reply
  4. Mark

    Nice post,

    The word “nice shiny bike” comes from the latin word “steelus meuus” which is quite self explanitory, now throw in the setting of Yaffo and do the math, if you owned a basta in the shuk, you could leave your bike where you want without a lock, a thief wont steal from his own,so here is my take on this dilema,, insite a small riot,nothing to grand,60 70 close friends and storm Tel-Aviv in the name of Alla, once caught and put through your quite just deserves you should spend a good few years in jail, where over time you will befriend a number of undesirables ( some from Yaffo you must hope)then INFILLTRATE. Take the next few years bonding with em, till one day they let you meet the boss, give him your sad bike problem and beg he put the word on steet that your bike is sacred,then you can leave the bike like a normal person without the fear of the yaffo bike mafia,”doin another job on ya” OR

    MOVE TO SAVION

    good luck and smile

    Mark

    Reply
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  7. Karin Kloosterman

    I didn't make my bike ugly… :( It was stolen 2 weeks ago from my house. Locked tight outside, and inside a gated wall, with a pit bull guarding the house. Sneaky thieves, but it leaves me feeling deflated. . . thieves suck.

    Reply
  8. Karin Kloosterman

    I didn't make my bike ugly… :( It was stolen 2 weeks ago from my house. Locked tight outside, and inside a gated wall, with a pit bull guarding the house. Sneaky thieves, but it leaves me feeling deflated. . . thieves suck.

    Reply
  9. michelle4jerusalem

    wow. that’s a good story, karin and i love the varied responses. justin kliger has a folding bike in tel aviv and i think he loves it. he wants to come to green drinks stat. if you want some stickers for your bike, let me know. we’ve got the green mother-load of stickers, each reminicscent of some eco-campaign in israel in the last ten years.

    Reply
  10. Karin Kloosterman

    Registering a number is a good idea, but given the reputation of the police in Israel, probably not worth the time…

    Here is some feedback I got by email:

    #1
    “I had a worthless piece of ____ bike that someone gave me for free and one even worse that someone sold me for 10 sheckels.
    Both were locked up and stolen anyway.
    The only way to keep it from being stolen on the street is to keep it in your apartment, which is a waste of space.”

    #2

    “1. If your front wheel and seat are quick-release, you should consider locking them when you lock your bike outside. I bought a 1.5 meter length of laundry-hanging cord (it’s white on the outside, has a metal core, and is very strong) and two metal clasps. The clasps look like small “u”s with a small bar that are tightened with screws. I used the clasps to make two small loops at either end of the cord. I got the cord and the clasps at the hardware store on Shenkin St.
    When I lock my bike I pass the cord through a seat rail (under the seat) and the front tire, and then lock one of the loops with the big bike lock. I carry the cord, wound up, in my pocket while riding. It’s a lightweight solution to protecting your seat & wheel.
    2. If you can, try to not leave your bike outside. Get as light a bike as you can, and don’t put anything on it that’s not necessary. To carry a bike up stairs, stand next to the bike, facing the rear. With your strongest arm, put your hand up near your shoulder (your thumb touching your shoulder). Bend your knees until you can get your hand under the seat, and stand up. You should now be able to climb a few flights of stairs and put your bike inside, which is always better than leaving it outside.
    Happy riding!
    Yonatan”

    #3

    “1. Learn how to take the front wheel off —- only takes seconds to do —- and then continue your market research to see if a wheel less bike is less attractive to the bike bad boys

    2. If the above doesn’t work, learn how to repair punctures, but lots of puncture repair kits, and try slashing you tires every time you park your bike, to see if that helps.

    3. If that doesn’t work, try attached an “already give” sign to the bike, in case the bad guys have a heart and want to be sympathetic to you.

    4. If that doesn’t work, look for a bicycle that folds up into a size you can put in your handbag, so the bad guys can’t get access to it, and if you don’t find such a bicycle, try inventing one ;-)

    Stuart”

    Reply
  11. Naomi

    If this is the situation with all bikes then maybe this is the time to get bikes registered with the Min. of Transport with a serial no.(like cars) imprinted deep in/on the frame of the bike and frames of the wheels.

    Reply
  12. Daniella

    James, I had no idea you led such a sordid past! I just took my 200-shekel second hand hybrid חרא-mobile on a trip outside of Beer Sheva. To my shock, the bike survived a rather grueling three hours of rocky paths, but is now waiting for a flat tire replacement.

    Karin, besides the ugly bike factor, getting a basket or a crate is an amazing treat for you and your wheels. Highly recommended.

    Reply
  13. Ed

    What about a Folding-Bicycle?

    You can take the bike with you any where:
    bus, taxi, train, work, home etc.
    no tools, no fuss!

    or

    Reply
  14. James Murray-White

    my mis-spent youth was spent ‘finding’ students bikes on the streets of Cambridge, dismantling them, then reassembling them into other bikes, and selling them back to the students. A crackin’ trade! until one day one of my finest creations, painted matt green I remember, collapsed under me midway across a buzy junction….that was the end of my dabbles in the bike racket!

    great post Karin – let us know how long this one lasts….

    Reply
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  17. Karin Kloosterman

    Because folding bikes are only good for short distances, they tend to have small wheels, and parts that get rusty, and you can’t jump curbs while feeling safe on them. Folding bikes are good for office geeks who live in flat spaces and need to get on buses and trains. For the city, and in Tel Aviv, I recommend a hybrid mountain-road bike, with narrow handlebars for responding quick to the speed and obstacles the city throws at you.

    Reply

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