No Stupid Questions: How To Secure My Bike & Gear While Riding Across The USA?

A reader writes:

My biggest question about touring is security for my bike. I’m riding across the US in 2025, with a friend. Maybe a U‑lock is enough because we can always leave one of us at the bikes, but what if we want to eat at a restaurant? Or have some beers at the end of the day in a bar? And what about all the bags and gear on the bike, even if the bike is secured? And what about trackers? Are they worth the money?

Thanks for the question! Bike security on a cycle tour or bikepacking trip is a universal concern, and scenarios like those you’ve mentioned have no obvious solution.

And if you’re used to securing your bike to an immovable object with a shackle lock (aka: U‑lock or D‑lock), you’ll already have realised the limitations of this “standard” approach when it comes to touring or bikepacking bikes. 

The most obvious problem, as you’ve pointed out, is that you can’t lock your luggage. Cyclists already hate shackle locks for being heavy and cumbersome, and you’ll hate them even more when they only do half the job.

Thankfully, this is also a problem that’s been solved many, many times before.

The first thing I want to say is that bike security on a cycle tour or bikepacking trip is a more personal consideration than many people think.

I know plenty of riders who are happy to check the local vibe, grab their valuables, and leave their fully-loaded bikes conspicuously standing around, completely unlocked, while they do their chores. 

On the other hand, I know others who feel horribly anxious the second their bike leaves their sight, no matter what the circumstances, how many security precautions they’ve taken, or how many Kryptonite shackles are attached to it.

Where you sit on this spectrum is largely a function of experience. You haven’t mentioned how much cycle touring or bikepacking you’ve done before, but a useful pre-departure exercise would be to establish your comfort zone when it comes to bike security before you hit the road. 

As always, overnight or weekend-long test rides are a great way to iron out many wrinkles in your setup, impart the flavour of an extended trip, or refresh your memory if you’ve done it before – bike security scenarios included.

It’s also worth noting that a fully-loaded touring bike or bikepacking rig presents an unusual, possibly less attractive target to a bike thief than more common types of bike.

Bikes are usually stolen opportunistically for a joyride or to resell for cash. As I wrote in my extensive guide to custom-building a touring bike, even the most expensive touring bikes tend to look quite boring compared to the kind of bikes they’ll be parked next to on a typical urban bike rack in a developed country like the USA. Bikepacking bikes tend to look a bit fancier, but they’re still a relatively unusual sight, as well as being weighed down and hard to manoeuvre for the unaccustomed.

All that said, here’s a selection of pragmatic security strategies from which you might pick and choose until you’re satisfied with your personal bike security arrangements. 

I’ve been around a while, so I can tell you that all of these tips are cited by real-life cycle tourers and bikepackers as ways to manage the small but ever-present risk of bike theft on a cycle tour.

Tips on preventing bike theft on a cycle tour or bikepacking trip

  • Rule number one: keep your valuables in an easily-removable bag and never ever let it out of your sight. Handlebar bags and bum bags/fanny packs are great for this. My go-to for touring is an Ortlieb Ultimate 5 which is coming up to two decades old. For bikepacking I have a hydration pack with space for a wallet and passport. (Check out my full current kit list here.)
  • If you have other bags containing valuables (eg: a laptop that won’t fit in a handlebar bag), get into the habit of detaching those bags and carrying them with you too. Traditional panniers mounted to traditional racks with tried-and-tested mounting mechanisms are more practical here than fiddly bikepacking luggage with endless straps. (More on touring pannier choice here.)
  • All locks can eventually be broken, and panniers and components can still be stolen from a locked bike… but you already know that! Bring a lock anyway if it will give you peace of mind to enjoy your tour (and/or if your insurance policy stipulates it, on which more below).
  • One common touring and bikepacking scenario in which a lock is genuinely useful is when you’ve left your luggage somewhere and want to head out for a ride on your unloaded bike.
  • Choose cafes, restaurants and bars with outdoor or window seating from where you can see your parked bike. For extra points, tap into the kindness of strangers by asking nearby customers to keep watch while you go inside.
  • Alternatively, ask the proprietor of the cafe/restaurant/bar if there’s anywhere safe you can leave your bike. Most such establishments have at least a delivery entrance, kitchen door, and/or waste disposal area frequented by staff.
  • When you stay at hotels, guesthouses, hostels, etc, always take your bike inside; ideally into your room, but at the very least to a secure area within the complex. You may need to work hard to be allowed to do this; improve your chances by taking your bike to a self-service car wash earlier in the day and checking in with it sparkling clean!

Beyond these precautions, here are a few more ways you might put off someone who’s still eyeing up your bike…

Tips on deterring bike thieves when cycle touring and bikepacking

  • Heavy touring bikes and bikepacking bikes are hard to ride (or push!) for the unaccustomed. Make yours even harder to ride away by leaving it in top gear, disconnecting the V‑brake calipers if you have them, or securing the brake levers in the “on” position with hair ties or Voile straps (especially effective with hydraulic disc brakes), and/or fitting a quick-release seatpost clamp and taking the saddle with you (admittedly harder when you’re using a seatpost pack).
  • Conversely, swap out quick-release wheel skewers or bolt-through axles for ones with regular Allen (hex) key heads, which require tools to remove. (If you’re really keen, there are “high security” skewer kits available with uniquely-shaped keys.)
  • As well as that, the more unique, eye-caching and customised a bike is, the harder it’ll be to sell due to it being so easy to identify. And you can have a lot of fun making a touring bike or bikepacking rig unique, eye-catching and customised!
  • If you do bring a lock (even a cheap cable lock) but there’s nothing to actually lock your bike to, securing the rear wheel to the frame will make a touring or bikepacking bike very difficult to run off with and will deter the opportunist in the short term.
  • Rather than parking your bike down a shady side-alley where it’s less visible, park it right outside the main entrance of an establishment – preferably under the gaze of a security camera – where it’ll look like it’s been left for a few seconds. If you’re feeling cheeky, wheel it all the way inside. (In one particularly dodgy-feeling town, I pushed my fully-loaded bike around an entire supermarket and through the checkout!)

And if the worst does happen…

What to do if your bike is stolen while cycle touring or bikepacking

  • Make sure you can positively identify your bike if it is stolen, else you won’t get very far with the police or your insurance provider. Most commercially-produced bikes have a frame number (aka: serial number) stamped somewhere on the metal, usually on the bottom bracket shell but occasionally elsewhere. Find yours and photograph it.
  • Whether or not the bike has a frame number, look for and keep records/photos of other uniquely identifying features that’ll positively distinguish your bike from any other once the luggage is removed. At the very least, spend a few minutes before your tour photographing your clean, unladen bike from a few different angles, and keep those photos somewhere easily accessible. (Bikes with a few long tours behind them usually have more “character” than brand new ones!)
  • I’ve written about cycle touring and bikepacking insurance in another detailed post and mentioned it very briefly above. If you haven’t considered it, perhaps now’s the time to do so. Know that regular travel insurance often won’t cover the full value of a bike, and that most bike insurance policies have specific requirements concerning security.
  • GPS trackers are a relatively new way of geolocating personal belongings, stolen or otherwise, and are of obvious interest to cycle tourers and bikepackers with expensive bikes. Newer models piggyback nearby internet-connected smartphones in the pockets of random strangers to report their locations, and thus only work in places with humans who can afford smartphones, which I imagine describes much of the urban USA. I haven’t dabbled personally, but I did find this article on the Cycling Weekly website which appears very thorough and may even have been researched and written by an actual human.
  • Finally, it’s worth just visualising – ideally with your riding partner – the likely sequence of events in the case of a bike being stolen. You’ll be much more likely to get your bike back if you report the theft rapidly and provide law enforcement agencies with a clear visual description of your bike, which is easier and quicker if you’ve run through it in advance. (This kind of thing gets drilled into you during expedition risk-assessments, which I’ve done a fair few of in recent years.)

While most of the tips above can be utilised by a solo rider, you’re in the luxurious position of riding with a friend! Maximise this gift by establishing a routine of one person staying with the bikes while the other is shopping or making enquiries.

Okay, that’s the end of this list for now. Other readers: feel free to add your cycle touring and bikepacking security tips in the comment below! Security on a bike trip is largely about trying different approaches and seeing what works on the road, so the more strategies there are to choose from, the better.

Hope this helps!

Comments (skip to respond)

One response to “No Stupid Questions: How To Secure My Bike & Gear While Riding Across The USA?”

  1. Mike Jones avatar
    Mike Jones

    Hello Tom, the security of my bike and belongings is paramount for me on my upcoming tour, however, I realize that there’s not much that I can do to protect my bags while my back is turned. For my upcoming U.S. tour, I’ve opted for a 6’, pre-made, coated steel cable and a standard issue padlock to secure the bike itself. The cable is long enough that I can get both the frame and the rear wheel locked down. When I go into a store or restroom, I grab the most important items off of my bike and carry them with me: GPS, wallet, passport, phone, and keys for the padlock. I read recently that someone in the U.S. used an Apple AirTag to track their stolen vehicle all the way to an Arab country. This might be worth checking out, especially if it’s hidden away on your frame, with a second one at the bottom of a bike bag (preferably mixed in with a dirty chamois!). Thank you for the wealth of content that you’ve made available to fledgling bicycle tourers like myself!

Something to add?