Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bike Safety 101: How To Protect Your Bike

In the Bike Safety 101 series, I've looked at a lot of old educational films about bike safety and following the "rules of the road," but this next film is one of the few I've seen to tackle the problem of bike theft, and it comes from the "King of Calamity" Sid Davis. Taking a little break from scolding "wise-guy" kids for bad behavior, or scaring them into compliance, Davis produced the goofy little film How To Protect Your Bike in 1974 to show kids how to prevent their bikes from being stolen. It was one of the last films Davis produced.

"Five fingers can remind you how
to protect your bike."
The film tries to recall some of the style of an old silent-era comedy, mimicking the fast-and-choppy motion look of the old 16-frames-per-second used by those early films. It mostly succeeds in just making the movie seem more ridiculous. The advice in the film is structured around five simple points, like the 5 fingers on your hand, to remember how to protect your bike from theft. It then proceeds to contrast the smart kids from the fools, by showing the right and wrong ways to lock your bike. On the whole, most of the advice isn't bad, but the presentation is generally oversimplified, often unrealistic, and full of dumb stereotypes.

This is Dave, who just got a "brand new bike" (that actually looks pretty well used, if you ask me). "It's the first really important thing he's ever owned." Dave stops by the grocery store, and is just about to leave his bike unlocked. . .
"Hey Dave - Hold it!" the narrator calls out. "Aren't you forgetting something?" 
So Dave backs up and tries it again -- this time locking up the bike with his heavy-duty chain. "That's it, Dave!"
And it's a good thing he did, because little does he know, but "the worst bike thief in 50 states" just happens to be loitering on the same street corner. Meet "Creepo" the bike thief. Imaginative name, isn't it? Funny thing, but that description "worst bike thief" could easily be taken two completely different ways. Of course he's portrayed as a long-haired counter-culture "hippy," and a complete loser.
Creepo tries to walk away with Dave's bike, despite the obvious boat-anchor chain. Needless to say, but Dave's bike is safe, for now.
Then there's "Goofer" (another imaginative name) who's "too busy" to lock up his bike. He's also too lazy to bother with the kickstand. Too bad he doesn't see Creepo loitering nearby. "It looks like his bike is just asking to be taken."
Creepo rides off "inconspicuously" on Goofer's low-riding banana-seat bike.
The discovery, and the aftermath. "Surprise Goofer. Looks like your bike is gone!" Should'a locked it up, fool. The scene is sped up with an Alvin-and-the-Chipmunks-like voice as Goofer rants about his stolen bike. "Point one - always lock your bike."
Next comes Cathy - and besides needing some shorts that actually cover her ass, she needs a good place to park her bicycle. 
Considering Sid Davis's career of making films about child molesters, including The Dangerous Stranger, The Strange Ones, Name Unknown, and Girls Beware, is it just me who finds these shots of young Cathy to be more than a little bit creepy?
After rejecting the quiet alley (good choice for several reasons), Cathy parks right in front of the entrance of a shop, though she doesn't actually lock the bike to anything. The film hasn't gotten to that lesson yet. But this way, not only can she keep an eye on it from inside the store, but "there are people going by who would see anyone fooling around with a locked bike." Yeah? And what are those people going to do? In reality, nothing! Creepo thinks about walking off with it, but is scared off by an observant cop.
"This is Dilly - she doesn't Dally" - but she does park her bike in the same quiet alley that Cathy rejected. Sure, she locks the bike (not to anything), but little does she know that Creeper is on his way, and "he just loves quiet places like alleys."
"It's easy to just pick up Dilly's bike -- lock, chain, and all. . ."
". . . and put it into his handy little van." I'm sure it's no coincidence that Creepo is not only a "hippie" but that he drives around in a VW Microbus. All he's missing are some big "flower power" stickers on his van. 
"Surprise, Dilly!" Again, with the sped-up sequence and the chipmunk-like audio as Dilly cries over her stolen bike. "Point two - lock your bike in as safe a place as you can find."

Here's Dave again, illustrating the next lesson. Use a good chain and lock. "There's a right chain and a wrong chain for any job." Dave's dad "told him not to try to save a few dollars on a chain and lock, and wind up losing his bike."
"Through a clever hole in his newspaper, Creepo has observed the whole scene." Oh yes - the ol' "hole in the newspaper" ruse. That's clever? Maybe for the villain in a Keystone Cops movie.

Creepo attacks Dave's lock with a pair of bolt cutters, but to no avail. In reality, they would have snapped the chain in no time -- I mean, it's a good chain, but c'mon. But Creepo doesn't give up so easily. . .

. . . as he then pulls a massive pair of bolt cutters out of his pants. The arms must be 4 feet long! That had to be uncomfortable. There is no bike chain that would stand up to these. . .

. . . until now. That's right, Dave's amazing chain is too much for these 4-foot long cutters. Do the people at Kryptonite know about this chain? "Creepo will just have to wait for some sucker to come along."

And here comes the sucker. Didn't Creepo already steal this bike? But Goofer must have gotten it back somehow, because here he is again, this time with a lock and chain. Too bad it's the same wimpy chain he uses to tie up his dog.
Creepo's regular bolt cutters make fast work of the dog chain. But as he rides away on the much-too-small bike, he leaves his bolt cutters behind. Maybe so that Goofer has the tools he needs to get himself another bike. If Goofer's been paying attention to this film, he'll be learning all kinds of tricks and tips to rival Creepo someday.
Cathy's back to illustrate the next lesson -- lock your bike to something good and solid. She also runs the chain through both wheels and the frame. Good job, Cathy!
Dilly is "Dizzy and in a Tizzy." She locks only the front wheel to a post. "Creepo just happens to be in the neighborhood" and he has "special tools" -- like this "handy wrench." Yeah - that's special. As Creepo removes the front wheel and makes off with the rest of the bike, the narrator tells us that all he has to do is find another front wheel somewhere else. This is not only good advice for the kids who want to keep their bikes, but also for any future "Creepos" who might be watching.
"Creepo is really smart" says the narrator -- though most of the film goes out of its way to portray him as a complete moron. But just in case he should succeed in stealing your bike, there's one more thing to do -- always register your bike with the local police department.
NOOOO!!!!! Don't do it kids! Do NOT engrave your frame! It makes me hurt to just think about it. (Imagine someone trying to do this on a carbon fiber frame). But the film tells kids to do it anyhow. And the components, too. The film also recommends getting a bike license. All these things are supposed to help police reunite you with your stolen bike, but anyone who's seen PeeWee's Big Adventure knows that police don't look for stolen bikes.
When Creepo gets spotted by some kids whose bikes were stolen, they call the police to come inspect his "handy little van." Even though Creepo filed off the frame serial numbers, one of the boys was able to point to his special "secret mark" he'd engraved on the stem.
"Creepo just remembered he has something to do -- somewhere else." Next comes a goofy high-speed chase . . .
. . . ending in the county lockup. The narrator tells us "Creepo lost the game." C'mon - that's the best they can come up with? How about I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids. 
To wrap it up, the narrator suggests hopefully, "Maybe some new invention will be out soon that will take care of any bike thief. Like some kind of secret alarm."

Why is it that by the 1970s, all Sid Davis's "bad guys" are long-haired hippies?
When the next "Creepo" lays his hands on the unlocked bike, a ridiculous chain of events flashes on the screen in a rapid-fire succession of quick-cut editing. Sirens. Bells. Whistles. Flashing lights. Firemen (?) WWI-era aircraft (??). And suddenly every cop in Los Angeles County converges on the potential bike thief.
I know this looks like a shot from one of Sid Davis's drug films (seriously, is this guy blowing a police whistle, or some Wednesday weed? And look at those eyes!) but it's actually just one shot in the goofy sequence that's supposed to represent the near future of bike theft protection.

An entire police task force dedicated to preventing bike theft. Yeah. That'll happen.
How To Protect Your Bike has a totally different style than Sid Davis's other films, including the other bicycle safety ones. Nobody gets killed or maimed. And it isn't nearly as harsh or judgemental of its victims as some of his other films. But through stereotypes it still reflects some of the conformist notions of it's producer. Most of the basic advice in the film -- always lock your bike, with a sturdy lock and chain, through the frame and wheels, and locked to something solid - is generally good. But on the whole, it's just unrealistic and silly enough to be easily ridiculed.

How To Protect Your Bike can be seen and downloaded at the Prelinger Archive, or on YouTube, or right here:



  1. These old films are funny! Thanks so much for sharing them.

    Here are the 21st century London versions:
    How to lock your bike - http://lcc.org.uk/pages/bike-theft-and-parking
    How NOT to lock your bike by the late great Barry Mason: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPDHPpnXPv8

    Different era, different culture, whole new species of bike thieves out there - but funny how basic physics don't change. Two Good Locks.

  2. Thanks,Rebecca -- I'll have to check out those other videos you mention!