A vital part of caring for your bike involves securing it whenever it’s not in use. In a perfect world, we would never have to worry about such a thing, but the reality is that if you have a bike, there’s someone out there who wants to take it from you.
So, you need to lock it up to prevent that from happening.
You have a ton of choices when it comes to locking your bike up, whether that’s the actual lock itself, or the way you lock it up. This guide will walk you through the many different types of locks available, their subsequent pros and cons, and also the proper methods for locking your bike up.
By the time you are done reading this, you should be well prepared to secure your bike from any would-be jerks who would dare think they can take it from you.
There are more than a few choices for bike locks. Some are better for certain situations, but not all offer the same level of protection.
U-locks are extremely popular, and for good reason. These locks are very secure, and tough to break in most circumstances. They are made from thick metal, (often steel,) and have a key lock that allows the metal bar to separate so you can secure the bike.
U-lock come in many different sizes. Smaller ones will allow you to secure one wheel or isolated part of the frame, while larger sizes can secure multiple parts of the bike at once.
A u-lock generally offer you the best protection. They can’t be cut with wire cutters, and when used correctly, make it very difficult for a thief to obtain enough leverage to break one. Smaller u-locks don’t take up much space in your pack, and many chose to affix them to the bike when riding as an easier way to carry one.
U-locks can’t be compacted down to smaller size, and may be a bit awkward to carry around if you have limited space. If you choose to attach one to your frame when not in use, you’re likely to scratch or chip the frame's paint.
Cable locks consist of a long, somewhat thin cable that can easily be extended to wrap around various parts of the bike, and along other objects as well. These are secured by either a key lock, or a combination, and are the easiest bike lock to use.
Cable locks are lightweight, and usually easy to transport. They can be used to lock up multiple bikes at one, and also to secure anything on your bike that may be removable.
As we said, cable locks are easy to use. They provide ample length, so you can unwind them and wrap them all around your bike without having to strain, or think as strategically as you would with a u-lock.
Cable locks also give you leeway when securing your bike to large objects that may not be possible with smaller locks. This can include wrapping the cable around a tree, pole, and other immovable objects.
Since cable locks can be compacted down, they are easier to carry if you have limited space in your bag or pack. Many chooses to wrap the cable around the frame when not in use.
Cable locks are often the easiest bike locks to break. In many cases, a simply bolt cutter or wire cutter can easily break the cable in a matter of seconds. Sharp metal saws can be used against them as well.
You may think you have your bike secured a hundred times over, but one simple cut will cause the entire cable to become useless.
Chain locks are a very tough and reinforced lock option that provide more flexibility than u-locks. They are made from heavy metal chain links that are resistant to cutting and sawing, and many have a sheath over the chains that provides even more protection.
Chain locks usually aren’t as long as cable locks, but they do give you more leeway when trying to secure them. Longer chain locks give you the option to secure more than one part of your bike. Some may even prefer to use them in conjunction with u-locks for added security.
Depending on the particular model, a chain lock can be even stronger than a u-lock. When the chain lick has steel rings and a sheath, it’s nearly impossible to cut or break through, as the looseness of the chain makes it harder to smash or pry open.
A chain lock is nearly as compact as a cable lock, and can be wound up to a smaller size when not in use. Its flexibility also gives you more option when securing the bike.
Chain locks can be very heavy, especially when they are more reinforced. If you have a very strong chain lock, you probably won’t enjoy carrying it around on your rides, and may eventually only end up using it when the bike is at home, rather than out in public.
Quick-release levers on seatposts and wheels are sometimes easy targets to thieves who are content with just stealing parts of your bike whenever they can’t get the entire thing.
This may not seem like that big of deal to some, but keep in mind that saddles and seatposts can cost hundreds of dollars, and the same can be said for wheels and tires -- even more so. Plus, the notion of coming to unlock your bike and finding it without a seat or wheels does not sound like an ideal situation.
Locking skewers can be attached to your quick release levers to prevent them from being loosened. With these on your bike, you won’t have to worry about any of your essential components being stolen.
The obvious advantages with these is the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your entire bike is secure. Well, that and the fact that you won’t have to end up replacing expensive saddles, wheels, and tires.
Locking skewers are an added expense to your bike lock setup, and are also a hassle to deal with whenever you need to adjust your seatpost or remove a wheel. You'll need to carry the specialized wrenches with you at all times.
Each one of the locks listed above has some unique advantages over the others, but not all are equal in terms of maximum protection. If you’re looking for the most secure way to lock your bike up, the u-lock is generally considered to be the best method.
However, there are some chain locks that may be considered to be even more secure, depending on their thickness and extra features. A large u-lock that can secure both a wheel and the main part of your frame is often the best route to take in high traffic areas that may have more crime.
If you live in a smaller town, lock your bike in a high-visibility area, or an area where crime isn’t really a problem, a cable lock should suffice, as long as you lock it up correctly.
If you simply want the most secure and thief-resistant lock with you at all times, a u-lock or heavy-duty chain lock are the best ways to go. Locking skewers are an added precaution, and highly encouraged in areas with savvy thieves and high crime -- or if you just want to have more peace of mind.
If you’re using a cable or chain lock, there’s a good chance that you have the option to choose between either a key-operated lock, or one that uses a combination instead. For some, this comes down to a matter of preference, but there are some things to note.
Key locks are usually padlocks, and tend to be heavier and stronger than a combination lock. These are ideal for chain locks that need an equally-strong padlock to prevent a thief from breaking it. If you have a strong chain lock, but a weak padlock, a thief can simply break the lock itself instead of the chain.
Combination locks are usually weaker than key locks, and are often used with cable locks. They are much better for kids, as a child may be more prone to lose the key for the padlock. A combination lock can be written down somewhere in the home in case you forget the number.
Although key locks may seem more inconvenient due to the need to always carry a key around, you can simply add it to your keychain or even car keys so you won’t lose it. You should also make a few duplicates just in case.
The act of locking your bike up is not some fail-proof guarantee that everything will be okay while you are away. While the method and lock itself is crucial, so is the actual location you choose to lock it up at. Here are three things to look for that will increase the security of your bike while it’s locked up.
This isn’t exactly a unique strategy. As with most instances of theft, they are more likely to happen when there aren’t many people around. The busier an area is, the less likely a thief is going to try and make an attempt on cutting or breaking your lock.
If you are able, try to lock your bike up around other bikes. Locking your bike somewhere by itself makes it more of an alluring target than when it’s blended in with other bikes. This also deters a thief, since they won’t know when any of the other bike owners could be heading over in that direction.
Locking your bike to a large object that can’t be moved or lifted off the ground is always ideal. If you lock or chain the bike to something lighter or smaller, the thief may simply take the entire thing, or find a way to detach the bike from it.
Believe it or not, there are right and wrong ways to lock a bike up, and some methods that are much more theft-deterrent than others.
Your main goal when locking the bike up is to first secure the actual frame. If you have the frame locked up, there is no way a thief can steal the entire bike.
While securing the top tube portion is a great place to start, you should try to also get the rear triangle secured as well.
Another thing you want to look out for is preventing any open space in your lock. The more open space there is available, the more leverage the thief can get when trying to break the lock or wedge it open.
Securing your wheels is the next goal. With many chains and u-locks, you can actually position the lock to go through the front wheel, and then through the frame. This ensures that both the frame and the wheels are secure and safe from thieves.
One final tip is to aim the keyhole area downwards if at all possible. This gives potential thieves less room to try and get under the lock and wedge something into the keyhole in an attempt to either pick the lock or break it.
In the event that you have nothing to lock your bike to, your only option is to use the lock to disable the bike from being ridden. This can be done by threading the lock through the rear wheel and around the rear-triangle.
This prevents the wheel from turning, and forces the thief to pick up the bike and carry it, which will certainly arouse some suspicion among any onlookers.
Locking a bike doesn’t have to be complicated. A little knowledge goes a long way, and also your lock of choice that’s appropriate for the situation.
Always lock your bike up, even if you’re just running inside somewhere for a minute. Think of your bike as a car with the keys in the ignition -- it only takes a few seconds for it to be gone. Therefore, it’s best to do all you can to prevent it from being taken.
Have any bike lock stories or tips of your own? Let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear.
This post was last updated on June 5th, 2018 at 02:06 pm
Over the last few years, I’ve taken my love of the outdoors, hiking, skiing, trekking and exploring to the next level by starting this site. I started a bike shop in Denver, CO, and have seen amazing growth over the last few years. Getting paid to do what I love has been a dream come true for me. That’s also what led me to start BikesReviewed.com. In my shop, I spend a large amount of time helping people find the perfect bike for them and the style of biking they’re going to be doing. It only made sense that I expanded my reach and got online, making it possible for me to help people all over the world. If biking and staying fit is your priority, too, you’ve come to the right place.
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