How do you choose a bike lock? Do you rely on customer reviews, expert recommendations or your own personal idea of what bike security should consist of?
This is a question that every bike rider has to face because a bike lock is a necessary part of being a bike owner and there are a lot of them to choose from.
Choosing your bike lock requires that you know what types of locks are out there including material, shape, size and locking mechanism and more; otherwise, it is like visiting the grocery store and restricting yourself to just one aisle. This guide will help you understand what bike locks are out there and how you can prevent theft by choosing the right one.
Bike theft has truly become an epidemic in the United States and around the world. While many crime rates are going down, like murder, rape and armed robbery, bike theft has steadily rose in this country and around the world.
In 2014, New York reported nearly 5000 bike thefts and there are somewhere between 1.5 million and 2 million bikes stolen throughout the United States in any given year this decade. Bikes are getting stolen at a rate of 10-15 per day in some cities and many people find it very easy to risk a misdemeanor arrest (or fine) to make $100 per day or more selling stolen bikes.
Some experts estimate that more than half of bike owners have had at least one bike stolen throughout their lifetime and some people have had several bicycles taken. No matter who you are or where you live, odds are that if you don’t take the proper security precautions, you will eventually end up with your bike in someone else’s garage.
Luckily, there are a few things that you can do to make sure this doesn’t happen. Obviously, the first is to make sure that you are getting the right bike lock, but there are also a few safety tips that you might not even be aware of.
The first thing that you need to do is to make sure that you are selecting a bike lock that is going to keep your bike safe. But there are some other security measures that you can take as well, which will go a long way towards preventing theft. There are a few locks out there that will deter almost any theft, but with enough time and pressure, you can erode a mountain, so you certainly can steal a bike.
The first thing that experts say is to be aware of where you are parking your bike. Some people think that the best place to leave their bike is somewhere with a CCTV camera, but this isn’t true at all. Security cameras are not deterrents for most bike thieves, particularly those who are after a fix. Instead, your best deterrent is to put your bike somewhere people are around such as a busy sidewalk.
Experts also caution against attaching your bike to too rigid an object. While a stronger pole might seem to be the smarter way to lock up your bike, the fact is, the more rigid something is, the easier it is to use a lever against it to break the lock.
Law enforcement and bike experts alike exhort you to register your bike and report it stolen. Less than 2% of bike owners actually register their bikes with law enforcement and about the same number report it stolen when the theft happens. Most people just give up because they think they will never give it back.
Learning how to prevent bike theft is an important part of owning a bike and if you do a few of these simple things, combined with getting a great lock, you will reduce the chance of your bike getting stolen significantly.
We will be discussing the effectiveness of various types of bicycle locks below, but a basic overview is helpful to understand the different styles and how they compare with each other. There is no best type of bike lock because it depends upon your own preference and a chain lock can be just as effective as a U-bolt or other type of lock, depending upon the one that you get. Here is a brief explanation of the most common bike lock types.
The first type of lock is the cable lock. Cable locks can have three different styles of locks. The first is the key lock where the end of the cable is inserted into the other end and the key is taken out to lock the bike. The second is a combination lock and the third is a simple padlock.
Cable locks also come in three different varieties. The first is the standard cable, which consists basically of strands of steel covered by a plastic casing. The second type is the coiled cable, which is very similar to the standard and then there are armored cable locks that offer more protection than the standard cables.
Chain locks are pretty simple. They are basically lengths of chain that are joined at the end.
Some of them are reinforced and designed in such a way as to resist bolt cutters and pressure from crowbars and some have their own lock included while others simply allow for the joining of the chain ends with a simple padlock.
These two terms are interchangeable because they describe the same basic type of lock, which is a bolt of steel combined with a key (or in rare cases a combination) lock.
These are some of the best locks for heavy-duty security because they resist leverage, the locks cannot be picked or drilled on many models and some brands advertise that they cannot be cut with bolt cutters.
There are a few other types out there but they are rarely used. An example of this is the handcuff lock, which resembles a long set of handcuffs and works in much the same way. However, these locks are not as effective as most of the others on this list, which is why they are rarely used.
Even the strongest bike lock can be ineffective if you do not lock your bike up correctly. Learning how to lock a bike will go a long way towards improving your security and preventing theft.
The experts say that the best way to lock a bike is to lock your bike to something strong enough to resist cutting but not so inflexible that it can be used as a lever to pop the lock with a crowbar. They also recommend that you lock your bike in a public place with lots of light and foot or vehicle traffic and that you lock up the parts of your bike with the most value first.
Now, we will go into some of the various types and styles of locks in more detail to provide the answers that most security-conscious bike owners are asking. These questions cover materials, styles of lock, new tracking and alarm technologies and much more.
While titanium is not the strongest metal out there, it is the one with the highest weight-to-strength ratio. What this means is that you can get stronger metals and alloys to create bike locks from, but they would be worthless to you because they would be so heavy that carrying them around would be too much of a chore.
Titanium alloys can be some of the strongest bike lock materials out there and while they do not make theft impossible, they do make it quite unlikely. Besides, you are able to carry around your bike lock with you and not have the weight dragging you down.
Of course, you still want to look at the type of lock that you will be using. Even if constructed of titanium, a bike lock can be less secure than a weaker metal or alloy because of the type of lock that it is. This includes both the lock design (U-bolt, chain, etc.) as well as the lock itself.
Pure titanium has a rating of 434 megapascals and this can go much higher when the titanium is combined with other types of metal to make a stronger alloy. Manufacturing techniques also play into this. There is a lot that comes together to determine how a bike lock holds up, not just the metal it is made from.
Hardened steel chain locks are large links that are often reinforced and made stronger than normal chains to resist bolt cutting and pressure thefts such as using a crowbar for leverage. Chain locks can actually be some of the best locks out there and they are certainly not worthless, but there are a couple of things that you’ll want to keep in mind when it comes to these bicycle lock types.
The first thing to be aware of is that no matter how good your chain is, you need to have just as good of a lock on there. If you have a great bike chain but a poor padlock, you may as well not have spent the money on the chain. Many chains come with their own locks, which are often drill-proof and pick-proof, so you may want to look at those.
Also, make sure that if you are locking up your expensive bike that your chain has a sleeve or that you cover it with something. Heavier chains are definitely going to scratch your bike and devalue it quickly, which is something you will regret if you decide to sell it in the future.
The U-lock or D-lock is a modern style of bicycle lock that is very resistant to some types of brute force attacks. Brute force with tools is a common way that thieves target bicycles, jumping out of a car and quickly cutting the chain with a set of bolt cutters and then putting the bike into the vehicle that they are riding in.
Many of the U-bolt (also called a D-bolt) locks on the market resist cutting with bolt cutters but they do sometimes have a weakness. Because of the way that these locks are designed, it is quite easy to put a crowbar between the U-bolt and apply enough pressure until the lock pops out of the shaft.
Some manufacturers have tried to combat this by making the U-bolt too small or too wide to use a crowbar but unfortunately, bike thieves are quite determined, and bikes do get stolen that are locked up with these types of locks.
Some manufacturers like the Kryptonite Company (maker of the New York “Fahgettaboudit” locks) actually offer a guarantee of theft protection, sometimes worth thousands of dollars, because they are so confident that their locks will prevent theft. Obviously, using these types of locks is one of the ways in which you can reduce your chances of getting your bike stolen.
Budget bike lock chains are definitely deterrents for some thieves. After all, some just walk around with a pair of wire cutters hoping to come across a bike worth stealing that is protected by nothing more than a thin cable lock that was purchased for a few dollars, but most budget bike lock chains will hold up to this wire cutting technique.
Of course, that depends entirely on the chain and the actual price that you pay. Since these are budget locks, you aren’t going to get the protection that you have with the Kryptonite “Fahgettaboudit” chain lock – which comes with a guarantee and $3750 worth of theft protection – but you also aren’t going to have to the nearly $200 price tag that comes with the Kryptonite lock either.
So, the answer is yes, you can stop some bike thieves with budget chain locks. In fact, you can probably stop the majority of bike thieves with this type of lock, as long as you follow other security recommendations such as putting your bike on a busy sidewalk in a lighted area and locking it up to something solid.
Is there a lock on the market that is absolutely indestructible? Probably not. There are some that are very nearly theft-proof, and we have discussed one of them here already. But as far as an uncuttable lock, the only way that you are going to achieve that is by getting a very thick chain that bolt cutters simply cannot penetrate.
Of course, the reason that people don’t do that is simple: the lock would be too heavy to carry around. Imagine if you had a thirty or sixty pound chain attached to your bike that you carried with you at all times and locked up your bike with. It wouldn’t even be worth riding after a while because the drag would slow you down and your bike would wear out faster.
If you want a bike that is as indestructible as possible, your best bet is to go with one of the SIGTUNA or Kryptonite chain or U-bolt locks that are both lightweight and resist bolt cutters and pressure thefts using crowbars as leverage. But there are no bike locks that are indestructible.
The Grand Canyon was formed using just a little pressure and a great deal of time. If a thief wants your bike and you give them enough time they are going to have it. But you can take steps to make this as unlikely as possible, which is basically what this entire article is about.
So, what about cable locks? Some bike experts will tell you that cable locks are next to worthless but they are still widely used because they can be found everywhere and purchased for just a few dollars.
Contrary to what the experts say, cable locks aren’t worthless. As long as they are thick enough to resist wire cutters and have a good lock that cannot be easily popped off with something like a screwdriver, cable locks can definitely keep your bike secure. Bike locks cable is made of braided steel so it is not like it is designed to immediately break the first time someone tries to steal your bike, but you do need to be aware of what it is you are buying.
Let’s talk about bike locks that have alarm technology built into them. Alarm technology is actually pretty beneficial when it comes to locking up your bike, especially if you lock up your bike on a busy sidewalk and combine the other security techniques outlined here.
Bike locks with alarms work when brute force is applied to try to remove the lock or cut the cable or chain. The problem is, it can be difficult to build this technology into the actual chain itself so alarm companies build the alarm into the sleeve instead and around the lock. This definitely leaves a weakness – the thief can simply pull up the sleeve and cut the chain directly.
But bike locks that have alarm technology built in can do wonders for a bike theft. Someone can walk up to your bike and try to cut it using a tool and no one may notice, not even when they ride off, leaving your lock behind on the bike rack. But an alarm going off at a bike rack is unusual enough to make heads turn and the thief will probably run off or someone will confront them.
Some people avoid getting bike alarms because they know that because car alarms are so fickle, people basically ignore these sounds when they hear them. But if someone actually sees someone trying to get into a car with an alarm going off they will probably pay attention, and it works the same way with your bicycle.
Finally, let’s talk about some of the latest technology that is built into “smart” bicycle locks. For example, some locks come with a tracking device that can be installed on the bike, hidden so that the thief cannot find it, and when your bike is stolen, you can track it and allow the police to catch up to the thief.
In addition, some bike locks may have tiny cameras built in that take video when the bike is stolen. Most of the time, these locks are left behind by thieves so it is a simple matter of accessing the video via USB or some smart locks upload the video to the cloud using 3G or 4G.
As the technology improves, there will definitely be more people caught and more awareness of smart technology surrounding modern bicycles. In the future, it is likely that bicycles will come with tracking technology embedded into the bike so thoroughly that there is no chance for it to be removed and it is a simple matter of registering the bike with law enforcement and reporting it stolen as soon as possible to recover it.
The bottom line is that there are steps that you can take to protect your bike, both with the lock that you buy and the ways that you lock up your bike. Follow the advice laid out here and buy the best bicycle lock that you can afford and you will be able to protect yourself from bike theft successfully.