Bike Locks- How to Protect Your Ride

cable bike lock

Not the most secure way to lock your bike in Chicago

Biking in Chicago, New York, LA, London, etc. means going the extra mile when it comes to securing your bike.  Cable locks and cheap U-locks won’t last a day in one of these cities.  Just check the numbers on the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry and you’ll see that cable locks represent the largest percentage of all bike thefts in Chicago.  I can back up their finding with my own experience.  I replaced an old Kryptonite U-Lock with a sturdy Kryptonite cable lock after the news broke in 2004 that their vaunted U-Locks could be opened with a ballpoint pen. Not a smart move on my part. One sunny summer afternoon, as I was walking back to my office from lunch I spotted a guy busily cutting through my cable lock with some garden shears. Never fear, he did not get my bike and I got a new bike lock. Unfortunately for most people who do have their bike stolen, the recovery percentage  is small. The one bright spot though, is that people are figuring out way to use the registry to recover more stolen bikes from swap meets or flea markets like these folks did last weekend.

So what do you do to protect your bike? Well,  it seems like you’ve got two options when it comes to high-security bike locks:  heavy-duty U-locks or seriously heavy-duty encased chain locks. Expect to pay anywhere from $80-$200 for a serious bike lock.  Most security experts state that you should expect to spend 10% to 15% of the value of your bike on a lock or locking system for the bike.  I would add that if your bike is your primary mode of transportation, and if you ride in a high bike-crime city like Chicago, you should spend at least $80 for a bike lock.  If you’ve got a quick-release front and/or rear tire, get an additional cable to loop through your lock and through the tire. The more surfaces a thief has to cut or break through, the less likely they are to steal your bike.

Locks & The City

kryptonite New York Lock

Good lock, poorly used. It should be locked through the front wheel AND the frame to the bike rack.

Since my bike is my primary source of transportation, and because I’m going to be purchasing a new bike in the near future, I’ve been looking around at secure bike locks, wondering what if anything is out there that is more secure that what I currently have — a heavy-duty Kryptonite New York U-Lock. I can’t say my research has been exhaustive, but this is what I’ve learned by doing a little research online, asking around bike shops, and observing the locks I see on bikes around the city. Kryptonite and ABUS seem to be  the front-runners in high-security bike locks. Neither one can guarantee that you bike will not be stolen – but they will slow someone down.


These type of locks seem to be the most widely used type of lock – at least in Chicago. The “U” or “D” shape can limit leveraging provided it’s not too big for the bike. The goal is to reduce the amount of space in which a thief can insert a crowbar and leverage enough oomph to pop it apart. The bulky locking mechanism resists hammers, chisels and the like.  Look for U-Locks that have a locking mechanism in the middle of the flat bar – not at the end –more difficult to break open. You also want U-Locks with a flat key instead of a round key. The downside with some U-locks is that while they may not be easily cut or broken apart, the locking mechanism can be damaged so that the lock is unusable.

ABUS Granit Series: – The Granit X-Plus 54 is their top of the line U-Lock.

Kryptonite New York Series: – The New York Fahgettaboudit® U-lock and the New York Lock® STD are their top of the line U-locks

Chain Locks

Hard-core chain locks have been appearing around the city in greater numbers the last few years. Tough enough for high-crime areas, these locks use a specially designed chain link which makes it more difficult to gain leverage and resists hacksaws or chisels. Be sure to invest in a padlock that’s just as sturdy as thieves can easily cut through thin locks, no matter how sturdy the chain. Bike messengers and other folks seem to prefer these type of locks over U-Locks, even the sturdy New York-style U-Locks.

ABUS Granit Series (chain locks) – yep, same series , just a chain lock instead of a U-Lock. The key here is the “10 mm hexagonal chain hard as granite, with very high resistance against cutting, pulling and torsion” and the “Patented ABUS X-Plus cylinder for highest picking protection”.

Kryptonite New York Legend Chain Series & Fahgettaboudit series: Along with the specially-configured chain, the New York Legend Chain series comes with an armored disc lock for the “ultimate security in the highest crime areas.”

Ring Locks

Ring Lock - Axa Defender

These are basically wheel immobilizers that come standard with most dutch-style bikes. Genuine ring locks attach directly to your bicycle’s frame and are therefore with you wherever you go. To lock the bike, you simply draw the locking bar around and through the spokes into the opposite side of the lock. You can’t rely solely on this type of lock for total bike security, but along with a chain or U-Lock, it will definitely cause the thief to pause and hopefully look elsewhere.


11/5/2010 – Since I first wrote this post I have purchased a new bike ( WorkCycles Oma) and a new lock to go with it – an ABUS Granit City Chain X-Plus. Here’s a link to the post I wrote about the new lock with some pictures of the lock, another look at a wheel lock and even a picture of my other lock, the  Kryptonite New York U-lock.

Locking Up Your Bike

An expensive lock doesn’t do you any good if you lock your bike to a chain-link fence, or leave your quick-release wheels there for the taking. Just read the stolen bike reports and you”ll see a lot of people did just that and now are bike-less.  Here are some tips culled from numerous sites and my own experience.

  • Remove the front wheel of your bike or make sure your lock encircles the rim, not the spokes, of the wheel as well as the bike frame – or situate your lock so it goes through the front wheel and the frame, and something that you are locking it to. Some people have a second cable that they use to lock the wheel(s) up. With Dutch-style bikes it’s a different story as there are no quick-release anything – so use your ring lock.
  • Lock your bike to a fixed object that cannot be easily broken, cut or removed like chain link fences or wooden porch posts.  Some thieves go so far as to remove bolts from sign posts. Check that street sign before you lock your bike to it – can you pull it out of the ground? Are the bolts loose – are they even there anymore?
  • Position the key entry so it faces the ground. This makes it difficult to smash or disable the locking mechanism.
  • Position your lock as high above the ground as possible to make it harder for a thief to find leverage and to make the lock obvious to passersby.

Overall Bike Security Tips

  • Mark your bike and take a photo of it for future identification. Register or license your bike at the local law-enforcement office.
  • Choose a lock that offers theft-protection. Do not neglect to mail in the paperwork. Both ABUS and Kryptonite have such warranties.
  • Find a lock that leaves as little space as possible between the lock and the bike. A small space means thieves can’t use leverage to break off your lock.
  • Don’t park your bike in dark alleys. Find a highly visible location like a busy street or in front of stores. Thieves likely won’t bother with your bike if it’s locked out in the open.  However, my bike was out in the open and people were walking by, and the guy still tried to steal my bike.
  • Don’t lock your bike in the same spot each day. Thieves “case” behavior patterns and thrive on predictability.  Can be hard to do at work though.
  • Don’t leave your bike out on the street overnight if you can help it.  That’s often how bikes with good locks are stolen since the thief has all the time in the world to cut through the lock.
  • Lock your bike next to other bikes where possible.
  • Don’t let your lock rust. A frozen lock is simply dead weight. Periodically give your lock a squirt of a Teflon-based lubricant to keep it in good working order.
  • Worried about someone stealing that lovely leather saddle that comes on some city bikes? I’ve heard about that happening.   Forget about the cutesy seat covers, cover your seat with a plastic bag to protect it from the rain or simply camouflage it.

What about you? Can you recommend any bike locks? Anyone out there with any experience with any other brands of   locks?  Any good bike lock stories to tell?

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