There are lots of different bicycle locks and they all have pros and cons. For most people the choice is between a U lock and a cable lock with a padlock. Last night I went to a celebration of bicycle culture in Seattle called “The Dead Baby Downhill 2014”, a bicycle race and afterparty featuring jousts from tall bicycles and even tall unicycles (tall bikes are bikes that are made of two bicycle frames welded together, one on top of the other). As one might expect, there were hundreds of bicycles everywhere and some of the most enthusiastic cyclists around were there showing off their rigs. This gave me insight into what is popular among bicycle messengers and others who use bicycles a lot.
Bicycle enthusiasts know that their rides are common targets of thievery, and they know many of the up and downsides of the locks available. A lot of people don’t though, so here is a primer:
Many people think that U locks provide higher security than cable locks. That is somewhat true but also false. Many U locks can be removed more easily due to their inflexibility. All that one need do to remove these is go to Harbor Freight and buy a car jack and put it inside the U lock and slowly spread it apart. This is fast, silent and effective. These locks often have disc detainer style keys and are usually really hard to pick unless you have the picks for them, and even most locksmiths do not have these lockpicks in the USA. U locks are a good choice if you need to keep honest people and slightly dishonest people who don’t think things through very well from stealing your bicycle. They will prevent people with bolt cutters from taking your frame, though they will not protect both of your wheels unless you take one of the wheels off the bike and pass the U lock through the frame and both wheels. This is a little cumbersome. U locks will not stop people with bottle jacks or rotary cutting wheels though.
You can’t open Kryptonite locks with the plastic of a ballpoint pen anymore. This was caused by Kryptonite using springs that were all the same tension, and this was a vulnerability that was discovered before Kryptonite started using their tubular locks. They just didn’t do their research or forgot about it or something. Now there is variable tension in their tubular locks, but many of their locks now use disc detainer locks.
Cable locks have a different set of advantages and vulnerabilities. They are often steel braided cable which is easy to cut with bolt cutters. These can also be broken by picking the bicycle up and twisting it off, using the length of the bicycle as a sort of lever. This takes more time and is really suspicious looking though. Cable locks can not be bypassed using a bottle jack or car jack. They are also more difficult to pry off. They are quite easy to cut off with bolt cutters though as well as rotary cutting wheels or angle grinders. Cable locks are really good for locking your bicycle up if you have to run into a building really fast. They weigh less and take up less space than a U lock. You can stick whatever kind of lock you like on a cable lock unless there is a built in lock. If there is a combo lock, there are ways to pick these I have learned from youtube videos and have had great success with. Cable locks are not good to lock your bike with overnight in sketchy areas. If you want to use a cable lock, get a longer one like twelve feet. This makes it more difficult to twist the cable into breaking because the thief would have to twist that much longer.
Sometimes it is hard to find something to attach your cycle to. It is easier to lock your vehicle up with a long cable because you can loop it around really big objects like trees if there are no signs or rails available. Remember: The bike is only as secure as what you’re locking it to.
Chains can be really secure if they are of hardened steel. You can buy a cheap length of chain from the hardware store but it will be easily cut through with boltcutters or even lineman’s pliers if the metal is soft and thin as most cheap chain is. Also chain from the store will scratch the paint on your bike. Unless you are willing to invest in a good security chain such as this Abus steel chain, you might as well get a cable lock. The security chains are really good. You can’t cut through them with most bolt cutters, it takes more time to angle grind them, and you can’t twist them off. They come with a sleeve to protect your paint. You can get them with integrated locks or use your own. They are a little heavy.
Don’t trust other people to intervene if somebody is stealing your bike. You can’t trust people in Seattle to do this, they are too passive, they don’t want to get involved in altercations. They will most likely walk right past. The most you can hope for is that they will use their iPhone to video the theft and post it on youtube.
The best thing to do is use some of these in conjunction with each other. Of course don’t overdo it, you don’t want to be bicycling around with ten pounds of locks and taking five minutes to lock up your bike every time you get to your destination. A U lock and a cable is a good combination of security though. The U lock will hold your bike down and the cable can be used to lock up your wheels and seat. It is a good idea to use a separate lock with the cable instead of threading the cable into the U lock. Attach the U lock to the bottom rail of the bike and put it through your back wheel. Attach it to something really sturdy, not just a chain link fence that can be cut with pliers. If you want to buy a high quality bicycle lock drop me a line, I sell the Abus chains. Don’t lose the keys because you will have to order those from the manufacturer if they are disc detainer keys.