Looking for the perfect bike lock? So did we. Why trust us? We have tested tens of bike locks that cost from a couple of bucks to hundreds of dollars. What have we found out? Read below.
We bet you’re here not only to find out the exact manufacturer and model of a lock to buy, but also to learn what type of lock should you choose.
Well, there are four main types of locks: cable, chain, U-locks and folding locks. Which one to choose depends on your budget, application goals and personal preferences. There is no ‘best’ in terms of bike lock types, each has its pros and cons, which we cover in detail below.
Modern bike thieves use a wide range of tools and for against some of them (cordless grinders) pretty much any lock is useless. We believe that the key to success (not having your bike stolen) is to use a combination of protection methods and some common sense.
See, if the lock is meant to open, it can be open by someone other that you and against your will. The point here is to make it as hard as possible for a thief to open your lock, thus eliminating the sense of doing it whatsoever. Remember, in order to not be stolen your bike lock only needs to be better than that of a bike next to you. We’re joking, of course, but this is the mindset we have.
These are the most common bike locks out there, and definitely the cheapest. You can find them equipped with either key locks or combination locks. Despite the fact they are absolutely useless against any type of breakage except saw, for some reason, they are still very popular.
It’s worth mentioning there are some premium cable locks that use thick cables and advanced locks. However, at this price point, you can buy a combo of decent folding or u-locks.
When it comes to cheap cable locks, they can still be used in the following scenarios: low crime areas, or with cheap bikes that no sane thief will ever touch.
As a standalone bike lock, cable locks are not worth it, but cables themselves are great when used together with other lock types, like U-locks or folding and chain locks.
For example, you can use a U-lock to attach your frame to an object and you make a loop with your cable attaching your saddle to U-lock. Or, your wheels if they have quick-release on them. Basically, any component that is easily removable.
These have popped up relatively recently and are becoming increasingly popular every day. Folding bike locks have the flexibility of cable locks, but way more piece of mind when it comes to security. Again, they were not created for maximum security, but rather for better portability.
All of them are still relatively easy to open with a 30” bolt cutter, but you don’t see many thieves carrying those around. Nut splitters are also used to crack open the links here, but again, that’s not a very popular tool in thieves’ arsenal, again due to the fact that compared to other lock types folding ones have a fairly small market share.
When it comes to traditional tools like saws and grinders – it all depends on the specific manufacturer and quality of steel in the links themselves and nuts that hold them together.
Same applies for lock picking – cheap locks in this category will usually have pretty decent plates or links, but will fail with lock. Manufacturers will need to save somewhere, and, as a result, these locks can be picked quiet easily in mere seconds.
Or, as our UK friends would call them, D-locks. These are probably the most popular today with iconic design being around for quite a while. Thick shackles made of hardened steel make them safe against entry-level thieves with cable cutters from Home Depot.
However, when it comes to twisting, pulling and hammering attacks, you need to be extra careful about the lock you choose. Not all U-locks provide same level of protection, regardless of how rugged they may look.
Most common ways to open these locks are battery-powered cutters and lock picking. Cheap locks resist poorly to either of these because of low-quality thinner shackles, or by having easy-to-pick locks.
What we want to see in great U-lock: shackle of at least 13mm in diameter to make it harder to twist.
Chain locks are great. Their only drawback is weight. Other than that, we see only benefits. First, the level of security they provide, these are usually not that expensive. Next, they have decent length, which allows you to use them with non-traditional stationary objects like bigger trees, benches, rails, etc.
If made right, chains themselves are not very common for thieves to mess with. They are flexible, which makes it harder to cut with saw or cordless grinders. The links will force a thief to cut at least two times or one time with some twisting.
The weak point of many chain locks are locking mechanisms. Oftentimes, budget models have decent chains to impress a prospective buyer. But, the locks are poorly made, and can be either picked or simply broken (with a hammer) in mere seconds.
What to look for when choosing a chain lock? First, look at the locking mechanism itself. Because the chain is flexible, the key opening will be often exposed to rain and dust. These two combined can mess even the greatest lock very soon. The better the mechanism is – the better. At least, it should have features to make it harder to pick – narrow opening and precisely made keys.
Next, look at the chain itself. We want to see hardened steel with links of at least 6mm thick. The thicker – the better, but remember about total weight. Ideal case is if the chain is covered with something rust-free like zinc.
The amount of metal surface exposed to harsh weather conditions in chain locks is huge, even despite the sleeves. As a result, those not protected with zinc are covered with rust extremely fast.
This is an ongoing debate between cyclists all around the world. Most respected lock manufacturers like Abus and Kryptonite exclusively use keys on their high-end locks. It’s because, indeed, key locks provide better security. Combination locks can be opened quite easily by someone with minimal skill after watching a couple of Youtube videos.
On the opposite, key locks can be picked. However, the level of skill required for that kind of operation is much higher.
Those who prefer combination locks would argue that in the vast majority of cases thieves just cut or twist, so the whole “combination vs. key” debate becomes irrelevant. And you don’t have to carry the key or worry about losing one, just remember whatever-digit-code there is.
That’s true, however, when it comes to bike security we like to tick all of the boxes available. So, when one option offers better protection with a slight inconvenience of carrying the key (arguable), we’d rather choose that.
It’s worth mentioning that main manufacturers of bike locks will send you a replacement key for free in case of loss.
Even the most secure bike lock out there won’t protect if you choose the wrong rack or object to lock it to.
It has to be a closed loop that is mounted securely to the ground, ideally with concrete. If it’s bolted, there’s more risk involved – today’s thieves drive vans and can take an entire rack. Oftentimes, racks can be removed by unscrewing four bolts with a wrench. After loading a rack with bikes to a van, thieves can take care of even the most sophisticated bike locks in their garage later on.
Use public crowded areas whenever possible. Brazen thieves will usually not care about people around them, but those beginners will not risk it.
Remember, if someone wants your bike, they will take it. All, and we stress it, ALL bike locks, even those that cost three hundred can be open in under five minutes with a tool as simple as a used car jack. The goal here is to make your bike secure enough for a thief to choose another victim, because the risk will outweigh potential monetary benefit or the risk to get caught.