[This is the second post in the "Bike Commuting 101" series. Check out the last post here: Rules of the Road]
Properly locking your bike can be the difference between having a bike, and well…not having a bike.
There are roughly infinity(just an estimate) ways to lock your bike, and testing out a few ways to find one that suits you may not be a bad idea. Just don’t test ways that are proven not to work.
In this post we’ll go over a few of the tried and true locking methods, and we’ll also go over some techniques that you should probably just forget about. You’ll see a lot of pictures of different methods, and also a video of one of my favorite bike locking methods.
There are NO fail-proof locking methods, but learning to lock your bike well will help insure that it’s there when you return.
Step one in learning to properly lock your bike is simply picking a good bike lock.
Here are some winners and losers in bike locking technology:
Winner: The U-Lock
U-locks are favored by many bicyclists. Kryptonite bike locks are well respected and used by many. They use a system within their selection of locks, grading how effective they are. I would check out Abus U-Locks as well, which are highly regarded.
These can be expensive, you can spend anywhere from $20 on a cheaper (much less secure) U-lock to over $100 for the highest quality and best security.
A rule of thumb is to spend at least a quarter of the value of your bike on your locking system, OR spend as much as you can afford. Buy the best.
Loser: Combination Cable Locks
Combination cable locks come in many forms, but most of them just don’t hit the mark. You may have issues with the combination mechanism itself, but even worse, many of them aren’t the strongest and could be easily cut.
If using a combination lock, use it in conjunction with another lock(like a U-lock) but overall, I’d vote no on combination locks like these.
Cable locks in general are the easiest to get through for thieves and are best used along with other locks.
Winner: Heavy Duty Chain Locks
Heavy Duty chain locks like the Kryptonite pictured above or this one from Abus are not just very safe, but also intimidating to thieves. The reason that many people don’t choose them is because they are heavy, and can be difficult to carry around.
With a good bike basket or bike bag, they can be easy to transport.
They are very difficult to break, and also nearly impossible to cut which makes them very safe. If you don’t get the chain packaged with a heavy duty lock, you’ll have to be sure to get an equally as secure lock to go along with it–one without the other is useless.
There are other locking varieties, and we’ll go over some of them later on. For example, I’ve never actually used one of these folding locks, but I’m not really convinced of their security. Anything with that many moving parts scares me. If you know something about them, let us know!
You’ll see that, the most secure ways to lock your bike, uses a combination of different locks, not just one.
How To Lock Your Bike
Here are a 10 tips for locking your bike, and then we’ll run over some very specific ways to lock up your bicycle.
- Make sure both wheels are locked.
- Always lock your frame.
- Don’t lock on your wheel spokes, seat post, or fork.
- Use two or more high security locks.
- Use two different forms of locks.
- Bikes are frequently stolen inside a garage; lock your bike in the garage, on the porch, etc!
- Double check any posts or racks that you lock to and make sure they are secure(Ex. can’t be unbolted from top or bottom).
- Lock your bike in high traffic, well-lit areas, and near other bikes.
- Make sure your bike can’t just be lifted over the pole your lock to.
- Remove all possible accessories(Ex. lights, bags, even your saddle if necessary).
On most bikes, the most expensive part is the frame, followed by the rear wheel, and then front wheel. If you can only lock certain parts, then it’s good to keep this in mind while locking your bike.
Bike Lock System 1: U-Lock and Double Looped Cable
This is a reliable way to lock your bike, and one that can be used on many types of bike racks, which is why I like it. Both of your wheels and your frame are secured.
Here’s a video on how to do it:
Side note: This system really is best utilized by placing the U-Lock on the rear wheel and the double looped cable on the front. This way, if your cable is cut through you still at least have the rear wheel and frame–the two most expensive parts.
Bike Lock System 2: Two U-Locks
Using two U-locks is a nice and easy way to lock your bike. Your frame and both wheels are well secured here.
Bike Lock System 3: Chain Lock and U-Lock
I would probably argue that this is the most secure way to lock your bike. You’re using two heavy duty locks that a thief would have to get through. Maybe they can get past the U-Lock, but can they get past the chain? And vice versa.
Bike Lock System 4: Removing One Wheel
If you’re using only one lock, then removing one wheel could be a good idea. This is easy if you have quick release and requires the least amount of actual locking materials.
Bike Lock System 5: Sheldon Brown’s Lock Strategy
By popular demand I’ve actually decided to edit the post and add this technique. In all honesty, I should have put it in from the start, but, I chose not to and I’m doing it now!
For those that don’t know, Sheldon Brown has a massive online library of bicycle stuff. It’s worth a look.
This is his suggested method for locking your bike:
Use a smaller U-Lock to lock the rear wheel to a post, inside of the rear triangle. With this technique you actually don’t even have to lock the frame because if they take off the wheel there is no way to get it outside of the frame. Bam! They are both safe! Also, using a smaller U-Lock means that there is less room to leverage a crowbar or other tools inside of the U-Lock to break it. Smaller U-Locks tend to be safer.
Other ways to secure your wheels
Although I would never advise not locking your wheels, there are ways to help them keep even more secure.
Using Pinhead Locking Skewers is one way to do that.
Pinhead skewers replace your usual wheel skewers and are difficult to remove. Forget about quick release, and standard bolts which can be easily removed with simple tools, pinhead skewers are difficult to remove with conventional tools and come with a custom tool for your particular skewers
Pitlock Skewers like these are another option.
Locking Your Saddle
The first thing that you can do to make your saddle more difficult to remove is to replace your quick release(if you have it) with a bolt on. But, also, either of the tools listed above–the Pitlock and Pinhead skewers–can be used to lock your seat post as well. These will make it very difficult to remove!
If you choose to use quick release, then of course your can always take off your bike seat and throw it in your messenger bag, but, there are other ways to lock your saddle.
One way is to pick up a cable that you can thread through your saddle. You can either put this on permanently, or you can use is in conjunction with your U-lock as shown below.
This is honestly not optimal, it is more a deterrent than anything else and can be easily cut through. If you have an expensive saddle that you love, I’d do more to secure this, in particular if you’re in higher risk areas.
One more secure way is to install a more heavy duty lock, this is more difficult and is not very common. You’ll probably need to check at your local bike shop to see if they can install one for you, or try to create one of your own.
I found this one on VeloJoy:
Now that we’ve gone over how TO lock your bike, here are a few ways that I would avoid, in a segment we’re going to call: No-No’s.
No-No’s: How NOT To Lock Your Bike
Just Locking The Fork
Let’s think about this one for a minute…ok done. This is a bad idea right? Simply removing the wheel foils this whole system. You’ll come back to a U-Lock on the ground.
Locking the Wheel Spokes
Firstly, of course your frame is not secured. Removing the wheel can be simple enough, and then you’re frame and rear wheel are gone. Adios! Not to mention, wheel spokes can be broken to release the lock and you then you’re whole bike is gone.
Locking Just the Frame
Although, of all of the above this might be the best No-No to make. I’d vote no on this No-No anyway. Your wheel will be fair game.
If you have Pinlocking skewers this is certainly a lot safer, but if this lock is foiled then your bike is gone one way or the other.
To end, I’d just like to say that there is no fail safe way to lock your bike. You can only try your best to make sure your bike is secure when you take it out. There are videos all over the internet showing every type of lock being defeated with ease.
Marking your bike or registering your bike can be a good idea as well. If your bike is stolen, it may increase the chances that you get it back.
Commuting with higher end bikes will also always put you at a higher risk, but, long as you take the right precautions you’ll probably be safe.
Follow the proper steps for locking your bike, get yourself a heavy duty U-Lock, chain lock or both, and feel good about taking your bike around with you!
Anything to add? How do you lock your bike? Any other ways that you wouldn’t lock your bike? I’m sure we’d all love to know!