Bike Commuting 101: How To Properly Lock Your Bike | NYMBlog

Bike Commuting 101: How To Properly Lock Your Bike 12

[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

New York Fahgettaboudit Mini

Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Mini

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 Bike Cable Locks

Combination Bike 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

Kryptonite New York Chain and Evolution Lock

Kryptonite New York Chain and Evolution Lock

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.

  1. Make sure both wheels are locked.
  2. Always lock your frame.
  3. Don’t lock on your wheel spokes, seat post, or fork.
  4. Use two or more high security locks.
  5. Use two different forms of locks.
  6. Bikes are frequently stolen inside a garage; lock your bike in the garage, on the porch, etc!
  7. 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).
  8. Lock your bike in high traffic, well-lit areas, and near other bikes.
  9. Make sure your bike can’t just be lifted over the pole your lock to.
  10. 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

Locking your bike with a U-Lock and Double Looped Cable

Locking your bike with a 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:

How to Properly Lock Your Bike from Ezra Rufino

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

Using 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

U-Lock and Heavy Duty Chain Lock

U-Lock and Heavy Duty Chain 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

Bike Locking With One Lock

Bike Locking With One Lock — Image Credit

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.

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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 Locking Skewers

Pinhead Locking Skewers

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.

Securing your bike saddle

Securing your bike saddle

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:

A length of bicycle chain covered in an old tube secures the seat and post to Genia's bicycle frame.

From VeloJoy: A length of bicycle chain covered in an old tube secures the seat and post to bicycle frame.

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

DON'T Just Lock The Fork

DON’T Just Lock 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

DON'T Just lock the wheel spokes.

DON’T Just lock 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

Locking Just The Frame

DON’T Lock 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!



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  • Oddmonster

    Using two U-locks as shown in the picture is a great way to take up two bike-parking spaces unnecessarily. Ditto the illustration shown for removing one wheel. Security’s no excuse for being a space hog.

  • Phoebe Sinclair

    I think about this a lot because: a.) My Kryptonite U-lock is notoriously hard to open with the key. It’s been that way since I first purchased it. Sometimes I’m afraid people will think I’m attempting to steal my own bike, I’m struggling with it so much. WD-40 only slightly improves the issue. b.) I’ve been meaning to get one of those heavy-duty cords for ages. Haven’t done it. Playing with fire in terms of my wheels. c.) My lights have been stolen umpteen times, yet I still forget to remove them. The public library is the worst in terms of this. c.) Once someone stole the bungees to my bike crate/basket, but not the basket. What?! d.) Frustration.

    • Ezra Rufino

      I can definitely relate to “a.” I have trouble opening my U-lock all the time. While I was working on this post, I thought people would think I was trying to steal my own bike, spending so much time out there locking it and unlocking it like a weirdo. The double looped cords are actually surprisingly cheap and worth picking up, but glad you haven’t had any issues with that! I’ve also been lucky.

      I recently saw a kickstarter for a light that locks to your bicycle so that it can’t be taken off. It was pretty much genius.

  • RitaMarieM

    You left out Shelden Brown’s lock strategy: A mini U-lock through the rear wheel inside the frame triangle. A thief would have to either cut the U-lock or through the rear wheel and tire, but removing the rear tire and the U-lock through the rear triangle is impossible.

    • Ezra Rufino

      Sheldon Brown’s locking strategy is a great one. Anyone who doesn’t know it can find it here: Sheldon Brown is the master.

      Thanks for posting about it, I thought about including it and decided not to. I probably should have! :)

    • Max Power

      The Sheldon Brown method may not be as solid as advertised:

      Also, you should avoid a long shackle U-lock, since it provides space to put in a bottle jack to break it open. Recommended practice is to use the smallest lock you can fit around the bike and post.

  • Alexandra Aiello

    I also have renters’ insurance that does cover my bicycle in case it gets stolen because viva la Newark! It’s 40 bucks a month, but it makes me feel good that in case the worst happened, I would be able to replace it.

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  • lasertek

    I was browsing for bicycle safety tips when I bump into this article. I was relieved to know about cable lock because I was all along using it, thinking it’s the safest.

    • Ezra Rufino

      Cable locks are definitely better than nothing! And they can come in all different grades, so no all are that bad. It’s good to be sure that you’re bike is secure though :) Thanks for coming by!

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