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/   529 Team

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/   About Us

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/   529 Team

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/   Annie Answers

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You already know that having locking is critical for the safety of you bicycle. But, shopping for a lock is complicated – there are many different types of bike locks, they work in different ways, they protect different parts of our bike, and of course, there are multiple rating standards. So how do you work through the maze and figure out which lock should you get?

We’ll try to help you out by explaining the different types of locks, how to use them, and the different bicycle security standards they provide, which tell you how strong your lock is so you can use this information when you are looking at reviews for specific locks.

Types of Bike Locks

There are five main types of locks for your bike frame, and even more locks for accessories. We will tell you about each type along with their advantages and disadvantages.

Chain locks

A chain lock is typically a large metal chain with a heavy-duty padlock on the end. They are excellent because they are very adaptable. You can lock anywhere on the chain, and there’s a huge amount of combinations on how you can physically lock the bike up. They are very easy to use and also have the ability to lock multiple bikes up together. Another great feature of the chain lock is you can loop it through the front wheel and the rear wheel to keep them from getting stolen too. They also work perfectly with a floor anchor for locking your bike up at home.

Since carrying a chain while riding can be an issue, several companies have created belt locks – a fabric-covered chain lock that you can wear it around your waist like a belt when you’re riding.

Advantages

  • Very Adaptable
  • Easy to use
  • Can lock multiple bikes up
  • It makes it easy to lock to many objects

Disadvantages

  • Very heavy
  • Hard to store on the bike
  • Security depends on the thickness and chain material, and the quality of the padlock you use.

U Locks

A U Lock (or D Lock), is one of the most popular types of locks you can buy. They attach between your frame and back wheel and are very difficult for thieves to get through as they are solid steel. Typically they will come with a mount which means you can attach them to your bike easily. They are very quick to use and are the go to lock for cycle couriers because they are so quick to use and generally effective at preventing bike theft. U Lock security varies by material, but the most secure locks take this form.

Want more tech in your lock? You might consider a smart lock, which is typically a U Lock with bluetooth or data access that lets you lock and unlock it with your phone. These locks often will also include an alarm, and notify you if your bike is being tampered with.

Advantages

  • Quick and easy to use
  • Not very heavy
  • Attach to the bike easily

Disadvantages

  • You can only lock one bike generally
  • It can be challenging locking to other things than bike racks.

Folding Locks

You might have seen a folding lock and wondered what is that? Folding locks are great because they combine a strong material with a small form factor that is easy to mount to your bike or throw in a bag. When unfolded, they form a sort of chain so they are more adaptable to fit around different bike racks and bikes.

Just like U Locks, folding locks have a various safety ratings. You can see them with a basic or very high safety rating. ABUS recently brought a Gold standard folding lock to the market called the Bordo Granit XPlus 6500.

Advantages

  • Very small and fold away easily
  • Easy to use
  • May work with multiple bikes

Disadvantages

  • The cheaper models are not the strongest of locks – be sure to get a highly rated version.

Strap Locks

Strap (or band) locks, like LiteLok’s Core Plus are lightweight flexible locks that can be highly secure. Like chain belt-locks, they can be easily worn as a belt (but are much lighter than the chain-based version). They are made with a core that is a composite that usually includes high tensile steel sheathed in a fabric skin. While there are Gold rated strap locks, these locks are still easier to get through than a high end U Lock, so best used when you aren’t leaving your bike unattended for long periods.

Advantages

  • 50% lighter than most other high security locks
  • Easy to use
  • Can be worn as a belt
  • Can be mounted
  • May work with multiple bikes

Disadvantages

  • The cheaper models are not the strongest of locks – be sure to get a highly rated version.
  • Some strap locks are stiff, so not easy to fold
  • Can be expensive

Cable Locks

Cable locks are very small and easy to use, but we never recommend them as a primary lock as they are incredibly easy for a bike thief to cut. While cable locks can vary, they are typically made of a flexible metal core with a plastic outer sheath and a locking mechanism that splits and connects them together. They are easy to fix to multiple places on the bike, such as the seat post but can easily break with a decent set of wire cutters. Cabel locks are best used in conjunction with another, stronger lock to help protect your bike parts (seat, wheels, etc.).

A retractable cable lock is skips the plastic outer sheath, and just has the metal cable wound up inside a small container, which you can pull out and use it to lock your bike to a bike rack. While they are very convenient, they are incredibly easy for thieves to get through with the right tools. Just like with standard cable locks, these should only be used to secure bike accessories.

Advantages

  • Excellent for mounting anywhere on the bike
  • Very light and flexible
  • Cheap to buy

Disadvantages

  • Very, very easy for thieves to get through (we can’t stress this enough… don’t lock your bike with just a cable lock!)

Accessory and Secondary Locks

We already mentioned that cable locks should only be used for accessories. But, there are other styles of accessory locks available as well. Doubling up on locks can really help increase your bike security, so adding an accessory lock is highly recommended. Ease of use and weight are typically the biggest factors when considering a secondary accessory lock.

Zip locks

More secure than it sounds, zip locks are quick to use and very lightweight locks designed like a re-usable zip tie. They are typically combination locks with a wire-core. They won’t stand up for long to anything more powerful than kitchen shears, but can help keep your accessories safer and slow down a thief.

Cinch locks

Cinch locks, like those from OTTOLOCK, are lightweight accessory locks that can coil up to a very small, lightweight bundle. They are about the same security level as a cable lock, but because they coil, may be easier to carry.

Disc brake locks

Disc brake are typically seen more on motorcycles, but can be effective as an added security measure on your bicycle (especially electric bicycle) as well. The lock passes a pin through the disc brake on your bike which prevents the wheel from turning. Although the bike can be picked up and thrown in the back of a van, it can’t easily be ridden away. Some disc brake locks also have alarms.

Anti-theft skewers

Quick releases may make it easier to change your tire when you get a flat, but it also makes it so much easier for thieves to snag your wheels. Consider replacing your quick releases with anti-theft skewers if you are leaving your bike unattended in public areas. Thieves love to snag wheels to help make “franken” bikes… piecing together different parts so the bike is harder to identify.

Handlebar grip locks

Similar to Disc Brake locks, handle bar locks lock onto your handle bars to prevent the bike from being ridden away. Some have alarms built in as well. While they are not sufficient for protecting your frame, they are easy to use and are just one more layer that a thief would need to work through, so can be a good deterrent.

Key or combination?

All bike locks come with a key or combination function which lets the user lock and unlock them. You will find all the different standards of locks using each of these. Which is the right for you?

Key

When you buy a key lock, you will find they come with two keys or more. We highly recommend having one on your keyring or in your purse or wallet, so it is always on you. Then the second, we would typically suggest storing at home in case you lose the lock you have with you. This is more secure than a combination lock, as you need your unique key for it to work, but it does run the risk of losing your key and not being able to unlock your own bike.

Your key will also most likely come with a unique key serial number. Be sure to write it down in case you ever loose the keys to your lock. You’ll be able to contact the manufacturer to get a replacement if you have the key number.

Some lock styles have a “click to lock” feature, so they only require the key to unlock which can save time finding and fiddling with the key just to lock your bike up.

Combination

Combination locks are where instead of a key, you use a code to unlock your bike. It’s great if you typically lose keys often or share a bike with someone. You will find it is normally a three to five digit code that you need to know, and most locks let you change it to anything you want. It’s a great way to keep your bike safe without having to keep a key on you, but there’s always the risk of someone being able to guess your code, and we highly suggest getting creative and not using your birthday or 1111.

Can you pick it?

A savvy thief can break through pretty much any lock, but some locks are harder than others. While cutting through is typically the most common way to defeat a lock, locks can also be picked (remember bic gate?). The thing you are looking for in a good lock is how long it takes and how common is the equipment it takes to break the lock. When you are looking at reviews and standards, be sure to look at how pickable it is as well as how easy it is to cut through.

Understanding bike lock standards

As with many things, bike locks come with certain standards, and many external companies test locks and rate them on their protection ability to deter bike thieves. Typically you will hear of a few different safety standards, such as ART and Sold Secure. When you insure a bike, they may require you to use a certain lock standard, which is why these companies exist.

These are independent companies that can’t be bought and they do extensive testing on the locks that they rate. ART focuses mainly on the Dutch and UK market, and Sold Secure is worldwide. Typically the main company most brands use is Sold Secure, and we’re going to speak about how locks are rated.

Sold Secure Bronze Standard

Bronze is Sold Secure’s lightest level of lock and typically the easiest for a thief to get through. You will find lighter locks that are much smaller in this category, such as cable locks and small convenience locks. Don’t leave your bike locked up with a bronze level lock for long, and keep it in sight as well. A bike thief could use very basic tools such as bolt cutters, to get through this. We would only recommend these for very short café stops (ideally where you are sitting outside).

Sold Secure Silver Standard

The silver standard is the next level up from bronze and offers slightly more protection than bronze, but they are heavier and come in different designs, such as a U lock. They will offer somewhat better protection, but if you’re leaving your bike in a city center all day without being able to see, it would be taking a risk even with the silver standard locking system.

Sold Secure Gold Standard

The Gold standard Sold Secure’s locks are excellent. When you buy a lock of the gold standard, you’re getting a quality lock that is going to keep your bike very secure. A gold standard lock will do an excellent job at keeping your bike safe in high-risk areas and typically will come in the form of a thick chain and padlock. It will be very challenging to get through for any thief. This is the minimum level of security we would recommend for locking your frame.

Sold Secure Diamond Standard

In 2020 Sold Secure released a new standard which is what they call the Diamond. It is the highest rating of lock you can get and offers a huge amount of security. There are about 80+ diamond standard locks on the register, which can be used in high-risk areas and will give you the best chance of protection. These locks are very impressive and typically look like a U Lock with an added cable or chain to go through your wheels as well.

So, how to I choose the lock?

Since there are so many locks, you certainly won’t have time to research them all. First, start by figuring out the lock type that best suits your needs. Then, we suggest using Sold Secure’s approved lock search engine where you can see all the locks they have tested and their rating. It’s an excellent tool when looking for a lock, depending on the standard you want.

Once you’ve narrowed down the a few lock models you are considering, it’s time to look at more detailed reviews. You’ll most likely need to do some Googling to find reviews on your specific lock choices, but if you are looking for sites that have more detailed, best-of type reviews, here are some suggestions:

Having the right lock is not enough

OK, so you’ve gotten the right lock for your needs. Unfortunately, a great lock is simply not enough to protect your bike… it’s just one of the steps. You’ll also need to know how to use it properly, and take some other steps to keep your bike safe:

  • Prepare for the worst: make sure your bike is registered so you have all of the information ready in the case your bike is stolen.
  • Don’t skimp on your lock. A cheap lock won’t protect your bike as well as a rated lock. Your bike is worth it!
  • Badly locked bikes are easy targets. Lock your bike properly through the frame and wheel. A well-locked bike can deter thieves. We recommend the Sheldon Brown locking strategy.
  • Avoid quick-release wheels and seats if possible. If not, use an accessory lock along with your primary lock to protect them.
  • Locking your bike up in a well lit, high traffic area. Thieves don’t want to be seen stealing a bike.
  • When parking in a public place, look for a broken locks on the rack, and avoid it if possible.
  • Bikes are frequently stolen out of garages, bike cages and homes. Always lock your bike, even if it inside.
  • Use a ground anchor if you are locking your bikes at home in a shed, outbuilding or garage.
  • If you forget your lock, stop into a nearby bike store to see if they can look after your bike (or better yet, give them some business and buy a great lock!)
  • Tracking products such as GPS trackers or bluetooth trackers (like AirTags) aren’t foolproof, but are getting better.

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Annie Answers

Each week 529’s very own Annie Rhyder answers your questions about bike theft and bike security. To get your question featured, drop her a line at: annieanswers@project529.com.

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Press

Cool stories about Project529 in the press

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