Tuesday, March 15

Straight Talk About Bike Locks

OnGuard Mini U Lock and Cable. Frozen Full-Size OnGuard in Background
This is Classic "Sheldon Brown" Technique. The ONLY Down Side to it
That I Have Noted is Modern Bikes Often Don't Have Much Clearance Between
The Rear Tire and the Seat Tube, Particularly With Fenders Installed
In my post about my OnGuard lock getting frozen into immobility when a “hard freeze occurs,” I noticed a wide variety of thoughts in the comments. While not as impassioned a subject as discussions about helmets or “high vis” wear, locks are a subject near and dear to many of us. This post summarizes some of the better information I’ve seen.

First off, it is widely recognized that a U-lock provides superior theft resistance for a bicycle, combined with a reasonable weight. Cable and chain locks tend to be weak, heavy, or both. Combination locks also tend to be vulnerable. I own two combination cable locks that I use frequently. I do not depend on either for more than casual security while I pop inside to pick up a coffee or similar action. They are “just a minute” and “I forgot my real lock” locks.

There are two widely available U-lock manufacturers that sell quality products in the US; Kryptonite and OnGuard, with Master Lock also offering some products that might be good, but which are less prominent. You may read reviews of locks such as Abus, but you’ll have a harder time finding such a lock unless you happen to be in Europe or are buying online. Most of the other locks readily available in the US are either made by one of the companies above, or are some “no name” knockoff that might be good and might be worthless.

While many U-locks are sold alone, it is wise to extend the protection of a U-lock with a cable in order to extend protection to expensive items that might be easily removed from the main frame (like a front wheel or a saddle). Cables alone are either weak or extremely heavy, but they make a good supplement to a U-lock. A cable won’t keep your bike safe, but it probably DOES act as a deterrent to someone simply walking off with your front wheel.

For locking approach, a variation on the approach recommended by Sheldon Brown, discussed here, is sensible. I lock the way Sheldon recommends, except that if my lock is big enough, I capture both the rear wheel AND the seat tube with the U-lock. IMO, capturing both makes the cyclist feel better and accrues the real benefit of making the lock a bit harder to leverage.

Once you have decided to get a good U-lock, you need to decide two things. First, do you get a “good enough” one or “the best” one, and do you get a full size one or a “mini.”

In making this decision, you need to consider a few factors:
  • Will you regularly be carrying the lock with you?
  • Is your bike going to be left unattended for long periods and be the most expensive/desirable target, and are you willing to keep your bike even if it got damaged extensively during an unsuccessful theft attempt?
  • Is the solid object you attach your bike to simply too big to accommodate the “Sheldon” locking method with a Mini U?
If the answer to the first question is “yes,’” I suggest you might want to forgo some of the more glamorous full size locks and get a mini/cable combination. Serious minis are much lighter than the serious full size locks and, in tests, are comparably secure to full size locks that cost much more. For a given level of protection, wouldn’t you rather lug around 2 pounds rather than 5? In most cases, a good mini U and a cable weighs less than half the weight of a full-size U without a cable. Certainly, it’ll take up less room. Don’t take it from me, Sheldon recommends the same thing.
The OnGuard Mini U With Cable Locks Both Shackles Separately, a Good Feature for Security
If the answer to the second question is “yes,” you might want to reconsider your bike choice, but also you will need the best possible security. This means MORE than just the U-lock that performed best in test, it means you ought to consider that MULTIPLE locking schemes provide superior security. You’ll need to use that top line U-lock, and also a chain/cable. Still, keep in mind that a strong lock and multiple locking schemes will be stronger than your bike frame (the frame may get bent when a lever attack is attempted), and will not protect most of the components. Those SRAM Red shifters and derailleurs are valuable and easy to remove. Brooks saddles are also attractive theft targets.
If the answer to the third question is “yes,” you’re stuck with a heavier and probably more vulnerable full size U lock. I have found few bike racks that would not work with a Mini lock, however.

The two best discussions of American Market locks that I’ve seen are on Slate, and on BikeForums. Some of the comments in the BikeForum post are also good, but some are less useful.
OnGuard Mini U Lock and Cable as Sold at Wally World
After digesting all this, and much more, I decided to get a Mini U Lock with a cable. I picked OnGuard over Kryptonite because the package included a cable, which comparable Kryptonites did not, and because it was available at a price and location the Kryponite was not (Wally World). Don’t get me wrong, the Kryptonite is a fine product and I would have taken the Kryptonite had circumstances differed. I also notice that Kryptonite now seems to have started including cables with some of their U locks lately. Arguably, the best Kryptonite locks may be better than Onguard, but either is a lot better than what most people use. Neither was available at my LBS. My LBS stocked a “Trek” lock, which appeared to be a relabeled mid-line Kryptonite, but it did not include a cable, it wasn’t a Mini, and it cost twice the price of the better U lock I purchased. I actually got a Trek cable lock that is a POS relabeled ski lock. The cable was too short to run through the frame and front wheel, which should have caused Trek to reconsider putting their name on an inferior product. I ordered the Trek lock from my LBS after my previous lousy ski lock, which did have sufficient cable length, broke. Had the LBS had the Trek cable lock in stock, I would have seen the cable was too short and would have kept looking for a better choice. Still, the Trek lock works wonderfully well AS a ski lock. As a bike lock, it is a bit better than nothing at all. As for the LBS, Tracy Wilkins talked about LBS not having what he needs here. He's not alone. I should have done better research - ON THE INTERNET. Regardless of where I made the final purchase. My LBS, like many, has limited choices available in stock. It's a reality of the current market.
"Trek by Kryptonite" - This is a Ski Lock but it'll last a Minute and Guard Accessories
It'll Also Fit in a Pocket and Weighs Very Little. Hardly Worth Leaving Behind.
It's Far Better Than the Total Security Many Bikes Get - Nothing at All

A weight comparison of various choices follows:
  • OnGuard Mini U Lock and Cable 931g
  • Kryptonite “Fahgettaboudit” U lock from “Slate article” 2090g without cable
  • Trek “Just a Minute” cable combo ski lock 96g
  • Schwinn “Not Good Security” cable combo lock 652g
  • And I could go on for much longer, but you get the idea.
IMO, the Trek lock, bad as it is, is light enough to warrant carrying around all the time, and it’s better than nothing at all (though not as good as simply taking Buddy inside a store with me, which is the best security of all). It fits into a bicycle seat bag or a pocket. While the cable is too short to extend through both wheels, it will at least cause a thief to have to walk back to the car to get a pair of snippers. Moving up from the Trek, I favor the mini U lock if I have to carry a lock. I reserve the full size U lock for work, where I leave it on the rack and don’t lug it around.

Schwinn "Not Good Security" Cable Lock. Still, It's Longer than the Trek Cable


Jon said...

I am lucky, in that I park my bike in my cubicle at work. So, I don't have to worry about security during the work day.

I keep a cable lock in the pannier, for quick trips into the King Soopers (Kroger), or the occasional watering hole, on the way home.

Iyen said...

I like to use two U-locks. One in safe areas, two for more dangerous places or longer periods.

I know you're "supposed to" use two different lock types, but I find U-locks to be extremely fast. Plus it gives you great flexibility. For example, you can use a tiny U-lock for maximum security, but if you need to lock to an oddly shaped rack, or a tree you can use the big lock.

Michael said...

I'm generally riding my bike in low crime areas, don't ride a flashy bike, and never have to store it out in the open for very long. I use to cable locks, the first is a regular bike cable lock that's fairly long, I can wind it through both wheels and around most street trees. The second lock, my "minnie," is actually a gun cable lock http://tinyurl.com/4awprzo . Mine's long enough to go around the rear wheel, seat stays and something thin like a chair for outside seating at coffee shop, which is where it generally get used. My minnie lock also has the word Glock stamped on it in big, bold, white letters. People tend to give my bike a wide berth when the minnie lock is in use.

Anonymous said...

In my underground locked car park I use a total of 3 locks on Sally, my cheapy bike. One that is a huge linked chain that must weigh 25lbs, attaching Sally and her 2 wheels to the solid ring bolted into the cement wall, a second lock which is a ulock on her top bar to the wall, and a third smaller Ulock for her backwheel to the seat "bar". And, I've changed over all my quick-releases to safety nuts/bolts. When I ride I just take 2 Ulocks, or 1 ulock and a cable thingy. My other bike and W's bike are in a bike room, non advertised, and are locked up with almost the same treatment. I was thinking of doing a post on what people do here, and may decide to continue to.

Steve A said...

Every comment on this post expands the subject differently and appropriately. While Jon's "at work" treatment is not really a locking strategy, it matched my own preferred approach - when you are the boss, park your bike behind your office door, and everyone in the building knows whose bike it is, locking doesn't matter unless you run into a store on the way home. One possible difference - USUALLY, I took the bike into the store with me.

Iyen makes the very good point that two U locks adopt to a variety of fixed points and carrying both allows easy protection of the front wheel. And they ARE very quick, even compared to a cable. Now that I've bought a second mini U, I'll have to consider that as a means of locking up at work for added security. TWO U locks and two cables offer all sorts of possibilities.

Michael's "minnie," in combination with the other lock, helps short-term protection and the "unflashy" bike helps a lot as well. I hadn't considered the protection element of "Glock" stamped on the lock. I wonder if it might reduce honking if the "Glock" were readily visible to any motorist coming up from behind.

As for PaddyAnne's comment, it is an excellent illustration of what you can do when you don't have to carry the lock WITH you. I hope she does follow through with a post. Presumably, she won't have W get dressed up in a garbage bag this time. A simple "Zorro" mask would suffice!

Anonymous said...

Ah, but I was thinking of making W pretend to be the bike!!

Michael said...

Hmm... Might just have to get a firearm themed bike jersey, hadn't thought of that...

I was in a sporting goods store picking some fishing supplies when I saw the lock and thought it might work well for the bike. Originally, I just shrugged off that it said Glock on it, but I've seen more than a few people notice it.

Bike Locks said...

Arguably, the best Kryptonite locks may be better than Onguard, but either is a lot better than what most people use.bike locks

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