How to lock a bike guide

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As a regular London cyclist, I constantly see the remnants of bike locks lying on the floor where a thief has spent no more than a couple of minutes relieving it of the precious bike it was tasked with securing.

Cycle theft is a big problem around the country, with nearly half a million stolen every year. Hopefully you will avoid becoming a statistic with the help of this guide.

No lock is unbreakable

One thing you should always keep in mind is that if a thief wants to steal your bicycle, they will always be able to given enough time, the knowledge needed to break your locks and the right tools.

There are a number of steps you can take to help keep you and your trusted steed together:

  • Buy the best locks you can afford
  • Avoid the bad locks
  • Use two locks
  • Choose a good location
  • Attach your bike to a solid, immovable object
  • Understand the tools and techniques thieves use

Buy the best locks you can afford

Many guides suggest spending 10% of the value of your bike on locks. I suggest if you can afford to spend more, do so! If your bike only cost £250, a £25 lock won’t last very long if a thief takes an interest.

Take a look at this video showing how a range of locks costing around £25 each can be broken in seconds (dutch with english subtitles).

D-locks (also known as U-locks), are generally regarded as the best protection you can buy for your bike. However, be aware that not all D-locks are created equal.

In tests where locks are subjected to breaking techniques commonly used by bike thieves, some performed outstandingly, others failed miserably.

Make sure you have at least one of the best rated bike locks below.

The best bike locks

The best U locks (D locks)

Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Mini
Abus Granit Extreme 59
Kryptonite New York 3000

The best bike chains

Almax Immobiliser Series IV

Avoid the bad locks

It’s difficult to recommend cable locks because they are absurdly easy to cut through – even the big name brands. Check out this video which demonstrates how bolt cutters make easy work of a big brand product.

Chain locks also suffer from this problem– and it’s often a matter of seconds rather than minutes before the thief hears that satisfying snap. Almax Security Chains have tested big name chains and all but their own failed (perhaps slightly biased!).

Use two locks

If you are locking your bike up for more than a few minutes, use two locks to secure the front wheel and frame and the back wheel and frame to an immovable object.

Choose a good location

A crowded and CCTV-heavy area is always a good spot for securing your bike, but don’t rely on this being a deterrent for bicycle thieves. Want proof? Check out this video of these guys stealing (their own) bikes in busy parts of New York – nobody bats an eyelid!

A good place to secure your bike is amongst others. If you’ve followed this guide, there will most certainly be an easier target for the thieves to take close by.

There will also be less room for a thief to manoeuvre themselves and their tools around. Other cyclists may be arriving or returning throughout the day and even if they refuse to challenge any suspicious behaviour, their presence will help deter thieves.

Don’t leave your bike somewhere which suggests it will be there for some time – for example, outside a train station, a cinema, an office block or a university. If you are attending any of these or similar places, consider riding a little further up the street and parking outside a shop or café; this way it looks as though you’ll be returning any minute rather than in five hours’ time.

Along with the new ‘Boris Bikes’, London is also trialling secure bicycle parking (currently at London Bridge and Finsbury Park), where, on receipt of a day pass at the entrance, you can leave your bike in a manned area for £1.50 a day. You receive a day pass for entry.

Attach your bike to a solid, immovable object


Make sure you lock both the frame and the back wheel to your anchor point. Also lock the frame and front wheel to your anchor point with a second lock.

If using a D-lock, ensure that it is a tight fit: the more space between the bike and the anchor point, the easier it will be to break the lock.

Make sure your lock can’t be lifted over what it is attached to or even that the whole thing itself can’t be stolen – it’s not uncommon for thieves to remove the sign off a short signpost – and it’s not too difficult to remove the entire post itself if you have the right equipment!

Try and keep the lock away from the ground, as this helps prevent leverage and hammer attacks.

If using railings, thread your lock(s) through as many as possible, as they can be easily cut through.

Face the locking mechanism downwards to make it difficult for the would-be thief to spray liquid into it or to drill through it.

Use a Cyclehoop if they are in your area. These devices transform a lamp post in to a secure bike locking anchor point. They are currently being trialled around certain London boroughs.

Remove all accessories

Removing your saddle, lights, speedometer and any bags to not only prevent these from being stolen but also make your bike a far less attractive target.

Understand the tools and techniques thieves use

Apart from opportunist thieves who tend to carry around a simple pair of bolt or wire cutters and an allen key for pinching seat-posts and the like, most professional outfits are going to be carrying around huge pairs of 42” bolt cutters that will make ribbons out of most metal. Some thieves will also utilise a mini bottle jack, known as a ‘stubby’. These nifty devices can fit in between the space of a D-lock and smash it open using their powerful hydraulics in a matter of seconds. The image below shows a bottlejack in action.
Bottlejack breaking a bike lock

For this reason you should always make sure that there’s a minimum amount of room in this space – fill it with your frame, the wheel spokes or as much street furniture as you can.

And again, any truly experienced and determined thief will eventually get through your lock. What you need to do is make their task as protracted and difficult as possible.

Register and tag your bike

Bikes have a frame number, usually found on the underneath of the frame. These numbers can be registered with property databases such as Immobilise and Bike Register which are used by police forces around the UK to check if property including cycles have been reported stolen. Whilst the chances of a police officer stopping someone on a stolen bike and checking it against these databases are slim, registration is free so you have nothing to lose.

These registration services also offer radio frequency (RFID) tags which you fit inside your bike frame, hidden from the thieves. These tags contain your bike information should the thieves rub off the frame number (which they often do). Should a stolen bike be scanned with an RFID scanner by the police, the bike can be identified.

These tags cost between £15-£20. It may help you recover your bike if stolen, but perhaps best of all are the stickers you get to put on your frame to show you have taken the time to register your bike which could act as a further deterrent for a would-be thief.

{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Ed J January 3, 2011 at 3:53 am

Great guide – one of the most comprehensive I’ve yet seen. Here’s a couple more nuances to add, some of which are implied but are worth mentioning specifically:

1. When using two locks, use two different KINDS of locks – one U-lock and one chain lock or cable lock. Each kind of lock takes two different kinds of tools to break, and many thieves aren’t carrying both or it would just be too much of a pain in the butt to deal with, or at least more of a pain in the butt than another bike, which brings me to…

2. This may not sound like the most civil practice, but the truth is a good way to make your bike look less attractive to thieves is to park close to other bikes that are more poorly locked than yours. Your bike doesn’t need to have the best locking job in the world – just the best locking job on the block!

3. In terms of location, an active glassy storefront or, better yet, an outdoor cafe is one of the best places to lock up – it makes it look like the bike’s owner (you) could be sitting right there at the cafe or standing looking out that store window. It would be pretty brazen to try to steal a bike that is a few feet from a busy cafe with all those people watching.

4. And last, if you’re willing to shell out some more cash for peace of mind, use Pinheads so your wheels, seat, and headset are not removable. Not only will those components not get stolen, but the whole bike is less attractive to thieves because of the difficulty eventually removing the Pinheads would pose.

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admin January 3, 2011 at 7:47 am

Thanks for your comment Ed!

In response to your points:
1. I am aware of the advice of carrying two different types of locks (such as cable and U lock) but I am not convinced about the reasoning behind it. To get through the best U locks, you would need an angle grinder (or a bottle jack if you leave room within the U shape to fit it). An angle grinder would also make easy work of most cable or a chain locks, but the U locks generally take longer to get through, therefore 2 good U locks would offer the most overall resistance.

2. You are absolutely correct, and something I alluded to under the heading ‘Choose a good location’, but will change to make more of a point of, as it certainly would make a difference!

3. Excellent point, will add this in – thanks!

4. Actually reviewing Pitlocks at the moment which offer similar protection to Pinheads. Definitely great devices and will add to the guide.

Thanks again and a happy new year!

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Ed J January 3, 2011 at 10:08 pm

True about number 1. In my mind, MOST crooks (read: crackheads) carry a bottle jack for U-locks or bolt cutters for chain/cable locks – these are quick, easy, relatively quiet, and cost less than $20 at big box stores. That’s why I advocate using one of each lock to thwart such common criminals. To get through the square chains or mini u-locks, you’re right a good grinder could do the job on either kind of lock, but power tools are nosier and a little more expensive so, I think, not nearly as common. Heck if someone REALLY wants to get a bike, a portable welder can make quick work of just about anything but, as you say… no lock is unbreakable – it’s all about hedging your bets!

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Amoeba January 3, 2011 at 7:54 am

I failed to find a reference to Q/R wheels, that attach wheels on many bikes. Where possible, Q/R skewers should be avoided, as when replacing a wheel. Who really needs Q/R wheels? Thieves love Quick Release hubs.

If your bike has Q/R, for your wheels or saddle a thief can make them his, unless you have secured them.

As Ed J mentioned, security skewers are available, brads include: pitlock; pinhead and Tranz-x. Other brands may be available.

For expensive saddles a cable can also be used to deter theft, additionally, a crappy plastic bag could be used to cover it. Avoid branded saddle covers, unless it’s a much less desirable brand.

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admin January 3, 2011 at 8:00 am

Great points Amoeba – I will update the guide.

Thanks!

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Amoeba January 3, 2011 at 8:52 am

It might be worth mention the Sheldon Brown method if only to recommend that people do not use it – at least in high risk areas. I hate to criticise Sheldon, but I really think Sheldon got it wrong with this one.
http://www.sheldonbrown.com/images/locktechnique1.jpg

Also, I’ve heard that thieves have discovered that carbon frames are so strong that they can saw through a carbon frame, spring it over the lock and ride off the bike and strip it of components and dump the damaged frame.
I have had no direct knowledge of this, but it means that securing such a bike is problemmatic. Perhaps a brace of Rottweilers or Dobermans?

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NYC_cyclist January 20, 2011 at 9:59 pm

As much as I respect Sheldon, may his soul rest in peace, I have to agree with Amoeba.
Here is the proof: a video, in which a thief steals the bike locked via Sheldon’s method in about 20 seconds
http://www.bikemandan.com/blog/sheldon-brown-locking-strategy-vulnerability

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Aranazo November 18, 2011 at 9:12 pm

You are right about thieves sawing through frames. They can also put a lock bracket or a child seat mount over the cut to hide and brace it, and sell the whole bike on to the unwary. It works on steel frames too.

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NYC_cyclist January 3, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Amoeba,

Usually “criticism” involves detailed explanation of what exactly is wrong with something. You never bothered to elaborate on the shortcomings of Sheldon’s method.

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Amoeba January 4, 2011 at 5:43 pm

NYC_cyclist,
It’s all a matter of how much the thief wants your bike, and whether you want to keep your bike. If you live in area where bike theft is rare, and / or you ride a cheap S/H bike, you could use Sheldon’s method and never lose it. Since there are better locking methods, why get fixated on this one?

I felt that it was pretty unnecessary to explain that this exposes the bike to at least two potential vulnerabilities:
a) The obvious one of cutting the rear wheel rim & tyre, but that’s hardly going to be much of a challenge to a professional thief. It’s probably easier and quieter than cutting a decent lock. Seeing that thieves willingly destroy parts of a bike to get the rest, the sacrifice of the rear wheel is minor. They can steal another wheel easily enough.
b) By filling the U-lock less completely, it increases the chances of the jack attack, unless one uses a very short U-lock and always locks to the largest possible diameter post.
c) There might also be the option of the torque attack with longer than necessary U-locks. If the worst happens, it will most likely wreck the rear wheel, not the frame.

Did I mention “at least in high risk areas”?

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NYC_cyclist January 5, 2011 at 9:38 pm

makes sense. thanks!

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Austin July 20, 2012 at 6:10 am

A better technique similar to Sheldon’s would be to put the U-lock through the bike frame and the rear wheel at the same time.

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ad January 3, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Not sure what Amoeba’s perceived fault with Sheldon’s method might be, but I can tell you mine. For those that don’t know, Sheldon’s method relies on the fact that a rear wheel secured by a ulock to something like a pole within the rear triangle of a bicycle frame can’t be removed–so it secures the frame and the rear wheel at the same time with a small ulock without worrying about fitting the frame within the lock. He also notes that most thiefs would be unwilling/unable (probably written before cordless angle grinders became so common) to use a hacksaw to cut through a rim in order to steal the bike.

My criticisim is that if you get a stupid/inexperienced thief that thinks he can just pull the rear wheel out in order to steal the frame, the thief could easily end up trashing the rear wheel and the frame itself during the attempt even though the bike remains secured. A trashed frame and rear wheel isn’t much better than a stolen bike in most peoples minds I would imagine.

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NYC_cyclist January 20, 2011 at 10:00 pm
barrie wallington January 5, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Just come across this site through urban velo. Find it hard to believe the trouble you guys have to go through to keep your bikes. I left the key in my $2 padlock outside the local pub for six hours last week and the bike was still there when I returned. Things do get stolen here in Wellington NZ but thankfully not to your extent. I am from the UK originally and do remember how bad it was in london. Cheers

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Amoeba January 6, 2011 at 6:48 am

barrie,
The problem is leaving a bike unsupervised is always a gamble. In an unfamiliar area, the risk level is unknown to the cyclist. Even if it’s normally a ‘low risk’ area, bike thieves could do a sweep for easy pickings that are poorly secured.

As a worrier, I tend to default to maximum security. So I always use approved high security locks, even when they’re probably complete overkill. Better more secure than needed than not enough. Once a bike’s gone, it’s gone, probably for good.

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D January 6, 2011 at 12:04 pm

What about marking your bike to put off potential thieves and registering it in case it does get stolen?

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admin January 6, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Marking your bike seems to be a good deterrent and is the subject of a post coming very soon!

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tOM Trottier January 10, 2011 at 1:09 am

An additional strategy: make your bike look worthless and/or unique (ie, easier to find, harder to profit from)

tOM

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George Bells December 17, 2011 at 5:25 pm

I totally agree about making it look worthless. I usually hand paint my bikes poorly with black paint and bind areas up with insulation tape. I know most people wouldn’t want to do that but a bikes are for riding, not looking at.

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Amoeba January 18, 2011 at 6:42 am

Apart from lots of stickers, or setting about the bike with a heavy chain, lump hammer and a spray-gun, what can one realistically do to make a bike look worthless, without actually making it worthless?

I saw this joke.
http://www.workcycles.com/home-products/parts-accessories/high-tech-antitheft-bicycle-spray

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Lui June 26, 2011 at 2:25 pm

I have three sort of expensive bikes(2 mountain bikes and 1 cyclocross). My two bikes I had before were A LOT cheaper and have both been stolen. The reason they’ve been stolen is because I locked them with one lock(usually a cheaper one). After that I used two locks: one U-lock and one cable lock. I lock the front wheel with the frame to a solid object and I lock my front wheel with the frame also to a solid object. The reason I use a cable lock is to be able to get both locks around the solid object which is tough with two U-locks.

Anyway, I had my mountain bike while I lived in London often locked outside for days and also had it locked outside in other countries. I bought it in 1992 and still have it. I lock my 2008 mountain bike and my cyclocross bike with the same method and none of them have ever gotten stolen. I think the method of locking your bike frame and wheels with two good locks both to a solid object in an area that isn’t too tucked away, is 99,9% secure(probably after writing this my bike will get stolen:D). Probably most thieves won’t go through all the trouble and just look for less secured bikes.

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Lui June 26, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Addition to my previous post. When I wrote “I lock the front wheel with the frame to a solid object and I lock my front wheel with the frame also to a solid object.” I meant I lock my BACK wheel the second time.

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Rideabout August 18, 2011 at 7:03 pm

“Simple advice is to buy a more expensive lock from hardened steel, with a solid padlock”

So were none of these locks made from hardened steel. And what’s meant by a “solid” padlock exactly?? Compared to the average padlock? This feature is helpful, up to a point, but like so many of its kind, it still leaves (really rather obvious) questions unanswered.

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Roo September 13, 2011 at 7:55 pm

I think it should be mentioned that locking your bike is always a last resort. If at all possible take the bike with you. Many places are actually quite helpful and co-operative about this. I have even arrived at a job interview by bike and brought the bike in with me.

As for making your bike look less desirable it has only a limited benefit. I had a bike which had a bent top tube (thank you removalists). At the bend the paint had flaked and it had gone rusty. The components were cheap, steel rims, peeling handlebar tape etc. This bike was stolen from right next to a main entrance to a large shopping centre with about 20 people per minute going past.

Similarly a friend had a bike he had his kids spray paint. It looked like it was not even rideable. He had it stolen when locked with a U lock and Chain next to about 20 other bikes some of which only had flimsy locks. I guess the thief thought if he took all that trouble to lock it it must be worth something.

There is also the problem of vandalism. I have had the front wheel on one bike damaged, I guess when they could not get through the locks. I have also seen dozens of vandalised bikes again where the thief could not get through the lock. I guess the mind set was if I can’t get it then you won’t have it either…

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Steve August 16, 2012 at 8:50 pm

There is much to be said for this approach: the best security is no lock at all. Get a POS bike for your commuting needs (which may well cost less than a good U-lock), and never leave your high-value bike unattended. If anything, I think an impressive fortress of locks only attracts attention.

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Brig January 10, 2012 at 1:56 am

I just purchased a hybrid for AUD $1000, and am researching the best bike lock options. After coming across this site (thanks!), I’m getting rather put off about the prospect of my bike getting stolen even after it’s been locked in a visible, high traffic area. The bike association here in Brisbane, Australia also thinks that bike theft is an issue in the local area.

Until I scope out a suitable spot to put my bike (with its to-be-purchased lock/s), unfortunately I’ll have to go to shops on foot. There’s also of course the issue of having to remove the lights and seat pouch, which would seem to make the whole process rather fiddly and time consuming. At least I can still use it for fitness, though there won’t be any coffee stops

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Danny February 5, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Take a look at the Pragmasis range, just bought a ground anchor, chain and lock for £150, worth every penny. The company gave me plenty of help and advice and answered all my questions. I don’t work for them but would 110% recommend them!

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Jamie April 2, 2012 at 3:51 am

Hey Danny, thanks for the comment. I’ll take a look at them.

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dee February 8, 2012 at 12:49 pm

mate.. this is an awesome blog ..
absolutley packed with usefull info
and no crap
well done
ive sent a few people the link ; )

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Jamie April 2, 2012 at 3:51 am

Thanks Dee, much appreciated!

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Lily of Eire March 5, 2012 at 12:33 pm

What about a lock with an alarm? Does anyone make those?

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Syl April 5, 2012 at 11:58 pm

Yes, there are locks with alarms, like the “Shackle Alarm Padlock” or the “Maxi-1.5m-5944 Lock Alarm”, though I heard the batteries don’t last.

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thelukeman01 May 29, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Has anyone heard of the Kryptonite Evolution Mini 7? Looking for decent D/U for under £50 as i am getting a new bike. I thought that with the price, strength of kryptonites and the cable lock as well , that this would be a perfect bundle for me but am i wrong? Thoughts :D

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smilne September 4, 2012 at 3:32 pm

did you end up buying the evolution mini, can you let us know what you think of it if you did, i9′m just looking at securing my bike a bit better now i am starting to use it a bit more often, thanks

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Will June 8, 2012 at 11:37 pm

I’m considering forking out for a mini gps tracker for my new RB. Small enough to put into the tubing :D

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Simon September 4, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Really nice advice here – many thanks. I’ve just bought a second lock (a Kryptonite Fahgettaboudit) after reading your site. I’d like to add a tip too. I fill all the hex bolts with epoxy resin-based glue. Obviously it means getting a little screwdriver or something to dig out the resin if you need to make adjustments (like taking the wheel off to change a puncture [if you have hex bolt skewers]), and that’s a five minute pain in the bum, but it costs the same amount of time for a thief trying to make off with shiny bits.

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Hadar October 14, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Did anyone think about locking your frame and back wheel and taking the front with you? Might be somewhat of a pain taking it but no thief could ride your bike away, and usually only the front requiers a qr. Would be thieves will need to actually get a wheel replacement and attach it to your bike after busting your lock.

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