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Tag Archive: bicycle theft

Review: Two bike locks from Masterlock

A couple months ago, Masterlock offered to send two of their bike locks to us for testing and review. We chose a U-lock and a cable lock, and received the 8170D Force U-Lock and the 8220D Cable lock.

We told the folks at Masterlock that we didn’t have a “bait bike” to really test these locks out with, but that we would engage in a bit of destructive testing, where applicable. They were cool with that. More on that in a bit.

First, the cable lock:

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From the manufacturer’s website:

–Set-your-own password combination cable
–Use letters to create a memorable word combination
–Easy to set & reset
–6′ (1.8m) long x 3/8″ (10mm) diameter braided steel cable for strong cut resistance
–Protective vinyl coating helps prevent scratching
–Mounting bracket included for easy transportation

This lock is perfect for quick, low-crime lockups — as you may know, cables aren’t particularly resistant to cutting and are usually recommended for times when a bike will be unattended for a short time (quick trips into the store, or as a backup for another lock). What’s novel about the 8220D is its use of user-resettable word codes rather than numbers. I had a bit of fun coming up with odd words; my favorite being “STASI” (Cold War-era East German Secret Police).

The lock comes with a carrier bracket for mounting to your bike’s frame or seatpost. My seatpost is clogged with stuff, so I went for a frame mounting. The bracket has a push-button quick release and a corresponding “cleat” on the cable itself to stow the cable for travel.

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The carrier bracket seems a little chintzy (as do the lock brackets from most brands ), but the cable itself is lightweight. The bracket should be able to withstand this sort of weight. If you choose not to use the bracket, the cable coils up into a neat package for storage in your panniers or backpack.

As this is a cable, there was no point in attacking it with tools. I’ve seen (and experienced) much stouter cables cut with simple hand tools. Again, think of cable locks as a low-crime “quickie” or a backup to a beefier lock, and you’ll be fine.

Next up is the Force U-Lock:

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Specs from the manufacturer:

–Fusion U-lock
–Hardened steel body resists cutting, sawing and prying.
–Double locking shackle for superior pry resistance.
–Disc key for superior pick resistance.
–Vinyl coating for weather and scratch resistance.
–Carrier bracket included for convenient storage.

On paper, the 8170D seems like a good enough lock: good keyway type (disc rather than tubular) and the features one would expect from a sturdy bike lock. In practice, however, this one is perhaps not so tough. The first alarm bell was “hey, no anti-theft guarantee?” Surely, not all locks come with such a guarantee, but that guarantee has become the industry hallmark for a tough lock, and the lack of it should tell you something about the quality of any given lock.

Size-wise, the body is wide enough to swallow the front wheel, the frame and a secure post. Remember that the more space you take up within the U, the less room a thief’s prying tools have to work with.

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The mounting bracket, as may be expected, was fairly useless. I’ve never seen a serious cyclist use one, as most of them lack security over bumps or are made of flimsy materials. The included bracket here was no exception; it hogged a lot of frame space and comes with a cheap metal cam to secure the lock within the bracket’s body. I bent the cam lever the first time I used it and still couldn’t get the U-lock securely into its slot. Do yourself a favor: just bungee the lock to your rear rack, toss it into your pannier, or do as I do and leave a U-lock at all your common lockup points (I’ve got U-locks scattered all over the city).

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Now, onto “destructive testing”. I’ve got a sizeable tool collection, and what I was going to try with this lock was a series of tests, starting with bolt cutters, then a hacksaw, then a prying tool or bottle jack, and finally an electric cutoff wheel. First up: 24″ bolt cutters with a jaw capacity of 10mm.

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Let’s get something clear right up front — many of you know that I am not a particularly large or muscular person. At my heaviest, I weigh somewhere under 150 pounds. Well, it came as a shock, then, when I applied a bit of force to the handles of my bolt cutters, I could feel the jaws digging right into the steel of the U-bar! I peeled off some of the vinyl coating and discovered two clear indentation in the steel. I moved my tool over to the other side of the shackle, braced one cutter handle against the ground and pumped a couple times with about 50% of my body weight. SNAP! The jaws clamped shut onto empty space!

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At this point, the lock was defeated; so rather than trying the other tools, I called it a day.

Let’s be clear about another important point: ANY lock can be defeated given enough time and and arsenal of tools. The toughest lock on Earth is no match to an electric cutoff wheel…but in my humble opinion, a U-lock should be able to withstand a fairly casual application of bolt cutters. Let’s say, then, that this Masterlock U should only be used for “moderate security”…perhaps where there is nosy foot traffic near the lockup point, or a lowish-crime area. This is NOT an overnighter’s lock, in other words.

Retail price for each lock is right around $16.00. That’s pretty cheap! Are there better locks on the market? Of course — in the lock world, you do get what you pay for. Both of these locks are suitable for casual, quick lockups…but neither lock would I trust to secure my prized bikes overnight or in high-crime areas.

Not sold on these models, but are a fan of the brand itself? Have no fear: Masterlock does have a number of other locks in its stable, including stout ones with sizeable anti-theft guarantees. Check out the rest of their lineup by visiting their website.

Please click here to read our review disclaimer as required by the Federal Trade Commission.

How do you prevent your bike from being stolen?

The obvious answer would be a lock, but sometimes that’s not enough. I recently heard a talk radio segment on the local AM station talking about how the reporter’s bike was stolen in about 10 minutes from the time he parked it.

Listen to it HERE.

One of the things I used to do was use U-locks and secure my front wheel with the rear wheel and frame. I then would take an old bicycle chain place it in an old tube, and secure my seat rail to the bike frame to prevent someone from taking it. Fortunately where I now work, I can simply place my bike in our warehouse.

What about you? Do you have any suggestions in making sure your bike is still at the racks when you get off work or walk out of the grocery store?

Just Ask Jack — Skewers or Bolts?

Brian from Calgary sent in the following question:

“My current commuter bike has bolt-on wheels, and I’ve never had a wheel stolen, but I’ll need to replace it soon and new bikes all seem to have quick-release hubs, so I’m curious what your take is on this – is it worth getting quick-release locks, or just deal with the hassle of carrying a long cable and U-lock?”

This question brings up two very good points — keeping your wheels and keeping the bike itself. As many people have discovered, the loss of a wheel by theft can be an expensive replacement proposition (and can leave you stranded), so it is crucial to have a locking strategy that defeats all but the most dedicated thief.

While no bike can be rendered entirely theft-proof in most situations, the more you do to protect it by using a variety of locking methods and hardware, the more likely it is that a thief will move on to an easier target.

The first step is to decide on a wheel-retention strategy. Quick-release skewers are common on most bikes these days, and they sure are convenient for tube changes. The trouble with them is that they are also very convenient for even the most casual thief. Just a few seconds is all it takes for someone to flip a lever and walk off with an expensive wheel.

There are a number of “locking” wheel skewers on the market. One of the most popular is the Pitlock system, which uses a unique socket to loosen or tighten the skewers for hubs and seat collars:

Pitlock

Another popular variety is the Hublox system from Delta Cycle, which uses a special wrench to engage the skewer’s locknut:

hublox

The drawback to either of the above systems is that if you lose or forget the special tool needed to open them and you get a flat…you’re dead in the water. I know this from bitter experience, as I left my special Hublox key at home and got a flat about 4 miles away. That was a long walk!

My preferred method is a skewer system that takes a standard 5mm hex wrench to loosen or tighten…everyone carries a multitool of some sort, right? This type of skewer can really slow down a casual thief — after all, do thieves come prepared with a pocket full of hex wrenches and other tools? A myriad of companies make such skewers, and they range from totally affordable to frighteningly expensive. Here’s what they look like:

hex skewer

Traditional bolt-on hubs slow down casual thieves for the same reasons as the hex-based skewers…unless said thief has a 15mm socket wrench or an adjustable wrench in his or her possession.

The second part of this equation is “total locking strategy”…and the trick seems to be using two different types of locks to secure your bike. For example, you lock the frame to a bike rack or post with a U-lock and then lock the wheels to the frame and rack with a stout cable and padlock. The theory is that a thief will have tools to defeat a cable, such as a pair of bolt cutters, but not a bottle jack or other device needed to leverage a U-lock (or vice versa, as the case may be). Again, I speak from personal experience: my first week at the library, before I found secure indoor parking for my bike, someone tried to steal my rig. They successfully cut through a heavy 15mm cable, but were unable to cut through my vintage Kryptonite lock…all they did was chew up the vinyl covering with their bolt cutters (thank the stars they didn’t know the Bic Pen trick).

Here’s a photo gleaned from the Web that shows the double-locking method:

double locked

An alternative, especially if you have time and money on your hands, is to absolutely overwhelm even the most hardcore thief:

ulock frenzy

That bike isn’t going anywhere!

Keep your bike safe — because riding a bicycle is much more fun than walking home without it. Brian, thanks for the question!

Have a cycling-related question? Just Ask Jack! Click on the link in the right-hand column to send me your questions.