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Tag Archive: bike locks

Some basic commuter tips

Bike commuting is a great way to stay active, save money, and help the environment at the same time. With your route planned out, and the proper mindset, you can set yourself up for a great experience. But without a little thought and the wrong setup, you could be setting yourself up for disaster.

Pick the right bike for the job

A lot of riders ride simple bikes to work every morning, and some ride the Ferraris of the bike industry to work. An expensive bike is fine but you don’t need it. The idea of commuting to work is to save you money. If your morning commute is mostly flat, there is no reason for a carbon fiber road bike with 30 gears. A simple bike that fits you comfortably, meets your budget, and has around 5 to 10 gears will suffice.

If you plan to commute at night or early enough in the morning that lights on a car would be required, you may want to also look into front and rear bike lights, as many states are now requiring them.

Protective gear
Not every state requires an adult to wear a helmet. Any seasoned rider can tell you there is no shame in wearing a bike helmet. In 2009, 91% of all bike fatalities were due to not wearing a helmet. These can and most likely will save your life. Although your commute might not be long, you will still be surrounded by other bikers and cars. Anything can happen, but know this. There are all kinds of helmets in all kinds of styles and shapes. Some of them are pretty amazing and comfortable.

As you will also be commuting near roads and highways, you may want to invest in some protective glasses or goggles to protect your eyes. Like helmets, these come in all forms of shapes and sizes and can even be made to prescription as needed. You’ll want to be sure these protect you from the sun’s UV radiation and are sturdy enough with polycarbonate lenses, as regular lenses offer less protection from small rocks and other debris flung from cars passing by.

Keep it simple
Take the time to get on your bike and ride to work on your days off. Take different routes and time yourself to see which one will save you more time. Also keep in mind the type of traffic and obstacles you may encounter during the morning work rush. You may also want to keep a backup route in mind in the case that there is an accident or road construction.

Carry only what you need
If your daily commute is only a few blocks, there is no reason to pack for a huge journey. Carry what you need for your day in a back pack or a messenger bag. If you normally carry a brief case, find a bike rack that will best accommodate it.
Make sure that in your pack to carry an emergency kit, emergency contact info, and possibly a rain kit just in case. The emergency kit should consist of at least an extra tube, tire levers, and a tire pump. Tire pumps come in many forms and sizes, so be sure to find one that fits your tube style and will not weigh you down too much. For rain gear, a simple poncho and rain pant will suffice, and usually only weigh a small amount.

If you are worried about carrying your dress clothes with you, or wearing them on your commute, you may want to stash a couple shirts, jacket, and a pair of shoes for work , in you cubicle or office. It might also be a good idea to keep a towel and clean up kit in your office just in case.

Bike security
Unless your office allows you to bring your bike inside, you may have to store it in a bike rack, or attach it to a sign post, or some other immovable object near your work. In most cases a u-lock will do the job by simply running it through your rear tire and frame. If you are worried this will not work, you may want to invest in a longer cable style lock. With a cable lock you can run it through you rear tire, frame, front tire, and then around the object you would like to attach your bike to. If you bike seat is attached to a quick release, you may want to take that and any other item that would be easily stolen with you.

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).

DSC_0156

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.

DSC_0157

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.

Bike Your Drive – Top Commuter Basics

Hey there Bike Commuters!  It’s me, Mir.I.Am, and I’ll be the host for our show BIKE – YOUR – DRIVE! (Sponsored by “Log” from BLAMMO!)

Tonight’s guests include the Bike Commuters staff writers: Matt, Ghost Rider, RL, and Elizabeth.  Since we wanted to ride the high of May 2012’s Bike to Work Month (hehe, get it? ride the high, like ride a bike) we thought we’d put together a list of our Top Commuter Basics tips for all you who are biking your drive for the month of May… AND BEYOND.  Make sure to get clicky on the links for more bike commuter basic resources – get ready to bone up on your bike commuting skills, contestants!

“I’ll take Bike Commuting 101, for $500, Trebek!”  Take it away, Sean Connery

1.     Get a Bike – If you find yourself asking “which is the best commuter bike?“, the answer is: Any bike will do!  A hand-me-down, garage revival, or a loaner from a friend.  You don’t need carbon fiber or colorful fixies to get from your house to your work.  Okay, minimum stipulations should include: sufficient air in the tires, brakes that work, and a chain.  Head to your local bike shop to tune-up the rusting garage monster if needed – often times whatever we already have is good enough!  New bike commuters can always graduate to a new bike after they’ve gotten the hang of it.  Try before you buy.

Got questions about what bike to buy? Here’s a handy article that will get you started…sort of a simple “shopping guide” to arm you for your encounters at the local bike shop.

2.     Map it Out – Knowing your route will put your mind at ease like Ritalin on the first day of school.  Check out Google Maps Bike feature for recommended routes in your area, ask an experienced bike commuter to help you pick the most pleasant routes, or contact your local bike organization for comprehensive maps.  You can even take a test ride and bike through your route on a weekend, where you can relax and take as long as you want to figure out the best way for Monday.  We wrote an article a couple years ago about other route mapping Web utilities that may be useful for planning your excursion. For those of you in our audience today with smart phones, click on this link to check out some awesome bikey apps with maps that may also be of interest.

wet commute

Know where you're going before you ride.

3.     Clothing Choice – There are two schools of thought on clothing: those who change at work and those who don’t!  You may consider changing clothes at work if a) you are a “sweater” – any kind of physical activity can make you glisten b) weather is either rainy/snowy or extra hot -OR- c) you just don’t want to wear your work clothes on your bike.  Wear something that won’t rub in the crotch, flap around and snag in your gears or chain, or cuffed shorts/skirt that can get tangled up in your saddle.  If you are biking to work in your work clothes, take it slow and enjoy the scenery!  Liquid soap for a pirate shower in the restroom is easier to carry than a bar, and a small towel to dry off with call be helpful to freshen up.  Cycle Ladies, check out this link for looking fresh after exerting all that energy pedaling to work!  If you are bringing a change of clothes to work, carrying a lunch, or a small dog, jump to item #4!

Puppy transport inspiration!

4.     Carrying Cargo – Whether it’s a rack and panniers, messenger bag, a backpack, or cleverly-rigged purse with small dog, bike commuters need to bring things along the way!  We echo the sentiments of item #1, in that “whatever you already have will probably work just fine.”  Whatever your choice for carrying your clothes, laptop, lunch, or pretty much anything barring children, any backpack lying around the house should do the trick.  The backpack is a great go-to for a no hassle bike commuter cargo containment because a) everybody already has one b) two straps are better than one since they don’t swing around to the front of your body while pedaling -AND- c) you can pretend you are the Rocketeer on your way to work.

From Randonneur to Citaden:  Conversion of a touring bike to city kid and cargo hauler

Rack to the Max: front and back!

5.     Lights – front n’ back. Everyone at Bike Commuters has a passion for blinky lights, make sure you can at least be seen with one white and one red light.  We’ve got so many bike light reviews in our archive that it’s best to just give you the direct link to them all. Here you go…lights for the front, back, sides and everywhere in between!

6.     Invest in a good lock – and learn how to use it effectively. Our article on locking strategy will help you ensure your bike is still there after work. Don’t forget to secure your wheels…we’ve also got a handy article that addresses the various wheel-retention methods.  The best method for avoiding thieves (if your work is okay with it) is to bring your bike inside – unless you work with shady individuals of dodgy moral character.  Scope out the bike parking situation at work, covered bike parking would be best.  Co-workers that are bike commuters may have good tips on the best place to secure your steed.

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So maybe now is not the season to check the weather for SNOW, but you never know!

7.     Check the Weather – before you head out, and be prepared for rain or heat or bitter cold. We discuss raingear, layering for winter weather (not such a big concern now, of course…but file it away for the cooler months), more winter wardrobe tips, and more crucial to the coming months — beating the heat.  Speaking of beating the heat, on a related note, you may want to check out item #8:

8.     Beverages – Depending on how long you will be commuting by bike, a beverage may be necessary! If your commute is longer than a few miles, bring a water bottle.  A cage mounted squeezy water bottle like this one would be perfect.  If you haven’t yet mastered riding with one hand and drinking with the other, you can always grab a swig of water at a stop light or in a greeny pasture.  Another option for carrying a water bottle is to stash them in side pockets on your backpack for easy access (unzipping your bag to search for water at a light could result in fumbling and angry drivers when the light turns green).

The active life...

"Water is the Essence of Beauty...!" - MerMAN.

9.      Repair Kit – any bike commuter should be prepared to tackle basic repair and maintenance issues out on the road, especially tasks like changing a flat. You don’t want to be late to work, do you? Here’s an article that shows a basic toolkit… easy to carry and damn handy when you need it.  There are some great comments in that article, too: simple additions to the toolkit like gloves, a few dollars and – of course – a working cellphone to help bail you out if a breakdown has you stranded.  Remember, it’s quicker to replace the inner tube rather than trying to patch it on the road. You can patch the tube later at home.   If you’re not into toting around 2 tubes, a pump and tire levers, hate getting your hands dirty with repairs, or would just rather opt out for the day in the event of a flat, just bring bus or metro fare and bike in parallel with your public transit system!

10.     Rules of the Road – So now that you’re ready to hit the road in style on two wheels, let’s keep you safe on the road.  Check out our Commuter Tools Page for state-by-state bicycle laws.  The League of American Bicyclists has a simple 6-point Rules of the Road list to help keep the ride safe and fun:

1. Follow the law.
2. Be predictable.
3. Be conspicuous.
4. Think ahead.
5. Ride Ready.
6. Keep your cool.

Plus more Ride Better Tips page offers specifics on riding to the right, signaling, traffic and much more!  Be aware while riding, always be scanning the road for debris, obstacles or jerks.

11.     Get a Bike Buddy – If you don’t feel safe getting out on your bike alone, consider a bike buddy! Chicago has a new program called “Chicago Bike Buddies“. In addition to helping you plan your route and help you gear up for your commute, a buddy also offers support and helps keep you safe out there. There is safety in numbers! Seek out or start a similar program in your neighborhood, or just reach out to anyone else you know who bikes to help get you started. Most of us cyclists love helping fellow cyclists…

Asian Love

Accountabili-buddy. Bike Commuters Unite!

Well contestants and viewers at home, thanks for tuning in on this week’s episode of BIKE – YOUR – DRIVE (Sponsored by “Log” from BLAMMO!)  We hope you enjoyed our show and learned some snazzy Top Commuter Basics Tips – this show is made possible by viewers like you!  For more information on how you can become a Bike Commuter, check out our final link from the League of American Bicyclists.  Make sure to bike your drive next week: same bike time, same bike channel.