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:
Another popular variety is the Hublox system from Delta Cycle, which uses a special wrench to engage the skewer’s locknut:
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:
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:
An alternative, especially if you have time and money on your hands, is to absolutely overwhelm even the most hardcore thief:
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!
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