Just Ask Jack: Lock Considerations?

I got an email the other day from Jeff Baldwin, a professional locksmith and fellow bike commuter from up in Morristown, New Jersey. In an effort to better serve his customers who ask about good bike locks, he was hoping to get a little input from our readers.


Specifically, he would like some input on which locks have worked well (or poorly) for you folks out there. Have you spent a lot of money on a lock, only to find your bike missing when you went to retrieve it? Also, when purchasing a lock, is convenience and portability part of the equation, or do you stick with the most bulletproof lock you can find? Sometimes the two don’t go hand in hand…I favor a big hardened steel chain with attached padlock or disc lock, but I do NOT relish carrying that behemoth around!

We’ve talked about lock strategy a little bit before…and any tips and tricks you might have in this area would be beneficial.

In any case, other considerations/personal observations and stories you’ve had will be greatly appreciated by Jeff, who will take our input and possibly be able to write up a comprehensive article for the trade journal published by the Associated Locksmiths of America (in addition to better guidance for his customers). You’ve done great for us, dear readers — always ready to lend a hand in developing information to better the bike commuting community. Let’s see what you’ve got!


  1. Raiyn

    Personally I favor the “double locking” method shown in the above link and as advocated by Sheldon Brown and others I use a Kryptonite Evolution Series 4 Std Shackle lock paired with a Kryptonite 1218 keyed cable lock.
    Some key points in my view
    DO fill your U-lock with as much frame, wheel and object you’re locking to as possible. Less room left over means less space for a leverage / jacking attack.
    DO NOT use a combination style lock. I’d say about 95% of people will attempt to lock a bike by moving a single dial – for “convenience”. This makes it easier for you to leave, but it also helps the bad guy. Also, it’s not like those 4 dial locks are hard to get into in the first place.
    If you leave your bike in the same place every day eventually someone will work out the combination.
    Grow a pair and learn to carry the extra two keys.
    DO park near other bikes with inferior locks. I’ve commented about this a dozen times or more in various places, but the gist is unless they’re specifically targeting your bike (crazed ex-lover or “personal shopper” style thief) the bad guy will go for the easier score.
    Every security countermeasure that you can conceive of has some benefit. No security countermeasure you can think of is going to be 100% perfect. The trick is finding a countermeasure that strikes an acceptable balance of usability and risk. Where risk is extremely high (a Philly ghetto parked outside overnight, for example), you will need to use a horribly inconvenient locking scheme. Where risk is low (my parent’s house in BFE) you might not need a lock at all.
    (Yeah it’s wordy)

  2. Michael

    I live in a suburb where bike theft isn’t a huge issue and bike racks are far and few between. I use a cable lock with a fairly long cable, which comes in handy when you’re locking your bike to a tree. .

    If I rode a spendy bike or lived an a more theft prone area I might reconsider my lock.

  3. Christina

    I do the same as Michael.

  4. Dominic Dougherty

    Where you lock your bike is more important than the lock you use.

    If I put my bike in the garage, it doesn’t need a lock at all. If I leave it out on the front lawn, it better have an armored pitbull chained to it.

    Lock your bike in locations that have a lot of foot traffic or in front of a store with a desk-jockey staring out the window at it (pop in and ask them to call the cops if anybody but YOU is messing with it).

    Vary your routine, lock in different places, ride different bikes. A thief that sees the same Bianchi Strada with the OnGuard coil cable everyday locked to the same tree is eventually going to bring the right tool to take the bike.

    That being said, there has never been a lock made that somebody with the right tools, motivation and opportunity can’t defeat.

  5. 2whls3spds

    @Dominic…I would lock my bike even in a garage. The last 3 I had stolen were stolen out of a locked work shop attached to my garage.

    My locking strategy varies by bike, location, etc. Some of my bikes are never left unattended. On my city bike I use an Axa Defender wheel lock with the optional plug in chain. On my grocery getter I have a wheel lock and a fairly heavy Krypto cable. I also have a Kyrpto NY Fahgettaboudit® chain and lock that I carry with me on occasion if I am going to be locking up in an unknown location for any length of time. I also have a couple of U-locks but seldom use them other than to lock bikes together in my storage/shop area to make them harder to steal.


  6. Bob

    I live in Grenoble, one of the flattest towns in France. Many people go by bike, and theft is a big issue, even with old ugly bikes…

    I use a “public” bicycle, rented to a public organisation. It is clearly identified as a public bike, and it has three locks : a locking bar that goes through the rear wheel, a cable to secure the saddle, and a U-lock to attach the bike to a fix anchor.

    I never this bike outside during the night, I have a closed bike park in my building. During the day, I park it next to a busy bus stop.

    In France, the Bicycle Users Federation made a study on bike locks (in french : It seems that U-locks are by far the best tools.

  7. Ghost Rider

    Good stuff, everyone…keep it coming.

    Dominic — excellent points: where and how you lock is often more important than what you use to do it. That would be valuable advice for Jeff’s customers — perhaps a brief tutorial and demonstration of the techniques to getting that bike secure?

    And you’re right — there’s no lock that’s going to stop every possible attack. There’s a highly-publicized video on Youtube of a guy who demonstrates this by plugging in a corded cutoff tool into a streetlight right on a busy daytime street in NYC. Sparks flying, he cuts through his own test lock in a matter of seconds and no one gives him a second glance!

    I use the multiple lock strategy when I know I won’t have a lot of decent security choices — either two different U locks or the heavy cable/U lock combo. For the really extreme stuff, that OnGuard Beast chain comes out, sometimes with a supplemental U lock to further slow down a thief.

  8. LJ

    Convenience is as big an issue as security in my town, so I normally carry a u-lock for locking to bike racks and small trees, and add a cable for locking to other objects.

    The u-locks are Kryptonite Mini’s which I bought mainly because they are keyed alike. I don’t much like messing with combo locks if I don’t have to. I called a couple of locksmiths but none of them could/would rekey u-locks. I would have paid a fairly high fee for that service.

    Finally, I would forgo carrying a u-lock that didn’t have a convenient, secure carry location on my bike (like my racks and trailer box). The little brackets that came with my locks were useless so a good mount would definitly be a consideration when buying a lock.

  9. Dman

    In college I locked my BMX up with a chain and padlock. So did my roommate. One night my roommate and a friend locked their bikes together with one chain. Mine was locked right next to it on a separate chain.

    Came out one morning and their bikes were gone. My roommate’s bike was a 3 day old $600 DK. The chain had been cut w/bolt cutters. Apparently the theifs got interrupted and didn’t have time to take mine. They had started cutting through my chain, and got far enough that when I grabbed the chain to look at it the came apart in my hand! I got lucky.

    Both chains were pretty beefy, but neither was hardened.

  10. Lock Master (Jeff)

    Thanks for the article Jack.
    @Dominic. Youare absolutely correct about there not being a lock that cannot be defeated, but again it’s a matter of tools, effort and time required. Even top rated Govt. vaults are rated by time and tool requirements. You can’t control available tools or the greed factor. You can only reduce oppurtunity (key word “reduce”). I’m not in a high crime area, so I use 2 cables. A Masterlock Python to snake through saddle and helmet and the bike and a heavier braided cable to secure the bike to a stationary object. At work and home I store inside.

  11. Lock Master (Jeff)

    @LJ. Unfortunatly rekeying U-locks requires more effort and time than defeating the lock. My company is a Masterlock dealer and so I am familier w/ mostly their products. They do make a clip mount they advertise for U-locks and cables. It would securely hold even a large U-lock, but since it uses a holder that attaches to the bar or one part of the cable, which slides onto the bike mount, my cable lock bounced around like a Slinky. Does anyone have any horror stories about Masterlock’s bike line. Anyone tried the Street Cuffs?

  12. Ghost Rider

    I’ve read a horror story or two about the Street Cuff — something about the riveted construction being AMAZINGLY easy to defeat with a little judicious prying. Granted, this was a few years ago, and I’m sure Masterlock has improved the materials and construction since then.

  13. Tony Bullard

    I bought a $20 “OnGaurd” U-Lock. The lock has performed OK I guess, I still have my bike. However, the attachment to the bike was crap. Within 3 days one of the screws stripped out and within a couple weeks the lock could no longer be held on the bike. So now it lives in my bag.

  14. Ghost Rider

    That’s a common complaint with all but the oldest Kryptonite frame mounts (they used to get it right…what happened?!?)

    All the new mounts, regardless of manufacturer, just suck. The lock is better off in a rack or bag, anyway.

  15. LJ

    Imagine a product line that had solid U-locks, a variety of cable locks, and different sizes of paddlelocks that would all use a single key.

    Whoever does this first will make a ton-0-money.

  16. Raiyn

    Well I did have a comment.

  17. Ghost Rider

    There, it appeared. Multiple embedded links trigger our spam filter…if you expect to see your comment posted and it doesn’t appear (AND you don’t get “your comment is awaiting moderation” somewhere in the form field), drop any of us an email and we’ll go into the spam filter and correct it.

    Good stuff, too, Raiyn — funnily enough, I just read your experiences with Masterlock’s customer service dept. on one of the bike forums…that was a SCREAM!

  18. Raiyn

    Thanks Ghost, I should have remembered that, but posting at Oh-Dark-Thirty will do that.

    *chuckles* Yeah, that Master Crap experience is just one of the reasons why I’ll never buy from them again. Glad to see it’s still getting some play.

    On the flip side I’ve never had any issues with Kryptonite. They were most helpful in the early days of BiC-Gate. I was even able to talk with product managers to get updates to pass along on Bike Forums.

  19. Ghost Rider

    Amen to that…Kryptonite even honored their return setup for an ANCIENT lock I had (from 1992 or so!), even though I had no idea where any original purchase receipts were.

  20. tonkatruck

    I use an OnGuard U-Lock and a 6 ft length of steel cable. U-Lock goes on Sheldon Brown style and the cable gets looped around the front tire. I hate dealing with the extra weight and the time it takes to lock up my bike. I would love to have some kind of lock that would work off some kind of electronic key fob.

    Anyway, DC is an urban area and bike theft is problematic, but not epidemic. When my brother-in-law lived in Philadelphia, he wouldn’t even consider locking up with less than two locks.

  21. Dominic Dougherty

    @LJ, I’m having trouble wrapping my head around your post.

    Are you talking about a series of locks that all use the same key? That would be a sweet deal (I have roughly 13 different locks @ 5 keys each) but I can’t imagine how that would work.

    January, customer buys coil lock from LBS1.
    February, customer buys U-lock from LBS1.
    March, customer buys disc lock from LBS2.

    How does the customer get these locks on the same key? I can’t imagine how expensive it would be to re-key a lock like this, probably close to the cost of the lock itself.

    Maybe my lack of understanding means I’m not the one to invent this product line, but it sounds interesting.

    If I’m completely off-base, please set me straight.

  22. LJ

    @Dominic – I’m talking about one company making many different types of locks that are keyed alike. I could order a couple of locks, say a U-lock and a cable lock, and they would use the same key. When I place another order, later, I include the key-code for my existing locks. Voila! One key to many locks.

    My OnGuard lock came with 5 keys, my Kryponite locks came with 3 keys each… that wouldn’t make sense in a single key product line so I would expect keys would be priced separately.

    I would also expect this to be a national internet type operation. There has to be all sorts of technical hurdles (the insides of locks are a mystery to me) which is probably why it hasn’t been done – yet.

  23. Raiyn

    @ Lock Master Jeff and Ghost
    I wouldn’t recommend any version of Master Crap’s Street Cuffs. Sure they look intimidating, but that’s all they’ve got going for them. I wouldn’t recommend them to someone I despised much less a friend.

  24. Lock Master (Jeff)

    Great input so far. Does anyone have specific accounts of how their locks were defeated? Or walk in walk out and bike gone in 60 seconds? I was always under the impression that braided cable was fairly secure from bolt cutters, but apparantly suceptable to hacksaw and grinders.

  25. Ghost Rider

    I do — when I first started working at my current employer, I locked my bike outside on one of the public racks. I used the dual-lock strategy: aforementioned ancient Krypto U-lock to lock the frame and rear wheel to the rack itself, and one of those IMMENSE 15mm braided Kryptonite cables to lock the front wheel, frame and whatever else I could to another part of the rack (using one of those circular padlocks where the shackle is mostly hidden by the body of the lock).

    When we got out one night, I didn’t see my bike at first…it was laying down behind the rack. The cable was missing, and the vinyl coating of the U lock was chewed up, but my bike was still there. The next morning, I found the cable in the bushes nearby — cleanly cut through by a pair of boltcutters. The padlock was salvageable…the cable was not.

    Needless to say, I raised a stink with my employer and they found me secure indoor parking (inside two swipe-card doors). I still lock it to a pipe with the OnGuard Beast chain…I AIN’T walking home!!!

  26. Raiyn

    Braided cable is a safer choice than twisted strand in regards to bolt cutters and it’s a PITA to get through with a hacksaw. That said any cable’s weak spot is at its swage point be it an eyelet or locking cable type.

    It’s at this point that any type of cable is most easily attacked and defeated.

  27. Raiyn

    Reference to the pic link in the post above, yeah it’s an old picture, but the point remains.

  28. Andrea

    Is it true that the old Kryptonite locks(15 years) can be opened with a pen cap. A non bike riding friend told me she heard the old locks were really easy to pick. This comment was made to me about 3 years ago-I am still using the lock. Should I buy a newer model?

  29. Raiyn

    @ Andrea
    You waited 3 years without checking this out? Really?
    Sorry yes, if your lock uses the round “Coke Machine” style lock it can in fact be opened with a BiC pen Barrell not the cap. seriously Google Kryptonite+BiC+pen
    Kryptonite did a massive lock recall several years ago in which they took back any and all round key locks that they had made up until that point. They had basically planned on doing that from the minute this blew up over on Bike Forums (I was in daily contact with them at the time) but of course some d-bag lawyer had to go and get all class action happy resulting in needless legal drama all the while Kryptonite / Ingersoll Rand was working to fix the problem. The result was they ran the recall program for a good while in the hopes of giving people living under the biggest of rocks the chance to turn in their locks for a free replacement. I think there was some cash involved for those who lost faith in the brand and wanted to take their business elsewhere. (Given how well Kryptonite handled the issue they’ve got a lifetime customer in me.) Having gotten that out of the way, now would probably be a good time to invest in a new lock especially seeing as how materials and design have drastically improved in the last decade and a half. Personally I’m a big fan of the Kryptonite Evolution Series 4. Flat laser cut keys mean no more school kids have keys to your lock.

  30. Raiyn

    Sorry if I was a bit harsh / rambly, late night posting does that.

  31. Ghost Rider

    @Andrea…oh yes, it’s true!

    I was able to take advantage of the Krypto lock swap as recently as 2 years ago — a painless, effortless process that only required me to fill out a form and send my ancient lock back. Who knows — they may STILL have something set up to swap locks…might be worth contacting the company.

  32. Andrea

    Thanks for the info on my old lock. I will email Kryptonite right away. I hope I didn’t get you too upset- I sort of dispelled what my friend said about pen picking because she wasn’t into bicycling. Also, thanks for the advice on which lock to replace it with.

  33. Matt

    I use a large chain which I carry around my waist. It’s actually quite comfortable once you get used to it. The trick for me was a Caribiner. You can see what I mean here:

    Also, I use a small padlock on my rear quick release. This means I don’t have to carry an extra cable or lock around with me. It’s pretty easy to rig up. See here for details:

  34. Raiyn

    @ Andrea
    Just for the record, I wasn’t upset, or even mildly annoyed. I’m just a rather direct person and I tend to be a bit blunt. It wasn’t personal in the slightest. If anything I was a bit shocked.
    Just for the record, I’m here to participate and help out if I can.

    Where’s that :beer: emoticon?

  35. Rhea

    I have a combination lock and, boy, am I sorry. The worst thing is you can’t see the numbers at night. Cripes. I’ve gotta get something different.

  36. Raiyn

    @ Matt
    Following the Modified Sheldon Brown method would pretty much render padlocking your quick release redundant (unless you’re trying to keep someone from swiping the quick release). In truth, you should be more concerned with securing the rear wheel than the front as the rear wheel is usually the second most valuable part of the bike besides the frame. The front wheel should be the focus of any “auxiliary” locking method as it is far less expensive to replace a front rather than a rear wheel assembly.

  37. Andrea

    The lock swap ended in 2007. For 18.00(the re- keying price), the Kryptonite company will send me an equivalent lock if I send in my lock and Keys. Do you think it is worth the bother?

  38. Ghost Rider

    Andrea…I think so. $18.00 for a Kryptonite is a steal (where else you gonna find a new Krypto at that price?!?), and it’s cool that they still have “some” form of customer trade-in setup, even if you’re not getting the full recall swap.

  39. Keira Scholtz

    Howdy muchos gracis for the above post.

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