Bike theft is a bit of a problem here in NYC. So…in this post we review the various types of bicycle locks available, discuss how bikes are stolen and make some recommendations about avoiding bike theft.
Cost vs. security: There is a correlation between the cost of a lock and its level of security. Most manufacturers rate their locks according to strength; Kryptonite rates theirs 1-10 and Abus is 1-15; the higher the number, the stronger the lock. The more valuable the bike, the more risky the parking location and the longer you leave it parked outside, the higher your lock’s rating should be and more it will cost. (And in general all of NYC would be considered a high risk area)
Sold Secure rating system: Sold Secure is a British third party lock testing agency. (all types of locks, not just for bicycles) They test locks submitted to them and rate them Gold, Silver or Bronze according to how long it takes to break the lock. Many manufacturers list their sold secure rating on the packaging. We recommend using a Gold rated lock for bike parking within NYC. A Silver or bronze rated lock might be sufficient for a quick stop at the café or for a cheap clunker bike. (Not all locks have been tested, so not having a Sold secure rating does not mean a lock is not good.) http://www.soldsecure.com/
Brands: There are two dominant brands in the US market. Kryptonite is part of Allegion, a giant US company that manufactures all sorts of locks and hardware. Their bicycle products are manufactured in China. Abus is a giant German company that also produces all sorts of hardware. All of their locks are manufactured in Germany. We recommend sticking to one of these two brands; other brands tend to be cheap knock offs of these. Master Lock and On Guard are the two best known alternatives.
Which of the two is better is open to debate. We prefer Abus products; they tend to use better quality steel alloys and better hardening to produce lighter weight locks with same level of security as the equivalent Kryptonites. However, Kryptonite has their fans as well. One strong selling point for Kryptonite is their “Anti-Theft Protection Offer”. Basically, if you register and pay a nominal amount each year, they will reimburse you if the bike is stolen as a result of the lock being overcome. One catch is you have to send them the broken lock to prove it. Not all thieves leave the lock behind – so this offer is perhaps not as valuable as it appears.
Four types of locks: These are the four basic bike lock types. Each has its pluses and minuses.
U Lock: U Locks are considered the most secure. However, their small size can limit what they can be locked too. And they can be awkward to carry; most u lock frame mounts work poorly so the locks can flop around. U Locks tend to be overcome by prying; one inserts a long bar and pries the shackle out of the base. They can also be cut with an electric die grinder. Cheap ones can also be opened by pulling the locking mechanism out. The best locks have a base that locks on both ends of the shackle, so a thief must cut through both legs of the shackle, not just one to get the lock open. Some examples
Abus’s Granit X Plus 540 costs $160. It has 13mm thick square shaped hardened shackle. it has a Sold Secure Gold rating and an Abus15/15 rating. Various magazine tests rate this as the most secure bike lock available. And it weighs only 3.7 lbs., no more than many far less secure locks.
Kryptonite’s Messenger Mini costs $68. It has 11mm hardened shackles and a Kryptonite rating of 7/10. Its 1.8 lbs. weight and small size makes it a perenial favorite with messenger types. The 4” wide shackle is just wide enough to fit around bike stands and sign posts. Probably not secure enough for all day lock up, but great short stops.
The one exception to our “stick to the two big guys” dictum is Ti-Gr Locks. Ti-Gr’s mini u-lock costs $100. Its hand made in NJ from titanium. It weighs only 13 oz, that’s 2 lbs. less than the equivalent Kryptonite U lock. And, titanium is very difficult to cut. This lock does not have a Sold Secure rating but our guess is it would score a gold and be equal to say a 10/15 from Abus. Maybe not enough for all day lock up by itself – but for 90% of the time, it’s a fantastic option. And it looks way cool. This is a Nomad favorite.
Chain Lock: High quality chain locks are as secure as U locks. Their advantage is they can fit around a wider range of objects. Their main drawback is that they can be hard to carry and rather heavy. Chains vary in the quality of metal used in and thickness of the links, ranging from 6mm to 14 mm. The best chain locks have an integral lock with no shackle that can be pried open. They also have hardened square profile chain links. Chains tend to be overcome by cutting or chiseling. Some examples:
Kryptonite’s most heavy duty model, the Fahgettaboutit chain 1415 costs $178. It has 14mm thick hardened links. It has a Sold Secure Gold rating and Kryptonite rating of 10/10. It’s almost impossible to break but weighs 11 lbs.; in our opinion too much to carry. It’s a good option if you lock your bike somewhere everyday where you can leave the lock behind, locked to the pole.
Abus’s Ivy 9100 chain has 10mm thick hardened links and an integrated lock, It costs $120, has a Sold Secure Gold rating and an Abus13/15 rating. Maybe not quite as unbreakable as the forgetaboutit, but it weighs only 6.4 lbs. a reasonable weight to carry and secure enough for locking up within NYC.
Abus’s Ivan 8210 chain has 8mm thick hardened links and an integrated lock, It costs $90, has a Sold Secure Gold rating and an Abus10/15 rating. It weighs only 4.2 lbs. a reasonable weight to carry. But it is not secure enough to use on its own for long term locking in NYC.
Folding plate lock: Folding locks are perhaps a bit less secure that U locks or chains. However, they are light weight, have large enough openings to fit around many objects and are easy to carry.
Abus’s Granit Plus cost’s $180. It has a Sold Secure gold rating, an Abus rating of 15/15 and weighs 3.4 lbs. It is as secure as the best U locks but half the weight, easier to carry and can fit around a broader range of objects.
Abus’s Bordo lite costs $90. It has a Sold Secure bronze rating and a 7/15 Abus rating but is weighs just over 1 lbs. and is compact enough to carry in a jersey pocket. Not good enough for all day lock up but it makes an excellent secondary or light duty lock for the quick stop at the cafe.
Cable lock: Cable locks, no matter how beefy can easily be cut though with a cable cutter. They are OK as a secondary lock but you should never use a cable lock as you sole lock.
Abus’s Booster Pro 670 is their most heavy duty cable lock. It has an abus rating of 7/15, costs $30 and weighs two lbs. Its not a bad option as a secondary lock to back up a more secure lock. However, Abus states on their website ”Like all cable locks this is a lower security option and is not recommended for areas of high theft risk”. We don’t recommend it either.
Our recommendation: The most secure option is to use two different types of locks, under the assumption that most thieves will be carrying the tool to break only one type. So, have one heavy duty lock with a Sold Secure Gold rating such as the Abus Granit X Plus U lock and a second lighter, more versatile lock such as the Abus Bordo Lite folding plate. For all day commuter parking, use both. For less critical situations use just the main lock and for a quick stop at the café, use the secondary one. Here is a well locked bike:
How thieves steel bikes: The US Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services identifies six ways thieves steel locked bikes.
Lifting: Thieves lift the bike and lock over the top of the post to which the bike is secured. If it is a signpost, then the thieves may remove the sign to lift the bicycle clear.
Levering: Thieves will use the gap between the stand and the bike left by a loosely fitted lock to insert tools such as jacks or crowbars to lever the lock apart. Thieves will even use the bike frame itself as a lever by rotating it against the stand or other stationary object to which it is locked.
Striking: If a cyclist locks a bicycle leaving the chain or lock touching the ground, thieves may use a hammer and chisel to split the securing chain or lock.
Unbolting: If a cyclist locks a bike by the wheel alone, then it may be all that is left when the cyclist returns. If a cyclist locks only the frame, then a thief may remove a wheel or wheels.
Cutting: Thieves use tin snips, bolt cutters, hacksaws, and angle grinders to cut their way through locks and chains.
Picking: For locks requiring keys, thieves can insert tools into the keyhole itself and pick the lock open.
Some tips to avoid theft: To minimize the risk of your bike being stolen, make sure it is not the lowest hanging fruit. Most thieves are opportunist; they look for easy targets.
Park your bike in a well-lite, high traffic location. Avoid locations where a thief could work undetected. It’s also not a bad idea to park it around other bikes, preferably ones that are not well locked. (so yours is not the first one they target)
- Don’t always park in the same place. If thieves know it is always there, they are more likely to return with the appropriate tools.
- If leaving the bike for a longer period, take some part with you so that the bike cannot simply be ridden away. The front wheel is a good option.
- Always lock to a bike stand or similarly secure object: avoid fences, sign polls and other objects that can easily be cut, bent or disassembled.
- Place lock so that it is tight to bike and post, minimizing gap to insert a pry bar of jack. Place u-locks with keyhole facing down so it’s harder to pick.
- Place lock or chain so that it cannot touch ground or concrete wall – so that it cannot be hammered or chiseled open.
- Place lock through the frame and both wheels. (Or alternatively use locking skewers to secure the wheels.)
- Use a lock that is harder to break then the next guy’s lock.
Sold Secure Approved Products Catalog: http://www.soldsecure.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Sold-Secure-2016-Approved-Product-Catalogue-Web.pdf
The US Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Service, Bicycle theft report, Published 2008: https://ric-zai-inc.com/ric.php?page=detail&id=COPS-P141
Abus bike Locks: Lots of useful info https://mobilesecurity.abus.com/eng/bike/product_categories/display/bike-locks
Kryptonite bike locks: they also have a lot of advice on selecting locks, etc. https://www.kryptonitelock.com/en/home.html