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BUYER'S GUIDE

Bike locks: how to choose and use the best lock to protect your bike

How to make sure your bike stays safe wherever it's parked

Updated April 24, 2021

It’s a gut-wrenching, awful feeling. You step out of a shop, cafe or pub and instead of your beloved bike there’s an empty space and the remains of the bike lock that, it turns out, just wasn’t up to the job. Here’s how to stop this happening to you.

Bike theft is a serious problem that makes a good bike lock a vital piece of cycling kit. The level of theft has dropped from its mid-1990s peak, but hundreds of thousands of bikes still go missing every year. According to Cycling UK, from July 2018 to June 2019, there were 287,000 incidents of bike theft in England and Wales (still bad, but down 49% from 1995).

As several readers pointed out on the last version of this article, the best way to stop your bike getting stolen is never to leave it unattended. That's fair enough if all your riding is one sort or another of sporty fun, but it's not practical if you're riding to the pub or the shops. Then, you need a bike lock.

Nobody wants to be a victim of bike theft. Here’s how to protect yourself and your bike.

On the street

Always use a high quality bike lock. Look for at least silver and preferably gold Sold Secure rating. These ratings indicate that the lock can’t be quickly broken. They’re generally not cheap, but you can get Sold Secure Gold bike locks from about £20, a modest investment. Make sure you use it even if you’re only leaving your bike for a few seconds.

The best U-locks are incredibly tough. This one was bent but didn't break during a theft attempt.

The best U-locks are incredibly tough. This one was bent but didn't break during a theft attempt. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by Alan)

Any bike lock can be opened by a sufficiently determined thief, but for the best locks 'sufficiently determined' means 'carrying a portable angle grinder'. That's not a cheap tool in itself, and while it's quick, it's also very conspicuous.

>>Read more: The best bike locks — stop your bike getting stolen with our selection

Park in a sensible place. Use secure bike parking if it’s available. Even for a price, your bike will be far better protected from theft inside a designated secure location rather than on the street, no matter how well you think you’ve locked it up.

If there’s no secure parking, lock your bike in a place that’s as public as possible. If you leave it in a secluded location, it will give any would-be thief time to work on your lock undisturbed. That said, don't depend on strangers to get involved if your bike is being stolen. Reader hampstead_bandit used to work in a bike shop where they had a friendly locksmith who would help customers whose bikes were genuinely stuck. He said he would cut locks in broad daylight in busy locations and no one would bat an eyelid.

Lock it to a solid, immovable object. Look for something that can’t be moved and is hard to cut. Railings are good, as are sturdy street signs. The classic inverted-U Sheffield rack is decent as long as it’s in a public place. In some spots where these racks are away from constant view, thieves have cut them to steal bikes. Check any Sheffield rack for such damage as it may not be instantly obvious. If there's any tape around the rack, peel it off and make sure it's not hiding a cut.

Protect the mechanism. The lock mechanism itself is often the weakest part of even a good U-lock. Position it so it’s as inaccessible as possible. Locking to railings helps with this as you can put the mechanism on the other side where it can’t be attacked. This also helps prevent a lock disabling attack. (See ‘Beware knavish tricks’.)

Well locked bike

Well locked bike (CC BY-SA 2.0 Seth Werkheiser)

Use two bike locks. Put one lock round a wheel, the frame and your locking point, and one around the other wheel and the frame. If possible get the second lock round your solid object too. An alternative to stop a wheel being stolen is to use locking skewers.

>>Read more: Pinhead Security Four Pack review

Fill the shackle. If you’re using a D-lock, then the more of the space inside the D is occupied, the harder it is for a thief to get something in there to pry the lock open. If you’re parking a bike for a while, consider taking the front wheel off and putting it in the lock. With the frame, rear wheel and whatever you’re locking to that should amply fill the lock.

Beware knavish tricks. If you come back to your bike and it has a puncture, or the lock has been damaged or the mechanism filled with glue, find a way to take it home anyway. Thieves sometimes disable a bike so you’ll leave it and give them time to come back with power tools to break the lock. If necessary, break the lock yourself. Hiring an angle grinder will cost you about £20 for the day. Another trick thieves are now using is to cut through Sheffield stands and similar racks then cover the gap with gaffer tape - so beware of that ruse, too.

On a previous version of this article, reader giskard commented: "I doubt you'd be very successful trying to get your hands on a portable angle grinder when you've found your lock has been sabotaged at the end of a day in the office. And tool hire shops aren't exactly plentiful. Apparently you can subvert the old superglue-in-the-lock trick by making sure you squirt plenty of oil in where the key goes."

What you can buy easily is nail varnish remover. Reader bikebot says: "If there's superglue in the lock, go buy some nail varnish remover. The remover is just acetone, which will dissolve cyanoacrylate."

How to lock a bike with the wheel off

How to lock a bike with the wheel off, by (CC BY 2.0 Martin)

Take accessories with you. Bike lights, tool bags and pumps are all easy targets for light-fingered toe-rags. Take them off your bike and take them with you.

Be a cynic. Lock your bike near bikes that are not as well secured and more attractive than yours. It’s like the old joke about not needing to run faster than a bear to be safe in the woods; you just need to be able to run faster than your hiking companions.

Protect your parts. This advice comes from reader Big Softy who says: "The scrotes are also nicking high-end shifters, brakes, etc. Easy to flog and almost untraceable. You can prevent this by putting a ball bearing with a couple of drops of epoxy into any Allen head fixings. When you need to do repairs you can prise it out with a small screwdriver. It'll deter the average opportunist dirtbag."

At home

Lock your bike securely at home too. Even better, bring it indoors. If you can’t, then invest in some serious security for your shed or garage such as a ground anchor or shed wall reinforcement.

Register your bike. A service such as Bike Register, will physically mark your bike with an identifying feature and link it to your identity on the police database. Certain councils and police constabularies offer free solutions, and there are alternatives to Bike Register.

Police tape (CC licensed by freefotouk on Flickr)

Police tape (CC licensed by freefotouk on Flickr)

Report it if gets stolen. Some police forces now take try and bike theft far more seriously than they once did, though it's a bit of a postcode lottery. Reporting stolen bikes helps give them the ammunition to keep it a priority.

Hide messages inside your bike. Put scraps of paper in various places that say “This bike was stolen”, with your phone number or email address. Suitable places include the inside of the seat post, taped round the steerer column, inside the handlebar stem and taped inside the rim well. One day an inquisitive mechanic or police stolen goods recovery team might make your day.

Make your bike undesirable. If you have a round-town bike and you don’t really care about how it looks, paint it all over — wheels, tyres, gears, the lot — with cheap spray paint. Pink is the best colour for theft prevention according to road.cc reader Neil753 who suggested this tip. It certainly raises the suspicions of Coventry police who once apprehended a drug dealer because they suspected the pink bike he was riding might be stolen.

Furry bike security

Furry bike security (CC BY-NC 2.0 Neil Berrett)

Thanks to road.cc readers jasecd, Dr. Ko, The Rumpo Kid and obutterwick whose suggestions were included in an earlier version of this article.

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John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

Add new comment

20 comments

Avatar
RoubaixCube | 4 years ago
2 likes

"Report it if gets stolen. Police now take bike theft far more seriously than they once did. Reporting stolen bikes helps give them the ammunition to keep it a priority."

Yeah but no... Didnt a certain constabulary tell a guy who had phoned in about his bike being stolen & seeing his bike on gumtree get told to go pick it up himself and call them if anything happened?

Im sure thats not just a one off incident. They've probably fobbed a fair few people off like that.

Avatar
Sriracha | 4 years ago
2 likes

"Use a U-lock. Lock it to a solid, immovable object, in a public place. Beware knavish tricks." Like this?:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4herWkGMiaM

Avatar
Stratman | 4 years ago
2 likes

I'd also say to check your house insurance.  We specified pedal cycle cover, and the value of our bikes (fairly high), and it was't particularly expensive.  When someone did break into our (mortise locked, stone-built) shed and took 5 mountain bikes they paid up without a problem - earning great loyalty in the process.  It was still a pain, and although we got new for old, I'd rather have still had my old Anthem X1.  I did also get Pragmasis ground anchors and 13mm chains for the shed to make it more difficult and fitted an alarmist my own peace of mind.

When we are out the bikes are covered if they are with us, or locked to a solid object.

Avatar
Mungecrundle | 4 years ago
2 likes

If you have an expensive bike and an expensive lock and habitually leave your bicycle secured in a public space then expect to lose an expensive bicycle and an expensive lock. It's more than shitty but the truth is that no lock (within reason of portability) will withstand a cordless angle grinder and don't expect anyone actually responsible for security to give a damn.

Avatar
OldRidgeback | 4 years ago
4 likes

Use a scruffy clunker for commuting. Set up correctly, a scruffy clunker can be nice to ride. A thick layer of muddy crud over the frame will not affect the bike's function. Oil spattered crud on the mech can easily hide that it's a recent, quality item. The same applies to any other components. As long as the bits that need lubricating are clean and lubricated, they'll work just fine.

Got a brand new seat? Protect it from theft by gaffer taping a supermarket carrier bag (or similar) in place around the seat post.

Bikes with steel frames last a long time and can still be nice to ride. Some surface rust on a steel frame will vastly reduce its appeal to a thief, while not affecting the bike's performance.

For a clunker, a decently priced lock through the frame and rear wheel should suffice (and get rid of those quick release skewers). Thieves will be looking for shiny new bikes they can sell on.

If you must use a shiny new(ish) and High(ish) value bike to commute, take it inside your place of work.

Avatar
mdavidford replied to OldRidgeback | 4 years ago
0 likes

Seems like there ought to be a market for 'made-to-look-grungy' components aimed at the commuter / utility rider who likes to know their ride is well maintained but still discourage theft. Does anyone offer such things?

Avatar
Xenophon2 | 4 years ago
1 like

The best protection is simply not to leave it outside a secured area.  I  take it into my office, wouldn't dream of leaving it out front, except if there would be a locked, secured storage area that could only be accessed by badge holders (a couple of those exist in Brussels but far too few).  For doing courses I use an older bike + trailer that I attach with a U-lock.  

Where I am locks are only of relative value:  if the thief can't defeat the lock, he'll vandalise the bike out of spite.  I've lost count of the number of securely attached bikes with destroyed wheelsets or a damaged carbon frame.

Avatar
ktache | 4 years ago
2 likes

I spent about £200 on HexLox, inclding a front wheel thing, only time will tell if I can keep all of my nice bits, but they are quite remarkable.

Avatar
imagesurgery | 6 years ago
1 like

I used ball-bearings with superglue in all my brakes/stem/etc. parts for a long while until the hassle of maintenance and frustration of 10 minute sessions with a cotton swab got the better of me. I've now got locking skewers on all wheels, with security torx bolts everywhere else. These are torx bolts with a solid pin in the middle, and require matching security torx drivers. Very unusual but not too expensive, a whole bike worth of security cost about £30 for the drivers and a few bob for the bolts. 

YMMV but I've been very lucky so far, and combined with a serious quality lock the piranhas haven't even had a wee nibble.

I like the idea of hidden notes though. Will add to my arsenal!

Avatar
gunswick replied to imagesurgery | 6 years ago
0 likes
imagesurgery wrote:

I used ball-bearings with superglue in all my brakes/stem/etc. parts for a long while until the hassle of maintenance and frustration of 10 minute sessions with a cotton swab got the better of me. I've now got locking skewers on all wheels, with security torx bolts everywhere else. These are torx bolts with a solid pin in the middle, and require matching security torx drivers. Very unusual but not too expensive, a whole bike worth of security cost about £30 for the drivers and a few bob for the bolts. 

YMMV but I've been very lucky so far, and combined with a serious quality lock the piranhas haven't even had a wee nibble.

I like the idea of hidden notes though. Will add to my arsenal!

Have you a link to these? I have used security screws before but not bike specific bolts, could be very handy

Avatar
PpPete | 6 years ago
0 likes

Can I rent out the GSD ?

Avatar
ktache | 6 years ago
0 likes

I'm intending to get a lot of HexLox, for the new build.  

Avatar
2old2mould | 6 years ago
4 likes

"Report it if gets stolen. Police now take bike theft far more seriously than they once did. Reporting stolen bikes helps give them the ammunition to keep it a priority."

HAhahahahaahahahahahahahahahahahaahahahahaaaaaaaaa! Really, what planet are you living on?

Avatar
Grahamd replied to 2old2mould | 6 years ago
3 likes
2old2mould wrote:

"Report it if gets stolen. Police now take bike theft far more seriously than they once did. Reporting stolen bikes helps give them the ammunition to keep it a priority."

HAhahahahaahahahahahahahahahahahaahahahahaaaaaaaaa! Really, what planet are you living on?

Certainly a different part of the world to South Wales. My nephews bike was stolen from inside my brothers house, back door broken etc, on the same day a thief was released from prison. Bike was traced same day to a gumtree add, to family member of said thief, yet the Police said they couldn’t help. Some rubbish about needing more proof, net result my brother dealt with the matter directly. 

 

Avatar
scouser_andy | 6 years ago
0 likes

I've had stem/bars/shifters nicked from my bike twice now in different parts of London. They just snip the brake/gear cables and use a hex key to undo the stem, taking the parts off as one unit - but bizarely, leaving the carbon forks.

On both occasions, police didn't take any interest in it despite the fact it cost £300 to replace the parts each time. Additionally, the bike next to mine had been hit too.

 

I've not yet used the glue/ballbearing trick, but unfortunately I can attest that nicking shifters is indeed a thing. 

Avatar
a1white replied to scouser_andy | 6 years ago
0 likes
scouser_andy wrote:

I've had stem/bars/shifters nicked from my bike twice now in different parts of London. They just snip the brake/gear cables and use a hex key to undo the stem, taking the parts off as one unit - but bizarely, leaving the carbon forks.

On both occasions, police didn't take any interest in it despite the fact it cost £300 to replace the parts each time. Additionally, the bike next to mine had been hit too.

 

I've not yet used the glue/ballbearing trick, but unfortunately I can attest that nicking shifters is indeed a thing. 

I had this happen to my Equillibrium, when it was new, a few years back. It was only equipped with (old style) Tiagra too.  Maybe there are locations in London they prey on? Mine was near the British Library (they also got a couple others on the racks next to it).

Avatar
LastBoyScout | 6 years ago
1 like

On the subject of thieves stealing high-end components, I have heard stories about thieves ignoring the lock and just cutting the frame to get the bike, which is then stripped for parts and the frame dumped.

Hell of a lot easier to cut a frame and the parts are a lot easier to store and move around than entire bikes.

Avatar
BikeBud | 6 years ago
1 like

Pink is the best colour for theft prevention according to road.cc reader Neil753 who suggested this tip. It certainly raises the suspicions of Coventry police who once apprehended a drug dealer because they suspected the pink bike he was riding might be stolen

Advice that pink is the best colour for theft provention, supported by an example of a pink bike having been stolen...

Pedantic urge satisfied.  Carry on!

 

Avatar
ktache | 6 years ago
0 likes

I am considering buying a Pragmasis Protector 16mm chain for my leave at work lock, has anyone got one, will it fit through the spokes next to the rim and what's a good length?

Avatar
fanatikjim replied to ktache | 6 years ago
1 like
ktache wrote:

I am considering buying a Pragmasis Protector 16mm chain for my leave at work lock, has anyone got one, will it fit through the spokes next to the rim and what's a good length?

I have the 13mm pragmasis chain - its very heavy and can easily ding your frame, so you have to be careful. no idea how much better/bigger the 16mm one is though.

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