Portland born and raised, the OttoLock hits a bike security sweet spot

Surprisingly convenient and useful.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Q: What do you get when a cyclist, an engineer and a businessman walk into a bar?

A: A stolen bike.

At least that’s how the joke used to go before the OttoLock came along.

Designed and engineered in Wilsonville by Otto Designworks, the company got started in 2015 after a successful Kickstarter campaign for their first product: an app and tool that helped people adjust derailleurs. With the OttoLock, the company seems to have found its stride.

Word-of-mouth for the product ignited early on in large part because one of the idea generators and spokesmen is professional cyclist Jacob Rathe (whom you might recall from our story on him when he made the U.S. National Team in 2008). We first covered the OttoLock nearly a year ago when it was still in the prototype and design phase. Now that it’s starting to show up in bike shops around the country, it’s time for a closer look.

Here are my impressions after using it for several months…

BP editor Jonathan Maus shows how it fits snugly between the seatstays of his Salsa Vaya.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Stronger than a cable lock, more convenient than a u-lock

Quick errands? Popping in and out of shops to drop things off or grab a quickie? Bike rides with your mates that inevitably end up at the burrito place or coffee shop? Yeah, we all do this and we all know the feeling of leaving our bike unattended for a few minutes as we peer back from the coffee counter hoping that if someone grabs it we’ll still be able to outsprint them even with our slick bike cleats on. Well, read on, those worrisome moments could be over.

Stuff it in a pocket and you hardly notice it.
(Photo: James Buckroyd)

The OttoLock is a lightweight, flexible strap that’s compact and durable and works without a key. Right off the top the weight and size factor equals major convenience compared with a regular u-lock. Throwing this thing in a bag or putting in your back pocket is never a problem. This isn’t to say the OttoLock is a replacement for a good u-lock. The latter still provides a much greater degree of protection from bike thieves. Even so, since standard cable locks are still a part of the bike security mix, the comparison is noteworthy.

The OttoLock weighs around 160 grams. That’s one-fifth the weight of a leading brand’s mini u-lock that weighs 980 grams. Since the OttoLock is basically a strap, it rolls up to around 2.5″ in diameter and about 0.5″ thick. Compare this with a mini u-lock which is approximately 6″ x 4″ by 0.75″. This means the OttoLock can end up in smaller pockets and combined with it’s low weight means you can easily put it in your hoody or lightweight jacket pocket — none of which is possible with a u-lock.

If you mount a u-lock to your bike, you really don’t have a ton of options: They sit in a bulky holder somewhere on the frame. The OttoLock is much more flexible whether I carry it on my body or on my bike. This is mainly due to the fact that it is a strap which means I can strap it to my bike or strap it around my saddlebag or use it’s provided rubber mount. Tons of flexibility. I also love that thing has no key. That’s one less thing to remember. Thumbs up on that feature.

The frame mount (OttoMount, $8) is also well thought-out. It’s a simple ladder-strap design made from high-grade stretchy elastomer. The elastomer mounts have multiple nubs (for the ladder loops) that offer many tie-down points. Since the OttoLock is so light, a hard plastic mount isn’t needed and you don’t need any tools to install it.

Another convenient feature of the OttoLock is how flexible it is. When wrapping around a wheel, your frame, or an odd shaped pole or tree, the design really shines.

otto_002

otto_001

Is there a security sacrifice?

It’s thin, but tougher to cut than you think.
(Photo: James Buckroyd)

Otto Designworks doesn’t recommend the OttoLock as a primary lock. It’s only intended to protect your bike for short periods of time. Even so, it’s super strong. The strap is constructed from layers of steel and kevlar wrapped in a plastic case. The layers are not welded or locked together which means when they are under attack from a cutter, they slide. This is an important point because the sliding causes difficulty with cutting devices that use shearing or scissor type actions. Thus the lock is very safe from snips and bolt cutters.

Compare this technology to regular chain or kevlar rope locks and the OttoLock is a hands down win.

Ottolock’s body and combination code area are made from an aluminum housing. As seen in their security video, if the lock is attacked with a hammer, the aluminium simply deforms, compresses and makes it even more difficult to open the lock, because the strap passes through the head.

Opening up the strap, you can see there is lots of Kevlar (the yellow stuff) – Kevlar is extremely hard to cut and penetrate, it’s used in many military applications. Kevlar dulls knife edges in one fell swoop and cannot be cut with scissor-type actions. Amongst the kevlar are multiple layers of steel, to thwart other cutting tools.

The above image shows the many layers of thin steel which allow the strap to flex, yet still be strong and cut resistant.
(Photo: James Buckroyd)

On the scales the Ottolock is small and light. Just 152 grams for the 30-inch version compared to a 1000 gram traditional u-lock. This makes a big difference in portability.

(Photo: James Buckroyd)

The $6,000 test

Just to test my confidence I locked up my prized expensive bike at 5:00 pm on a weekday outside a large supermarket while I grabbed a loaf of bread. To me this was it, I hardly ever lock up my expensive bike. But I was $6,000 confident enough for 15 minutes with the OttoLock. In the past, this would never have happened, but now this is opening opportunities for things I would not have done and keeping my bike a lot safer. Win-win

This lock is light and small, which opens up all sorts of activities on the run where you would not have normally had a lock with you and would not have done such a thing. If you’re a cyclist, buy one. Heck, buy two!

Don’t be foolish

Since I love bikes and never wish to see them stolen, I must conclude with a down-to-earth reality check: This lock will not defeat a determined bike thief. I’m not sure any lock will when confronted with the right tools — whether its a chain, cable, or u-lock; it doesn’t matter. If a pro bike thief wants it, they will have all the tools to get it. OttoLock is very resistant to bolt cutters and this is a very common bike thief tool; but please always use common sense when locking your bike. For bike theft prevention and recovery tips, see the city’s website and follow the Portland Police Bureau Bike Theft Task Force on Twitter @ppbbiketheft.

Product details:

$55 for the Lock
$8 for the optional mount
3 colors: Orange, Black and Lime
3 sizes of lock. 18″, 30″ and 60″ (I tested the 30″ version)
Made and assembled in the Portland area
Website

— James “Bucky” Buckroyd, @jbucky1 on Twitter and BuckyRides.com

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Lee
Lee
4 years ago

a) “160 grams. That’s five times the weight…”
You mean “five times less” or “one fifth the weight,” right?

b) Carrying two – or even three – of Otto locks would still weigh less than a u-lock and be even more secure. Being able to lock frame and wheels separately and forcing a thief to defeat multiple locks is a big gain.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  Lee

Yep. Typo. Fixed. Thanks lee

Ted Timmons (Contributor)

I’ve been using it when on airplane-based tours with my bikes. Currently spending the summer in Netherlands with a many-thousands-of-dollars bike. It’s great for sporty riders who often don’t carry anything at all and are limited because of this.

I wish they’d send a sample of it to BikePortland or BikeIndex for destructive testing. I inquired and was told ‘no’.

Chris Smith
4 years ago

I’ve had one for a few months and use it as a secondary lock if I’m going to have my bike locked up in public for many hours. I lock with my U-lock and then use the Ottolock to lock the other wheel.

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
4 years ago
Reply to  Chris Smith

I will likely do the same. Tired of lugging my New York Noose around…but it does make for stronger legs.

BB
BB
4 years ago
Reply to  Chris Smith

Pitlocks

Jagur
Jagur
4 years ago

Just use 15 toe clip straps.

Big Knobbies
Big Knobbies
4 years ago

Looks like a good product for, as indicated, a 5 minute run into the store, or to sit in a restaurant and eat as long as you can see your bike outside. Price is a tad steep though. It has competition.

https://www.walmart.com/ip/Master-Lock-Cable-Lock/16879738

Pete
Pete
4 years ago
Reply to  Big Knobbies

There are snippers and then there are bypass loppers – I’ve seen Master cables easily cut with the latter. Would be interested to see if the kevlar or the band shape makes it more difficult than the Master cables.

Kate
Kate
4 years ago

I just got so excited about the ability to bring a lock on longer recreational road rides that I popped right over to the website. Sadly they are out of stock. Do any local shops carry them? Being able to slip into a coffee shop/ store while out on longer rides with more confidence is going to be such a game changer for me!

Kate
Kate
4 years ago

Sweet, thanks!

Lester Burnham
Lester Burnham
4 years ago

For a real test, let’s lock up a bike on the Esplanade or Springwater with one of these and see how long it lasts. Nobody beats PDX criddlers.

ed
ed
4 years ago

Don’t imagine that $55 price is the same for all 3 lengths?

Daniel
Daniel
4 years ago

I was going to ask – what is the optimal length for the jersey pocket/attached to saddle bag (while still be able to lock to a staple (front wheel/frame). Is 30 the sweet spot?

Dolan Halbrook
4 years ago
Reply to  Daniel

I got the 30″ during the Kickstarter and it’s been perfect for front wheel/frame. Of course you could probably test with a regular old belt to verify it will work for you needs…

CaptainKarma
CaptainKarma
4 years ago

As a kid, I stole my sister’s bike that had a three digit lock. It’s especially easy if you can feel any play when a correct digit is dialed in. Perhaps I’ll get one of these if they go to four digits or a key. For now, it’s Abus & Kryptonite.

Dolan Halbrook
4 years ago

The biggest problem I’ve found is to shield the lock head from prying eyes as you’re dialing in the combo.

BB
BB
4 years ago
Reply to  CaptainKarma

Are you really comparing these to the six dollar combo locks from the 80s? Why not just point out that fence latches are easy to bypass by reaching over the gate, as that would have a similar degree of relevance.

Pete
Pete
4 years ago
Reply to  CaptainKarma

It cost me a Gary Fisher Tassajara to learn that my OnGuard U-Lock had a four-digit key code engraved on it. Watched a young man unlock it with his own key and walk it away from a busy hospital entrance in broad daylight, timed almost perfectly with the bus that he put it on front of and climbed in.

Gabrielle
Gabrielle
4 years ago

They do point out in their YouTube comments that if someone seriously takes a hammer to your combo housing, you’re going to need an angle grinder to get the lock off.

q
q
4 years ago

Ironically named.

9watts
9watts
4 years ago

“since standard cable locks have been the only real alternative to u-locks”

Did you really mean to write this?

I thought the consensus around here was precisely the opposite. Cable locks are *NOT* a real alternative to U-locks, though many people regrettably still are under the mistaken impression that they are.

Stephen Keller
Stephen Keller
4 years ago

I considered this lock when it came and rejected it because of the lack of a secure locking mechanism. A three-digit wheel combo-lock only requires about eight minutes to try all 1000 combinations assuming a rate of two/second. It takes some practice to develop that sort of speed, but it’s not hard with a little effort. Statistically you’ll hit it within the first 50% of the attempts. A proper pick-resistance tumbler lock wouldn’t have been much more expensive.

Justin M
Justin M
4 years ago

Only alternative to U locks? You’re forgetting folding locks, the handcuffs from Kryptonite, and the TiGr lock to name a few. Looks like a cool design tho.

9watts
9watts
4 years ago

the phrasing in your article still suggests that cable locks are the ‘only real alternative to u-locks.’ This was an opportunity to clarify that this is not the case, that cable locks are mistakenly presumed to be a real alternative.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Admin
Reply to  9watts

Hi 9watts (and others),

Thanks for your comments. I regret having that sentence in the original story. It was a mistake. I have rephrased it to, “Even so, since standard cable locks are still a part of the bike security mix, the comparison is noteworthy.”

9watts
9watts
4 years ago

Thanks!

Mike Reams
Mike Reams
4 years ago

After seeing the interior of the lock I have an idea for an upgrade (not necessarily a good one but here goes).

Add an alarm and a transmitter to the locking mechanism. You could run a pressure/movement sensitive wire through the lock and, if it senses pressure (bolt-cutters) or movement (someone messing with it), it could send a signal to your phone via bluetooth or low energy bluetooth. I think the signal range is 100m for bluetooth and about 30m for low-energy bluetooth.

There are obviously limitations and, it would require more thought and engineering but, it might be a next step in bike locks.

Lee
Lee
4 years ago

I’d rather rig a secondary, concealed alarm. There are keychain sized, tripwire activated “sonc grenades” available for $20 or less. Hide one in a taillight housing, loop a neutral coloured tie line through the spokes, you get the idea…

Rich Fox
4 years ago

I’ve had mine for about a month and love it. Whether it’s in my backpack for the commute or jersey pocket for a longer ride, I don’t even notice the extra weight. Great peace of mind for a quick run into the market or cafe.

John Liu
John Liu
4 years ago

So is it better for your ottolock to be fastened tightly, or loosely?

Eric H
Eric H
4 years ago

So what’s the over/under on when we’ll hear about the first bike stolen in Portland while using one of these? Asking for a friend.

goofus
goofus
4 years ago
Reply to  Eric H
TT
TT
4 years ago
Reply to  Eric H

Unfortunately, last night, 8pm (as reported on OBRA list). Bummer. Bike thieves suck.

bob wood
bob wood
4 years ago
Reply to  Eric H
anna
anna
4 years ago
Reply to  bob wood

oof. well that’s certainly not great for PR. In my opinion, if you’re going to lock up your bike you should use the Kryptonite series 4 or better. So many people are out there using the series 2 and it’s equivalents that when you bump up to the series 4 you effectively become “faster than your friend” as it were. Personally, I’m a big fan of the ABUS Granit X-Plus 540 while my partner uses the Kryptonite NY Fugettabuttit mini. Then again, I’ve also replaces a lot of our bolts with security bolts and our skewers with security skewers since we both have to lock up downtown for hours at a time. Hearing from several people a week who’ve had their bikes stolen can make one a little paranoid though.

Justin M
Justin M
4 years ago

Well sure. But saying “kryptonites” can mean anything. They make skinny little cables and they make the highest rated bicycle U lock in production. The ones you’ve seen have likely been series-2 or some earlier equivalent. These are the locks used by the majority of riders here in Portland. And saying if they want it they’ll get it isn’t entirely accurate. True, any lock can be broken. An ABUS ultra will fail against a 2 foot bolt cutter, an ABUS Granit Plus 470 will fail against a three foot bolt cutter. For higher rated locks you need an angle grinder. Any lock can be broken but not every bike thief has every tool. A bike thief with a two foot cutter may really want your carbon road bike locked up with a Kryptonite NY lock but they’re not gonna get it no matter how hard they try. By getting a higher security lock you’re reducing your risk by making your bike accessible to a smaller pool of thieves. Even then, odds are if a bike near you is locked up with a series 2 or a cable a thief will probably just steal that one. No doubt your lock is more secure than a cheap master lock cable, but it is priced the same or more than the series 2, with the longest one being the same price as the Kryptonite Series 4 evolution. With all due respect, and this certainly does seem like a high quality product, it just doesn’t seem like the dollar to security ratio makes this a smart buy. Perhaps I’m missing a segment of the market who has very light weight bikes that want a corresponding lock and doesn’t need a ton of security. Perhaps this lock is great for non-urban markets, but in Portland it doesn’t seem to make a ton of sense. Again, I’m really not trying to put down your product at all, I just don’t really understand where it fits into the landscape of bicycle security options.

Eric H
Eric H
4 years ago

“Maybe it’s not for you, but also maybe you are not Ottolock’s target consumer, as you seek other attributes.”

Yeah, maybe Justin (like the rest of us) see another attribute that includes still having your bike around when you get back from your 10 minutes in the local grocery store. Which seems to be what Ottolock is supposed to be good for. Guess not though.

John Liu
John Liu
4 years ago
Reply to  bob wood

Discussion on Instagram says remains of lock look “cut with motorized cutting device” which probably means the dreaded battery powered angle grinder . . . that will cut a U lock too, though it will take longer.

maxadders
maxadders
4 years ago
Reply to  John Liu

Cutting a traditional u-lock creates noise and a shower of sparks– neither of which would happen when cutting a fiber-based lock like the Otto. A more conspicuous attempt might have resulted in security or a bystander doing something. Instead, the Otto design seems to help crooks, in this regard. I don’t think I’ll be switching.

Mark S
Mark S
4 years ago

“Popping in and out of shops to drop things off or grab a quickie?” What kind of “quickie” are you grabbing?

Fred
Fred
4 years ago

Can someone provide some more info about the bike theft at Safeway? (http://obra.org/posts/125984?page=1). Was it night-time? Daylight? Was the bike locked in a visible location? Seems as though we all depend on location for security: if someone starts up an angle-grinder, the thing is going to make some noise, and if there are people around (public location), someone might call police. But if it’s night and few people are around and the location is isolated, a thief can go to work and it pretty much doesn’t matter what type of lock you have. Thanks.

Vince R.
Vince R.
4 years ago
Reply to  Fred

Fred, The bike stolen was mine. It was locked up just before 8pm on Friday evening. Still plenty of daylight out. I locked it to the provided bike rack, just to the right of the Safeway’s southern door. There is a filtered water kiosk right next to the rack and there was the cinder block temporary bbq pit that some Safeway markets use during Summer months. Fully visible. I popped in to the store for some dogs and buns, on my way to a friend’s bbq. 10 minutes maximum. The cut was clean on both the rubber casing and the metal/kevlar straps. My take is that it was some type of high RPM, battery powered cutting wheel.

The bright side of this… I was left with enough usable OttoLock for attaching my Kryptonite U-Lock to my other bike.

😉

gl.
gl.
4 years ago
Reply to  Vince R.

Oh, man, sorry to hear this! Thanks for the heads up about a thief w/ a power tool at that Safeway. I’ve parked there before.

John Liu
John Liu
4 years ago

Eric H
“Maybe it’s not for you, but also maybe you are not Ottolock’s target consumer, as you seek other attributes.”
Yeah, maybe Justin (like the rest of us) see another attribute that includes still having your bike around when you get back from your 10 minutes in the local grocery store. Which seems to be what Ottolock is supposed to be good for. Guess not though.
Recommended 0

I don’t see Ottolock as being for grocery shopping or general urban use. I see it as being for situations where light weight and compact size are very important. Roadie rides when you can’t bring your bike into the coffee shop/bathroom, a secondary lock for your front wheel, an emergency lock to stash in your backpack.

Jessica
Jessica
4 years ago

Per the article: Quick errands? Popping in and out of shops to drop things off or grab a quickie? Bike rides with your mates that inevitably end up at the burrito place or coffee shop?

What is the nuanced difference between these situations and popping into the grocery store for 10 minutes? Where is the line that defines the appropriateness and inappropriate use of this lock that John Liu nailed?

Eric H
Eric H
4 years ago

Again from your article: “Just to test my confidence I locked up my prized expensive bike at 5:00 pm on a weekday outside a large supermarket while I grabbed a loaf of bread. To me this was it, I hardly ever lock up my expensive bike. But I was $6,000 confident enough for 15 minutes with the OttoLock.”

But 10 minutes at a large supermarket on a Friday early evening isn’t the appropriate test of anyone’s confidence on this.

Maybe it should be called “good for maybe leaning on a tree, but only if you have someone watching your bike, and only if you pop into a shop but not a large supermarket, for less than 15 minutes but not more than 10 minutes, to purchase some bread or a cappuccino in a local, non-urban setting” sorta lock.

9watts
9watts
4 years ago

“somewhat unplanned and I happen to have Ottolock with me…”

I am learning a lot here about how folks go about their business; all very interesting.
If we find a (real) U-lock too inconvenient can we really complain when our bike is not there when we come out of the store?

BB
BB
4 years ago

I shopped at this for a second before realizing the price, and that they were sold out online. I’ll stick with my abus mini u that I can stick in my belt.

maxadders
maxadders
4 years ago

Kind of nitpicky but IMO locking to trees is a bit of a crappy thing to do.

John Liu
John Liu
4 years ago

9watts
“somewhat unplanned and I happen to have Ottolock with me…”
I am learning a lot here about how folks go about their business; all very interesting.
If we find a (real) U-lock too inconvenient can we really complain when our bike is not there when we come out of the store?
Recommended 1

Hmm, sounds like victim blaming.

9watts
9watts
4 years ago
Reply to  John Liu

& from a past article here:
“Speaking of prevention, the #1 best thing you can do to prevent your bike from being stolen is to lock it up with a high-quality U-lock or heavy-gauge chain. Cable locks are a bike thief’s best friend. […]
Let that be a lesson: cable locks and measly thin chains and cable locks are like a big sign telling thieves to take your bike. Invest in a high-quality lock — the heavier the better.
https://bikeportland.org/2011/08/09/bike-theft-down-in-portland-but-brazen-thieves-still-at-work-57459

9watts
9watts
4 years ago
Reply to  John Liu

And one more – interesting – article I’d not come across before.

https://medium.com/endbiketheft-stories/portland-is-making-it-too-easy-for-bike-thieves-17297f0ccc6d

Ben Miller
Ben Miller
4 years ago

Glad to see the comments because I now know the company is still around. Bad customer service. I ordered mine around the end of May, emailed for status in late June, told I’d get it at end of the month, have not a thing since. It’s August 3rd. Assumed that they could not pay supplier and we’re waiting to get new investor money or just closing down…

Victor Lee
Victor Lee
4 years ago

Noticed the word “snip” is crossed out from the article. Why is that? Ottolock is easily defeated by snipping with pliers little by little?

Michael
Michael
4 years ago

You say it’s secure, but did you test it? Go look at YouTube. The strap can be cut in a dozen strokes with a hacksaw, the thin housing can be defeated with a hammer, and the latch can be bypassed with a shim.

Bryan Sohl
Bryan Sohl
3 years ago

I loved OTTO-Lock until my Specialized VADO 6.0 e-bike was stolen. I think someone either saw me unlock the bike and saw the combo, or was able to pick the lock. It was not cut. AT least I do not think it was cut. No debris, and no pieces left. I think it is great for brief lock -ups like a coffee shop. Not for lock-ups like I did of a couple of hours while I went to a play . I will buy again, but will use with a U-lock in combo.

Ted Winset
Ted Winset
3 years ago

The lock can be cut with a $10 pair of tin snips from Home Depot. Takes 1-2 seconds, no noise, no evidence left behind. Google “Ottolock Cut in 2 Seconds!” video. The marketing video from Ottolock claiming it is hard to cut uses tin snips where the center bolt is clearly very lose, causing the blades to slide away from the band. Very dishonest (or very naive) advertising on their part.