Bike theft is a huge issue in Portland and many of you are rightfully concerned about what it takes to keep a bike out of the hands of thieves.
[Cable locks] can be cut so quickly, without noise, and with small hand tools that they should never be used.
When I’m not writing about products for BikePortland my main outlet is Cycling News. As part of that, I recently did a deep dive into bike locks. Although I’m proud of that article, it’s not the right list for Portland. Cycling News is international and covers a huge range of needs across the globe. In this article I’d like to tailor it to a more local audience.
As I worked on these articles I talked to everyone I could about how bikes were being stolen. I reached out to police, manufacturers, experts at Bike Index, and also email lists of major local riding clubs and organizations. Each group I reached had different information and different things to add to the puzzle.
Here’s what I learned…
I started with the police. I tried a variety of police departments both in the US and even in London. It was a dead end. Police departments have eliminated resources and were not a wealth of information. If your bike is stolen it’s worth a report but make sure you are working with Bike Index as your primary resource for recovery. Also, make sure you have your serial number recorded somewhere you can reference if a bike is stolen!
In terms of finding out how bikes are stolen, the places to get that info were either the manufacturers or the victims themselves. From the manufacturers I got a top-level idea of what they were trying to protect against. From that perspective the most common tools are simple pry-bars of all kinds. Anything thieves can use for leverage is a common attack method. Also on the radar are bolt cutters and portable angle grinders (like what happened recently to Madi Carlson in L.A.).
I heard from victims through local cycling email lists. In almost every instance, they told me a cable lock was cut. Cable locks are not security and I even question if they are worth bothering with as a secondary lock. They can be cut so quickly, without noise, and with small hand tools that they should never be used. Even on long rides in the country, it’s just not worth bothering. For those quick stops, bring your bike inside with you. It’s worth noting I did talk to people who had their bike stolen off a rack while using built-in cable locks. Never rely on them!
Outside of cable locks there were a few people I found who still experienced theft. One of them had a bike locked with a u-lock in a parking garage during work and it still got stolen. Another person, not in Portland, who locked his bike outside his house with a Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit had it cut with an angle grinder. I still recommend that lock but it will fall, quickly, to an angle grinder.
Aside from theft when using a lock, another big trend emerged during these discussions. Most people who have bikes stolen don’t have them locked. This should be obvious but there were a huge number of people who had always been incredibly careful only to have an unlocked bike stolen from a garage or “secure” bike room of some kind. Recently a friend had a shed where he kept his bikes broken into. The shed was locked with a quality lock and the cut through the steel holding the door closed. At home, consider an anchor system and a massive lock.
Now that you’ve got an idea of what you are dealing with, let’s talk about locks.
Onguard 8003 Pitbull STD U-Lock ($55)
This is my number one pick and the lock I’ve used personally for years. It’s a beefy lock that’s cheap. There’s not much more to elaborate on than that. It comes with a bunch of keys, It’s got plastic to protect the bike frame, and a frame mount. I did eventually break the frame mount but aside from that it’s continued to work well for me. If you are heading out in the world this lock will work for most situations.
Ottolock Sidekick ($40)
This option is going to be controversial. Ottolock has racked up some unfavorable press here in Portland. A lot of that has to do with what they would consider a mis-use of their locks. You can decide if that’s mis-leading advertising or mis-use but I decided not to wade into that discussion. One thing I worked really hard to do with my list was find inexpensive options. The Sidekick is a double shackle 12mm U-lock that costs about $35-40 depending on where you buy it. It’s not the most secure in the world but it should do the job for quick stops and as a secondary lock. The biggest drawback is that it’s too small to fit through a wheel, a frame, and around an anchor. For the price, I didn’t find anything to match it.
Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit U-lock ($125)
This lock has been the absolute standard in security for years. It’s priced in the $100 and $150 (big range but it seems to move around a bit) and it’s secure because it’s an 18mm shackle. There’s no magic to it, it’s just a big lock that’s harder to break. You can definitely cut through it with an angle grinder but given the price and security you could double it up.
Hiplok Gold Chain Lock ($140)
This is where things get a little murky. What’s better, a chain or a U-lock? It’s not totally clear and they shine in different ways. Chains are tougher to cut with an angle grinder and more flexible in how they lock, or to what, but tend to be more difficult to carry. The Hiplock Gold chain lock is a great option because it’s a very secure lock and they make it easy to carry. It fits around your waist, without locking, and the reflective option even adds visibility. You can lock a wheel, a frame, and a sign post without too much trouble. You could also use it on a bike rack where a U-lock wouldn’t work.
Hiplock D1000 ($345)
I covered this lock here before. The claim is that it can’t be cut with an angle grinder and I have seen evidence of that. It’s always tough to tell if there’s some way to break a lock that is intentionally not being shown but I’ve seen it attacked with a grinder and it didn’t fail in any reasonable amount of time. This is the lock I use these days and it’s great but it is on the small side. What I like is that it’s about as portable as a regular lock. It’s heavy but much more portable than anything in the same class of protection. The problem is it can’t currently be purchased and it’s very expensive relative to other locks. You could afford two of the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit U-locks for the same price and that might be a more flexible option.
Abus Ivera 7210
I included this one on the Cycling News list as the option for securing bikes that are attached to a car rack. I’m including it here for the same reason. Realistically you could use any number of chain locks on a rack and there are more secure options. This one is a little longer though and that might make it a little easier. It’s not a great idea to use any lock while the car is moving as it’s very possible for small vibrations to damage a frame. Once stopped, if you already own another quality chain lock you could probably use it. If you are heading out to buy something just for this use though, this one is a reasonable choice.
Abus Bordo 6500a Smart X
I’m throwing this one on here so I can warn you not to use folding locks and also because I like the idea of a smart lock in this context. Folding locks are less secure and more expensive. Overall my recommendation is to not bother with them. People like them because they are convenient to carry. If that’s what you must have, the Abus Granit 6500 folding lock is the heaviest security available. This version takes the same design but adds an alarm and that’s only going to help security. I expect push back on this suggestion because of the price, and electronics, and that’s to be expected. You can get great security for less money but adding an app and electronic locking actually makes sense in this context. It solves a problem and the trade off is money. That’s going to be alluring for some people and if that’s you, this is the best choice.
After working on this for the last month or so I have piles of locks at my house. What I found is that a lot of them were very similar and very good. At certain price points there is a lot of competition and all the options are great. For this article, I tried to choose things with a unique selling proposition — products that do a specific, useful thing. The list can’t possibly cover everything though. If you have a lock you love, please let everyone know in the comments!
Josh Ross writes about products and adventures he takes with them. firstname.lastname@example.org and @josh_ross on Twitter.
Thanks Josh! That was very informative and gives food for thought for anyone lock shopping.
This is very helpful. Thanks.
For years I had a Kryptonite U-lock that had a slight curve or bend at one end of the U, where you pull it off. It was like this model, though not a mini:
I loved that because it meant if the lock was on or partially on but not locked — which, I dunno if I’m strange but seems to happen to me a lot when I’m fumbling with keys and it takes a few moments to turn the key — the other end of the U-lock wouldn’t just fall off. When locking with the curve of the U pointed up, it also kept the “weight” of the cross-bar piece on the lock itself rather than on my hand, which turns out to be nice when you’re, say, locking a bike on a wall rack in the dark because the bike room light went out. (Supposedly it added some amount of extra security when locked, too, but I don’t think that was really true.)
Anyway, the key for that lock eventually jammed and I couldn’t find the spare, so I had to cut off that lock and get a new one at a bike shop. And the only types they sold were the standard U-locks where there are two straight ends. So that’s what I’ve been using, and I regularly curse it because of the issues above. But I notice that pretty much everyone else has that standard style and, as I said, it was hard to find the kind I like at a bike shop.
Am I just weird? Why aren’t the U-locks with the curved bit more popular?
I think kryptonite and other manufacturers have moved away from that style lock because they are supposed to be less secure. From what I’ve read on the internet, the higher security u locks have double shackles and require multiple cuts from an angle grinder or bolt cutter to remove. The lock that you linked to could be removed with a single cut. If you’re storing your bike in a place where you don’t expect an attack using standard bike theft tools, you’re probably fine using a lock like that. But an experienced bike thief could probably be walking away with your bike in thirty seconds if you’re using that lock.
I had one too, and liked it for the same reason, it kinda stayed in place while I locked up. But the curved locks are only secured on one side by the locking mechanism. The straight locks seem to have notches on each end and when the lock is engaged hold each end in place independently. I think the idea is the thief will probably need to make two cuts to remove the lock.
The other design is supposed to be more theft resistant. In theory you have to cut the straight design twice to remove the lock while the bent design only requires one cut. In practice thieves just cut once and use a pry bar to bend the lock open enough to get it off the bike.
I suppose there still is some additional added security in that they have to take the time to use the pry bar but I don’t think it’s that much.
I’m no expert but I believe locks with the curved bit only need to be cut in one place in order to remove the shackle. Locks that grip the shackle at both ends have to be cut in two places or bent hard once cut in order to remove them. Curved bit locks are also potentially more susceptible to lever attacks. You’re right, they are easier to use.
As others have said, those style of locks, called bent foot U-locks, are less secure. You can still find them if you look lower down in the kryptonite model lineup but I specifically made sure to never recommend one. I actually spent a lot of time making sure I could find something cheap that did not use that design. They are more susceptible to brute force attack and only take a single cut to break open. If you want to keep your bike I don’t recommend using them.
Kryptonite still makes at least one with a curved bar, the Evolution Lite Mini-6 with an anti-theft rating of 7/10. I don’t know which retailers carry it, but J&B Imports distributors has it for $52.79 wholesale, $54.09 from KHS – its MSRP is $98.95. I carry one with my fast bike, it’s relatively light and small for a U-lock, but I no longer live in a theft-prone community. It says “LITE” on the shackle.
Thanks for all these responses! Now I know 🙂
All new locks should get “Portland Rated” kinda like Jeep and their “Trail Rated” badges. Any lock that survives in this town deserves it. Been through four defeated locks in 10 years. I guess it could be worse? But sure puts me off wanting to ride anywhere anymore where I’d have to leave my bike. If I’m on my bike now its just for pleasure and doesn’t leave my sight.
I’d love to hear more about your defeated locks. What kind of locks, how were they defeated, and what was the general situation?
I’m on the same page. I’ve assumed for years that I can only ride my bike places where I can bring it inside, or if it will only be outside for a short period in a crowded area. If neither of those is the case, I drive my car instead: not good for our climate goals.
How very sad. You aren’t alone in this boat. I too rarely ride my bikes other than for recreation because of the off-the-hook bike theft problem here; A problem that is obviously related to the proliferation of open-air drug scenes that far left ideologues here consistently defend. Too bad we don’t have an organization actually devoted to improving cycling conditions in this city (sic). The necessity rather to genuflect to leftist pieties, as well as the overt censorship of moderate and conservative opinions on these and other matters ensures that the status-quo (rampant drug addition and associated property and other crimes) goes unchecked.
Late Capitalism got us here, matey. A right-wing fantasy that is coming to an end.
Ha! I just purchased a less-than-Arbus folding lock yesterday. I agree with your criticisms; I do not see it as a replacement for a more conventional lock, but as something more convenient that I can use for short periods, such as going into a store.
everyone has their own risk tolerance but after seeing how quickly locks are defeated, I wouldn’t risk it.
How about a U- lock and a separate beefy cable lock? Both would be secured on different parts of the bike. Would that take 2 different tools to cut since they are different style locks or does an angle grinder cut through anything?
When I lived in Portland (1997-2015) I carried a Kryptonite NY with a longish shackle (now rated to 9/10), but I camouflaged the lock by hiding the yellow with black duct take. I would often use it in conjunction with a basic 7-foot woven cable (no lock on the cable). The lock has lots of evidence of would-be thieves prying on it – but the fact that I still own the lock is a testament to its effectiveness – 18 years of hard Portland use and it’s still good, no bike ever stolen. Of course it helps to lock the bike in a high-traffic location, preferably near other bikes much more poorly locked, and so on.
Now I live in Greensboro NC, with a much lower theft rate and much dumber thieves, and I can get away with much lighter U-locks, but when I visit Charlotte or DC I bring a NY lock with me, usually a forgetaboutit with a basic 7-foot cable.
I just dont think a cable lock is ever worth the money. Two locks is a great strategy but go for a chain and a U lock or two U locks.
I’ve been using an Abus Chain Lock on my Benno – when I first got this bike I tried using U-Locks but couldn’t find anything that could fit around the Tire and Downtube as well as a Bike Rack so started out with a High Security Abus Chain Lock that I replaced about a year ago due to it getting pretty jiggly.
I switched to this bad boy and have really liked it!
10mm chain in there. There’s stronger but it’s pretty good. Same style as what I recommended for on the rack. Seems like a good option.
What’s your take on the:https://www.rei.com/product/855066/kryptonite-new-york-1210-chain-lock?CAWELAID=120217890000792930&CAGPSPN=pla&CAAGID=103051223497&CATCI=aud-1396942687395:pla-985454113087&cm_mmc=PLA_Google%7C21700000001700551_8550660001%7C92700056133207403%7CNB%7C71700000062146843&gclid=CjwKCAjwxZqSBhAHEiwASr9n9JE42hs-oRe7Tm66kofIQf5KS1Redv_mWsAFOfrZDxJ5tbOkHU5CjBoCJ5IQAvD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds
I have that one but didn’t include only because it’s not unique. My sense is that it’s very good and an excellent option for an at home option. It’s pretty heavy for taking out in the world but if you’ve got a basket on an ebike or something along that line where you don’t care about weight. That’s awesome.
Anybody got ideas about this one?:
link didn’t post.
I used to use a cable in addition to a U lock but it was such a hassle to deal with for something that could be clipped with almost any cutting tool stronger than scissors. I’ve been using a folding lock just like Madi Carlson’s shown in the link for secondary lock duty. It’s much nicer than the floppy cable but maybe it’s time to just use two U locks.
Seems like a secondary lock like the folding one is reasonable. U locks can be cut also.
It’s all statistics. When I moved here back in 2007, my bike buddy told me “someday, Charley, someone is going to steal your bike. Best be comfortable with that in advance.” I’ve been lucky so far: I take care to park inside my employer’s building, store my bikes in my locked garage, and use an old heavy duty staple when I do the odd errand on bike.
But I tell myself it’s just a matter of time.
Great write up! I might want to upgrade sometime.
Still waiting on delivery of 2 new Hiplock D1000’s that I may use both for them being small.
Any insider info if they will be making a bigger version anytime soon?
My kid had at least half a dozen bikes stolen although never from a lock being defeated, the one that was locked got 16 ft. of cyclone fence taken apart to take the bike and lock.
I’ve been lucky in the 10 years since I started riding again, none stolen but don’t lock up unattended hardly ever and have used 4 locks when I do.
I doubt they’ll make a bigger version. Part of the security is that they are smaller and therefor harder to break open with leverage.
My locking set-up is ~ 1ft of Home Depot chain & beefy padlock. I have the chain inside a cut-up bike inner tube to protect the paint + it does not rattle. And a Fuhgeddabout it U-lock that is actually more expensive than my Wal-mart Huffy bike which looks like crap and is pink!