Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Locking Up Your Beloved Bicycle

I recently asked a friend who started bike commuting back in May how it was going. Not so well, it turns out. His rear wheel was stolen weeks ago and he hasn’t replaced it yet due to the cost. I asked him how his bike was locked. Apparently, he had a single U-lock through the front wheel and inside the diamond frame, secured to a sign post. I see bikes locked this way all over town, essentially securing the front wheel and frame but leaving the valuable rear wheel and hub (especially valuable if it’s an internal gear hub) up for grabs.

Similarly, a reader recently related to us how his bike was stolen:

The front tire was U-Locked to a bike rack and the frame cable locked to the U-lock and the whole set up was in the basement of my apartment building which is supposed to be locked all the time. Somebody got in somehow, cut the cable, stole somebody else's front tire and left me bike-less

This was an even worse lock-up job than my friend's, even though the reader used two locks! So before I talk bike locks, I implore everyone who loves their bike to brush up on how to secure it by visiting Sheldon brown’s “lock strategy” page.

Sheldon Brown Lock Strategy

Here’s a quick summary. You need two locks, a mini U-lock and a short cable. Here's Sheldon Brown's explanation:

The cable lock will secure your front wheel to the frame and any convenient object, and the U-lock will secure your rear wheel and frame. If you have a quick-release seatpost bolt, replace it with an Allen head bolt, and stop worrying about having your saddle stolen.

The U-lock can be a mini because it only needs to go around the rear rim and tire. It does not need to go around the frame as long as it is somewhere in the rear triangle.

Sheldon Brown demonstrates how to lock a bike. Credit: Sheldon Brown.

U-lock/Cable Lock Combos

I recently tested an Onguard lock that includes a mini U-lock and a cable.

Tested lock. Credit:

Let’s concede up front that this is not going to be as good as two separate locks. Unless you bring a padlock for the cable lock, the thief only needs to defeat the mini U-lock. But most thieves don’t even mess with U-locks because, as the two incidents above illustrate, there's much easier prey to be found and bolt cutters are the tool of choice. Here's my Raleigh fixed gear, secured with the Onguard lock combo:

Secure: Neither wheel can be stolen without first defeating a lock. Click for big. Credit: freewheel

It was the only bike on the rack with both wheels secured!

I like the fact that Onguard is selling the mini U-lock/cable combo. It’s an acknowledgement that Sheldon Brown, as usual, was right, and it makes it convenient for the consumer to get what they need in a single purchase. If this becomes the industry standard, I think we’ll see less wheel thefts and fewer discouraged newbie cyclists.