The Best Bike Locks - Cut Tests of U and Cable Models
What is the best bike lock on the market? If you ride a bicycle, for either recreation or transportation (or both!), you need a bike lock. However, given the huge quantity of options, it can be tough to select the one that specifically suits your needs. To help you choose the best, our team of reviewers took seven of the most popular locks and compared them head-to-head through a variety of tests and uses. Whether you're looking for the toughest lock to deter professional bike thieves, or one that is so easy to use that you'll always lock up, this review is here for you. Read on to find out which products protected our bikes the best, won our awards, and why.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Bike Lock
Kryptonite New York Standard U-Lock
We are proud to present the Kryptonite New York Standard U-Lock | with our Editors' Choice award. This piece scored well on all of our metrics, thanks to Kryptonite's well-thought-out design. For every perceived problem, there was an answer. This product is insanely secure, winning Sold Secure's Gold designation and our top points in security. Additionally, the New York Standard has a mounting bracket for your frame that makes for easy storage while riding. This product is easy to use, and you can fit both your wheels within its reach (if you remove your front). Kudos to Kryptonite for making a versatile, burly and user-friendly bike lock of such quality. This may well be the only lock you'll ever need to buy.
Attaches to bike
Convenient size for locking up
Bulky to transport
Best Bang for the Buck
Kryptonite KryptoLok Series 2 Standard U-Lock
Our Best Buy Award goes to a mid-security model with an entry level price: the Kryptonite KryptoLok Series 2 Standard U-Lock. This classic U-lock comes with a four-foot cable that can reach around both wheels and is efficient to secure and unsecure. Although OnGuard makes this style of mid-security U-Lock with cable in their Bulldog DT, we thought that Kryptonite made an all-around better product. From the higher quality cable to the easy locking "bent foot" design, the KryptoLok slowly but surely pulled ahead in points.
Secures both wheels
Easy to use
Good security to price ratio
Cable is awkward to transport
Top Pick for Bike Commuting
Hiplok V1.50 Chain Lock
Want a lock that you'll love transporting? We do too. It is such a rarity to find one that answers the pesky question of how to effectively lug it around between lock-ups, but our Top Pick for Commuting, the Hiplok V1.50 Chain Lock does it with ingenuity. Hiplok took a beefy 8mm hardened steel chain two feet long and put a nylon sheath around it. Next, Hiplok engineered a padlock (a quite unbreakable one, we might add) with an extra metal bar that serves as a buckle. A swath of velcro goes through the buckle then folds back on itself, creating an adjustable and comfortable design that you wear like a low belt. A simple yet genius design. It is burly and transports well. The everyday commuting cyclist, as well as anyone else wanting a quality product, will appreciate this product.
Easy to use
Analysis and Test Results
Unfortunately, just about everyone has a story to tell about bike theft, whether it was their purple bike when they were seven years old or the heart-crushing memory of the seafoam green Bianchi with hand-chosen components that was left unattended on the porch for just a moment. With this in mind, we started our testing process by learning how these different bike locks performed in-transit; we shoved them in our panniers, bungeed them on trailers, placed in backpacks, installed brackets to stow them on the bike frame, wore them around our waists, and carried them in bike baskets. Next, we rode around town trying out the various styles by attaching them to racks, trees, parking meters, and fences to assess each one's usability. During these test rides, we started the process of examining secured bikes from the eyes of a bike thief. Even if the frame was secured, could somebody steal the wheels or seat? In the last phase of testing, we went deep into the world of bike thievery. We contacted an expert lock pick and used an assortment of tools, brute strength and happenstance to break each one. Read on to find out how each product performed (or didn't) in each phase of testing.
Bike locks should not be viewed not as an item separate from your bike, instead, you should think of them as a bicycle component, like the derailleur or handlebars. This means that even if you don't ride very often or you rarely leave your bike outside, you should probably buy a lock if you own a bicycle. Leaning your unsecured bike on a rack outside a restaurant is analogous to leaving your driver's side car door open with the engine running. You might do it once in awhile, but you wouldn't do it in a big city, sketchy neighborhood, or for a prolonged period of time. This is especially true if your bike is expensive or carries a lot of sentimental value. That said, it doesn't matter if you own a lock if you can't be bothered to lug it around with you, or take the time to secure it to a solid bike rack. During the testing period, we wanted to find the perfect blend of security and user-friendliness.
We found that often these qualities were conflicting; lightweight cable locks like the Onguard Akita 8041 and Kryptonite KryptoFlex 1218 Combo Lock are easy to transport and use, but also extremely easy to chop in half. On the other end of the spectrum are the hard core, secure U-locks that weigh up to 5 lbs and are annoying to use because you have to take your front wheel off every time you want to secure your whole bicycle. Our Editors' Choice winner, the Kryptonite New York Standard U-Lock, is a great example of high security that requires a little bit more work to secure both your wheels. Or, if you opt for a more compact option like the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit U-Lock Mini, you don't even have the choice of securing both wheels due to the small diameter of the "U", and either have to chance it or buy a secondary backup.
Our Top Pick for Commuting, the Hiplok V1.50 Chain Lock, seeks to address both of these criteria since you can wear it around your waist while commuting but still have a solid theft stopper. The New York Standard is burly and can also be clipped onto your bike frame while you're riding. Likewise, mid-level security U-Locks like the [Kryptonite KryptoLok Series 2 Standard U-Lock]] and Onguard Bulldog DT U-Lock can also be clipped on. These awesome buys also come with a cable to ensure all of your bike (both wheels and frame) is secure.
As you can see, selecting the right product is much more complicated than choosing your desired level of security. Plus, the broad range of locks on the market can complicate matters further! Read on to learn more specifically how each of these products compare across our metrics. Or for more advice on how to choose the best model for your needs, read our buying advice article.
Types of Bike Locks
Nearly all bike locks can be categorized into these three types: U-locks, chains, and cables. Some security devices even combine two of these types. They differ primarily in terms of the level of security they provide, versatility, and ease of use and transport. Your choice will depend largely on what level of security is necessary to deter theft in the areas you'll be leaving your wheels, but you should also consider how easy the lock is to use and whether you'll actually lug it along with you.
These are comprised of hardened steel molded in a "U" shape, and they are usually covered in rubber or plastic to protect the paint on your bike and reduce rattling while riding. The two ends of the "U" (the shackle) connect to the locking mechanism, a crossbar that closes the "U" into a "D" (and is opened and closed with a key or a combination dial). More secure and more expensive U-locks have a super tight dual locking system, whereby if the "U" is cut with an angle grinder (or other such power tool), the ends are still locked tightly. This means that there won't be much movement in the bar ends if it is cut through. In this case, the bike thief will have to make two cuts in order to get it off the bike frame. We found we could also use a hammer or pry bar to get the ends to separate, but it was just as much time as two cuts through. Less expensive models and versions with a "bent foot" shackle design only take one cut before they can be easily pried apart.
These consist of a steel chain with a sheath to protect your bike's paint. The ends are connected via a padlock of sorts. The variation here really has to do with the thickness of chain and quality of padlock. A thick chain of hardened steel, with smaller gaps between the links, and a top quality padlock will be the toughest chain to break. Chains can be broken by torsional force, so a small gap between the links leaves little space for the insertion of a lever. If a thief has the right tools, however, it only takes one cut of the padlock to defeat a chain lock. Chains are flexible and have a large diameter, which makes securing them to immovable structures easier. However, they tend to be bulky and weigh significantly more than other security devices.
These are made of twisted or braided steel with a coating of rubber or plastic, anywhere from two feet and up in length. The ends connect in a lock (sometimes connect with hinges while other cable ends are secured firmly inside the lock). Variability within this category includes cable thickness, lock strength and type (combo or key), and if the cable is coiled or non-coiled. Additionally, cable locks with a higher number of braided wire stands are the strongest, as they will be tougher to cut than cables with fewer braided strands. Cables tend to be lightweight, with the coiled versions being the simplest to transport, either in a bag or wrapped around your bicycle's frame. Their large diameter and flexibility also gives them more versatility in securing your wheels to immovable objects. Generally speaking, cables are the quickest and easiest to cut through with simple and inexpensive hardware. As a result, we rarely recommend them for lock-ups that will last more than a few hours, and we strongly caution against using them for overnight lock-up unless you live in an extremely low crime area.
Criteria for Evaluation
We based our scoring of each lock in our review on four criteria: security, ease of transportation, ease of use, and versatility. Check out the rating table below to see where each lock ranked overall.
Every bike manufacturer has a different security scale, as do independent security testing organizations, like Sold Secure, that are popular references here in the States. Sold Secure is an independent not-for-profit trade association that employs a small army of professional locksmiths to assess the security of various locking devices and mechanisms. Products are then rated based on their performance during the lock-cracking tests. Other organizations, such as VdS (a German independent testing institution for security and fire protection) and the Foundation ART (a group of Dutch organizations teaming together to prevent theft of two-wheeled vehicles), also submit products to rigorous professional-grade tests and rate them accordingly. These organizations have no ties to manufacturers, and are well-respected as holding a high standard of testing on many products, including bike locks.
How We Tested Security
In general, we saw the same patterns in our tests as these organizations have reported. When conducting our security tests, we began with non-mechanized hand tools like wire snips and hammers that would be easy to conceal. We also let our expert lock pick have a go at cracking each lock with just a small kit. If models could not be broken with hand tools, we switched to power. A cheap electric angle grinder with a cut-off wheel was the tool of choice. We kept track of how long it took to "steal" each bike.
Cable Lock Security
The cable models that we tested were the Onguard Akita and Kryptonite's 1218. Both cables could be destroyed using hand tools in seconds. The Kryptonite's combination was sussed out by our blindfolded lock pick while the Akita's passcode remained elusive. We broke both locking mechanisms with a hammer: again, quite easily.
As a result of these tests, we don't recommend using this product in suburban or urban areas with medium to high crime levels, and especially not overnight.
Chain Lock Security
The Hiplok V1.50 Chain Lock is rumored to resist all prybar attack, and it held up quite well to that expectation. We tried a hacksaw to no avail (it would have taken at least 45 minutes). We used a grinder on the chain links, which took longer and had to be done twice, and then we hit its weakness: 17 seconds to cut through the padlock shackle.
The U-Locks were a bit harder to judge. We had heard tales of pry bar experts taking to mid-range models like the Series 2 Standard U-Lock and the Bulldog DT. Although the cables that come with these products were snipped in seconds, the "U-s" themselves withstood our hand tool assault and had to be cut with the grinder. These two products were disabled after a single cut on the "U", although the Series 2 took more time to cut through. Lastly, we got to the New York Series: the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit U-Lock Mini and the New York Standard. These were our burliest models and they performed extremely well, but all succumbed in the end to the grinder. Both New York Series models have a dual locking mechanism, and therefore required two separate cuts by the angle grinder before they were defeated.
Security Bottom Line
The security metric held the most weight in our review, but not everyone requires the same level of security out of their product. For example, someone leaving a mid-priced bike outside their college town workplace may not need as much security as someone securing the same bike up outside their urban apartment overnight. We tested products that are more bike theft deterrent and those that are burly enough to protect a motorcycle. However, no matter how much you spend on a product it won't do you any good if you don't know how to use it properly, so be sure to research the best ways to use your lock to maximize security.
For a very in-depth discussion about how much security you need, check out our Buying Advice article.
Ease of Transport
How easy a lock is to transport largely determines if you will habitualize always having it with you. We examined the transport options for each different lock, then rode around that way to make certain that carrying the product in that style was a habit we could form. Of course, there are many upgrades that people make to their bikes that create more carrying options like installing a basket or buying a quality messenger bag that make it pleasant to ride with a load. While those options were in our minds, we focused on the features of the product and any included hardware.
Cable models, because of their flexibility and lightweight nature, are super easy to transport. The coiled cable we tested, the Kryptonite KryptoFlex 1218 Combo Lock, outperformed the non-coiled cable, OnGuard's Akita, with its ability to hold its compact shape. The Hiplok V1.50 Chain Lock has an innovative wearable design that allows you to attach the chain around your waist like a belt and was given our Top Pick for Commuting award largely due to this feature. The U-locks that included a mounting bracket (the Bulldog DT, Series 2 Standard, and New York Standard) all received decent points, since it is far more convenient to clip onto you lock to the bike frame while riding instead of lugging it in a backpack. The Onguard Bulldog DT U-Lock and Series 2 both have cables that have to be stowed elsewhere, however. Kryptonite's Fahgettaboudit Mini lost points here because although it is compact, it weighs over 4 lbs and doesn't come with a mounting bracket.
Ease of Use
How quick could we secure and unsecure a bike with the different models tested? What design features made the securing up process that much easier? What styles were inherently easier to use and what styles are more difficult? If we were a bike messenger with 20 different stops on our route, which piece would perform the best? These were some of the questions we sought to answer when looking at the usability of each contender.
For more on the proper use of your security device, check out our recommendations on how to use your lock.
A shout out to the manufacturer's here: all the products we tested ran smoothly through the gauntlet of opening and closing countless times. The styles we found easiest to use were the cable designs, especially the non-coiled OnGuard Akita 8041 that could be wound through frame and wheels in a blink of an eye. Out of the U-Lock variety, Kryptonite's Series 2 Standard U-Lock had a feature they call the "bent foot" which allows you to insert one end of the "U" then leverage that side to insert the remaining end. This feature is awesome for usability but decreases the product's security, so we understand why the burly New York series U-Locks have dual locking mechanisms within their crossbars.
A bike isn't rideable with its front wheel stolen. In this testing category, we wanted to explore how much of a bicycle could be secured. Each individual product review goes over the manufacturer's suggested best practices for maximum security. The most common components stolen off bikes are: front wheels with quick release skewers (the most common theft, and also happens even if owners don't have quick release wheels), saddles, bike lights, and rear wheels. If bikes are left out long enough, you'll commonly see the entire bike get stripped down to the locked frame, component by component.
The most versatile and secure models we tested are the U-locks that come with cables (although there is always the option to just buy two U-locks, of course). The OnGuard Bulldog DT and Kryptonite's Series 2 both come with a four-foot long rubberized cable to secure both wheels and seat (through the stays). Cable models also cover your whole bike (except that the ends are sometimes too large to secure saddles), but due their low security scores made us ponder how secure any part of the bike actually was. The Hiplok and New York Standard could be used to secure both wheels and the frame, but they require users to remove the front wheel. Surprisingly, even the Fahgettaboudit Mini could handle including the rear wheel (provided that it was a skinny tire).
Other Uses for Your Lock
Throughout the review we found many other uses for these products, especially the bigger U-Lock style. We locked the back tire of a dirt bike to its brake rotor, tire of a trailer to its frame so it couldn't move, a mountain board to a bike trailer, and number of random items in our gear garage when traveling. All this is to say: keep your mind open to other items a U-Lock can secure. The bigger the lock, obviously the more options for locking things. However, we found that if the lock was too big and heavy, we wouldn't bring it. So for the dirt bike and mountain board, we liked the medium sizes (6-8 inches in total length).
How to Use Your New Lock
First things first. Once you decide on the product that's right for you, check to see if your new lock comes with an insurance policy. Some manufacturers offer insurance to reimburse customers in case of theft. However, you usually have a limited amount of time (sometimes just a week!) to sign up, so be sure to register it immediately. Also, if this is an important factor in your decision making, be sure to read the insurance policy thoroughly. The stipulations tend to be rather strict, for example, some exclude customers living in New York and some require you to send in the busted lock for inspection before any compensation is doled out. Furthermore, check to see how much money you would actually receive if your wheels get jacked — it might not be all that much. Once you've taken this step, file away your receipt and your registration info some place where you'll be able to find it again in case of the unfortunate event of a theft.
Once you're ready to ride and use your new gear, be sure to do all your research on how to lock it up properly! Many bicycle thefts happen simply due to lock user error. It's important to know how to use your lock properly in order to maximize security. The most secure lock won't protect your biciclette if you use a poor locking technique. Furthermore, an improper locking technique might void your insurance policy in the case of theft. Here are some basic pointers to get you started on your quest to make your bike a tougher target:
Where to Lock Your Bike
Always secure your bicycle to immovable objects or structures. Bike racks, lamp posts, and trees are good examples, as they are securely fixed in the ground or concrete. Some bicycle roof racks are also considered immovable objects when used properly. Avoid using structures that are held in place by only a few bolts, such as "No Parking" signs. With a few quick turns of a ratchet wrench, the sign can easily be removed, allowing the thief to slide the bike up and over the post relatively easily.
Seek out areas where other bikes are locked up, and make sure that the area is well-lit if it will be out past dark. We also recommend choosing to lock up your bike on streets with a high volume of foot traffic. A lonely set of wheels on a quiet, dark street might attract the wrong kind of attention. Also, don't park your ride in the same spot everyday, but keep changing it up. Moving targets are much harder to hit!
How to Lock Your Bike
Secure as much of the bicycle as you can to the immovable object. If possible, you should secure both wheels and the frame. One option is to remove the front wheel and secure it along with the back wheel and frame to an immovable structure. However, if your lock doesn't allow this level of security, consider the value of each part of your bike, and lock the highest valued parts first. Always secure the frame first, then the rear wheel, then the front wheel. Never be satisfied by simply locking up a wheel to a rack, as they can be quickly removed, and could leave you aggressively googling "how to convert bike wheel into unicycle."
Be sure to get a tight fit, filling up the inside of the chain, cable, or U-lock with as much of your bicycle as possible. This will minimize amount of space that potential thieves have to use their tools, making it more difficult to break open. Also, if your security device has a keyhole, make sure it faces down toward the ground. This will make it more difficult to pick. Furthermore, take any removable items with you that want to return to, such as lights, saddle bags, water bottles, and even your seat if it isn't incorporated into the lock.
When to Lock Your Bike
Anytime you leave your bike unattended, we recommend locking it up. Whether you're just dropping into a shop for something quick, or leaving it in your backyard or shared storage area, it's time to secure your wheels. Even when mounted on a roof/car rack, we still believe locking up is the best way to ensure your bicycle stays where you want it. In general, we don't recommend leaving your bike outside overnight, especially if you live in a metropolitan area. If you can help it, bring it inside to store it during dark hours.
For more insight on proper bicycle security, check out this video from Art's Cyclery on the topic:
In order to prolong the life of your security device, we recommend regular maintenance. How frequently you do this is largely dependent upon your climate. If you live in a harsh climate with high amounts of rain and snow, or an area near saltwater, monthly maintenance may be necessary. In other climates or regions, though, a little lock love every two to three months should suffice.
Focus your cleaning and lubrication efforts on any moving parts and areas where parts attach, such as keyholes, deadbolts, the ends of u-lock shackles, and cylinders. Clean these parts first with a rag, using a spray product like WD40 if there is any visible corrosion or heavy grime. After cleaning, you should apply a lubricant. Dry, teflon-based lubricants are typically recommended for use on locks. Lubricate as directed on the bottle/box. Make sure to insert your key and turn it several times to spread the lubricant around. Your local bike shop will most likely be able to help you select the right products for cleaning and lubricating. Otherwise, most hardware stores should carry the products you need.
Other Types of Security
No bike lock can ensure complete security. However, modern technology has helped develop products to give you a chance at getting your bicycle back. To give yourself greater peace of mind when securing your wheels outside, several companies produce GPS tracking devices to help you find your bike after it's been stolen (or, for when you just can't remember where you parked). Most of these devices attach discretely to your bike, under the seat or even in the steerer tube. They utilize GPS and SIM card technology to link up to an app on a smartphone, allowing you to track the location of your ride with the click of a button. These products tend to be more expensive, with a price tag over $100, and some have additional fees (such as adding credit to the SIM card). Of course, we don't recommend that you chase off after your stolen wheels all alone. Rather, it should be seen as a helpful tool to assist law enforcement in tracking down your bicycle.
Choosing a bike lock can be overwhelming, yet necessary for most bikers out there. Protection is the top priority for all of us when purchasing this product. Your decision will depend on options varying from whether you are looking for the strongest lock on the market, or you may want a lock that is easy to carry around. We hope our process has helped you choose the best product for your needs. Still undecided? Try our Buying Advice article.
— Rylee Sweeney & Ross Robinson
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