The best lock to protect your bike.

How to be the best consumer you can be.
April 18 2006 6:24 AM

Avoiding the Bicycle Thief

The best locks to protect your wheels.

1_123125_122981_2134691_2140068_testbike0001

I put up with the hassle of owning a car in traffic-jammed Washington, D.C., for a few years. But when I lost my free parking space, I sold the car and made a bike my primary means of transportation. Now that I cycle most every day, I rely on a lock to keep my bike mine. Given the genuine threat of bike theft in the city, I always feel a twinge of fear when I leave my bike on the street, worried that upon my return, I'll find nothing more than a busted U-lock.

I don't have anything against the U-lock. If Kryptonite hadn't introduced it in the early '70s, the pinnacle of bicycle security might still be a cheap length of chain and a padlock. And it's evolved some since then—in the fall of 2004, bicyclists discovered that many round-key U-locks could be picked with the plastic barrel of a Bic pen. Kryptonite, which caught the most flak from the scandal, exchanged more than 380,000 locks for pen-proof, flat-key models free of charge, and lock competitor OnGuard, which had already phased out round keys, got a big sales boost. Today, flat keys are the norm.

Advertisement

Key style aside, most bikes are stolen because they're not locked at all ("I'll just be in Starbucks for a minute …"), or because the locks are used incorrectly. But plenty of properly locked bikes still get nabbed. To find out which locks work best, I pitted nine locks against each other from Kryptonite, OnGuard, and Master Lock: five U-locks, two woven steel cable locks, and two heavy-duty chain locks. 

1_123125_122981_2134691_2140068_toolkit

Next, I assembled my bike-jacking arsenal: an 18-inch crowbar, 30-inch bolt cutters, a hacksaw, three special blades, and my trusty claw hammer. I used only hand tools because 1) if a criminal crew with the proper power tools and a van wants a bike, it's as good as gone, and 2) I probably would have hurt myself. I was very eager to find out how the various locks compared. And to break stuff.

METHODOLOGY 

1) Security (20 possible points): To see how the locks would hold up in street conditions, I locked them around the frame of a very obsolete bike and around a steel handrail outside my apartment. I attempted to break through each lock with each of the tools, and did my best not to damage the bike. Busted locks received a maximum security score of 10.

2) Portability/Ease of Use (10 possible points): Even if a lock is unbreakable, is it practical? Cyclists usually transport U-locks with mounting brackets attached to the bike frame, in bags, or, if the locks are small enough, in their pockets. Locking chains are carried in bags or worn around the waist or over the shoulder. I took each lock for a ride and evaluated how difficult it was to carry and lock up.

3) Value (based on this formula): If a less-expensive lock can do the job, it deserves some recognition. To calculate value, I used the following formula: Add up the previous two scores, multiply by 10, and then divide by cost. I added one extra-credit point for every thousand dollars of free anti-theft coverage the company provides for a year after purchase. (Be sure to read the fine print and register with the proper documents; if you don't, you aren't covered.)

RANKINGS (worst to first)

1_123125_122981_2134691_2140068_doubleimage

Akita and Kryptonite Gorgon, both $39.99 Pertinent Thickness: Both 20 mm Woven Steel Cables Weight: 2.6 and 2.4 pounds, respectively Free Anti-Theft Warranty: Both $0

TODAY IN SLATE

Doublex

Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Television

The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough. So They Added a Little Self-Immolation.

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Behold
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.