First of all: with enough time and the right tools, ALL bike locks can be beaten. Questions are: How secure do you really need your lock to be? Where is the borderline between secure and practical? And how much should you pay for such a piece?
Choosing the right lock gets surprisingly confusing, once you decide to make it a conscientious choice. There’s always a possibility of “just buying something and see”, but 400.000 Dutch bikers losing their rides each year would probably advise you otherwise. But then, how are you supposed to choose? Should you look for some specific brand? Or type of lock? How much should you invest? Add all individual circumstances (cheap vs expensive bike, place of parking the bike etc) and it gets quite overwhelming.
We’ll help you battle the task down into simpler steps. Let’s set the priorities:
1. Choose the minimum security level you will need. That’s what you need – to secure your bike – right? So let’s decide on this one first.
2. Choose the type of the lock that suits your budget and needs. There are more things to consider, such as price or convenience, and those usually offset one another, so let’s do that next. This way you do not compromise on your bike’s security, but also don’t pay more than needed.
3. Find the exact lock. By now the choice is now quite narrow, so it’s time to pick your favourite one.
95% of bikes are stolen by “opportunity thieves” – unorganised opportunists who see a an easy chance to make some extra money on outstandingly poorly locked bikes of all qualities (usually no matter if the bike is old or ugly). Weapon of choice of such thieves: bolt cutters. Other easily available and most used tools are hammers, simple saws or even bare hands. You wouldn’t believe how many bikes can be just wiggled free or carried away. However, once you pick a decent lock (and lock the bike properly), bolt cutters are the strongest weapon of opportunists your lock will face.
Thus, in 95% of cases, the ultimate battle is bolt cutters versus bike locks.
This of course doesn’t apply in case you own a superb bike which may attract attention of professional criminals with advanced tools. Such bikes should NEVER stand unguarded on the street for a longer period of time – we do not know of any bike lock that would resist a couple minute’s work with a portable angle grinder (which makes noise, sparks etc., so again, proper locking technique can increase your chances, but unless you happen to pick an awesome parking spot somewhere in the village of Peaceland, above-average bikes should always be stored out of sight).
Keeping this in mind, to get at least some level of security the question to ask is: would your lock resist a bolt cutter attack? There are couple factors to the answer (bolt cutters size, material of the lock, shape of the critical part etc), but by the rule of thumb, you can say the thickness is the key. You should always aim aim for is somewhere above 13 mm – locks of that size are already very hard to beat by bolt cutters. Sweet spot is 15 mm and more – thieves already need pro tools to break such locks, which means they will make quite some commotion that attracts attention.
Simplifications aside, given all the possibilities (materials, thickness, lock types) and all ways to destroy a lock, the best way to check the real security level of a lock would be to buy them all, test them in a laboratory setting, and compare the results. Luckily, you don’t have to do that, there are organizations doing this work for us. The best known are Stichting ART and Sold Secure.
ART is a Dutch organization and European market is full of locks tested by them. Sold Secure is a British non-for-profit for a change, and is more focused on British and North American market. (Although with today’s commerce the borders do not really exist anymore. Right? 🙂 Rankings are easy to understand – ART uses a scale of 1-5 stars where 5 stars are the most secure, 2 star rating is supposed to be sufficient protection for bicycles (we agree only partly, but later about that).
Sold Secure, on the other hand, has three levels of security for bikes – Bronze, Silver and Gold (and some more for motorcycles and other things you may want to lock properly). Bronze should offer a “protection against opportunist thieves”, but it’s more of a consolation prize in our opinion. Silver is a “balance between price and security”, and this is kind of a starting category to look for. Gold should be the top class.
Some pros and cons of using the rating organizations’ advice:
They are independent – same criteria for all, no favourites or bought ratings;
The tests are standardised – so you can actually compare different brand’s and lock types objective security;
Testing is extensive. Huge variety of tools is used, different approaches are taken (brute force vs. “smart” approach);
Insurers often even require them – in the NL usually ART locks – to insure the bike. So if you decide to insure the bike in the future, you don’t need to change the lock.
Neither ART or Sold Secure do not test ALL locks (that would probably be impossible) – manufacturers need to pay to have their lock tested;
Tested locks tend to be more expensive (usually couple €);
Tested locks sometimes overshadow other, same quality and cheaper locks only because they have the rating.
In addition, ART is a bit more strict with the ratings, Sold Secure is said to test more locks (although on Dutch market we did not notice such thing). In general, both provide an awesome benchmark to start with, and in case you’re not more knowledgeable about locks than average bike thief, we’d recommend picking a certified lock. There’s, however, a plethora of awesome unrated locks, too – so if you happen to have one without a rating, no need to sell and change asap.
Question that still stands – how secure lock do you actually need? Answer: it depends on multiple factors, such as price (and looks) of your bike, place of frequent parking, periods you leave the bike unguarded. Here’s a tool for you:
And our answer key:
Note: There is unfortunately no such thing as “LOW” risk place for bike theft in the Netherlands.
In case you have – or decide to go with – an unrated lock, there’s one more tool to use: private (internal) ratings. Bigger brands such as Kryptonite, ABUS or OnGuard usually have internal security ratings (which significantly vary from one another). Same internal rating usually means also comparable objective security. So, when determining a security level of a lock, simply find a lock with the same internal rating that also has an ART or Sold Secure rating, and you can be quite sure you’re getting what you pay for.
And speaking about what you should pay…
There are huge differences in lock prices. Obviously, there is a lot of brand marketing, innovations play a huge role in price-making, the aforementioned security ratings and finally, prices correlate with the type of the lock. In all this mess, lock types are probably the best anchors. (Unless you’re looking for something extremely specific – for instance as low weight as possible for whatever price – then you’re better off with a specific search among innovation projects.) Not all locks have a fair price, but if you choose conscientiously, it is undoubtedly and absolutely an investment worth its cost. Just consider the situation you buy a poor lock and get your bike stolen. Aside of buying a new lock (probably a better one anyway), you will also have to buy a new bike – which is never cheaper than a solid lock. So you’ll be losing much more money anyway.
Ok, so you’re convinced buying a good lock is a smart investment. But how much will you actually need?
We say at least €30, but depending on the security level you want, it can get much nastier. Average peace-of-mind protection in the Netherlands for a regular €150 second-hand bike would be somewhere between €50 – €70. With any budget above this, you can start being picky (although the toughest or most innovative locks of all will cost you even more than that, up to €140). However, in general, for anything above €100 you can even start get creative with combinations.
For instance, you can get a heavy “stationary” chain for your overnight home parking, compact U-lock for locking your ride on the go, and a back-up ring lock to double up the protection. Hypersecure combination of locks even for better bikes in riskier places altogether for €130. Just ideas thrown around.
For options including prices check out our bike accessories store.
Let’s organise our thoughts a bit. These are the basic types of locks you can buy:
Each one of them offers different advantages. U-locks are a great combination of security and price, but are harder to move around comfortably, and even slightly harder to lock (you need a thin post close to your frame). Chain locks, especially the thicker ones, are in general very hard to beat and quite easy to lock, but also very heavy (especially the thicker ones). Folding locks are awesome to transport, and easy to lock, but usually are the most expensive options. Wire locks are cheap crap that may be light, but DO NOT protect your bike.
Here’s a bit more extensive assessment of why (not) to buy each of the lock types:
Now take a moment and think of:
– What kind of bike do you have? Is it a racing bike (so you’ll probably appreciate a light, compact lock) or a city commuter which can carry a bit heavier lock?
– How often do you use the bike (lock)? If you lock the bike 4+ times a day, you may appreciate a simpler system, and if you travel to various locations where there isn’t always a bike rack ready for you, you may want to buy other than U-lock. On the other hand, using commuter bike three times a week, U-lock might be a great quality/price tradeoff for you.
– Where do you temporarily park/leave the bike overnight? City center/university campuses or larger city streets in general require safer options – strong U-lock or chain should be your choice, even if you should leave that lock on the spot and have another (lighter) one for commutes.
– How much are you willing to invest into protecting it?
Just answers to those questions should give you an idea of what lock type you will probably need, and how comfy you can eventually get. And so comes the time of…
Finally! Time to make the choice. Here are some things to consider for each of the categories, together with a couple of our favourites for each type of the lock.
Things to consider
– Does the lock come with a (good) frame-attachable mount (holder)? If not, how will you carry it?
– What size do you need? The smaller the better (less “thief tool space”), but will it be big enough to brace your frame + wheel to a bike stand you usually use?
– Is it thicker than 13 mm (high security >15mm)? Going with U-lock, make sure it is thick enough to resist a bolt cutter attack. If you dig really deep, look for hardened steel ones.
Things to consider
– Stationary or carry around? The trade-off between security and comfort is obvious with chain locks: the really secure ones are heavy monsters.
– For both weight saving and increased security, better go for shorter locks (while making sure you can actually lock your bike). You’d have to wrap long ones around your frame anyway to avoid near-ground locking.
– Avoid locks with links thinner than 10 mm.
– Get one made of hardened steel alloy. To get that, best thing is to go with a well known brand.
– Check the (pad)lock. Every lock is as strong as its weakest point, so having a 15mm chain with a 5 mm padlock is…not smart.
Things to consider
– Check the security rating. Given a different shape of the connections (they tend to be flat) it is usually harder to power through with bolt cutters – but not always.
– Check the locking mechanism. Is it easy enough for you to use daily?
– Does the lock include frame-mountable “pocket”?
Things to consider
– Don’t forget to prioritise the security. Many locks from this category look awesome, but may be very easy to beat. Look for the independent security ratings.
– Be ready to pay the “innovation premium” – be it for design, weight, smart locking, or other exclusive feature.
– Keep the transportation possibilities in mind. Innovative shapes or materials sometimes cause bulkiness of the lock. Will you be able to transport it with your type of bike?
Now that you have chosen your awesome new lock (hooray!), we got bit of a moodkiller (boooooo!) – just a tiny one, though: in most occasions, you should have not one, but two locks to protect your bike sufficiently.
Anyway, no big need to worry. Second locks tend to be a category weaker (and cheaper). They serve a couple purposes: securing the other wheel, deterring thieves due to “double protection” and amateur thieves due to skills limited to one type/brand of locks. (That is why it is highly advisable to have two locks of different brands, ideally completely different types – e.g. U-lock and a backup folding lock.)
And that should also be your additional criteria for choosing the right (second) one. You’re now all boosted with knowledge about locks, aware of your priorities, so it shouldn’t take more than couple minutes to pick the second one. Your sweet ride will be grateful.
Pro tip: if you’re Dutch, you for sure know the local top choice for secondary security: ring locks. Unless you’re securing a racing bike, we’d recommend checking that option out. They’re cheap, hardly beatable on street and super comfortable to use 😉 As they say, if you love it, better put a ring on it!
Also, if you are a bit of a geek and really care about your bike’s security, we’d recommend looking into other options of securing your bike, such as GPS trackers, UV paints, microdots and others. We’re working on an article on the topic.
Stay safe! <3