Bike Lock Buying Guide

 

The best bike lock is:

  • Tough for thieves to defeat. No lock is impenetrable, but a good bike lock should make stealing your bike too cumbersome for most thieves. Look for hardened steel shackles and chains, the thicker the better. You can also get a good idea of a lock's security by seeing whether it has been rated by SoldSecure.com, an independent group that tests locks using several tools and theft techniques. Locks with a gold rating are best for long lockups in high-crime areas. Silver-rated locks offer slightly less, but still admirable security; bronze locks are simply barriers against lower-level opportunists who want a quick getaway. Manufacturers also often rate their own locks. Kryptonite, for example, rates its products on a 10-point scale, with 10 being the most secure.
  • Easy to use. While heavy, unwieldy locks may be toughest for thieves to crack, the best bike locks manage to balance strength and security with usability. Locks should open smoothly with a minimum of fiddling. A lighted key helps minimize fumbling at night. If the lock is light enough to be taken on the road, it should be small enough to fit neatly into a backpack or come with a mount that can be attached to the bike frame.
  • Durable. Hardened steel is among the strongest bike-lock materials available today. The best bike locks are also weatherproof and can resist rust in case of rain. A layer of protective plastic or rubber that keeps the lock from scratching your bike is another nice feature. With chains, the best models come in a nylon sock to minimize paint damage from links rubbing against your bike frame.
  • Warrantied. Consumers can also get a good sense of how well a lock will prevent theft by looking at the manufacturer's anti-theft protection plan, if any. For example, Kryptonite offers a $5,000 anti-theft plan for its top-of-the-line New York Fahgettaboudit Mini U-lock. The thinner Kryptonite New York Standard U-lock comes with a $3,000 protection plan. To take advantage of an anti-theft warranty, you must submit documents and other materials -- often including pieces of the broken lock -- to the manufacturer.

Know before you go

Do you live in a high-theft area? If you're in an urban area where bike thefts are more common, investing in a top-notch lock is a must. But if you live in a suburban or rural area where crime is rare, you have more leeway to balance factors like ease of use and portability with security. However, keep in mind that you'll probably still want to opt for a lock that offers a higher level of security than a cheap cable lock that can be easily cut if you leave your bike for long periods.

Will you need multiple locks to keep your bike safe? Most U-locks will fit around your bike's frame and rear wheel, but your bike seat and front wheel are still easy to access. Consider exchanging your quick-release bike seat post for one that locks, and adding a secondary lock to protect the front wheel. For instance, consider two U-locks, or a U-lock and a chain lock.

Do you know how to properly use a bike lock? Experts caution that while no lock is guaranteed to stop theft, an improperly used bike lock is almost as bad as forgoing a lock completely. Buy the smallest lock that will fit your bike properly, meaning it can secure both the bike frame and rear wheel without leaving much excess space. A proper fit means it won't give thieves a lot of room for leverage while attempting to cut or pry a lock. Also, never lock a bike by securing just the wheel -- thieves can simply pop off the wheel and take the rest of your bike.

Stick to busy areas when you're locking your bike. Buying a good bike lock is only half the battle. If possible, lock your bike in high foot-traffic areas instead of little-traveled alleys or garages. Thieves will be less willing to spend a lot of time trying to defeat a lock when passersby can watch their handiwork.

What's to come

You can control just about everything with your smartphone now, and bike locks are no exception. Skylock (Est. $179) is a U-lock that you unlock with your phone. An accelerometer inside the lock can detect crashes and notify friends or family, and the lock can detect theft attempts and send you an alert. Bitlock (Est. $129) has a built-in activity tracker and a backup combination lock in case your phone is lost or out of battery. LINKA (Est. $129) is hard mounted to your bike, and automatically unlocks as you approach. It also has a built-in siren that goes off when it detects a theft attempt.