Whether it’s to find an alternative to mass transit or a means of socially distanced exercising, bicycling has seen a huge surge in popularity during the pandemic. Unfortunately, so has bike theft. In October, the New York Times reported a 27 percent increase in the number of stolen bikes between March and September of last year, compared to the same period in 2019. Adam Bernstein, a sales representative at Echelon Cycles, says that, recently, one to three people have been coming into the store each day because their bike (or a part of it) has been stolen. Along with replacement parts or a new bike, they need locks. Bike thieves equip themselves with everything from bolt cutters and hammers to hacksaws and crowbars to break through weak locks, so it’s important not to skimp here. While no lock is totally theftproof, the best ones are the most difficult to cut through, and their appearance alone may be enough to deter potential thieves.
Keep in mind, too, that locking your bike’s frame with a standard U-lock doesn’t protect parts like wheels and seats that can often be removed without any tools. Susi Wunsch, founder of the cycling lifestyle site Velojoy, sent along this diagram illustrating how multiple types of locks — including cables, chains, and skewers — can be used together to safeguard all parts of your bike. Below, Wunsch, Bernstein, and seven more cycling experts recommend the best locks for safeguarding your bike and all of its parts.
Nearly everyone I spoke with considered the Kryptonite New York lock the most secure option out there. The company introduced the lock in 1994 to rise to the challenge of increased reports of bike thefts in the city. Charles McCorkell, owner of Bicycle Habitat, said Kryptonite’s New York lock is extra secure because “the locking mechanism turns and locks on both sides — so it can’t just be cut once — and takes twice the effort to break into. The larger diameter of the U also takes longer to cut, and the keys are almost unpickable.” The 16-millimeter-thick steel is extremely difficult to cut with standard bolt cutters. The lock comes with three keys, including one with an LED light for easily unlocking your bike in the dark, and a bracket for mounting the lock on your frame for easy transport. For best results, loop the lock around both the bike’s frame and rear wheel.
This hardened steel U-lock from the German brand ABUS comes recommended by Joseph Nocella, owner of 718 Cyclery & Outdoors. “In my experience, this is the lock that most bike-shop employees use,” he says. “It’s small, light, and strong.” Emily Wendorff, a sales associate at Ride Brooklyn, uses one herself. Compared to Kryptonite locks, she says ABUS’s equally heavy-duty models are “lighter weight and easier to carry around.”
It’s more expensive than most locks, but if you want a “smart” option, Bernstein recommends the ABUS 770. It’s equipped with a motion-detecting alarm and Bluetooth, which allows you to unlock it through an app on your phone instead of using a key.
Best chain and cable locks
If you’re locking your bike for a long period of time in an especially high-theft area, Rich Conroy, director of education at Bike New York, recommends Kryptonite’s Fahgettaboudit steel chain and dead bolt. “The advantage of a cable or chain is that they can go around larger objects that a U-lock won’t fit,” he said, and “cables can be easy to cut though.” While this set is extremely effective at protecting your frame and wheels, all that impregnable steel does come with some heft, though, and with this set, you’ll be riding around with an extra ten pounds. Some choose to loop the chain around their waist for easier carrying — just don’t lose your key à la Ilana Wexler.
For quick lockups on relatively safe streets, you may not need quite as much protection as the Fahgettaboudit offers. Kryptonite’s Evolution lock is one step down in terms of thickness, but should still offer enough protection for most riders. It’s also cheaper and lighter, weighing a little over six pounds. Andrew Crooks, owner of NYC Velo, recommended it as an alternative to the New York lock if that one’s out of your budget. As always, connecting the chain to a U-lock makes your lockup safer.
For a chain lock that’s actually meant to be worn as a belt, Chase McElroy of Hilltop NYC Bicycles recommends Hiplok, especially for people who ride frequently. “You have your lock literally around your waist at all times,” he says. “It’s not in a bag. It’s not on your bike. It’s just on you.” The ten-millimeter-thick chain is encased in a nylon sleeve that’s more comfortable against your body and won’t pull on your clothes. The adjustable-fit belt has a quick-release buckle so there’s no risk of getting locked in, and at just over five pounds, it’s about half as heavy as the Kryptonite chain.
Wunsch also uses the Kryptonite New York U-lock and pairs hers with an affordable cable to protect her bike’s front wheel. “A U-lock will affix your frame to the bike rack, but say you have a quick-release front wheel — you don’t need a tool to take it off, just flip a little lever,” she said. “If you use a simple cable lock and you run that through the U-lock and the front wheel, then you’ve also safeguarded that. It’s going to give a possible thief pause.” Bernstein agrees that a cable is helpful for securing your front wheel, and he adds that it can be more flexible and easy to maneuver than a chain.
Best folding locks
Folding locks are newcomers on the scene. Devotees love that they’re so lightweight and easy to carry, but because they’re thinner than U-locks, not all models are as reliably safe. Crooks said Foldylocks “have put out a great folding lock that improves on its competition and is priced fairly.” The compact model weighs under three pounds and can easily be mounted on your bike until it’s time to unfold it into a hexagon shape that loops around your frame and wheel.
McElroy likes the ABUS folding lock, which can be mounted to your bike’s water-bottle holder for easy portability. “It’s always secured on the bike,” he says, “and then you can just pull it apart and lock it up.” Kryptonite makes similar folding locks in its Keeper series.
Best accessory locks
Quick-release bike parts — like wheels, seatposts, and saddles — can be removed without tools and are often stolen piecemeal. For securing accessories, experts recommend Pinhead skewers, small locks for individual parts. “Essentially, you make it extremely difficult for thieves to target specific parts of your bike when your frame is locked to something,” said Sam Polcer, communications director for Bike New York. “It replaces quick-release components with components that require a special coded key that comes with each lockset.” John Keoshgerian, owner of Zen Bikes, is also a fan of this “no muss, no fuss” option. If you choose to purchase additional Pinhead locks, the company will design them to fit your existing key.