It seems these days there are as many types of bike locks out there as there are bicycles. There’s quite a range of styles and qualities available, but which ones are best for an electric bicycle? Let’s take a look at some of the most common bike locks available and see how they stack up for ebike use. And consider checking out my article on 10 ways to avoid getting your electric bicycle stolen. Spoiler alert: it’s more than just about your lock.
With bike locks you get what you pay for
Now before we dive in, let’s talk for a moment about the price of bike locks. Good quality bike locks are expensive – there’s no beating around the bush here.
They say the rule of thumb is that you should spend at least 10% of the value of your bike on your locking system. I don’t know who “they” are or where they got the 10% figure, but I think it is a good place to start, and can help keep you from being too cheap when it comes to protecting your electric bicycle. A nice ebike can easily cost $1,500, so doesn’t $150 seem like a reasonable price to protect that investment? And remember, a good lock is something that should last you a while. There’s no reason a quality bicycle lock couldn’t last you a decade or more if you take care of it.
Now let’s take a look at the range of bicycle locks on the market. We’ll start at the weaker end of the spectrum and move up from there. And if we’re talking about weak bicycle locks, we’ve got to start with cable locks.
Cable bike locks
Cable locks are about as low security as it comes. The only less secure method that would still count as at least attempting to protect your bike would be to tie it with rope and double knot it.
Cable locks are a problem because the tools required to cut through them are simple hand tools. The weakest cable locks can be cut through with pliers while the slightly larger cables require bolt cutters. Both are tools that can easily be concealed in a bag or jacket and can be silently operated in a matter of seconds. For these reasons, a cable lock should never be your main lock.
Cable locks do have their place though. They make excellent supplemental locks. One of the best ways to deter bicycle thieves is to use multiple locks on different parts of your electric bicycle. While cable locks aren’t very good on their own, using them in addition to a main lock, perhaps to lock your motor to your frame, can make a powerful deterrent to a thief that now sees two or more locks standing between him and his target. Cable locks are small and lightweight which make them easy to add to the seat post or frame and forget about them until you need to use them.
Another nice thing about cable locks is that you can get them for a great price compared to the larger locks below. A great quality Kryptonite cable lock costs just $13 and would make a great second lock.
Disc brake locks
A slight step up from a cable lock is a disc lock. Unfortunately, disk locks only work if you have disk brakes. If you have them though, this can be a great supplemental lock as well.
Disc brake locks work by sliding over your disc and putting a pin through one of the cooling holes in the disc. The obstruction obviously keeps the wheel from spinning. Until the lock is removed, no one can drive off with your ebike.
Like cable locks, these make terrible locks on their own. A disk lock does nothing to prevent someone from carrying off your ebike, or removing the wheel and rolling it away. But combined with a larger main lock, a disk lock is a powerful reinforcement. You should always remember to put the reminder cable, usually a bright orange or yellow color, on your handlebar when you engage the disk lock. This reminds you to remove the lock before you go riding off. Forget to take the lock off and you could seriously damage your bike.
A disc brake lock with a motion alarm makes a great addition to any electric bicycle. The disc brake with reminder cable makes it obvious to thieves that they aren’t going to be able to ride away on your ebike, and if they even try to do a little checking around on the bike, a super loud alarm will send them packing before suspicion is aroused. A great alarm disc lock is the Xena version.
Wheel locks (Amsterdam locks)
Next on the list are wheel locks, sometimes called Amsterdam locks. These locks mount above the wheel, usually the rear, and lock around the rim and tire to prevent the wheel from turning. Just don’t forget to unlock it and try to ride off with it engaged, or you’ll find some seriously damaged spokes.
Like a disc brake lock, wheel locks simply prevent the thief from being able to ride the bike, not steal it.
A nice thing about the wheel locks is that you never have to worry about carrying it or leaving it behind, it’s always attached to your bike and ready for use. But once again, these locks are only effective as a supplemental lock to a larger bicycle lock.
I recently reviewed an interesting type of wheel lock that can lock any bicycle wheel, even those without disc brakes. You can check out my review here.
Now that we’ve discussed a number of supplemental locks, it’s time to check out the main attraction: full security bicycle locks. We’ll begin with the tried and true U-lock. This might be one of the most well known types of bicycle locks, perhaps outside of the cable lock. The U-lock is a single piece of steel shaped like the letter ‘U’ that fits into a locking tube at the top. Or bottom. Depends how you hold it. I guess if it’s at the bottom that would make it an n-lock.
U-locks come with a variety of advantages. They are fixed shape, meaning you don’t need to go snaking them through different parts of your frame like a cable lock or chain. The fixed shape means you can hop off your bike and be locked in seconds.
U-locks often come with special mounts to make it easy to store them on your bike while riding. Because of their narrow design, they are inherently well protected against leverage attacks. Try fitting a tool between the u-lock and a post – you don’t have a lot of room to work with. This will also depend on how you use the U-lock as well. If you have a wide lock and put it around a narrow object then you might leave enough room for a thief to use a scissor jack or long pipe and implement a lever attack. The best bet is to use the narrowest U-lock that works for your bike/area and try to leave as little room in the ‘U’ as possible.
U-locks are not without their shortcomings. They are somewhat limiting to what you can lock to. Anything wide than the ‘U’ is automatically a no-go. No decent sized trees, no concrete pillars, no telephone poles – you get the idea. Parking meters and sign posts are the best things to use a u-lock with, but sometimes you just can’t find anything of that size. And like anything else, you get what you pay for. There are some really cheap U-locks out there that can be defeated easily at the ‘U’ or the locking mechanism.
As discussed above, you should be spending at least 10% of the price of your ebike on your locking system. Your lock is your insurance. Would you really trust your $1,500 ebike to a $15 u-lock?
There are many good brands of u-locks but my favorite is the Kryptonite New York line of locks. They are pretty heavy and a pain to lug around, but that’s also what gives them their strength. Superman couldn’t break through one of those things (get it? Kryptonite?) though Lois Lane might be able to if she had a good angle grinder with a dozen replacement blades prepared.
Next on the list are chain locks. Depending on the quality of your chain, it can be weaker, just as good as, or even better than a u-lock. Chain locks are great because you can snake them through your bicycle to lock multiple components AND go around bigger objects like trees and telephone poles, giving you more options for locking.
The strength of the lock comes down to two factors: the strength of the chain and the strength of the locking mechanism itself. A good, thick hardened chain will take a while to get through with an angle grinder, as will a decent lock. Generally, you’ll want your length of chain and your lock to be two separate pieces, that way you can make sure each is made of high quality steel. You can find chain locks with a locking mechanism built right into the chain, but those are usually cheaper locks.
Many chain locks specifically made for bicycles come with a canvas cover to keep the chain from scratching the bike and reduce noise from the chain dangling around. Some people prefer to buy a length of strong chain at the hardware store, in which case the chain will be bare. The advantage of a bare chain is that it shows a potential thief, in no uncertain terms, that you’ve got a seriously strong chain that they don’t want to mess with.
You can even combine a length of strong chain with a U-lock to get the advantages of both systems. Heck, throw a disk lock or amsterdam lock on there too for peace of mind. No one will be messing with your bike anytime soon!
The exotic world of bike locks
The locks covered above are the main staples of the bicycle lock world, but there are many other types of locks out there. All sorts of bike locks have sprung up over the years, including handcuffs, folding locks, skewers, pitlocks and more. Soon I’ll be writing up an article on unique and obscure bike locks.
In the end, the name of the game in bike locks is redundancy. Anywhere you think bike thieves might target your ebike, you need multiple locks to send the message to that bike thieves might as well move on instead of gambling that they can make it through all of your locks. A strong chain or u-lock should be your first line of defense, followed by some type of supplemental lock to complete the one-two punch and send would-be bicycle thieves packing.