Although your bicycle might not be the most expensive item you own, there is an inarguable emotional attachment to it, which makes bike theft an agonising experience.
If you commute to work, pop down to the store for groceries, or leave your bike latched to a vehicle carrier rack outside a venue, there is always the risk of it not being there on your return.
Bike theft is a scourge. It has been incentivised by the demand for pre-owned bikes and components, due to ever-growing retail prices. Thieves can quickly use online resources to calculate the expected returns from their illicit activity.
To ensure that your bike is always where you parked it last, investing in a robust bike lock is paramount. Good bike locks are a one-time purchase and don’t require replacement every other riding season – unlike most components. Their ability to guarantee – quite literally – the value of your bike, by keeping it in your rightful ownership is incalculable.
How to buy the best bike lock for your bike
1. Types of bike lock
Bike locks come in various shapes and sizes, including U-locks, foldable locks and more traditional chain or cable systems.
U locks (also referred to as D locks) tend to be heavier, they can offer a considerable amount of security but can be limiting in their operation. Without the flexibility or length of chains and cables, the U lock is unable to be fed through multiple awkward routing points. On its own, a small U lock will need a small anchor point - it won't have the breadth to wrap around a lamppost. A U lock can be paired with a cable or chain to overcome its limiters, but be aware that any security claims offered by the U lock could be forfeited by a weak cable, enabling a quick bolt-cutter snip, before the thief can tackle the sturdy U lock in the privacy of their home. U locks often come with a frame-mounted bracket which enables simple, secure transportation, and reduces the likelihood of leaving it at home.
Cable or chain locks both function comparably, but their construction differs, of course. Cables tend to be more compact, as they are often coiled by design, and occasionally also come with a frame-mounted bracket. Both are generally encased in either a plastic or fabric layer as a frame-damage preventative. A chain lock will often be heavier than its cable counterpart and can be noisy in transportation - for which wrapping around a section of the frame is sufficient but a rucksack may be preferred. Some brands go further and design locks to be wearable.
The length and thickness will vary depending on manufacturer and price-point. As expected, more thickness will invariably equal greater security, and length will dictate whether or not you can route via both wheels.
There are a few additional variations in construction, such as a fabric-based cable or even a basic zip-tie option for the very quick cafe stop.
Folding locks work similarly again, but are made from solid sections that are hinged at each end. This can be unfolded to create a loop, then folded again to create a 'brick-like' shape that is easy to transport.
2. Key bike locks vs combination bike locks
The two most common locking methods utilise either a key or a combination. Both have their merits, and both have their pitfalls.
A combination lock can be susceptible to prying eyes. If the wrong person knows your combination, expect your steed to bolt from the stable. At the cheaper end of the market, a combination lock can be hacked without the need for tools.
A key lock can be less prone to compromise, however, if ever you leave your keys on the train, you could be left having to 'steal' your own bike from the station.
No matter the variant, bike locks are like front door mechanisms: they work on the principle of very close mechanical tolerances and don’t enjoy too much water or environmental contaminant ingress, which can lead to rust or jamming.
Some locks have weather-proof covers which protect the keyhole, but all bike locks can benefit from similar care to what you’d apply to any drivetrain chain or suspension stanchion in terms of preventative maintenance. Clean, dry and lube them – for longevity and frustration-free locking performance.
3. Insurance requirements
Most insurers have minimum locking requirements to ensure a bike is covered in the event of theft. This varies by insurer, so it's worth checking your own provider's minimum requirements before investing.
The 5 best bike locks you can buy today
Abus Granit Extreme 59
If you want true bike lock peace of mind
The bike lock market is dominated by German options, owing to the country’s nurtured metalworking industry. Abus is the foremost brand in bike locks and has been fabricating metal preventative security systems since 1924.
All that experience has matured the company’s product portfolio into a variety of options for cyclists wishing to ensure their bike does not have an involuntary change of ownership. Within the huge variety of Abus locks, the premium product for 2019 is the Granit Extreme 59. This is a heavy piece of kit, but it is built to frustrate an opportunist bike thief no end.
Its substantial price premium over all other bike locks will certainly pique interest in this German product. But is the Abus worth the investment and its ranking on our list?
There are much lighter U-lock alternatives, but few feature the weather sealing of this Granit Extreme 59. If your bike is going to be in an exposed outdoor location, susceptible to rain, the Granit will last many years longer than most rivals.
It also possesses enormous structural strength, thanks to Abus using a square shackle profile – which has greater tensile resistance than a traditional round bar design.
For the daily commuter, this is ergonomic excellence
If you are concerned about lugging a heavy bike lock in your backpack while commuting, a lightweight solution which does not sacrifice security is the Hiplok DX. At only 1120grams, it will hardly bother you stowed in a backpack or attached to your belt, yet still offers significant safety.
An astute concept which merges the structural strength of a traditional U-lock with low mass and outstanding portability.
The Hiplok DX does what its name implies, enabling a rider to secure this lock to a belt or shoulder strap, thanks to prongs moulded into its chassis.
Although the 14mm shackle diameter might not be as large as some rivals, none can compete with the Hiplok’s remarkably low weight. If you value portability and desire the security of a U-lock, this is a compelling alternative.
Kryptonite New York M18
An American heavyweight
For those who want the largest possible chassis to secure their bike, Kryptonite’s New York M18 is the answer. Kryptonite is an American brand with nearly five decades of bike lock history and specialises in U-locks. The New York M18 features an 18mm diameter shackle body, which is stouter the Abus Granit Extreme 59, yet manages to weigh 60g less. It is an incredibly strong lock and the only aspect where an Abus is superior, would be weatherproofing.
Kryptonite is an American U-lock original, having been in business since the 1970s. Its designs are proven, prioritising strength and function above fashion. The result is a heavy lock, not suited to daily backpack commuting – but with stellar strength and security features. It would make for an ideal leave-at-work lock.
Despite featuring a bulkier 18mm shackle, the M18 manages to be slightly lighter than the largest Abus locks. Massively strong and genuinely affordable, you can’t get more security for less. Ultimate weather sealing might not be comparable to the Abus, but this is an ideal home lock for your bikes.
Fabric innovation that will help preserve your frame
If you are an adopter of alternative design technologies, German brand Tex-Lock offers a fabric solution. Designed by Alexandra Baum and Suse Brand, it combines a lightweight and tough compound-fibre construction, with a simple locking mechanism.
The fabric finish means it will never scratch your frame and allows one to loop the Tex-Lock around various tubes or securing points, for added routing complexity – which is often a deterrent to bike thieves. You might assume that a simple compound fibre rope would be awfully easy to cut through, but the Tex-Lock design team have mitigated against that with their own multi-layer patented construction.
A visionary bike lock functioning on the principle that compound fabric fibres can be of a similar strength to steel – but much lighter. Designed by an all-female team, the Tex-Lock’s structure is spun from five different fibres, to make the Tex-Lock immensely flexible whilst still providing strength.
It debuted in 2017 as a Kickstarter campaign project, secured sufficient funding, and is now a commercially certified product. Available in three different lengths (small, medium and large) this is a great lightweight commuter bike security accessory. Stylish too, with a range of bold colours and patterns.
A meticulous design blending lightweight construction and the combined cutting resistance of steel and nylon
If a U-lock is too bulky for your lightweight cycling sensibilities, the next best solution is a fabric of plastic covered chain. Steel locks can damage your frame, even if you are meticulous when using them. British brand Litelok provides a circular lock, designed by company founder Neil Barron, a former Rolls-Royce aviation engineer.
The company’s Gold model features steel cables covered by nylon, which makes it very light and flexible. That nylon finish also means that it plays nice with your bike frame and the resourceful circular design allows you the convenience of wearing it as a belt when riding.
Designed to be worn as a belt around the waist, LiteLok is extremely commuter-friendly. It is an impressive product which manages to be both fashionable, practical and durable. A great choice for fashion-conscious commuters or children.