Nearly every cyclist has a story of a stolen bike. Too often, that bike was left unlocked, locked up incorrectly or entrusted to a lock that was too easily defeated by thieves. And while it’s true that every lock can be ultimately broken, a good lock used properly can greatly reduce the chances it will be your bike that gets stolen.
In our quest for the best heavy metal protection for your ride, we looked to a couple of in-house experts: REI’s assistant category merchant for Cycle and Snow, Jeff Schmidt, and Dustin Kingman, an avid rider and content producer for REI. We also gathered input from REI customers for guidance: Each lock we considered was highly rated in its category by verified purchasers.
Weight: 4 lbs, 7.2 oz.
The Kryptonite New York Lock Standard is a reliable, burly U-lock that’ll help secure your bike in high-theft areas like its namesake city. As one REI reviewer commented, “I lock my expensive bikes with confidence, it sets the bar pretty high … The New York is my daily lock.”
With a 16-millimeter-thick hardened steel shackle (the part that secures your frame to the strong, immovable object you’re locking to) the Standard resists bolt cutters and leverage attacks (or attempts to break the lock with a crowbar or even a small scissor jack), while its vinyl coating won’t harm your bike’s finish. The crossbar features a hardened steel sleeve, sliding dust cover to keep out dirt and weather and a disc cylinder lock that is pick- and drill-resistant. While a shackle this thick is already difficult to defeat with leverage, its staying power is bolstered by a double-bolt design that secures both ends within the crossbar.
At nearly 4 pounds, 8 ounces, it is a hefty piece of gear to carry around, but that’s the trade-off for a lock that’s strong and secure. And in that regard, the Standard is hard to beat. If you’re comparing it to other Kryptonite locks, it’s ranked a 9 on the company’s 10-point scale, and Sold Secure, an independent test house for security products, awarded it Gold—its highest rating.
Kryptonite includes three stainless-steel keys, which can be replaced (for a minimal fee) through the Key Safe Program if you lose them. Just remember to register your set in advance because this lock will be as hard for you to open without keys as it will be for would-be thieves.
Best U-Lock, Upgrade Pick
Weight: 3 lbs. 7.7 oz.
At just under 3.5 pounds, ABUS’s Granit X-Plus 540 U-lock isn’t light, but it is strong. When you’re parking a valuable bike in a high-theft area, it’s well worth the weight.
Sold Secure gives the Granit X-Plus a Gold rating, and ABUS gives it a 15 on its internal scale—its highest rating for a bicycle lock. And an impressive list of features back up these ratings.
The 13-millimeter-thick shackle is made from tempered, hardened steel. It’s also designed with a prestressed shape that resists pulling and twisting forces. Bolt cutters don’t stand a chance, and it should take long enough to cut with a hacksaw that thieves will hopefully look for an easier target. All that is hidden beneath a weather-resistant coating that protects against rust and is friendly to your bike’s finish.
The lock body, also made from tempered, hardened steel, features a double-bolting mechanism that holds the shackle from both ends. This makes for a very secure connection and further resists attempts to break the lock with leverage. Then there’s the disc cylinder lock, which is largely the standard these days because it’s hard to pick. Instead of a series of spring-loaded pins that can be bumped, jostled or jammed to unlock, disc cylinders need to be independently rotated into position to open the lock. As an added bonus for e-bikers, the Granit X-Plus can be rekeyed to match a locking Bosch battery, meaning one less key you have to carry.
“This lock served its purpose and kept my bike safe,” wrote one REI customer. “Someone tried to break this lock when I left my bike parked—looks like they tried freezing it and then using a hammer, while also trying to pick the lock. None of the attempts worked, and the lock was completely intact [and it] didn’t open.”
Best Chain Lock
Weight: 8 lbs. 9 oz.
The Kryptonite New York 1210 Chain Lock combines thick, cut-resistant links with a robust lock that makes it an ideal pick for parking in high-crime areas. At 8 pounds, 9 ounces, it’s the heaviest one in our lineup. You might not want to carry it around on a daily basis, but it’s great when you’re locking up somewhere you can leave it, like your home or place of work.
The 12-millimeter-thick, six-sided links made from strong, 3t hardened manganese steel mean the chain is highly resistant to cutting, and at 40 inches long, it’s easy to get around immovable objects and your frame. And a durable nylon webbing cover keeps the hefty chain from scratching your bike.
In addition to strong, cut-resistant links, a good chain needs a good lock to provide any real security. The New York 1210 uses a miniaturized Evolution series U-lock with a thick, 14-millimeter hardened steel shackle and oval crossbar. The shackle resists bolt cutters and leverage attacks while the oval crossbar is stronger than most round crossbars. The lock also uses a double-bolting mechanism that securely holds the shackle at both ends.
As one REI reviewer commented: “This is one heavy chain, but the cloth cover provides plenty of protection for the bike. I use this on my electric bike to discourage potential thieves. Probably not the best chain for a commuter because of its weight.”
These features add up to a rating of 9 on the 10-point Kryptonite security scale, offering the kind of security you want for long or overnight stops, big cities and college campuses.
Best Lock Under $100
Weight: 1 lb. 9.5 oz.
Don’t skip buying a lock just because your budget is tight. While locks under $100 won’t offer the same security as their more expensive cousins, you can still get one, like the Sold Secure Silver-rated Kryptonite Evolution Lite Mini-6 U-lock, that’s suitable for short stops and lower-theft environments.
“There’s an old saying when it comes to bike locks,” says REI employee Jeff Schmidt. “High security, light weight, low price—pick two.” Striking a balance between these three incompatible ideals, the Mini-6 weighs a surprisingly light 1 pound, 9.5 ounces while still earning a “high security” rating of 7 out of 10 on Kryptonite’s scale. Such a lock might not last long in New York, but it’s a great option for longer stops in other metropolitan areas and suburbs where thefts tend to be less frequent.
To keep the weight down without entirely sacrificing strength, the Mini-6 uses an 11-millimeter-thick shackle made from the same hardened steel used in the brawny New York 1210 chain lock. Plus, the bent-foot, double-bolting mechanism holds the shackle on both ends while still featuring the familiar, easy-to-use angled closure of other Kryptonite U-locks
Another reason this lock is so light is because it’s small, measuring just 6 inches by 2.75 inches. While this could make securing your bike a challenge if you can’t find a suitable bike rack, there’s not much room for a thief’s leverage tool to work. And a smaller, lighter lock is easier to carry, so there’s no reason not to toss the Evolution Lite Mini-6 in your bag.
“I picked up this lock in store and was floored by how light it is compared to my old KryptoLok 2 Standard! And yet it offers comparable or better security, due in part to its small size. (If you’re concerned about fitting it around your wheel and frame, research the Sheldon Brown method for locking),” one REI customer wrote. “Due to its small size and amazingly light weight, this lock is great for jetting around the city, but it also excels on long rides where conserving weight makes a big difference…”
Best Lightweight Lock for Basic Theft Deterrence
Weight: 2.5 ounces
Light, packable and easy to use, the 2.5-ounce Hiplok Z Lok Combo cable lock is basically a giant zip tie with a steel core, nylon exterior and combination lock. It’s no replacement for a higher security lock like those above, so why is it here?
The Z Lok, like other superlight, pocket-size locks, is all about deterrence. When it comes to opportunistic theft, it’s the easiest bike to steal that gets stolen. So think of the Z Lok as the sidekick to your superhero lock.
Keep one in your bag or jersey pocket, and it’ll be there if you forget your primary lock or are on a road ride so you can make a quick pit stop while deterring quick-striking thieves. On longer stops, you can use the Z Lok in conjunction with your burly U-lock to protect accessories, like your saddle or wheels.
Its nylon exterior shouldn’t scratch your finish, and at 44-centimeters, it wraps around items big and small. The Z Lok is also a good backup because it uses a resettable combination meaning there are no keys to forget.
What Makes for a Good, Secure Bike Lock?
A good bike lock is the one that prevents your bike from getting stolen. It’s generally best to get the highest-quality lock you can.
“Pay attention to the quality of the materials,” Kingman said. “It needs to be hard to cut or break with hand tool, and make sure whatever you lock to is as secure as your lock.”
Higher quality also means you’ll get mechanisms that hold up to long outdoor use.
“How can you tell if a lock is secure? One way is to look for the industry standard Sold Secure rating of Gold, Silver or Bronze, which is based on independent product testing,” Schmidt said. “If you’re in a major city—or another high-theft area, like a college campus—you need a Gold-rated lock. A Bronze lock won’t offer as much protection, so think of them as deterrents. Kryptonite and ABUS also have their own lock ratings, which can be helpful for comparisons within their lineups.”
How to Use a Bike Lock
To get the most out of a lock, you need to use good technique. Secure your bike’s frame to a strong, immovable object (bike racks are ideal) in a well-lit, high traffic area. If you’re using a U-lock, find one that is just big enough to get around your frame and a rack (or possibly around your seat tube, rear wheel and rack), while leaving little room for a thief’s crowbar or other leverage tools. If you bought a kit that includes a flex cable, you can use it to protect accessories, but don’t count on the cable to secure your bike frame.
What Locks Are Good for Commuting?
The type of lock you choose will likely depend on how easy it is to carry. Pick one that’s secure enough for your destination as well as anywhere else you might stop along the way.
A U-lock can be a good choice. Schmidt calls them the “gold standard” because “they’re easy to use and hard to pick, cut or leverage.” They’re available with keys or combinations, both of which have merits: If you tend to lose keys, a combination may be preferable. If you live somewhere like the Pacific Northwest, you may find that combination wheels suffer in the rain, making keys a better choice.
One downside to U-locks is that they’re not so easy to carry on the bike itself. Many of them come with mounting brackets, but those tend to rattle or, in the worst cases, break. If you’re commuting with a pannier, backpack or other bag, you can toss your U-lock inside, but a good one will add noticeable weight.
Folding locks offer a solution to this issue: They’re a bit lighter than U-locks but with similar security ratings. Their compact design and sturdy mounting brackets make them easy to carry on your bike. Because they unfold to a much bigger size than any U-lock, they’re great for securing your bike to unusually shaped objects. In this fairly new and growing category, we’re keeping an eye on locks like the like the ABUS Bordo 6000 – 3ft. to see how they perform in the field.
A chain lock, while a secure option, may be better for locations like your home or place of work, where you can leave the lock until you need it. Or look for a chain lock like the Hiplok Gold, which has an extra strap that turns it into an adjustable belt so you can carry it on your body.
Article by Theo Roffe. Theo Roffe is an editor of product copy at REI, a lifelong word nerd and a lover of adventures on two wheels. When he’s not editing or getting lost in a book, he’s most likely cycling the back roads of Washington state. He’s been an REI member since 2009.