Accessorize your bike – locks

Flatmates bike locked to the only free spot she could find (Amsterdam)

There’s a fairly well known rule in Amsterdam; one they live by. No, it has nothing to do with marijuana, euthanasia or even canals, clogs or clandestine brothels. The rule goes that: your bike lock should cost more than your bike.

There’s good reason for this. Firstly, any new or expensive bike doesn’t stand a chance on the mean streets of Amsterdam, where bike theft is an industry more valuable than car theft. So the cheaper and older the bike, the less likely it’ll be stolen.

Of course this only works if your bike isn’t in the right place at the right time for a thief heading home, or someone looking for quick income. Last time I was in Amsterdam you could still buy a cheap ride home for around €20 from a dodgy-looking bloke sitting on a canal bridge.

The usual way to combat this is the use of two locks. Almost all Dutch bikes are fitted with a ‘ring-lock’. A lock which is attached to your frame and when locked puts a thick steel bolt through the spokes. Once locked it can only be opened by key, so if you lose your key, your bike becomes a permanent tourist attraction.

This lock alone isn’t enough. A second lock is needed to secure your bike to a bike rack or piece of the street furniture. A thick chain is recommended. Combination locks are frowned upon.

London is much the same. Here I used three locks. One to secure front wheel and frame to the bike rack. A second to do the same with the back wheel. And a third to lock my seat to the bike. It didn’t even have a quick release, but this doesn’t stop them. Despite this, my bike was still partially stolen, while locked up in our apartment garage. Every piece that wasn’t secured was removed. Bike’s are valuable in Europe, apparently. Even the parts 😦

My pride and joy (London)
The seat, frame and front wheel were locked...









So, when we returned to New Zealand, I was perhaps over-zealous with my lock purchases. My first lock was industrial strength – the kind you see more commonly used for motorbikes. It used a key and weighed more than my bike (slight exaggeration). This wasn’t enough – I got my parents to bring back some ring-locks from Holland for me. They bought the fantastic AXA Defender with extra locking attachement. Now we’re talking!

AXA Defender with extra-locking-attachment-thingee

But I’ve observed something over the past two years… and that’s that hardly anyone is as paranoid as I am about locking their bikes. Lights get left on, as do pannier bags. Seats and wheels have quick release latches and aren’t bolted down. Sometimes bikes are even left outside – UNLOCKED – while it’s rider pops into a shop! My 20mm-5 star minimum seems a little OTT here!

So what is a good lock? Well, the most important feature a lock should have is that it’s with your bike. If it’s too heavy or difficult to bother with, then you’ll end up leaving it at home. I’ve found my old combination lock is quite handy if I’m going somewhere with the hubby. He knows the combo, so can unlock my bike for me while I finish loading the panniers. I’ve just bought my smallest lock ever. To me it looks like scissors would cut through it, but I can keep it  in my handbag and I’m following the ‘old bike’ rule – my bike looks so rusty, I mean, rustic, that no one would want to steal it.

After several years in the Netherlands, I still highly recommend a good ring-lock. You can never forget your key as you can’t leave without it in the lock! And these days the keys have registration numbers so you can replace them if they fall into the black hole keys end up in. For my older bikes, I am just using the old combination locks. I do wonder how easy these are to pick?

So what kinda lock does it for you? Are you more into security or convenience? Have you ever had a bike stolen? Do you lock your bike at all? I’d be interested in reassuring stories of bikes in NZ never being stolen… but am I dreaming?


12 thoughts on “Accessorize your bike – locks

  1. Chris

    I once had my bike stolen from a locked garage when I was 16. The police found returned it intact a few weeks later.
    Despite this experience I am pretty casual with my bike locking. My commuter has a cheap cable-key lock which could be cut through easily. I try not to park the flash bikes out of my sight in the city.
    The super-heavy duty cable lock I have doesn’t get used as it is too heavy!


  2. Alastair

    I think the main thing is that your bike is not the most attractive to a potential thief. Fortunately this isn’t hard. Many bikes are insecurely locked. For example putting the lock around the seat post or though one fork. If you lock both wheels and the frame to a solid object your bike is probably less stealable than a nearby bike. The kind of lock is less important. I’m sceptical about tales of thieves with bolt cutters and liquid nitrogen. How often do you see broken locks and cut cables at a bike stand? Or perhaps bike thieves are habitually tidy 🙂 . My guess is most bike theft is opportunist taking advantage of momentary carelessness rather than using sophisticated techniques to break your D Lock.

    Incidentally I’ve recently had to park my bike next to one with an audible alarm tripped by movement. Impossible to avoid setting off!


    1. atom

      “I’m sceptical about tales of thieves with bolt cutters and liquid nitrogen. How often do you see broken locks and cut cables at a bike stand?” – Except for the lowest levels of crack-head bike-thieves, they take the broken lock with them. You can find plenty of videos on youtube showing bikes being stolen, but I’ve never seen one that shows the thief leaving the smashed lock behind.

      Liquid nitrogen and plasma cutters make for great stories, but most bike locks, especially in Wellington, can be broken with… Much more readily available and safer tools and techniques. That’s *IF* the lock even needs to be broken to grab a bike; I often see bikes that could be taken WITHOUT breaking the lock (if they’re even locked). I wish a had a camera with me, one time in AKL, I saw a bike “locked” to a bollard with a cable going around the seat-post and the bollard. WTF!?!?!

      How to lock a bike –

      I’m a New Yorker at heart, and my locks (and how I use them!) would deter a New York or London bike thief. Even if that’s overkill in Wellington, it makes me feel warm and fuzzy knowing that my bike will stay where I left it. And it’s great exercise carrying around an extra 3-4Kg of locks in my panniers 😉

      Wellington is a city full of bad locks and bad locking. Hell, the local shops don’t even sell big heavy locks! But unless your bike is really something special, or you have really bad luck, you can apply the following principle to locks and locking:

      Two campers are walking through the forest when they suddenly encounter a grizzly bear. The bear rears up on his hind legs and lets out a terrifying roar. Both campers are frozen in their tracks. The first camper whispers, “I’m sure glad I wore my running shoes today.”

      “It doesn’t matter what kind of shoes you’re wearing, you’re not gonna outrun that bear,” replies the second.

      “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun YOU,” he answers.

      So, undesirable bike that’s properly locked up next to a very nice bike that’s poorly locked up… Which bike is more likely to go missing? Where I used to work, I’d often lock up my commuter right next to an UNLOCKED carbon-fibre road bike. If any bad-guys got into the secure parking area, they wouldn’t even look at my bike!

      Oh, and if you lock up in the same place every day, especially a place where someone would have a few minutes to break a lock without being questioned (eg, eight hours a day in parking garage), get a BIG HEAVY lock and leave it there. Then carry a smaller lock for short stops.

      The two most common themes I’ve heard in stolen bike stories:

      #1 – But I only left it for a minute!
      #2 – But it was stolen from my home!

      That means: Lock it up EVERY TIME your not sitting on it, even at home.

      Let’s also mention –

      For that and replacement keys (from key-codes) to work, you have to write down and/or register the serial numbers and key-codes BEFORE something bad happens.

      As bicycling increases in popularity, bike theft will increase in profitability.

      If your bike gets stolen, REPORT IT TO THE POLICE! Be able to provide a description and serial-number. I’m not sure what percentage of stolen bicycles are recovered by police, but if you don’t file a report then your chances of seeing the bike again are pretty much zero.


  3. ilikebike

    I agree with the above comment that bike theft is opportunistic. I bought a kryptonite lock (no it can’t be unlocked by a pen) and have no worries leaving my bike locked up. If i’m popping into a shop then i’ll leave it unlocked and watch it from the corner of my eye.

    No problems yet….


  4. Kirstin

    I moved here from London late last year and came armed with a heavy chain lock and an even heavier steel jointed thing. I stopped hauling them round pretty quickly after realising that most bikes around me were locked with flimsy cable locks.

    I now use a thin rubber coated Knog lock which is always carried with me wrapped around my bike. My bike isn’t new, but it is pretty and distinctive so I like to look after it and don’t leave it locked up anywhere for too long. However, it’s really lovely to live somewhere where I can lock it with something lightweight and pop into the supermarket for 20 minutes safe in the knowledge my bike will still be there when i return to it.

    Having said that – if I was leaving my bike locked up for more than 30 minutes – heavy lock all the way!


    1. atom

      I’m curious, why/how have you determined that 30 minutes is the difference between a lightweight lock and a heavy lock?

      You’re using a Knog (cable?) lock? AFAIK, their toughest cable lock is the “Kransky” which uses a 22mm diameter silicone casing over a 12mm steel cable with a nylon core (the nylon core actually increases strength, when attacked with a bolt-cutter). According to a review on Bikeradar, they “broke the Kransky in just shy of a minute”. That’s with hand-tools.

      What should scare anyone using a cable lock, even in Wellington, is the full quote about how long it took them to defeat the Kransky: “That said, we still broke the Kransky in just shy of a minute which isn’t great for a £40 lock, though it’s impressive for a cable.”

      Just last night I saw a guy who (in the last few days) had his bike stolen from Courtenay Pl. The bike was worth about $300 new, and that was a few years ago; this was NOT a desirable bike by any stretch of the imagination. It was locked to a sign-post with a cable lock, now it’s gone. That said, I don’t know *how* it was locked: It’s entirely possible that the cable wasn’t even cut.


      1. Kirstin

        30 minutes is a totally arbitrary number – maybe I’m fooling myself 🙂

        I’m aware the knog lock is ultra lightweight – it’s really only as a deterrent to people who otherwise might wander off with an unlocked bike…

        I agree that locking your bike properly is key though – the only bike I’ve had stolen was in London when my flatmate borrowed it, she came back holding an unbroken still locked lock – ermm…


  5. Simon Kennett

    I reckon there are two types of bike thief – the opportunist and the professional. To stop the former a light cable lock (used properly) will do the job. To stop the latter you need the big guns.

    I’ve had three bikes stolen from parking basements in Wellington since 1988 (and one from a hotel lobby in Corsica). That’s all (apart from some misc parts theft). They were all locked (but not very well).

    These days I don’t worry about the lock so much as where I lock it – either inside a lockable shed or in a very public place with loads of passive surveillance. And I make sure the lock is around something immovable.

    Haven’t had a bike stolen for about a decade (touch wood).


  6. Jack J. Jiang

    I agree with Simon there. I had my frist bike stolen from outside of a mall in Christchurch by the “professional”. He got caught though because he was stealing too many at a time (Police found 25 in his garage).

    Nowadays I make sure my commuter bike is distinctive, cheap looking, use Hex skewers on all my removables. If I lock it, I just use a $10 The Warehouse thing now, It’s more about where you lock it than how you lock it (nod to Simon).

    PS. Stuffing your contact details in the seat post is good way to tell your bike apart if you do happen to run into it on the street.


  7. I love my dutch ring locks – (I always have the key) though not quite as much as before some cretin tried to ride off on my bike while locked, then stomped all over it in disgust, after he’d broken a few rear wheel spokes.

    Since then I’ve gotten defender ring locks with the extender as pictured above, in case if I’m leaving the bike somewhere less salubrious.

    Apart from that I love being able to just park my bike right outside my destination, on a bike stand, if only to remind pedestrians what a ‘real’ (comfort / situp) bike looks like. Still most of my bikes are beaters, which i figure is the best insurance.

    The thing that weirds me about the Dutch, is that after inventing these wonder locks, they don’t appear to trust them – all the Amdam pix I see show people riding around with massive chains wrapped around them. I guess that is is the price of a successful bike culture.


  8. My company, Electric Bike Hub, imports and distributes AXA frame locks and the hardened chain that attaches to them for the longer period of lock up. The most important issue of bike lock use is ease of use. if the greater security lock is difficult to use, then it will often not be used. The AXA design makes great security super easy. and the accessory plug in hardened chain is also incredibly easy to use. We have started putting them as standard on our eZee electric bikes and stock them for others to benefit from. check it out.


Your comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s