There’s no question you want to protect your bike. Whether it’s simply your way of getting around town or a souped-up racing machine that you've poured your heart and savings into, it's always one of the most valuable pieces of gear in your garage. Yet bike theft is one of the most common—and, sadly, most underreported—forms of property theft there is. Estimates for stolen bikes in the U.S. range between 1 and 2 million a year—and they're hard to recover, because most people don't save their store receipts or document their serial numbers and register their bikes (hint, hint). But that doesn't mean you should be a victim, too.
The best thing you can do to protect your ride is to buy a serious bike lock—click here for our slideshow of the top 10—and use some common sense when locking it up. According to the League of American Bicyclists, the most common ways thieves steal bikes include:
Lifting—They lift the bike and lock over the top of the post to which the bike is secured. If it's a signpost, then the thieves may remove the sign to lift the bicycle clear.
Levering—They use the gap between the stand and a loosely fitted lock to insert leverage tools—jacks, crowbars or 2x4s—to break the lock apart. Thieves will even use the bike frame itself as a lever by rotating it against whatever stationary object it's locked to. If the bike breaks before the lock does, it's not the thief's loss.
Striking—When a bike is locked with the chain or lock touching the ground, thieves may use a hammer and chisel to split it open.
Unbolting—The bad guys are nearly as adept at taking your bike apart as a bike shop mechanic. They can remove bolts and quick-release mechanisms in a matter of seconds to get at your wheels, seat and other components. If you lock your bike by its wheels alone, it's likely nothing more will be left when you return. Locking just the frame? Now your wheels are vulnerable.
Cutting—Thieves use tin snips, bolt cutters, hacksaws and angle grinders to cut their way through locks and chains. The toughest locks will thwart bolt cutters and possibly even a hacksaw, which are the fastest, most inconspicuous ways of cutting through a lock.
Picking—On keyed locks, thieves insert tools into the keyhole itself and pick it open.
Truth be told, no lock can stand up to a determined thief with a cordless angle grinder and a few minutes alone with your bike. But bike theft is a crime of opportunity, so the less vulnerable your bike appears, the better your chances of holding onto it are.
That's why we've rounded up the toughest bike locks on the market, including the hernia-inducing chains that hipsters fondly wear bandolier-style across their chests, a tough-as-nails folding lock from Germany and—the lightest on our list—an elegant, all-titanium bow lock invented and unleashed on the market just last year.
We ranked them based on a combination of security, utility and price.
Security: The most important factor, obviously. If it won't protect your bike, it's useless. Factors that affect a lock's strength are design (heavy chains are strongest, followed by U-locks and, in last, cables), materials and thickness. An 18mm shackle is generally tougher than a 13mm one. Titanium-reinforced steel beats out regular steel. Double-bolted U-locks—in which the shackle bolts on both sides, requiring thieves to make two cuts—are better than single-bolted.
Utility: A super secure lock is only useful if 1) you're willing—and able, for that matter—to lug it around, and 2) it's versatile enough to lock up to a variety of stationary objects (signposts, construction scaffolding, hand railings, lampposts and…oh, bike racks…are all fair game) in potentially crowded situations. We gave extra points here for lightweight locks and ones that offered more space and flexibility for locking up.
Price: As with all gear, price is a factor. Part of our overall consideration was how much value a lock delivers based on its security and utility. A $150 lock would—and did!—beat out a $180 lock with otherwise identical scores.
What bike lock best suits your needs depends on a lot of factors—what kind of bike you own, when and where you'll be riding it, what crime is like there and how much lock you're willing to carry from place to place. To get a headstart on your search—and protect your bicycle for the long ride, check out our list of the top 10 locks on the market.