The Right and Wrong Way to Lock Your Bike

Don't make your bike an easy target for thieves

Wouldn't it be nice if a place existed where bikes roamed free for the picking? For thieves, that place is called the city, and the reason is simple: people don’t lock their bikes properly.

Sadly for the rest of us, the land of free bikes is a fantasy. Our two-wheeled companions cost money, and many of us depend on them to get us to work and help us unwind on the weekends. We have to lock them up wisely.

There’s a small army of devices available, ranging from chains, wires, shackles and locks of various densities and sizes. Each style has its advantages and disadvantages—Kryptonite chain locks are among the most effective, for example, but very heavy and expensive—but a good compromise in terms of price, weight and security is a good U-lock. Of course no U-lock is fool proof, so the key is to know how to use it.  

First, pick an immovable object such as a parking meter, road sign, or—ideally—a U-shaped bike rack, in a well-lit, public place. Ensure the anchor is fixed to the ground, and tall enough so as not to enable a bike thief to lift your rig up over it. Also make sure it’s legal to lock there: the last thing you want is the local DOT impounding your ride and selling it at auction.

Always lock up with the chain ring facing out.

The rule of thumb is that, at minimum, your U-lock should be threaded through the anchor, your frame, and a wheel. If you must choose between the two, lock your rear wheel—they’re roughly double the price of your front wheel—ideally in the triangle formed by the v-shaped frame-point linking to your rear wheel’s central bolt, and the rim of the rear wheel.

Many front wheels are detachable. If possible, remove your front wheel and sandwich it up against your rear wheel, threading the U-lock as described above, but through both sets of wheels.

For extra security, invest in two U-locks, and thread one through the back rear wheel, being sure to include the seat stay (the pole frame leading up to your seat) as well as the front wheel, sure to include the down tube (the pole frame nearest your front wheel). This set-up generally requires a U-shaped bike rack.

To create a similar effect on a single pole, lock up the rear with a U-lock, and thread a chain or cable lock through your front wheel’s rim, and loop it back to the U-lock in the rear. Generally, chain locks can be useful in supplementing a U-lock set up, but be sure that the U-lock still captures the frame, the rim of your wheel, and the anchor itself.

Small wires can be used for the seat, since seats can be expensive and are easy to remove. Keep your bike locked in well-lit spaces with other bikes, but be sure to switch up long-term locations (more than a few hours at a time), as bike thieves tend to prey on stagnant set-ups.

If you follow these rules, barring some mad marauder roaming the streets with a buzz saw, your chances of returning to your wheels safe and sound are high. Remember to create snug fits inside the ‘U’ of your U-lock to get in the way of any would-be thieves’ tools.

Lastly, be considerate of your surroundings. If you have to walk an extra block to avoid strapping to a handicap rail, do so. Also, share space with your fellow bikers wisely: if you’re not careful you could link through another person’s set up, condemning them to waiting around for your return, and yourself to a chain of angry expletives as you arrive.

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