“a consumer reports for the cheap” — the new york times

Cheap Bike Locks Buying Guide

Experts say that an ideal bicycle lock is easy to transport while you ride, can be affixed to various different objects, is hard to cut through, and is long enough to secure both the frame and the wheels. Top brands include OnGuard, Bell, Kryptonite, and Master Lock.

Types of Bike Locks.

The most common types of bicycle locks are cable, chain and U-locks. And the best cheap bike lock you should buy depends on where you live, play, and/or work. If you routinely park your bike in a low-theft area, a cable lock should do just fine. But if you live in an urban center (New York City is considered by some to be the bike-theft capital of the U.S.), you'll need a heavier duty U-lock, possibly in conjunction with a chain lock for maximum security. Note that the better chain and U-locks tend to cost more because they're made of hardened steel; cable locks are less costly because they're made from less expensive braided wire.

Cable locks

, such as the Wordlock Cable Bike Lock (starting at $13) and the Avenir Coil Combo Cable Locks (starting at $11), are the lightest and most flexible of the three main types of locks. The Avenir Coil Combo lock features 6 feet of covered, flexible coiled cables and a four-digit combination lock; the Wordlock cable is made of 5 feet of braided steel and boasts a letter-based combination lock. The best cheap cable bike locks have multiple thin braided wires that are more difficult to cut through than thicker, unbraided wires. Cable locks typically come with a pin and barrel locking mechanism that is opened with a combination. Regardless how they're made, cable locks are considered the least secure and are recommended only for those times when you make a quick stop. Being lightweight and flexible, though, they're easy to carry and wrap around guardrails, bike racks, and the like.

Chain locks

come in two varieties -- woven cable and chain link. The cheaper woven cable locks, such as the Club Security Series 5 Ft Cable Lock (starting at $20), are lighter and easier to use than chain link, but are also the easiest to break. If you opt for a chain link lock, make sure it has some sort of cover to protect your bike frame from scratches. Chain locks are usually 3 to 4 feet long, and the chain link versions are generally made of hardened steel, as is the Abus Steel-O-Chain 685 (starting at $25), which closes with a padlock and coded key. The best cheap chain locks are made from thick, hardened steel with barely any space between the links and covered with a protective sleeve. The Abus Steel-O-Chain 685 and the OnGuard Beast 5017 Bicycle Chain Lock (starting at $55) are two examples. By the way, experienced riders suggest using a heavier chain at night if you lock up outdoors.


, such as the Kryptonite KryptoLok Series 2 Standard Bicycle U-Lock with 4-Inch Flex Cable Bicycle U-Lock (starting at $28), is considered by some experts to be the design that offers the most protection for your ride. U-locks are U-shaped hardened steel with a locking bar that cuts across the top of the U; make sure that both the U and the bar are made from the same metal -- preferably hardened steel -- for equivalent durability. The lock on the bar is usually opened with a key; according to experts at Bellaonline.com, U-locks with two locking mechanisms, one on each side of the bar, are the most secure. Products with double locking mechanisms, such as the Kryptonite NY Fahgettaboudit U-Lock (starting at $65), which features a double-deadbolt crossbar and three keys, are generally beyond the Cheapism range.

Bicycle Lock Portability.

Whenever the lock is doing its job, you're not carrying it around. But when you're in transit, you need to carry the lock along, either in a bag on your bike or your back, or wrapped around the bike itself. That makes weight a critical factor.

Cable locks are fairly light and flexible, easy to roll up and easy to transport. Chain locks can be a bit harder to tote around because of their heft and bulk. The Avenir Coil Cable lock weighs less than 2 pounds, for example, compared to the OnGuard Beast 5017, which weighs in at 10 pounds. U-locks can also be cumbersome to carry; some weigh as much as 5 pounds, although the Krytolok Series 2 weighs in at just under 3 pounds. The experts at BicycleSource.com suggest that if you opt for a heavy chain or U-lock, consider keeping it secured to the post or rack where you always park (i.e., at work or at home) and carry around a light chain or cable lock to use for brief stopovers. The longer (3.7-foot) version of the Abus Steel-O-Chain 880 (starting at $37) is described by one review on Amazon as light enough, at 3.4 pounds, to ride around with; it's cousin, the Steel-O-Chain 685, is only 1.8 pounds and incredibly light for a chain.

Review continues below

Some locks also come with a bracket for mounting them to your bike frame for easier transport. The OnGuard Bulldog STD U-lock (starting at $22) comes with this feature.

Bicycle Lock Attachability.

The National Bike Registry recommends locking your bike to a fixed object, like a lamp post or bike rack that's cemented in place. Always avoid securing your bike to anything that can be tampered with or removed, and don't put your lock near the ground where someone can use a tool or some other object to bash it.

Although U-locks are harder to cut through or pop open, cable and chain locks have one thing going for them that U-locks don't: flexibility. With a cable or chain lock that's at least 2.5 feet long, you can secure your bicycle to stationary objects while wrapping the chain or cable around the frame and through the front or back wheel; both the Abus Steel-O-Chain and Wordlock Cable bike locks meet this length requirement.

The U-lock design, on the other hand, makes it hard to attach your bike to objects like lamp posts and trees. U-locks also can't secure both the wheels and frame together, so you may need a second lock for maximum security. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition suggests using a U-lock to loop through the back wheel and frame and a separate lock to secure the front wheel to the frame. The KryptoLok Series 2 Standard Bicycle U-Lock with Cable, for example, includes both a U-lock and a short cable lock that give you some locking options. BicycleSource.com says if you opt for just a U-lock, choose the smallest one you can find and close it around as many parts of your bike as possible, making it harder for thieves to jam their tools into the lock to bust it open.

email Sign up for our
Free Newsletter
Cheapism.com on Facebook