Best Cheap Bike Locks
- Published on
- By Maralyn Edid
Some cyclists recommend spending 10 percent of the value of the bicycle on a lock; for a $500 bicycle, then, a $50 lock would be reasonable. Accordingly, locks range in price from a few dollars to well over $100. High-priced bike locks are made of high-quality components to make them harder for thieves to pick, cut through, or bust with a tool. But you don't need to spend a fortune on complicated locks. We found cheap bicycle locks that can safeguard your bike for less than $30.
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 lockscome 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.
U-locks, 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.
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.
Bike Lock Reviews
When researching bike lock reviews we found out that although some cycling websites provide input about bicycle locks, most reviews are written by riders themselves. Here's what users say about cheap bike locks.
Bicycle Lock Security.Again, the type of lock you purchase should depend on where and how you use it. Some riders park their bikes temporarily while running errands in suburban settings and others lock their bikes overnight in urban centers. A bike lock comparison on Slate that assesses security, portability, and value awards the OnGuard Bulldog STD U-Lock highest grades for security. Its smaller sibling, the OnGuard Bulldog MINI 5013TC Bike U-Lock (starting at $22), is rated highly in bicycle lock reviews on Buzzillions, with one user noting that it's too small for thieves to fit tools around and the double locking barrel is harder to break.
The Kryptonite KryptoLok Series 2 U-Lock (starting at $28) receives praise for the security and peace of mind it provides, according to reviews on Amazon. One person reports the KryptoLok Series 2 kept a bicycle safe for three days on the streets of New York City, although another rider suggests it might not be sufficient for high-end bikes in some neighborhoods. The KryptoLok sans cable gets the green light in bike lock reviews on Epinions, where users say it's very secure and durable.
The longer version of the Abus Steel-O-Chain lock earns endorsements on the security front in bike lock reviews, including one by a rider posting on Amazon who lives in New York City and prefers it to the Kryptonite brand. One Target customer describes the Wordlock Cable lock as strong in reviews on the vendor's website, while a biking blogger says it was secure enough to protect her teenage daughter's bike while locked outside a store. The lock gets a mixed review in About.com's bicycling guide, which asserts it doesn't fare too well against a determined thief but is adequate for low-theft areas.
The OnGuard PitBull DT 5005 U-Lock (starting at $31) and cable is dissed by a user writing on Amazon, who explains that someone cut clear through the cable and snatched his bike. Several riders who bought the inexpensive Bell Hands Off Bike U-Lock (starting at $10) likewise report bikes were stolen despite the lock, including two who posted reviews on Sports Authority's website. But don't be fooled by price alone: one of the most expensive locks we found -- the Kryptonite New York Chain (starting at $58) -- only earns lukewarm praise in bicycle lock reviews at Amazon, where one rider notes the lock was broken and the bike stolen.
Ease of Use.Aside from wanting a lock that's impossible for a thief to bust, you want one that's easy to use. When it comes to attaching the frame and wheels of your bike to different objects, the 5-foot-long Wordlock Cable Bike Lock (starting at $13) stands out, according to a review at Bicycling.com. The Wordlock Cable Lock also scores high among users for its easily detachable seatpost-mounted lock holder and for a locking mechanism that uses letter combinations instead of numbers. Bicycle lock reviews on Target.com indicate that consumers generally like the length of Wordlock's cable and letter-combo lock, although one says his was a lemon, as neither the combination nor the lock worked. A few reviewers posting on Amazon say the locking mechanism on the Kryptonite KryptoLok can be finicky, although one user appreciates having the secondary cable lock, which lets her secure the bike to those of her friends. A reviewer posting on Buzzillions likes that the lock is strong and durable, but adds that it's too heavy for his bike. The Abus Steel-O-Chain 685 (starting at $25) is easy to use, according to a review on Amazon. And a cyclist posting a review at bike site TownsandTrails.com, who is still mourning the loss of a stolen bike, has mostly positive things to say about the OnGuard Bulldog MINI, the lock he purchased for his replacement ride. He describes it as lightweight and easy to pack and carry.
Bicycle Lock Durability.Although the most critical performance issue for a cheap bike lock is security, you also want a lock that will last. The Abus Steel-O-Chain wins an endorsement on Amazon from a user who has been using the lock daily for five months without problems and further notes that he likes the weight-to-security ratio. Ditto from a user reviewing the Steel-O-Chain 685 on Amazon, who maintains that it's more secure than a cable lock.
Still, users report some durability problems with cheap bike locks. Two bike lock reviews on Sports Authority claim bikes were stolen while locked with the Bell Hands Off Bike U-Lock (starting at $10) and a consumer review on the Target website says the mounting bracket that came with the lock broke soon after purchase. User reviewers on Amazon grumble about what they perceive as a bit of false advertising on websites, where the cable on Master Lock Cable locks is described as being thicker than it seems. All seven bike lock reviews on Epinions mention the Kryptonite KryptoLok as being durable and secure, but a consumer posting on Amazon says the keys are flimsy and seem likely to break or be damaged. The About.com bicycling guide cautions that the plastic housing surrounding the tumblers in the Wordlock lock could pull away. And users of the OnGuard Bulldog MINI posting on Buzzillions like its durability, but several complain that the lock rusts.
Anti-Theft Warranties.Many cheap bike locks, including some on our list, feature a free one-year, anti-theft warranty worth at least $1,000. The value of the warranty usually increases with the price of the lock, and you need to fill out paperwork to register and activate the warranty. But note that some anti-theft warranties have special stipulations in New York State. Kryptonite, for example, offers New York residents a one-year, non-renewable group insurance policy equal to the amount of the anti-theft protection offered in other states.
Kryptonite's KryptoLok U-Lock comes with a $1,250 anti-theft protection warranty and key protection that guarantees replacement keys if they break or are lost. In several user reviews, Kryptonite wins applause for its solid warranty, although users on Bikeforums.net say it's a hassle to use the warranty on a stolen set of wheels. The OnGuard Bulldog MINI 5013TC (starting at $22) carries a free one-year $1,251 anti-theft guarantee, while Abus bicycle lock warranties cover manufacturer defects, not misuse or normal wear and tear. Wordlock carries a limited lifetime warranty if the lock fails, but mentions nothing about theft.