The Proper Way To Lock Your Bicycle

The only line of defence against bike thieves is a bike lock. If you're going to actively use your bicycle and leave it on the streets, you have to lock it properly. If you lock it, but not the right way, it will get stolen. If you lock it the right way, even still it could get stolen, but at least you tried your best!

As Priceonomics recently reported, bicycle theft is rampant in American cities. If you use your bicycle, there is always a chance it will get stolen. After all, it has some positive economic value and it is left unattended on the streets. That makes your bike an inviting target for a criminal.

So, here's how to lock your bicycle. First, I'll lay out the principles of bike locking that you should keep in mind. After that, I'll suggest to you the "optimal" bike locking method that you can follow or customise to your own security needs.

The Principles of Bike Locking

1. Your bike should be more secure than the bike parked next to it. There is old adage, if you are camping in the woods with a friend and see a bear, you don't have to outrun the bear, you just need to outrun your friend. Similarly, you will never be able to 100 per cent secure your bicycle, but you can make your bike the least accessible target on the block for a thief.

2. Never ever ever ever rely solely on a cable lock to secure your bike. Ever. These cables can be snipped so easily it will blow your mind.

3. The smaller the u-lock the better. Not only is it lighter to carry around, the smaller size gives the thief less room to mount a leverage-based attack on the lock (i.e. pry it open with a crowbar).

4. Use multiple locking mechanisms. With one u-lock, there is no possible way to secure all the components on your bike that a thief might steal. You need a u-lock plus something else (another u-lock, a cable lock, locking skewers, etc).

5. Make your bike ugly. Well, not too ugly, you still want to to love your bike! For example though, this author's bike seat has a hole in it that's covered up with a piece of electrical tape. This seat has no value whatsoever to a criminal because it's damaged. Why not put a piece of tape on your bike seat and deter criminals from ever taking it?

How to Lock Your Bike the Right Way

The method is adapted from the Sheldon Brown bike locking strategy. The late Sheldon Brown was an authority on nearly all things bicycling related and we are lucky that he left us a corpus of his knowledge on his website. According to Sheldon, almost everyone you see locking their bike is doing it wrong!

The primary component in this strategy is a mini u-lock. This u-lock goes through the back wheel (inside the rear triangle of the frame), securing the bike to something solid.

The beauty of this approach is it locks the rear wheel and the frame, even though you're not technically not even locking the frame! It turns out, according to Sheldon, it's impossible to pull the frame away from the wheel when the lock is positioned in the triangle of the bike frame.

Is there a weakness in this method? Well, you could cut the rear wheel to pull out the bicycle. In practice, Sheldon argues, this doesn't happen because cutting the wheel is very hard to do and you'd be destroying a very valuable part of the bike. If you are worried about this issue, you could use a slightly larger u-lock that can go through the rear wheel and part of the frame.

The second component of this strategy is to secure the front wheel via cable look, skewer, or even a second u-lock. This is to make sure your front wheel is secure. Front wheels aren't that expensive so it's unlikely a thief will break out tools to only steal a front wheel (they will steal it if the front wheel is not secured at all though).

Want extra protection? Try the double u-lock method:

I use the double u-lock method only when leaving the bike in bike theft prone areas for extended periods of time. It's heavy to carry around two locks!

Note: Notice any mistakes? Here's one: I forgot to remove the lights from my bicycle after locking it up each time. Make a bonehead mistake like that and the lights probably won't still be there when you return. Stay safe and secure fellow riders!

The Proper Way to Lock Your Bicycle [Priceonomics]

Rohin Dhar is a co-founder of Priceonomics Price Guides. He lives in a San Francisco and rides his 2009 Bianchi Imola to work every day.


    I use a cryptonite cable to secure ALL the quick release items, and I dont have quick release on my seat.

    My cousin learnt that lesson the hard way... Locked his frame, came back to... a frame. They stole both wheels and his seat.

    The quick release clamp on the seat tube is usually one of the first things I swap out when I buy a bike. After all, how often do you really need to to adjust it if you're the only rider? Obviously the normal bracket isn't super-secure either, but it stops the impulse theft (or just petty vandalism)...

    It really depends where you are leaving it, for how long, and how much the bike is worth. I use a cable lock most of the time because it is so much lighter than a U lock. I keep a U lock at work, because that is where I leave my bike parked longest and most often. If I'm stopping anywhere but the CBD for just a few minutes, I won't bother locking my bike at all. I can afford to replace it, if it comes to that, and value the freedom of not having to bother.

    As a student, I left my bike unlocked every day at uni for four years. It was never stolen. I leave my expensive lights and my helmet unsecured on my bike regardless of where I park it, and they've never been stolen, either - nor have my unsecured wheels.

    I have been cycling for 35 years now. If I do eventually lose a bike or accessory and have to replace it, it will have been worth it for all the time and stress saved in the meantime.

      No one wants to replace their property after a theft, whether they can afford it or not. What a fool to leave your bike, helmet etc without a lock. That's plain stupid & nothing to gloat about. You're a thieves best friend. SMH

    You should be able to lock a mini U Bolt through the back wheel and triangle at the Brake caliper getting the security of the second example but using a small lock.
    Of course the most secure method is to have a burly looking mate stand next to your bike all day... For some reason that doesn't rate a mention here!

    Correction: 25 years, not 35.

    I have an alarm rigged up to my bike, if you touch it, everyone's gonna know you're a thief

    Hand-cuffs, I had an ex-police mountain bike that I bought from an government auction, a really nice Smith & Wesson tactical patrol bike and I used A pair of hand-cuffs to lock it.
    It still had police markings on it and needless to say no-one ever touched it but I think the hand-cuffs would work well for any bike, just make sure they are the hinged type and not old school chain type.

    awesome.. but this doesn't stop your seat getting stolen (happened to me once, was literally a pain in the butt).

    Two U-Locks is a potentially bad idea. A hydraulic jack can pop both in seconds.

    To be truly secure you need to combine lock types, if you're locked up with a U-Lock AND a chain, the criminal is going to need a jack AND a set of bolt cutters.

    You also need to use the U-Locks properly, filling all the space inside the lock. This usually means having the pole, frame and one of your cranks inside the lock. But of course it all depends on how worried you are about having your bike stolen, which believe me only goes up after you get bitten the first time.

    If you'd published this article maybe two days ago I would currently be a lot happier. Considering my bike, which was locked up with a chain, was stolen yesterday from my place of work. :[

    I use a cable lock usually as I park my bike at a busy train station where there are a abundance of other bikes around. It's much easier to carry and my bike is pretty old and rusty. Once I didn't lock it properly to the bike rack thing, I just put the lock around the wheel and triangle frame without securing it to the post. Anyone could've wheeled it away. I was gone for over 8 hours but when I came back the bike was still there! I was pleasantly surprised as I live in the western suburbs of Sydney.

    Use Pitlock's to secure your quick release components. Expensive, but well worth it.

    Does anyone know of a good consumer bicycle alarm system, or do I have to MacGyver something up?

    "and rides his 2009 Bianchi Imola to work every day." XD Priceless

    A 400,000 Volt electric shock is the correct way to lock your bike.

    It also pays to only leave your bike in heavily trafficked areas. I've seen quite a few bikes that have simply been vandalized and left locked in place with broken wheels, forks etc.

    While locking up the bike, the idea is to secure the lock tight on the bike and make it really inaccessible. I guess double u-locking is far superior.

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