If I lived anywhere in the U.S. and rode a bike that cost less than about $1,000, I’d pick up the ~$42 Kryptonite Series 2 package, which comes with a u-lock and four-foot-long cable.
This isn’t an exciting, novel pick for the best u-lock but it is savvy. Experts, users and the bike thieves that we interviewed agree that the Series 2 u-lock is strong enough to foil all foilable thieves. It’s also light and comes with a stable, easy-to-mount carrying bracket that fits on virtually all bikes. Kryptonite’s accompanying “insurance”—costing $20 for three years—is the easiest to purchase, thanks to their rare online form. And it pays OK, too. In the event that some jerk destroys the u-lock and makes off with a bike, then Kryptonite pays the homeowners’ or renter’s insurance deductible or the replacement cost of the bike. The cable is just one more layer of security discouraging opportunists from nabbing a wheel or seat.
Why You Should (Maybe) Read This
In researching this guide, I heard surprising insights from bike shop owners, journalists and longtime riders. I also happened to talk to one nameless thief, one penny-ante thief and one power-tool-wielding professional—the man who very likely pinched my $5,000 custom-made road bike two years ago. So if you want to skip down to hear their take, beginning with Thief #1, I’ll understand. Then you can loop back here to what the other experts say.
It’s Not About The Lock (AKA How to Use a Lock Properly)
The consensus among those in the know was that a u-lock is best for virtually everyone, offering the highest ratio of security to portability. Unconventional devices like folding locks are intriguing, but so far none offer the security of a good u-lock. Chains sometimes offer a slight bump in security, but they often weigh twice as much and still relent to power tools. Let masochists wear belts of hardened steel; all our experts said a good u-lock is the sensible solution.
But before we talked specific lock models, they also insisted we slow down. Most people don’t know how to use their locks, they said. Most people buy big, heavy expensive u-locks and then don’t secure their bike’s frame, or don’t lock to an immobile object, or worse. Videos like this and this and this drive the point home.
Both the professional and petty thieves we talked to suggested that if a cyclist couldn’t take his bike inside, he should lock his bike in a different spot each day, making it harder to case out. And they encouraged people to ride cheaper bikes. After all, the resale value of a bike—and its expensive components—is what makes the thing worth stealing.
Locking smart will allow you to stand out from the thief-tempting masses, and thankfully the proper lock method is straightforward.
Locking smart will allow you to stand out from the thief-tempting masses, and thankfully the proper lock method is straightforward.
Known by many as the “Sheldon technique,” it involves placing a u-lock through the frame and rear wheel. When a bike is going to be left unattended for a long time or in a crime-ridden area, a cable lock can be added to grab the front wheel and seat, further discouraging a thief. If a person really wants to thumb his nose at the criminal set and doesn’t mind searching for smaller objects to lock to, then he can use the Sheldon technique with a small u-lock instead of the standard size. Small locks leave little room for thieves to insert crowbars or bottle jacks or any number of tools that can bust open a lock.
Hal Ruzal, the dreadlocked cofounder of the NYC bike shop Bicycle Habitat, uses the Sheldon technique to lock an $800 bike with a $100 lock. Using a lock that expensive on a bike that cheap is overkill, but his results are impressive. After putting some 350,000 miles under his tires, predominantly in New York City over the last 30 years, he has had only one bike stolen, when he used an un-hardened chain lock instead of a u-lock.
Indeed, just the sight of a properly used u-lock is usually enough to deter thieves, sending them down the street where they’ll find an equally-nice bike locked with nothing but a chintzy cable, or a bike with a wheel that’s not secured, or a bike locked to a piece of scaffolding that can be unbolted, etc. In the words of Brad Quartuccio, editor of Urban Velo magazine: “Locking technique is more important than how much you spend on a lock.”
How We Picked
When shopping for a lock, the first thing to do is eliminate the horrible locks, ones such asthis that cost $20 or less and are sold at Walmart, Target or other big boxes. These have cheap, pickable lock mechanisms and are made of weak steel that can easily be easily compromised by a “leverage attack” (think inserting a pipe and twisting until the lock springs open). U-locks with combinations, which can often be easily deciphered, should be dustbinned as well. Finally, locks with barrel keys should also be passed over since an everyday Bic pen works as a key. We have no idea why anyone still makes or buys these locks.
Modern u-locks are where it’s at, and a half-dozen publications have conducted tests to determine “the best.” WIRED, Gizmodo, Men’s Journal, Popular Mechanics, Bike Radar andSlate all attacked u-locks with a different blend of tools, cutting ‘em with grinders, clipping ‘em with bolt cutters, sawing ‘em with hacksaws, freezing ‘em with spray bottles and beating ‘em with hammers. BikeRadar seems the most up-to-date; Popular Mechanics appears the most rigorous. Unfortunately, these tests are often security theater, and their results split hairs. What does it mean that a “decent” lock takes 63 seconds to breach with an angle grinder whereas the “best” takes 117 seconds? Exactly what it sounds like: almost nothing. And who is to say the thief is going to use an angle grinder anyway?
Third-party testers use a wider, more representative array of tools and tactics. A small arm of the thief-plagued, data-loving Dutch government tests the most thoroughly. They specialize in bike locks and the tests are “performed by machines (tensile strength- , torsion strength-, cutting-, corrosion-, dust and freeze tests) and tests performed by test engineers (brute and intelligent attack tests).” Here’s a sneak peak inside their dorky little lab. They award locks Art ratings of one to five, with five going to the strongest. Unfortunately Art doesn’t test all locks sold in America, but their tests appear to be the best.
There is also Vds, a subsidiary of the German Insurance Association that mainly tests fire protection equipment. They don’t advertise their methodologies or test many locks, awarding the handful they do test either B+ or A+ certification. Oddly, B+ is the ranking for a better, tougher lock.
Sold Secure, a nonprofit operated by Britain’s Master Locksmiths Association, tests the largest number of locks sold in America and awards them Gold, Silver or Bronze badges. They say their tests are developed based on advice from police, but reportedly they don’t test with bolt cutters or bottle jacks, which are supposedly popular among thieves.
So none of the testers are perfect, but taken altogether the ratings from these three organizations offer helpful feedback.
After brute strength, we found a few key criteria that every good lock should have. Here they are in order from most important to least important.
Size matters, not only for portability but for security as well.
Size matters, not only for portability but for security as well. The lock should be as small as possible while still fitting around everything you need it to fit around. This gives potential thieves less room to work with. Though a big lock can straddle a wider variety of lampposts, fences, and so on…if maximum security is your goal and all other things are equal, then the smaller lock will be harder to crack (and lighter to tote around).
Cost is important. If a cheap lock allows even just a rear wheel to get stolen, then you’re out $100 for the wheel, plus your dignity, the cost of the lock, and the money to buy another, better lock. On the other hand, a properly-used lock will probably never see active duty, so there’s no reason to empty your wallet. Some shop owners I spoke with said you simply need to spend $100 or more on a u-lock. Lock manufacturers commonly suggest you spend 10% of the cost of the bike. But none explained how they came to these rules of thumb, besides perhaps looking at their bottom lines, so we took that as no real advice.
It should be easy to carry. A lock is useless if it’s so annoying to lug around that you leave it at home. If you prefer to carry it on your bike, it should come with a solid mounting bracket that doesn’t wiggle. A loose bracket isn’t just annoying, it can be dangerous if it allows the lock to fall out in the middle of a ride and get stuck in your spokes. If you carry the lock in a bag or around your belt or in your back pocket, it should be light.
Finally, there’s insurance, which sounds awesome, but is last on the list for good reason. While some manufacturers offer up to $4,500 if your bike is stolen while locked, this rarely amounts to much. NY residents are almost always excluded from the offer. Anyone who can’t send in the broken lock almost always can’t collect. And anyone who forgets to register a new lock within generally a week of purchase can’t collect. When a person does collect, the company doesn’t usually pay out big. They pay the deductible on the claimant’s home or renter’s insurance (assuming you have those, which you of course do since you’re not a moron). Off the record, one lock manufacturer told me he’s heard others in the industry brag about how they never pay this.
With all that in mind, I set to work compiling a list of possible contenders from the major manufacturers: Kryptonite, OnGuard, Abus, Blackburn, Masterlock, Knog, and Avenir.
I double checked that third-party testers like Art didn’t score any new designs as highly as good u-locks, and unfortunately, they didn’t. Intriguing models such as the Abus Bordoscored lower. Despite scoring lower in Art, the creative TiGr was much touted elsewhere, so it passed muster. I eliminated models that didn’t come with carrying brackets, fared extremely poorly in editorial tests or that closely resembled their big or little brothers.
After all was said and done, I ended up with a pretty long list: the Kryptonite New York Standard; the Kryptonite Evolution series 4, Evolution Mini 7 package and Kryptolok series 2; the Blackburn San Quentin and Folsom; the OnGuard Brute and Bulldog; the Masterlock 8195; the Abus Granit X Plus; the Knog Strongman; and the TiGr. I tried at least one of these locks from each manufacturer.
But there was still one question that remained: If cutting through these myself wasn’t going to add anything to the already rich body of information on lock security, how should we go about figuring out which lock is best?
First, we focused on things like portability and ease of use.
Many reviewers overlook the bracket used to transport the lock. So we installed the carrying brackets on a vintage ten speed with slender tubes and a Trek Navigator 100 mountain bike with slightly oversized tubes. We checked the fit, then rode around the block and listened for annoying sounds, watched to see if it slipped down the tube or twisted, etc.
Then we used the lock, locking and unlocking them a handful of times, checking to see that the key inserted smoothly and the lock released and bolted without problems.
To figure out how much security we really need, we realized we needed to talk to some thieves.
Our tests produced some good information, but despite all the research, we remained haunted by the possibility that we would pick a lock that was overkill or undercooked; that we would end up either lugging around a needlessly heavy lock all our days or eventually surrender our prized steeds because we used a flimsy lock. To figure out how much security we really need, we realized we needed to talk to some thieves.
It Takes a Thief
Though nationwide statistics are far from comprehensive, research suggests that there are two types of thieves in America. The vast majority of bike nabbers are opportunists stealing cheap bikes, while a small minority are bona-fide, kitted-out pros targeting bikes that cost more than your first car. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a clear divide between the two.
“SFPD and Portland, Oregon police both told me 90% of thieves are addicts who divert to whatever is easier to steal,” said Patrick Symmes, author of this deep dive into the bike-thieving underworld.
“Here in Pittsburgh I’m a native and I’ve never heard of a U-lock being breached,” says Quartuccio, of Urban Velo. “Bikes are stolen left and right, but they’re all crimes of opportunity.”
In just one more example, the University of Minnesota police estimate that more than 90 percent of bikes reported stolen were locked with only cable locks, suggesting that most thieves weren’t exactly sophisticated.
Luckily, living a block from the projects in New York City, I was able to interview both types.
My fixer Ace set me up with small-time bike thief Bug Out; my other fixer Peanut introduced me to Jimmy. (Those are their nicknames.) Fascinating insights emerged from spending an evening with the thieves, but overall the experience of getting inside their criminal minds merely served to put a sharp point on what research already suggests: You can easily stop Bug Out from stealing your bike but you can only dissuade Jimmy.
Thief #1: Bug Out
Bug Out was short, tattooed, fidgety, and on welfare, or at least carrying a benefits card.
Ace, Bug Out, and I met on my stoop at 10 p.m. one weekday night. Bug Out was short, tattooed, fidgety, and on welfare, or at least carrying a benefits card. I wouldn’t have been inclined to trust him much, but he looked a lot like the guy my wife happened to see steal a bike the day after I started this assignment, so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. “Others have been doing it for years—the ones who taught me the game,” he said, drawing a clear distinction between himself and the pros.
He used a limited tool set—generally just wirecutters, a wrench, and a screwdriver—and didn’t like bolt cutters. “You caught with bolt cutters, they charge you with burglary,” he claimed. Whatever the case, Bug Out was a padlocks and cable-lock guy, a people-incorrectly-locking-cheap-bikes guy.
For about a year, he’d been stealing two or three bikes a day, five days a week, he said. In a typical day, he walks around and cases out bikes and generally steals them in the afternoon or early evening. He snips the cable on a crappy bike and rides it to find the next. Then he ditches the first bike and snips another cable or cracks a hardware-store-sold padlock such as this, known as “the potato lock” for its round shape and potato-like ubiquity. Using the screwdriver as a chisel and the wrench as a hammer, he pops the cylinder of the potato lock with three elegant whacks (which he happily demonstrated). Then he rides off on the second bike, and might use the broken padlock as a hammer when stealing a third bike. Indeed, the palm of his right hand was ringed with calluses that were the exact diameter of a potato lock.
He doesn’t worry about passers-by stopping him. “People say, ‘That your bike?!’” I say ‘Yeah,’ then come back later,” he said.
Once he’s got a decent bike, he rides it around the ‘hood to sell it. He sometimes sells to restaurants but doesn’t like to because they offer too little money—the thief feels ripped off, in other words. He gets around $150 per bike on the street and up to $50 for “race wheels,” which I took to mean any skinny wheels that aren’t rusted. He rarely if ever steals a bike that costs over $1,000, he says. Get caught stealing a bike that costs over $1,000 and the crime switches from a misdemeanor to a felony, he explained. That means “real time” in “state” instead of 30 or 60 days in “county.” (The cutoff between misdemeanor and felony theft varies state to state, but $1,000 appears average.)
He was confident in his skills and considered his thefts something of a community service, important lessons imparted to bike owners who were a bit slow—locking their bikes with nothing more than wispy cables, locking them with expensive chains and the potato lock that everyone in the ‘hood knows how to crack, locking them around parking signs (Bug Out stands on the bike, uses his wrench to unscrew the two bolts attaching the sign to the post, then shimmies the bike over the top), locking bikes to each other (he borrows a pipecutter, cuts one frame, and rides off on the other), locking a bike to scaffolding crossbars (he uses his wrench to undo the crossbar). So many stupid people. At one point, he got so worked up that he took me down the street and offered to steal a road bike he’d been eyeing. It was attached to a sturdy rack with a heavy duty chain…and potato lock. While he didn’t like to steal from the ‘hood—“you don’t shit where you eat,” he explained—he was having a tough time resisting. He had even duct-taped a note on the bike’s top tube saying if the bike wasn’t removed, it would be removed.
I presented Bug Out with a handful of locks—chosen haphazardly, some not even in the running for best lock—and told him I didn’t care which locks worked and which didn’t, I just wanted his best effort and honest feedback.
“OK,” he said. He asked if I had a pipe, and I retrieved a four-foot long, ¾-inch-thick pipe, as well as a hammer. At about 10 p.m., he began showing off his skills on locks attached to the wrought iron fence of my apartment building. Ace photographed. I took notes and timed. Bug Out started banging on the nearest lock.
He was pretty sure the Kryptonite Evolution Series 4 Mini Integrated Chain wasn’t going to give, and after just 1:24 of pounding the key slot with the hammer and screwdriver, he surrendered. “What you do with that is use a machine,” he said. “I like padlocks.”
He turned to an easier target, a cheap old Schwinn u-lock with a barrel key. He didn’t use a Bic pen to spring the lock—he didn’t even know that trick—but instead placed the pipe inside the u and jerked to one side. The lock twisted up like spaghetti around a fork until the lock cylinder fell onto the ground. At 3:37 he popped the shackle free with the butt of his hand. “This is the first time I done this,” he said. “It’s too much work.”
He switched to something more up his alley, pulling the wirecutters out of his pocket and snipping at the Kryptonite KryptoFlex cable, which took a full 4:20 of grunting and snipping. “My shit is dull,” he complained, referring to the wirecutters.
How would he lock a bike he just bought his own mother? “A u-lock,” he said. “Done.”
I handed him the Knog Kabana. “I can’t even fathom that,” he said, looking at the thick coating of silicone that covered the cable. I urged him on. He snipped at the silicon and it peeled away. “Oh,” he said, “it’s a cable!” Roughly four minutes later he was through.
The TiGr lock he pounded at all angles, starting with a screwdriver straight into the lock slit, but gave up after 2:57. “I don’t fuck with this thing,” he said, “it’s too much trouble.”
Ditto the Kryptonite Evolution Mini, the Knog Bouncer and the OnGuard Pitbull. “U-locks—I walk by, they’re not worth my time.”
How would he lock a bike he just bought his own mother?
“A u-lock,” he said. “Done.”
Thief #2: Jimmy
Soon after, Peanut came by with Jimmy, a healthy-looking older man with a barbershop haircut.
Soon after, Peanut came by with Jimmy, a healthy-looking older man with a barbershop haircut. Jimmy was a pro. I know this because while he never said that he was the one who stole my $5,000 custom-made Landshark, left on the sidewalk in front of my apartment for one night two years ago, he very much remembered it, including the owner’s small signature (mine!) clear-coated under the blue paint (mine!) just in front of the seatpost (mine!). He also rattled off the rough prices of the current Cannondale road bike line and was later vouched for by a trustworthy mutual friend. “Let me put it this way,” our friend said. “If you ever need an expensive bike removed from the premises, Jimmy is your man.”
Jimmy thought there were maybe eight bike thieves living below 14th street, but that most of them were small time. “This is my line of work,” he said. “The typical guy comes with clippers in his pocket and maybe a wrench.”
He’d been stealing bikes regularly for a decade. Like Bug Out, he claimed to steal maybe two or three bikes daily, but usually at night and only during “the season.” Between April and August, people in the neighborhood request bikes, Jimmy quotes a price around $900 for a bike that costs a couple grand, and then he goes hunting. Sometimes it works in reverse, with Jimmy eyeing an expensive bike and offering essentially a futures contract.
He often works north of 14th street. “They lock up titanium bikes with cables,” he said of folks in Gramercy and other high-rent neighborhoods. “They think ‘cause they’re there they can do that.” He scopes out targets, gets a guy to act as lookout, and returns a day later. “Every job has a tool,” he said. His primary tool was the battery-powered grinder. Since my fashion designer neighbor had just exited the building, stepped over a pile of mangled locks, and looked at us sideways, I declined Joe’s offer to fire up his grinder and asked that he simply talk me through a few locks.
“This,” Jimmy said, holding the Kryptonite Evolution—“easy.” He would cut the shackle leg closest to the keyhole, the only leg that locks. Then the J-shaped foot of the leg that doesn’t lock would fall away and he would remove the lock from the bike with no more difficulty than running a comb through his hair. “One minute,” he said.
He doesn’t do it with a fireworks display of sparks and loud noise, as many writers have imagined. No, he wraps the grinder motor in a bath towel and covers the blade with even just a grocery bag to deflect the sparks.
“This one here,” he said, pointing to the Kryptonite New York Standard, “you need the grinder for both sides.” He smirked when I said it would take four minutes and attract attention, as BikeRadar claims. With the New York, he’d bring a stone-grinding wheel. “It’s only good for four hits,” he said, but it works quicker.
“But you’d probably run out of batteries between legs,” I said, repeating what other editorial testers had suggested.
“Bullshit,” he said. “One minute each side.” Ditto the OnGuard and Evolution chain.
Men’s Journal claimed that the silicon coating on the Knog Strongman caused their blade to buck enough to “send most thieves scrambling.” Jimmy disagreed. “See this,” he said, pulling the lock apart and revealing a thin space between the shackle and crossbar, “you cut that with the 1/16th [-inch thick cut-off disc]. It takes more tries, but it ain’t gonna buck.”
He uses wirecutters on any cables and of course knows how to spring potato locks.
The only lock he really wanted to get at was the TiGr, which he’d never seen and whose price tag he found offensive and whose design he was sure would yield to nothing more than the simplest tools. “This shit cost $175?” he asked. Though he said he’d never spend more than a couple minutes on a job, he spent the next seven minutes and twenty seconds beating it with a hammer, prying at it with the screw driver, bending the bow in every direction, cursing titanium as junk, and not causing the thing to budge. I got the impression he was personally offended by a lock he couldn’t figure—well, couldn’t figure without his angle grinder, of course.
What would he recommend for his mother?
A GPS embedded in the frame, he said. Apparently the NYPD uses them on bait bikes, and pros like him shake a frame, listening for a rattle, to identify them. He didn’t mention GPS like the Spybike that replaces the headset, but the ones people tape under a seat, such as the $120 Garmin GTU 10, with the $50 a year subscription fee? He tears those off and throws ‘em away.
“What if I’m not gonna get a GPS?” I asked.
“A little u-lock, one that you need to cut both legs, those are good,” he said.
What We Learned From Them
Above all, Bug Out and Jimmy taught us two things. You can get nerdy about what makes a lock strong, geeking out over the quality of the steel or thickness of the shackle or whether the lock is single-bolted (meaning one side of the shackle fastens to the crossbar) or double-bolted (meaning both sides fasten to the crossbar) but you’re wasting your time. If you ride the kind of bike that one of Jimmy’s clients might request, you’re probably screwed. But if you don’t, and you lock your bike correctly with a moderately strong u-lock, then your bike is virtually guaranteed to be safe.
The $42 Kryptonite Series 2 package tops pretty much every criteria for a great lock.
The $42 Kryptonite Series 2 package tops pretty much every criteria for a great lock. It’s not a double-bolted lock, which is kind of lame, but it can be bought in a mini version (here, with this cable) and the standard size weighs a mere 2.8 pounds. While neither Art nor Vds nor other reviewers have tested it (they tend to stick to the top-of-the-line stuff or require payment for testing), the Brits at Sold Secure give it a Silver rating. And 221 Amazon reviewers give it 4.3 out of 5 stars, making it one of the best-reviewed u-locks on Amazon.
It comes with the second-best carrying bracket in the biz (after Knog’s). You wrap a strap around the frame, hold the plastic bracket in place with one hand, fasten a hex screw with the other, and that’s it. Thus secured, a metal tab on the lock slides into the hard-plastic bracket. Pressing a lever releases the lock. The bracket fit securely on both bikes and didn’t shift when riding around. The lock was quiet, too.
The $1,500 insurance comes with typical restrictions and costs $20 for three years, but being able to register online, unlike others that force you to mail receipts, means you might actually try to take advantage of it. And while it doesn’t cover New York City, it does cover the rest of the U.S., which some don’t.
It’s also sold as a rare package, combining the u-lock and a 4-foot long cable that is probably long enough to grab your front wheel and maybe even seat. At $36, the package is a…you knew this was coming…steal.
Friends or shop owners might say that you should spend more, say for the step-up Evolution, which costs $50 with a cable. The u-lock has a thicker shackle and supposedly slightly tougher metal and $15 insurance for three years, but ranks no better in Sold Secure ratings (Silver). Resist the temptation. Just buy the Series 2 in a small size. Or hand over a couple bucks for a second lock that’s better than a cable—a cable with its own lock mechanism like the Knog Kabana, another u-lock like our Step Down pick, a chain that you leave at home or work, skewer locks for your wheels. Just don’t be seduced by a burly looking potato lock. Whatever you do, just make sure you have at least a u-lock. While the Kabana cable survived Bug Out’s dull wirecutters, Amazon reviewers report that bolt cutters can dispatch them in one snip.
Our Pick For a Bike Worth More Than $1,000
If you’re going to tempt Jimmy and aren’t worried about crackheads stealing your fancy seat, seatpost, stem, handlebars, brake levers, brakes, pedals, cranks or fork, then opt for Kryptonite’s ~$80 New York Lock. It’s unique in many ways.
Crucially, it comes in a small size that will foil potential leverage-based methods of theft. It’s also the only lock on the market that offers insurance to residents of New York City (free for the first year, then $15 for another two).
Not surprisingly, testers love it. Slate, Popular Science, and Men’s Journal name it their picks for safest u-lock. Bike Radar gives it 5 out of 5. Sold Secure ranks it Gold. Vds gives it their best ranking of (weirdly) B+. Amazon’s reviews dispel any lingering doubt. 234 reviewers gave it 4.3 out of 5 stars, making it one of the best-reviewed locks around.
At 4.3 pounds for the standard version, it’s one of the heaviest u-locks, but it’s a good value relative to more expensive, heavier chains, for example.
It’s not without its shortcomings. The mini version actually weighs .2 lbs more than the standard size, thanks to a thicker shackle that we think is unnecessary. Also, I tested the carrying bracket for days, riding fast to and from work over potholed roads. Because the lock is heavier than the Series 2, and because NYC’s roads wouldn’t be a shame in rural Egypt, the bracket shimmied off to the side after a couple days. So the lock isn’t perfect. But none is.
The Step Down
The double-bolted Masterlock 8195D is a great value. It weighs a scant 2.5 pounds, costs NOTHING (just $21) and it’s also the only lock company that will pay out on the insurance even if the thief makes off with the lock. As if that wasn’t an insane-enough deal, it is one of the top-rated locks on the market, being Sold Secure Gold and earning a decent VDS rating of A+. (The only other locks with more expert accolades are the New York Lock and the Abus Granit X Plus, both of which cost at least three times as much.)
To be clear, you want to get our main pick for a little bit more money ($32). But if that lock happens to shoot up in price, this is an okay option.
The big drawback is the poorly-designed carrying bracket, which will look familiar if you bought a cheap lock in the early ‘90s. A plastic sleeve bolts to the seat tube and another cups the lock, crimping snug around the foot via a tiny lever. It fit both the vintage ten-speed and the mountainbike, but left us terrified. It cupped the lock. Riding around the block, every road seam threatened to spring open the lever and throw the lock onto the ground or into our spokes. Also, the lock itself rattled. Not fun. Still, if you’re willing to carry the lock in a bag, this is a terrific deal.
The $57, Kryptonite Evolution Series 4 is Sold Secure Gold-rated like the New York Standard but doesn’t come in a small size or pay insurance in NYC. And while it’s .75 pounds lighter than the New York, it still ticks a hefty 3.75 lbs. If you’re going to lug around a hefty lock, we say get the best hefty lock, the New York.
The Kryptonite Evolution Mini 7 package is Sold Secure Silver, like the series 2, but almost $20 more expensive—too much to pay for a half-pound weight savings and a more fun orange color scheme.
The Abus Granit X-Plus, part of the popular German company’s recent foray into the American market, is a FANTASTIC lock. It weighs a scant 3.2 pounds, in part thanks to what appears to be the strongest steel per pound on any u-lock. It has the best professional ratings of any lock available in America at this time. Art: 3. Vds: A+. Sold Secure: Gold. Bike Radar: 5 of 5, calling it “the best portable U-lock on the market.” British Ride On magazine, which calls u-locks d-locks, says it’s “the best d lock money can buy.” It can also be keyed to match other Abus locks, so if you buy two Abus locks you only need to carry one key. Drawbacks: It doesn’t come with insurance, the all-plastic carrying bracket miffs, and it costs $119. If you wouldn’t miss $119, then get it. Stat. And then get back to your insider trading.
The OnGuard Brute, Gizmodo’s favorite lock, looks good. But three aspects left us wanting. The all-plastic bracket, which mates to an all-plastic tab on the lock, didn’t sit flush to the oversized tubes of the mountain bike, threatening to dent them. While it’s relatively light compared to the New York (just 3.8 lbs) the lock cylinder is as big around as a woman’s wrist. And, uniquely, the insurance is void if a thief uses power tools, which means it’s effectively useless.
We really wanted to like the Knog Strongman. This was honest, purpose-driven design. Unlike other locks, Knog listed the actual width of the metal shackle (13 mm) in the tech specs instead of the width of the shackle plus the soft outer coating (22 mm). And the bracket, our favorite, was a smart piece of design in its own right, not an afterthought. A grippy, rubberized band looped around the frame, clicked back onto the bracket, and then fastened tight with a metal ratchet. Easy, and steadfast. Third-party testers have praised the lock with a Sold Secure Gold ranking and an Art 3 score, but unfortunately we couldn’t get behind it. Our sample froze up during testing. We would assume our model was a lemon, but Amazonians also complain about being unable to bang, push or pull it open. And even if it worked, it’d be a tad expensive. Great design isn’t free.
The junior version, the Sold Secure Bronze Knog Bouncer, weighs a mere 1.75 pounds, except it’s so small, 5” x 7.25”, that we couldn’t even use it to attach the front wheel of the vintage bike to the frame. For some bikes, it’d be an ideal second lock, but we can’t recommend it as a primary.
The double-bolted $175 TiGr is a great but expensive option for someone securing a topnotch bike at a rural stop midway through a group ride. It’s incredibly light—a pound or less depending on the length—and because it can catch both wheels, it essentially replaces two locks. Even better, Jimmy discovered it’s pretty much leverage-proof. It’s also a breeze to carry, Velcro-ing onto a bike’s top tube. Alas, a pro with an angle grinder can kill it in a matter of minutes at which point it can be bent away and opened as easily as a single-bolted lock. Art scored it 2.
The double-bolted $35 Blackburn Folsom could be great, but we can’t say with confidence. Blackburn has asked no third parties to test it. No magazines have tested it. We asked for a sample three times and were told Blackburn “can’t or wouldn’t” send one. The distributor told us that none of the dozens of bike shops in Manhattan carried it. It might well be our pick in the future—it’s one of the cheapest double-bolted locks around—but Gizmodo found its big brother, the Leavenworth, piggish, ungainly and soft. We’ll hold off until someone gives it a vote of confidence.
The Blackburn San Quentin tests well—earning an extremely rare 4 from Art, for example—and weighs just three pounds, more than a pound less than the Kryptonite New York Standard. But it has two drawbacks. First, the chintzy bracket is worsted only by the Masterlock’s. It requires two hex wrenches (not included) to install, pieces must be attached to the bike and the lock shackle, and the piece on the lock shackle slipped no matter how tight we fastened it. Second, the insurance requires trips to USPS and New York State isn’t covered.
The OnGuard Bulldog package would be a close competitor to the Series 2, primarily because it’s also Sold Secure Silver. But again, we weren’t red hot on the plastic bracket or restrictive insurance. 11 Amazonians rank it 3.8.
The $21 Avenir Standard U-lock and Cable is popular, with 121 reviewers giving it 3.6, but it’s not made of sprung steel so it’s susceptible to even the lowest-tech 2×4 or pipe-based leverage attacks. One purchaser even posted a photo of the shackle all twisted up.
The Abus Facilo package looks like a worthy rival to the Series 2 but costs a few bucks more and scores lower, with a Sold Secure Bronze.
The Abus Sinero also scores Sold Secure Bronze but costs even more than the Facilo.
The Abus U-lock Mini was even smaller than the Bouncer, just 5.6 by 3.1 inches. Too small.
A bunch of Bell, Avenir, Masterlock and X Factor locks on Amazon don’t make the $20 cut-off or merit independent, 3rd-party rankings. Same goes for the few locks sold at Walmart, Sears, Target and Performance Bike.
And that’s about it.
Thief #3: Nameless (AKA even lucky you ain’t gettin’ your bike back)
A couple weeks after testing, I ran into Ace and a friend of his I didn’t know at 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Ace, with pliers, and his friend, riding a stolen beach cruiser, were hanging out on my stoop, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee before they got down to work stealing bikes locked up outside bars the previous night.
“How do I know you guys weren’t recommending shitty locks so everyone would buy shitty locks and bikes would be easier to steal?” I asked.
“Yeah, u-locks are everywhere now,” Ace deadpanned, pointing to my bike, locked nearby with about three dozen of the locks we’d tested.
“Seriously,” I said. “How do I know you weren’t fucking with us?”
“No, man, u-locks—they’re tough. See this?” he asked, pointing to a bike locked with nothing more than a cable. “Snip snip.”
We rich folks can be pretty lazy, even willfully naive. And the thieves certainly aren’t afraid.
The bike, I’m embarrassed to admit, belonged to my wife, who had a good u-lock at home but had been tired the night before and figured, well, the cable would suffice for one night, especially with her cheap bike locked just below our window. And that’s when it struck me. Ace and Bug Out, Peanut and Jimmy, they didn’t care about sharing their trade secrets. They knew many of us wouldn’t follow their advice anyway. After all, bike shops sell a bunch of good u-locks; the Sheldon technique has been known for decades; and yet easily stealable bikes abound. We rich folks can be pretty lazy, even willfully naive.
And the thieves certainly aren’t afraid. Less than two minutes later, the owner of the beach cruiser appeared out of nowhere. Thirty-something and slender, he veered across the street toward us.
“That’s my bike!” he said, pointing to the cruiser that Ace’s friend was sitting on.
Ace and the friend looked at him, half interested.
“That’s my bike!” the guy repeated.
“Yeah, sure man,” Ace’s friend said, taking a sip of his coffee. “You wanna take it up with the owner?”
The guy was confused. Wasn’t he himself the owner? And if he wasn’t the owner, then wasn’t this guy sitting on his bike the temporary “owner”? “OK,” he said.
“He lives on Avenue D,” Ace’s friend said, motioning toward the projects.
“He’s coming this way?” the guy asked.
“No, you wanna go see him?” Ace’s friend asked.
The guy paused. Things were clearly not going as planned. “Uhhhh, OK,” he said.
Then the two of them headed off down the block, Ace’s friend riding the stolen bike, the bike’s rightful owner trotting behind on foot.
I should have followed, should’ve found out how the bike was locked, should’ve met the “owner” on Avenue D. But I didn’t feel particularly compelled. I wasn’t eager to witness an early morning confrontation in the projects, so instead, I hung back.
“Think he’s going to get his bike back?” I asked Ace, who was nursing the last of his coffee.
“He’s not gonna get the bike back,” Ace said. “Dude that stole that bike—he’s just outta prison. Thick. Tattoos all over.”
Wrapping It Up
There are many good u-locks out there. Based on feedback from experts, users and thieves, the Kryptonite Series 2 is a great one, especially when bought as a package including a cable. It’s strong, light, easily transportable and comes with insurance you might actually use. Deployed correctly, it’ll keep you rolling for years to come and prevent any unnecessary debates with thick, tattooed ex-cons.