How to Use a Bike Lock

Table of Contents

You know how to lock a bicycle up, right? So did I—but then I learned a better way.

To properly use a bike lock, you also need the right locks. Plural!

Don’t worry; I’m going to take you through everything you need to know.

Here’s the quick version on how to use a bike lock:

  • Use a U-lock on the back.
  • Secure the front with a bicycle chain.
  • Always ensure you secure the wheels and the bicycle frame.
  • Avoid small, weak fences, thin trees and broken bicycle racks.

But, it’s a bit more intricate than that…

Which Bike Lock Should I Use?

There are a few locks to choose from:

  • Chain lock.
  • U-lock.
  • Cable lock.
  • Folding lock.

My preference is a chain and U-lock combination, and I’d never use a cable lock! They’re flexible, which makes them great for tight spaces and complex twists. But, anyone with a big enough knife can break them.

U-Lock Option

U-locks need an industrial chainsaw to break open, one that can grind through metal.

For a U-lock, the Kryptonite Keeper is awesome. It’s tough, hardened steel and resists everything from bolt cutters to leverage attacks. Plus, if you lose your keys, Kryptonite will ship two replacements for free.

Chain Lock Option

Chain locks need strong bolt cutters to cut through them, too.

For this, check out the Kryptonite New York for a chain lock. It’s tough, simple to use, and best of all: covered. This will lead to less rust down the line—I never use a plain chain anymore.

But, with your locks selected, how do you put them to use?

How to Use a Bike Lock

Method 1: Using Multiple Locks

This is my preferred method.

Call me paranoid, but I used to lock my front and back wheels, then attach the cycle to an object in two places.

Honestly, if you live in a rough area or have an ultra-expensive bicycle, I recommend this.

But, let’s say you live in a heavily populated, average area. You can use two locks, so long as you use a long, iron fence or—ideally—a ground-cemented bicycle rack.

You can use U-locks or chain locks for this method—or both. I use a chain in the front, U-in the back.

Using both means, your crafty thief will need two lock-breaking tools. Or, if it’s a lock-picking thief, I put a combination padlock on my chain lock.

Have fun trying every possible combination, pal!

The U-Lock

It’s a little awkward to navigate, but I get this lock around:

  • The bicycle rack.
  • My bicycle frame; and
  • The back wheel’s spokes.

This isn’t attainable with all wheels, and that’s fine. Some U-locks will be too thick to fit through the gaps.

As for where on the frame, the chainstay is fine. For added security, I go for low down on the seat tube instead.

If possible, locking up both is great, but the lock probably won’t reach.

The Chain Lock

I like to secure the front the same way as the back: around a wheel and the frame while attached to the rack.

When I used a very long chain, I’d wrap it around multiple parts of the wheel and frame.

So, if yours is long, get creative! You know your area better than me—you know how to outwit your potential thieves.

Here’s a tip: Try wrapping your chain as tightly as possible, regardless. Chains aren’t immune to bolt cutters. Don’t let there be a gap to use one.

Method 2: One Lock, One Cable

This method of how to use a bike lock isn’t to my taste—but it can work for some.

I like to think of cable locks as tools, not bicycle locks. Any cable lock works for this method really—the Kryptonite KryptoFlex should work nicely.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Secure the bicycle to the rack with a chain or U-lock on the back wheel and part of the frame.
  2. Push the cable through the front wheel.
  3. Slide one end of the cable through the other end’s loop.
  4. Lock the other loop into the chain or U-lock.

You may think the cable is nearly useless. I agree—anyone can snip through it.

But, this method is to mess with their mind. The image of a cable and the lock might make them think it’s not worth the effort.

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Method 3: Wheel Removal

This is a method I’d use when securing a bicycle for the night. It’s not practical to do this every time you need a bike lock.

  1. First, remove the front wheel.
  2. Then place it next to the back wheel and secure both with a chain or U-lock. Don’t forget to secure the frame with them, if you can.
  3. I also like to secure the front of the frame to the bicycle rack. This isn’t mandatory, but I strongly suggest it for expensive bicycles or rough areas.

Please note: If you have quick-release wheels, this method is a lot easier, and you can use it every time you need to chain your bicycle.

Although, with quick-release wheels, you’ll always need to secure both wheels! A thief can make some quick cash even if they just steal a wheel!

Method 4: The Sheldon Method

Bicycle expert Sheldon Brown coined this method. It’s not my favorite, but it’s great for people with only a small U-lock.

With this method, you don’t secure the frame to the bicycle rack. Instead, you place the U-lock strategically within the frame’s rear triangle.

You can’t pull the wheel through the rear-triangle, quick-release wheel or not. You can saw through the wheel if you have all night to do it, though.

Plus, a thief who doesn’t realize how well-secured the bicycle is may damage your steed, trying to pull it free.

But if you really have no other option:

  1. Place the rear triangle against the bike rack’s pole.
  2. Make sure the lock’s front bar is in front of your wheel.
  3. Have the U-shaped bar of the U-lock come around the back of the wheel and rack.
  4. Feed the unattached side of the U-shaped bar through the spokes, into its locked position.

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General Bicycle Locking Tips

Now you know how to use a bike lock four ways, there are more tips you can employ to ensure your bicycle’s safety.

Look for People

If you secure your bicycle somewhere that usually attracts crowds, it’s less likely to be stolen.

Chances are, somebody’s going to notice someone attacking a bicycle with a toolbox. This can deter thieves, or at least ensure they’re caught in the act.

Look for Bicycles

If there are two bicycle racks and one is full, see if you can squeeze your bicycle in. Here’s why:

  • In this group, some of the bicycles won’t be locked as securely as yours.
  • The coming and going of cyclists to the busy rack may deter thieves.
  • More bikes packed closely means less room for tools.

Look for Security

My local grocery store doesn’t attract a lot of crime—but there’s still a security guard just inside the doors.

From his post, he can see the entire parking lot—including the bicycle rack.

Also, park your bike near street CCTV, but even store CCTV can capture outside footage. Even if the guard misses the theft, the CCTV should sure to catch it.

Look for Bike Rack Faults

In the dark of night, thieves are cutting through bike racks.

They cover the cuts with high-visibility tape and then slide bike locks through the cut.

It sounds far-out, but this has happened in my area, and I’ve read about it in others.

I know it’ll look silly, but give the bike rack a good pull before you use it.

Avoid Certain Fences

One-piece fences that are bolted to the ground are secure. The longer they are, the harder they are to dismantle undetected with ease.

However, some fences come in shorter segments, attached with screws. It’s easy to unscrew one of these and steal a bicycle. Heck, if it’s a low-budget area, the screws may be loose already!

Avoid Trees

Trees are too tall for thieves to lift your bicycle off. But go too thin, and they can easily cut the tree down.

Even thicker trees can be taken down with a chainsaw in one night.

On the other hand, I once secured my bicycle to a tree’s fence. It was a small cage-like fence bolted to the ground, protecting the tree’s roots. It worked well!

Park Far Away

If you’re going somewhere for a while, secure the cycle a few streets over from your destination. Make an exception if you can see your cycle from inside.

The reason for doing this is clever thieves may be watching these locations. They know you’ll be inside for a couple of hours at least—plenty of time to strike.

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There are many bicycle locks to utilize and lots of creative ways to use them. Hopefully, my advice keeps your steed safe!

Remember, a U-lock and a chain lock is an almost unbeatable combination. On top of this, check your bicycle rack, avoid fences and trees, and you should have no mishaps. Good luck!


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