Bike Cable Locks: The Biggest Mistake for Cyclists
Bikes are treasured possessions for a lot of people and a downright necessity for a bunch of others. Whether they are beach cruisers, downhill mountain bikes, fixies, or road bikes.
They each serve a purpose that enriches people’s lives. Some are more a utility and are depended upon as means of transportation. Others bring joy as a way to spend time with friends and family or get exercise.
Regardless, these bikes need to be protected and kept secure. One option for keeping your bike secure is a cable lock.
Bike thefts by the Numbers
Bike thefts have been an issue and in recent years, they have gotten worse.
This New York Times article from 2020 says bike thefts are on the rise. Other sources say a bike gets stolen every 30 seconds in the United States.
Oftentimes, bike thefts are not reported due to the low likelihood of them being recovered. This may mean thefts are even more of an issue than we truly recognize.
Registering your bike on websites like Project 529 Garage or Bike Index, may help recover your bike should it get stolen.
What is a cable lock?
Cable locks are a type of flexible lock covered with a material or plastic tubing encasing strands of steel. The locking mechanism is built into the cable and comes as a complete package, although there are some that come without an integrated lock.
The thinness of the cable is the flaw in this security setup. Thicker cables may deter thieves equipped with smaller cutters, but given the right tools, even the thickest chains and cables can be cut.
Some chain link locks have their own built-in locks while others may require an additional separate lock. With cable locks, generally, the weakness is the cable itself. When most thefts occur, the cable is severed and the bike is stolen.
Cable Locks to the rescue?
Cable locks aren’t your best bet against bike theft. Cable locks do have a purpose in low-security applications though or when used in combination with a high-security lock.
Knowing the limitations of a cable lock is a good place to start. Asking for a cable lock to keep your bike safe in a high crime area or overnight in a public place, really is asking too much.
When shopping for a cable lock, look for heavy-duty products with brand names, like Abus and Kryptonite.
The stronger the build material and the thicker the shackle or chain, the better. Look for locks made of hardened steel or other tough materials like manganese.
Chain links work well against angle grinders due to their non-rigid form. It can be difficult to cut a chain if it is moving freely.
However, chains may be cut with bolt cutters. But thicker and hexagon-shaped links may delay the thief and discourage them from stealing the bike.
There are some benefits to using a cable lock when appropriate. Their longevity in the market is evidence that people like using bike cable locks.
Cable locks are great for their portability and relatively low weight. Typically, you will have to sacrifice weight for security but in most cases.
Most cable locks also pack down well and can be stored on your bike easily, while out riding.
Drawbacks of cable locks
A light cable lock sounds great, but in most cases won’t serve a purpose against even the smallest of cutters.
You get what you pay for with cable locks. The cheaper models are definitely easy to destroy.
A solid cable lock will cost you around $100.
From our research, the more secure a lock, the more expensive and likely heavier it is. That being the case, not in all situations would you want to carry a heavy lock, unfortunately.
when to use a cable lock
Cable locks are great for when you need to lock your bike up for a short amount of time.
I usually take a cable lock with me when I go out road biking. I feel comfortable locking my bike for a short food break or pit stop but try to keep it within eyesight when possible.
I find cable locks easy to carry and good enough for when you are in a pinch. Normally I don’t stop during my rides or I’ll ask my riding partner to stay with the bikes.
A heavy cable lock is perfect for a casual bike ride on beach cruisers. Some of these locks can weigh up to 7 or 8 pounds. At that weight, it would be too much for other types of bike rides.
The heavier locks seem to work well on cheap bikes in public spaces for short visits, like the beach or lunch.
How to safely use a cable lock?
A lot of people dislike cable locks, we at Lock Judge believe they can be useful, especially if used properly.
There are a few things you can do, to improve the security of a cable lock.
The most important thing you can do is ensure the thing you are locking your bike to is a thick pole or sturdy bike rack that can’t easily be cut.
By doing this, you are forcing the thieves to focus on the cable instead of bypassing your cable lock.
Next, you would want to make sure you lock the frame AND the back wheel at the minimum to the secure object.
It would be smart to remove the front wheel and set it parallel to the back wheel and entwine both wheels and the frame to the secure object.
The goal is to make the lock difficult to access.
Ideally, you would hope to find a low crime area to lock up your bike, but that is not always going to be an option.
Lock Judge recommendations
While we believe cable locks are not the most secure option, we can make some recommendations if you really want to use a cable lock.
We highly recommend the Kryptonite Evolution Chain Lock as the best chain lock on the market.
It is not ideal for long road bike rides, due to it weighing 4.4 lbs. The chain comes in two different lengths, 22 and 35 inches.
The material is manganese steel with hexagon-shaped chain links. These features put up a tough fight for bolt cutters and grinders.
This lock is also the LockPickingLawyer’s go-to bike lock for his casual bike rides.
Another chain lock you may want to consider is a folding bike lock, such as this one from Abus.
It is also made out of a “special” hardened steel and weighs in at close to 3.5 lbs. The X Plus core is one of Abus’s most secure disc detainer cores so you won’t have to worry about the lock getting picked.
The lock packs down nicely and can be attached to a bike frame while not in use.
The LockickingLawyer gave it high praise in the folding bike lock category as well.
You can also find all the LockPickingLawyers bike lock recommendations here.
Cable locks can serve a purpose despite their bad reputation. Unfortunately, every bike lock can be broken with time and the right tools.
Understanding that finding a safe place to keep your bike is most important. When locking your bike up on the go, understand the limitations of cable locks.
It’s unfortunate and disheartening that some people would steal from others, especially something as important as a bike.
Check out our article on the Best Bike Locks for a comprehensive list of bike locks and our reviews. We cover the Bike Lock Triangle and provide information on other types of locks, such as U-locks.