LockJudge types of bike locks

Types of Bike Locks

There are several types of bike locks out there, some better and some worse.

The type of lock you need will depend on your situation and the security you need for your bike.

With the invention of new portable power tools, bike locks have become much less effective for dedicated thieves than they once were.

Table of Types of Bike Locks

Each type of lock has its positives and negatives. While these vary a lot with each lock, the table below will give you a general idea of the benefits and shortfalls of each type of bike lock.

bump keys
Benefits and drawbacks of different types of bike locks

Cost and Quality

One of the most important things about choosing a bike lock is finding one of good quality.

This goes for almost any product but is especially important with bike locks.

This is because a bad-quality version of a good lock will still be bad. It may even look like a good design, but this will not work out without good engineering and materials.

The Rising Threat of Angle Grinder Bike Theft

Years ago, battery technology was not advanced enough to allow high-power portable power tools like angle grinders.

But with advances in Lithium-ion battery technology, the construction industry started using these high-power batteries in a wide variety of tools that required being connected to a plug socket or, at the very least, using a generator.

While these tools are a significant improvement, they have also meant that the humble bike locks now have to defend against a threat most of them were not designed for.

Almost any bike lock on the market today, which was not built to defend against a grinder specifically, can be cut by one of these inexpensive tools in less than a minute.

E-Bike Security

Another benefit of the advances in battery technology is the advent of e-bikes that were once just a pipe dream because batteries of the past would have been far too large and heavy to use in an e-bike.

These electric-powered bikes are much more expensive than their non-electric cousins, creating a perfect storm for bike theft.

Much more expensive bikes combined with high power, highly portable power tools mean that there is a large hole in the bike security industry right now.

Important: If you own an e-bike and don’t have an angle grinder-resistant bike lock, you are running a big risk.

Rise of Grinder Resistant Bike locks

Obviously, with much more expensive bikes on the streets and tools that can make short work of the current security options, there is a big need in the market for a solution to this problem.

Enter the new generation of bike locks designed to defend against battery-powered grinders.

These locks are specifically designed with new materials like ceramic-hardened steel composites or graphene-reinforced hardened steel. Materials we heard of only a few years ago.

While not wholly un-cuttable, this new generation of bike locks adds a significant layer of security to an industry that sorely needs it.

Bike Lock Security Tradeoffs

All bike locks have to balance cost, weight, and security. The chart below shows that all bike locks have this problem.

There is no such thing as a cheap, lightweight, high-security bike lock. There is always a tradeoff in at least one aspect of the equation.

bike lock security triangle chart

If you want a cheaper lock, it will generally be lower security and possibly heavier.

If you want a high-security bike lock, it will likely be heavier and more expensive.

And finally, if you want a lightweight bike lock, you will sacrifice security, and the cost will be higher.


U Locks

bike u lock being attached to a bike

One of the most common types of bike locks, Sometimes also referred to as a D-lock. These are the high-security bike locks that you will find.

For example, all the strongest bike locks are all U-Locks. This comes down to the fact that u locks can be made thicker than other locks and don’t need moving parts other than the lock mechanism itself.

The big benefit of u-locks is their ease of use and their generally thicker steel bars than other types of locks like chains or folding locks.

They also don’t have the same weaknesses like smaller links to cut, joints that can be broken apart, or cables that can be easily cut.

Buying Guide

  1. Make sure the lock is big enough to fit around the frame of your bike
  2. Look for a u lock with a double locking shackle
  3. It should have a shackle thickness of at least 14mm
  4. Make sure it has a good coating on the shackle to protect your bike from scratches
  5. Find one that has a good mounting system for your bike
  6. Ensure that the lock core is high quality and can not be drilled out or picked easily

Benefits

  • Best Resistance to Cutting
  • Most secure type of bike lock (Generally)

Drawbacks

  • Heavier than some other types of locks
  • Limited size for locking to irregular objects
  • Not as versatile as other locks

Chain Locks

bike chain lock being locked

The next most secure is the chain lock. This classic lock uses a high-strength chain with a padlock to secure your bike.

The benefit of these is that they can be extremely strong and easily be folded into smaller spaces or wrapped around the bike’s frame, as I do when not using the lock.

As with any lock, you get what you pay for here, and the thicker and better materials the chain is made of give it more security.

In general, the coatings and sheathes on the outside of the chain are cosmetic and help protect the paint of your bike but other than that, they don’t really help with the lock’s security.

Buying Guide

  1. Find a chain that is made of hardened steel
  2. The chain should be at least 10mm thick
  3. It should have a strong, high-quality lock
  4. Quality sheath to protect your bike from the chain is essential
  5. Ensure you get the right length for your needs

Benefits

  • Can be stored in small spaces or wrapped around things easily
  • Thicker versions are reasonably cut resistant
  • More versatile for use with irregular locking anchor points and poles

Drawbacks

  • Heavier than other Lock options in general
  • Many models can be defeated with an angle grinder or bolt cutters
  • Chains usually cant be mounted on the frame, so need to be carried (Can be wrapped around the frame of your bike)

Folding Locks

folding bike lock being locked up

Folding locks were created as a balance between chain locks, cable locks, and high-security u-locks. They were supposed to incorporate the security of a u-lock with the usability benefits of a chain or cable lock.

Unfortunately, there are always tradeoffs, and while folding locks can give a high level of security, they do have some shortcomings to their bigger u-lock brothers.

While they are usually more secure than a cable lock, they usually have a similar level of security to a chain, and they have a lower level of security than a u-lock.

Their weakness comes primarily from the rivets between the arms of the lock, they are a weak point that can be broken with the right tools, so adequate protection is extremely important.

Buying Guide

  1. The thicker, the better
  2. Ensure it has good protection of the rivets in the joints of the frame
  3. Find a folding lock with a good rubber coating
  4. Check that it has a good mounting system for your bike

Benefits

  • Convenient
  • Balance of security and usability
  • More compact than a chain
  • Lighter

Drawbacks

  • Can be easy to break
  • Pins are a weak point

Cable Locks

bike cable lock being secured

While cable locks are one of the most common types of bike locks around, they are far from the best option. Cable locks are the lowest security bike locks on the market.

If your bike costs any more than $100, you will not want to use a cable lock. Almost any cable lock can be cut in seconds.

Almost all cable locks are extremely easy to cut with simple cable cutters as they are simply steel cables in a plastic coating.

The only time someone should use a cable lock is if they have a very inexpensive bike that they are securing in a low-crime area for a very limited time. Anything more than this, and a bike thief will be off with your bike in moments.

If you want to learn more about bike cable locks, we have a whole article about them here.

Buying Guide

  1. Find the thickest cable lock you can find
  2. If you buy a combination lock, then get one with 5 numbers
  3. Ensure it is long enough for what you need

Benefits

  • Cheap
  • Light
  • Convenient

Drawbacks

  • Low security
  • Easy to cut with simple tools
  • An easy target for bike thieves

Note: The LiteLok Core is a rare example of a cable bike lock with good security. Most other bike locks have very low security.


Security Features

All types of bike locks have different features and security levels. Some are designed to withstand more than others.

Generally speaking, the more you pay for a bike lock, the more security features it will have and the better security it will have.

Lock Core

The lock core is important in bike locks up to a point. While lock picking is not a method typically used by bike thieves, it is still a good idea to get a lock with a basic level of pick resistance.

Materials

The materials a lock is made of are extremely important. Many different types of metals are used for bike locks, some more effective than others.

New composite materials are now being used that can resist the cutting of an angle grinder

Size

The thickness of a bike lock is just as important as the materials and its construction. Overall the bigger, the better for security, but this comes at the tradeoff of weight and portability.

Summary

We hope this article has helped you decide what type of bike lock you need.

Obviously, the best bike lock has the best security at a low weight. Unfortunately, this is not really a reality with current materials, so you need to find the balance of security, weight, and price that best suits your needs.

Choosing the type of bike lock is your first step, then you can start looking for the right individual lock. Here is our article listing the strongest bike locks currently available.

If you found this article helpful, please share it 🙂

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