Revisiting an Old Bike Locking Method

Posted by Doug Shidell, March 17th, 2009 1 response

This bike locking method is BK or Before Kryptonite. In the early 1970s, Michael Zane, founder of Kryptonite, developed the U- lock and revolutionized the way we lock bikes in the US and around the world. Cable locking systems fell by the wayside for years. They just weren’t as safe as U-locks.

But U-locks have their own set of problems. They are heavy, and if you want to take ultimate advantage of their security, they are inconvenient. The original locking method involved removing the front wheel, placing it next to the seat tube, then running the rigid U-lock through the front wheel, around a post or bike rack, and through the rear wheel. It didn’t take long for riders to start skipping steps. Today the U-lock is usually run through the front wheel and around the down tube. Sometimes it’s simply looped around the top tube and the hitching device. Bike Snob NYC has some hilarious shots of u-locks run through the front wheel only, or, in one case, attached to the brake cables of the bike.

Those inconveniences, and the sheer weight of the U-lock beasts, left an opening. Cable locks, once thought obsolete, came back. With a cable lock, you don’t have to find a hitching post that’s less than three inches in diameter and you can protect both wheels and the frame without removing the front wheel.

But how secure are cable locks? Security is as much location as it is hardware. In a quiet neighborhood or small town, a bike might be secure on Main St. without a lock. In a rough urban neighborhood, even a U-lock won’t help much because the bike will be vandalized if not stolen.

If you generally trust the neighborhood, but want some level of protection for your bike, simply loop the cable through the wheels and secure it to a post or bike rack. Higher levels of protection require more work, but the overall method is still easier than removing the front wheel and locking it to the bike with a U-lock.

The first photo shows the ultimate security system. The padlock is looped through one end of the cable; then the shank of the lock is run through the spider of the crankset and the other end of the cable. A cut cable doesn’t make the bike rideable, or even easy to cart off, because the lock and cable ends are still attached to the bike. Riding is impossible. Even carrying the bike, with those loose ends dangling and tangling in the wheels, is difficult, not to mention a bit obvious. If the thief does manage to get the bike out of public view and into a workshop, he or she is still faced with getting the padlock off the spider. Cutting isn’t an option. With two cable ends, a crank arm and the chainrings all crowded into the area, a bolt cutter is useless. The only option is to remove the chainrings and slip the padlock off the spider. It’s possible, but not the sort of evening activity that a bike thief is likely to take on.

The downsides are convenience and cleanliness. If your idea of a clean bike fits mine (see grit on spider and crank arms), bike grease and road grime will inevitably get on your hands as you thread the shank of the padlock through the spider. If the neighborhood allows it, you can increase the convenience factor with only a slight downgrade in security.

The padlock could be attached to a crankarm instead of the spider. A prepared thief could carry along a bolt cutter for the cable and a pedal wrench to remove the pedal, but it’s a two-step process instead of one and unthreading a pedal takes 10-15 seconds even for a fast mechanic. You can attach the padlock to other parts of the bike as well: the rear chain stay (beware of scratching the paint), the saddle rails, wheel rim, etc. You can even attach it to a water bottle cage or the brake cable. It’s not as silly as it first seems. The thief still has to make two cuts instead of one to get your bike.

Finally, you can slip the cable through the webbing of your helmet so you don’t have to carry the helmet when you leave the bike. (Slip the cable through an enclosed part of the webbing. Don’t just clip the strap around the cable.) In most instances, you could probably leave your helmet hanging unsecured from the handlebars. Used, sweaty helmets don’t have a lot of value on the black market, but why take the chance when you can secure the helmet in about 5 seconds? Really paranoid folks will slip the cable through a vent hole of the helmet, but that seems like overkill. If sweaty, used helmets have little value on the Black Market, sweaty, used helmets with cut webbing have even less re-sale value.

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One Comment to “Revisiting an Old Bike Locking Method”

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