Are Bike Locks Actually Secure? (The Truth)

On average, over 188,000 bikes are reported stolen each year. Our bicycles are investments, so it makes sense to protect them. Locks are often the last line of defense between our bike and a thief, so you’ll naturally want to know how well they work.

Are bike locks actually secure?

A good bike lock can deter all but the most determined thieves. However, no bike lock is unbeatable. For the best security, you should look for locks made of hardened steel, with secure locking mechanisms that are opened with a key (instead of a combination).

That’s the high-level overview, but there’s more to this topic. Let’s dig deeper into the following:

Are Any Bike Locks Theft Proof?

Bike locks come in varying levels of security, but none are truly “theft-proof.” That said, a great lock will require specialized tools and a lot of time (or noise) to steal.

In case you ever forget, you can always read the resetting a bike wordlock guide 

And if your bike is locked-up in a fairly safe and public area, the time and effort required to beat a good lock, would make it very difficult for the would-be-thief to get away without being noticed.

With that said, many of the locks that people use are WAY too weak to actually protect a bike. Thin cable locks are common and they can actually be defeated in less than a minute with a pair of wire cutters, making them useless for deterring most bike thieves.

On the other hand, a tempered steel chain lock may require a cutting torch or angle grinder to defeat in a realistic amount of time.

Unfortunately, every lock has either a combination or key to open it. Combination locks are vulnerable to “brute force” attacks, where the thief runs through the combos. Standard locks are vulnerable to picking, although many bike locks will require specialized tools above and beyond the standard lockpick set.

For an added layer of security, some cyclists will use more than one lock. A cable lock can make a good adjunct to more secure locks, for instance, forcing the thief to spend even more time disabling the locks.

Are There Any Bike Locks that Cannot be Cut with Bolt Cutters?

There’s no lock that’s entirely immune to a large set of bolt cutters. However, few thieves carry the largest models, and you can find U-locks and chain locks that offer a good shot at resisting a smaller, pocket-sized pair of bolt cutters.

Bolt cutters are made to cut steel, and they provide an incredible amount of leverage. It’s unrealistic to think that even the best lock will completely resist them. You can find tons of videos of people shearing through them with bolt cutters.

Here’s the thing though: a better bike lock will resist bolt cutters for longer.

For a bike thief, speed is key. They don’t want to be noticed and wrenching around a 24” set of cutters will draw a lot of attention. If you’re careful to park your bike in inhabited spaces a solid lock isn’t worth it to the thief.

Any lock can be breached physically. You’re not looking for an impenetrable lock, but instead, one that simply isn’t worth the time to break.

Although it isn’t common, car bike racks also get stolen. Read our article on bike rack theft and learn how you can protect yours.

Are Combination Bike Locks Secure?

In general, combinations are less secure than locks which require a key. While any lock can be picked, combination locks don’t require tools to open if the thief has enough time. Cheap ones with few digits can be opened very quickly by those with practice.

It’s convenient to not need a key, but that same convenience makes combo locks a lot less secure than their keyed counterparts. The cheaper mechanisms can be opened in seconds by practiced hands, and the good ones are still susceptible to anyone with enough time.

Unlike cutting through a lock with bolt cutters, running a combination may not draw a lot of attention if the thief is careful.

If you’re really prone to losing your keys it may be worth it, but you should be careful about where you place your bike when it’s locked. Putting it in plain view in an inhabited area will usually keep thieves from attempting to force the lock.

3 Things That Make Bike Locks More Secure

Let’s talk bicycle locks then.

Security begins with the location of your bike, but it ends with your lock. To prevent the lock from being breached in a reasonable amount of time you should look for the following qualities.

1. U-Lock or Chain Lock

A cable lock is better than nothing, but it’s the least secure option. You can rip a thin cable lock open in seconds with just a pair of handheld wire cutters, and short bolt cutters will shear through them effortlessly.

That leaves you with chain and U-locks.

U-locks are hefty and inconvenient to use, but they’ll fasten a bike securely. The only way to open them up is to cut through the steel rod which affixes them to a bike rack.

I prefer chain locks. Cheap chain locks may perform worse than a cheap U-lock, but any form of hardened steel will perform better as a chain. Most will also have a cover that makes it even more difficult to cut through as well.

Go with a chain lock or U-lock if you’re shopping for an extra secure bike lock. 

2. Keys, Not Combinations

As mentioned above, skip the combo locks. They’re not worth it compared to a keyed model. Combination locks, by their nature, don’t require tools to open.

Even a great chain lock is useless if someone is able to pop it open. Just get a lock with a key.

3. Hardened Steel

Really cheap locks are often made of mild steel. It’s still better than nothing, but the simple act of hardening the metal is night-and-day.

The best locks use fairly exotic alloys like manganese steel. The price may not be justified if you don’t live in an area prone to bike theft, but you should always make sure you’ve got good metal in the lock.

4 of the Most Secure Bike Locks on the Market

So, now that you know what to look for, let’s get a closer look at some of the most secure bike locks currently available.

1. Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Chain Lock

New York is famous for bike thieves, and the Fahgettaboudit Chain Lock was made to be the best of the best.

The chain is hexagonal, making it hard for bolt cutters to get a grip. Just as important, it’s created from manganese steel, making it harder than any of the normal steel alloys found in locks. It also features a barrel lock, so it can’t be picked with normal tools.

It’s the top-of-the-line, and if security is important to you, this is probably the most secure lock currently on the market.

Check it out on Amazon (FYI – we do get commissions on qualifying purchases).

2. ABUS U-Lock Granit Extreme 59 Bike Lock

The Granit Extreme is one of the best U-locks on the market, coming ahead repeatedly in testing. It features a 16mm, parabolic tube to help resist cutting. The entire lock is made of extremely hard steel.

It also has a barrel lock designed to resist picking, which is often the weakness of locks that are made of good steel.

It’s heavy, and it commands a premium price for its robust construction. That said, it’s an extremely secure U-lock and it’s worth a look.

Check it out on Amazon (FYI – we do get commissions on qualifying purchases).

3. OnGuard 8020 Mastiff Integrated Key Chain Lock

If you’re not in a theft-prone city like NYC, you can probably get away with a lock that’s a little more affordable. The OnGuard Mastiff is in a good spot: it’s a robust chain lock with a pick-resistant lock available for a good value.

The chain on this one is square to help it resist bolt cutters as well. The nylon cover keeps the chain from scratching your bike also, which is a nice touch overall.

While it’s not the Fahgettaboudit, this is a quality lock that will work in most places. Have a look if you think this might fit your needs.

Check it out on Amazon (FYI – we do get commissions on qualifying purchases).

4. OnGuard Pitbull STD U-Lock

OnGuard also offers a solid U-lock if that’s your preference. The Pitbull is stronger than most, and it’s also padded to prevent it from hurting your bike if it moves on the frame. Honestly, it seems kind of odd that other higher-end U-Locks don’t have that feature.

The Pitbull also has a pick-resistant lock to go with it’s durable construction. Although it’s not quite as secure as some of the extra premium models, it’s probably the best bang for your buck if you want a U-lock. Why not look it over?

Check it out on Amazon (FYI – we do get commissions on qualifying purchases).


JJ here - I've spent a lot of time on a bike, including completing the 3,000+ mile Southern Tier Route (CA to FL). I started Cycling Beast to "demystify" cycling topics, and to help people overcome roadblocks and level-up their skills.

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