To find the best bicycle lock, we ordered 27 of the toughest we could find, and then we sawed, chopped, and cut them all to pieces. We learned that almost every lock can be defeated in under a minute, but the Kryptonite Evolution Mini-7 is the most affordable lock that will most likely need a power tool (accompanied by a lot of noise) to be beaten. It offers enough of a security advantage over other locks in this price range to keep a modest commuter bike from becoming an easy target for thieves. It has a secure but usable 7-inch length, includes a 4-foot cable to leash the front wheel and accessories, and also comes with a free year of antitheft protection, upgradable to five years for only $25.
The Kryptonite Evolution Mini-7 is among the most affordable locks we found, and it should withstand attacks from everything but power tools under most circumstances. At 7 inches long, it’s the perfect size for most people, because it’s long enough to lock the wheel and frame of most bicycles to a rack while leaving almost no room to wedge a pipe or a car jack inside it (and thus pry it apart). It uses a disc-detainer style of locking mechanism, which is much harder to pick than the wafer locks some other models use, and it should foil all but the most savvy criminal using specialty tools. Once our testing began, we immediately saw the huge advantage this lock had over the competition: Its 13-millimeter hardened shackle can withstand bolt cutters, eliminating a huge percentage of potential thieves. It also comes with a 4-foot cable to secure the front wheel, plus a free year of Kryptonite’s antitheft protection. One thing to note: The antitheft protection on this lock does not apply to residents of Manhattan, where theft is very high. But the company’s New York lock series—including both our picks below—is covered.
With an 18 mm dual-locking hardened shackle, the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Mini took us four times longer to grind through with a cut-off wheel than our pick. It doesn’t come with a cable, and it weighs about 4.5 pounds. That’s a full 1.5 pounds more than the Evolution Mini-7, but if you’re in a high-risk area this lock is the one to buy. It held up better than any other lock against cutting attacks: Our testers took over a minute to make the two cuts necessary to remove it. Like our top pick, it uses a very secure disc-detainer mechanism, and it’s long enough to fit around your tube and your wheel without becoming too cumbersome. For extra peace of mind, it also comes with a free year of the highest level of antitheft coverage from Kryptonite.
If you’re looking for a chain lock to secure more than just your bike frame and wheel, if you have a cargo or electric bike that needs a longer lock, or if your favorite spot to lock up is around a street post, the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Chain is one of the toughest chain locks we tested. We encountered other chain locks that were harder to cut through, but they cost almost twice the price of the Fahgettaboudit Chain; at that point you’re better off buying a second lock than getting the more expensive model. It uses 3 feet of 14 mm hardened links held together by a 15 mm Kryptonite New York Disc Lock, and it should keep all but the most determined thieves at bay.
I have spent the past 15 years working in the bicycle industry on both coasts of the United States, as well as abroad. I have owned many of the locks tested, from many of these brands, and have worked at shops selling all of them, occasionally having to cut them off, too. Between that and the work I did for this guide, I have spent hundreds of hours researching, selling, using, and testing these locks.
We also contacted John Edgar Park, an avid lock-picking enthusiast and instructor with over 20 years of experience, and we sat down together to review all the locks we had received to vet them for lock-picking vulnerabilities. In addition, we emailed Mark Podob of Metlab, a heat-treating and metallurgic-consulting company, to get his explanation of how different metals are hardened and to gain insight into how our locks were constructed.
Disclaimer: We’ve ended up picking three Kryptonite locks, and we know how that can look, but we think the data will speak for itself. I was working at a shop a decade ago when the Bic pen fiasco went down (I was on the local news station demonstrating the technique), so we approached this guide with that knowledge in the back of our minds and a very skeptical view regarding any lock manufacturer’s claims. We chopped up all these locks and looked at what we had left in front of us.
We spent many hours researching all the locks available from the major brands in the bicycle industry, attending the Interbike trade show to see not-yet-available options, reviewing our previous guide, looking into the most popular locks on Kickstarter, and searching for well-reviewed locks from smaller companies or lesser-known brands.
Manufacturers make dozens of locks in very similar styles. With supposedly different levels of security and proprietary ratings systems, however, it can be hard to decide which locks are comparable to each other, other than blindly going by price or researching the ratings from independent organizations that rate bicycle locks such as ART in the Netherlands and Sold Secure in England. Unfortunately these institutions use different rating scales, and not all lock manufacturers submit all of their locks to be tested. And although these independent labs return a rating, they do not make the reasoning behind the rating, and the tests they used to come to that conclusion, available to the public, so looking at their ratings still gave us only a rough idea of the security of any one lock.
We decided that our only way forward was to order the most expensive locks from every company we could and destructively test them all ourselves in order to set our own baseline for what each company considered its highest level of security. We then ordered the budget locks from our previous guide, as well as some of the upgrades from companies that had finished well in our first round of tests, and destructively tested all of those, too. We eventually had a total of 27 locks from ABUS, Altor, Artago, Blackburn, Hiplok, Knog, Kryptonite, Litelok, OnGuard, RockyMounts, Schlage, and TiGr.
For the previous version of this guide, we researched the different rating systems from foundations such as ART and Sold Secure, and we spoke to professional bicycle thieves. Although we learned a lot from that experience, this time we needed to get our hands dirty and see what all these locks were really made of. There is only so much that one can glean from third-party experiences and ratings, and this notion was proven by the many discrepancies we saw this time around between the security of locks rated the same (from the same rating institutions) and our own testing results. In addition, we scoured the Web for every lock review we could, to determine what lock-defeating methods other testers had employed, what locks and lock types were commonly tested, and how they all fared. No single review had tested as many locks in as many ways as we hoped to do, so we knew it would be difficult to make any comparative judgments on the locks we had chosen unless we did all the tests on all the locks ourselves. So we did.
To best test all of our chosen locks, and to feel assured that we were thorough enough to recommend something that would possibly be the only thing standing between a thief and your favorite (or only) ride, we needed to understand the tools available to a bike thief, as well as the pros and cons of using them from the perspective of a criminal. From our experiences working in shops over the years, and interviewing thieves themselves, we created a list of the most common tools that bicycle thieves use to defeat bike locks. This list covered the tools that thieves could effectively use against the assortment of locks we had chosen, and it became the checklist that our group of locks would need to go through in testing.
Lock picks: These are the smallest, quietest, and most portable tools to carry, but they’re also the ones requiring the most skill to use. Different locks require assorted tools and pose varying degrees of difficulty to pick; however, once a thief has the tools and the proficiency to quickly open a particular lock, it merely becomes a matter of walking the streets and looking through racks of bikes for a target lock they recognize as being easy to open.
Cable cutters: Thieves carry out a large number of bike thefts (possibly most of them) using a simple pair of diagonal wire cutters. These tools are easy to carry in a pocket, quiet, and simple to shoplift if not owned already. Unfortunately, the only reason simple diagonal cutters are so effective is because people continue to lock their bicycles using only a braided steel cable and a padlock, or a basic cable lock, even though such devices provide only the lowest level of security and should be used only as accessory locks in most situations. A good set of bypass cutters can cut these locks in a single pass, and a tiny set of diagonal cutters can do so with multiple snips.
Hacksaw: A hacksaw can be quiet and can work through a nonhardened lock fairly quickly. Most chains from the hardware store, cheap U-locks, and cable locks can be defeated with a hacksaw. The main drawback for a thief is that a hacksaw can be slow on a thicker lock, may catch and bind while trying to cut through a cable, and takes some physical effort to use in general. It is a very cheap tool to come by, though, and an easy one to carry and conceal.
Bolt cutters: Because so many bicycle thefts go unreported, it is difficult to collect accurate data on exactly how many bicycle thefts are committed each year, and especially to know the ways in which all those thefts are carried out. From my experience working in shops over the years, though, I’ve heard hundreds of stories of stolen bikes and seen many cut locks, and most of them (not including snipped cable locks) have been cut with bolt cutters. Bolt cutters can be quite small, usually 18 to 24 inches long. They’re quick to cut through a lock, cheap, portable, and easy to conceal. They don’t work on every lock, but for the ones they do work on, it’s only a quick snip and a free bike. Once thieves know which locks they can cut with the cutters they are carrying, it is again just a matter of walking the streets looking for a target lock and bike.
Cordless drill: This is a rarer tool for bike thieves, as it works well on only a few types of locks, and most of those are also easier to defeat using other methods, but occasionally drills do see use (most often during an unsuccessful attempt to drill out a lock’s core). The locks that drills do work well on (such as folding locks) have become more popular, though, and the reduction in noise and size over an angle grinder makes a drill a tempting tool for a thief to employ as more folding locks become available.
Angle grinder: A thief with a battery-powered angle grinder will defeat any lock if given enough time. For the thief, the biggest con to the grinder is the noise and sparks it emits as it grinds through hardened steel. In the past, cordless tools didn’t have the power for such uses, but battery technology has advanced enough that they can perform just as well as their corded counterparts, and thus they have changed the landscape of bicycle security. It’s hard not to notice one of these tools, but a thief who can mask the noise and is brazen enough to use one will probably be successful in stealing the bike.
First up on the list of tests were the lock mechanisms themselves. We had our doubts that this test would be anything other than an exercise in thoroughness; we just wanted to make sure we weren’t missing anything important, and to learn a bit about the different styles of lock mechanisms more than anything. We contacted John Edgar Park, an avid lock-picking enthusiast and instructor with over 20 years of experience, and we sat down together to review all the locks we had received. With a quick visual inspection and a few pokes from one of the many pointy tools he had brought along in a folding leather pouch, Park immediately singled out the OnGuard locks as vulnerable to picking attacks. His inspection told him how the mechanism worked and the easiest way to defeat it, which he said would most likely require only the most basic tools.
He was not only able to pick the OnGuard locks but was also able to teach me how to pick one. I had never picked a lock before (aside from the Bic pen thing), but I was successful in opening it in less than 30 seconds after watching him do it twice and having him walk me through the process once. It’s a simple raking technique that requires little skill and basic tools; someone could do it with a couple of pieces of scrap metal from a car’s wiper blade or a pair of bobby pins. (And I had always thought MacGyver was a joke!) Every OnGuard lock we tested succumbed to this attack.
The reason is that the OnGuard locks all used a very simple version of a wafer lock, which functions slightly differently than an ordinary pin tumbler (like the ones found on a standard door lock) but can be picked in a similar fashion. Either the simplicity of the lock or possibly the low tolerances of the mechanism made it too easy to pick, which prompted us to dismiss the various bike-lock models from OnGuard. The other locks we reviewed used more secure mechanisms, with most of them (and all of our recommendations) being disc-detainer mechanisms. Instead of containing pins or wafers that need to be aligned to the proper height, such mechanisms have a series of discs that all need to be aligned within the cylinder; the disc-detainer design requires specialty tools and some level of skill, so the simple raking technique we used on the OnGuard locks doesn’t work on it. The ease of picking the OnGuard locks was unfortunate, because the locks did well in our other tests; OnGuard previously used disc-detainer mechanisms on its locks, one of which I have personally owned for years. (We made multiple attempts by phone and email to get OnGuard’s comment on this vulnerability, with no response.)
Just to be sure, we made arrangements to get in touch with a lock-picking group, and we visited on a night with a presentation on high-security disc-detainer locks. The meeting was in an unmarked building in an unmarked room, and everyone who gave a presentation used their Def Con code names. The first thing we gleaned from the talks was that learning how to crack many of the newest locks and publishing the results can lead to the same legal troubles as engaging in digital hacking. The second thing was that even the more basic disc-detainer locks we brought were very hard to pick, and nobody at the meeting even had the proper tools to fit the smaller keyways most bicycle locks use. As a result, we’re confident that disc-detainer styles are secure against most thieves, seeing as a criminal who is willing to take the time to learn, buy, and modify tools to pick such locks will probably move on to more lucrative lock-picking crimes.
The next test for the locks: bolt cutters. These tools are cheap to purchase at any home improvement store and usually make a sound during a theft only after it’s too late, when the lock splits apart and the thief is off with your bike. You could be within 20 feet of your bike and still not hear it. For our tests we chose to use cutters of two lengths, a 24-inch HDX pair from Home Depot and a 36-inch Tekton 3421.
The ABUS Ultra 410, ABUS U-Lock U-mini 40, Kryptonite Series 2 Standard, Litelok, and TiGr Mini all fell to our attack with the small bolt cutters. The Altor 560G and the Hiplok Gold chain were both harder to break into when we used the 24-inch cutters, and we were able to cut through the ABUS Folding Lock Bordo Granit X-Plus, ABUS Granit CityChain X-Plus, and Kryptonite Series 2 955 Integrated Chain with the 36-inch bolt cutters only with quite a lot of effort. (The large ABUS Folding Lock Bordo was the most difficult for us, and so is unlikely to be cut this way.) Some of these locks claim to be resistant, but because of design issues, thinner chain links, softer metals, or differences in the hardening processes, we were able to cut all these locks. The easiest U-locks to cut through appeared to be only case hardened, not hardened more thoroughly, via a different heat-treating process.
As described in an email from Mark Podob of Metlab, a heat-treating company: “The advantage of case hardening over through hardening is that it provides a hard surface to a certain depth and allows for the use of a less expensive low carbon steel for the ‘U’ material. On the other hand, once the case is penetrated, sawing through the rest of the material can go quickly.”
The harder outer case seems to do little to stop bolt cutters, though, since the tool’s jaws can crush and split the softer metal underneath the hardened shell, as demonstrated in the photos of the cut locks above.
We weren’t expecting notable results from the hacksaw test, as even modest case-hardened steel usually deters a hacksaw. However, the Altor and TiGr locks are both made of titanium, which is naturally tough but not very hard, and the hacksaw proved that. With the hacksaw, we took under 30 seconds to cut through either lock held in a vise. Our using the vise probably resulted in a cut time quicker than that of most real-world scenarios, but practiced thieves have a few tricks (zip ties, or leaning against the bike) that make these times not too far off from what you could expect. The RockyMounts lock we tested uses a material rarely found in bicycle locks, namely stainless steel, which to our eyes appeared to be left unhardened; despite the lock’s large shackle diameter, our hacksaw cut through in just 90 seconds.
This tool category warranted testing, because while a small cordless drill is louder than bolt cutters, it’s still barely noticeable over the sound of a busy street; also easier to carry, it doesn’t cause as much suspicion as a large set of cutters, and it’s much quieter than an angle grinder. The one we used in our testing was a 12 V Milwaukee Fuel, which is small enough to put into a jacket pocket. While the Altor 560G gave in to the bolt cutters, and the ABUS Folding Lock Bordo Granit X-Plus did as well after much effort on our part, the drill easily defeated both. A quick look at the locks was all we needed to see that the hinge was probably the weakest component of each system, and that was the case in our tests. The connecting pins that held links together in these two folding locks were left unhardened in both, and we quickly removed them by drilling straight through them.
The only test we had left to do was with the angle grinder. We knew that all the locks would fall to the 7,000 rpm of an aluminum oxide disc—we just weren’t sure how long it would take. After years of hearing anecdotes from customers, reading marketing literature, watching the occasional YouTube video, and removing the odd lock here and there, we expected some of these locks to take over a minute for us to make one cut, and at least two minutes for us to make both the cuts necessary to free the lock from a bike. We planned on setting aside one or two mornings devoted to grinding through them all. We expected the test to be a slog, a hand-numbing experience of flying sparks and binding cut-off wheels, with more than 50 cuts to be made to test all of our locks multiple times.
We charged all the batteries we had for our cordless grinder, set up the vise outside, made extra coffee, and mentally prepared ourselves for the hours of grinding that lay ahead of us. Then the first lock took 14 seconds to cut through. The next, 15. Some of them couldn’t survive past the 10-second mark. The ABUS, which we had higher hopes for, lasted a mere 20 seconds before our blade passed through the other side. The thickest and strongest, the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit, still resisted for only 30 seconds before we made one cut. The chains were a similar story, with the Kryptonite New York Legend and the Artago 69T100E each lasting 30 seconds for one cut.
What we learned was that no lock could resist for more than a minute against modern battery-powered cordless tools, even if it was a chain or had a dual-locking shackle and needed two cuts for removal. Granted, we did all these tests under ideal circumstances in a vise to create an equal setting for all the locks, but after testing locks in more awkward and unrestrained positions and seeing only a marginal increase in time, we can say that our results aren’t too far off from what you can expect in the real world.
A few seconds of construction-like noise in any busy city wouldn’t be out of the ordinary at all. And even if it’s painfully obvious that a bike is being stolen, it seems to barely cause any alarm or attract attention, as demonstrated in one of my favorite videos (from The New York Times, which is now the parent company of The Wirecutter and The Sweethome):
So why bother to lock a bike? That’s the question most people ask once they realize the general disregard most pedestrians show toward a bike being stolen and what modern cordless power tools have done to bicycle security. Why bother securing your bike with a better lock if it means only an extra minute at most, maybe even mere seconds, to a thief? It unfortunately comes down to beating the people around you—after all, you don’t need to outrun a bear, only the person next to you. If you can ride a less expensive bike and lock it up properly with a better lock in a safer location, you can remove the temptation for a thief to pick your bike over an easier target.
In some situations even the cheapest lock can provide this amount of security, but we believe that a small upgrade to the Kryptonite Evolution Mini-7 allows you to eliminate more methods of attack over the competition at this price—and as a result, in most cities your bike will be targeted only by very determined thieves. Most thieves don’t want to steal your bike, they want only to steal a bike. If one is easier to steal and valued more, that’s the one they want. If you can persuade them to pick another target, that’s all you need, but if they still decide to target your bike, we think you should at least give yourself a chance of catching them, by using a lock that needs to be cut with a grinder.
The Kryptonite Evolution Mini-7 U-lock comes with a cable and a free year of the company’s antitheft protection. This model is slightly more expensive than our previous pick, the Kryptonite Series 2, but if you were planning on adding Kryptonite’s protection coverage to the Series 2 anyway, the free year helps balance out the cost. What you get for that extra money is one huge advantage that’s hard to see: Instead of using just a case-hardened shackle (the big U-shaped loop that U-locks get their name from), the Evolution series uses a harder steel shackle and a hardening process that, while not technically being “through hardened,” still withstood more abuse in our tests than other locks at the same price. While we could cut lesser locks with only 24-inch bolt cutters, the Evolution Mini-7 withstood even our 36-inch cutters, surviving with just a couple of small scratches.
The Evolution Mini-7 also uses the more secure disc-detainer locking mechanism. This style of keyway and mechanism is very resistant to picking, requiring specialty tools, patience, and skill to pick. After consulting with multiple lock-picking enthusiasts and experts, we’ve decided that the chances of having this lock picked on the street are very slim, in contrast to the likelihood for some of the other locks we tested.
This lock has one of the more minimal designs we’ve seen, with no bulky plastic housing to break, and a durable protective rubber coating on all the main parts to prevent scratches on your bike’s paint. It also comes with one of the better mounts for attaching it to the frame of the bicycle while you’re riding. (That isn’t saying much, though, as mounted U-locks are the bane of bicycle mechanics everywhere because the mounts always seem to be in an awkward spot or to come loose over time. If at all possible, carrying this lock on a rack or in a basket is definitely the preferred method, but the mount will suffice.)
The Evolution is also available in multiple sizes, so if you need a different length, you have options, but we think the 7-inch size is ideal for most people to use yet still small enough to prevent leverage attacks if locked properly. If you are commuting on a bike with large tires and need to lock both wheels, this model might not be long enough to fit over the tire and frame. You can solve that problem by adding some locking wheel skewers, but Kryptonite also sells the Evolution in a larger size without the cable. If you are unsure on the fit, swinging by your local shop to check might be worthwhile.
The only real flaw with this lock is that it locks on just one side of the shackle, using a bent foot on the nonlocking side. When I was confirming some technical specs with Kryptonite PR manager Daryl Slater, he informed me that the new versions of the Evolution Mini-7 and Mini-5, to be released early summer 2017, would have a dual-locking shackle. If that turns out to be the case, and if the price remains similar, it would remove the only flaw I currently see in this lock. We’ve added the new models to our What to look forward to section below, and we will be testing them when they come out.
Regardless, the design does offer an advantage, as the bent foot can act as a pivot to help squeeze the lock together when it’s a tight fit. The disadvantage of this feature, though, is that a thief needs to make only one cut, instead of two, in order to be able to remove the lock; the design effectively halves the time it takes to cut the lock. The larger version of the Evolution uses a double-locking design, but Kryptonite decided to use the bent foot on this size, as on our previous pick, the Kryptonite Series 2.
We still believe that the hardness of the shackle and the difficulty of squeezing a car jack into a properly locked Evolution Mini-7 will thwart most attacks (other than the angle grinder) better than any other lock at this price, but if you’re in a high-risk area (talk to your local bicycle shop if you’re unsure), or if you live in Manhattan, where the only locks covered by Kryptonite’s antitheft protection are the New York Series, you should probably skip the dual-locking standard-size Evolution and instead upgrade to the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit to be sure.
The Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Mini U-lock is a workhorse. You won’t find any special features or extra frills with it, just a lot of it—4.55 pounds’ worth. It uses a through-hardened dual-locking shackle and extra metal in the crossbar for even more security. The 18 mm shackle has a cross-sectional area twice that of our top pick’s 13 mm shackle, and correspondingly takes twice as long to cut through. And whereas the Evolution Mini-7 needs to be cut only once, the dual-deadbolt design of the New York Fahgettaboudit Mini requires two cuts for a thief to remove it from a bike or rack, resulting in a total time to remove that’s four times that of the Evolution Mini-7.
Since this lock is in Kryptonite’s New York Series of locks, it’s covered by the company’s antitheft protection in Manhattan.
The only significant downside to this lock, other than an increase in price over our top pick, is that it’s double the weight of our pick, but as our tests showed, a more hardened metal is the key to more security. The New York Fahgettaboudit Mini also does not include any mounting hardware if you wanted to attach it to your frame (though we doubt that the mount would even stay in place at this weight), and you would need to buy a cable separately. If you’re looking into that level of security, a small locking chain like the Kryptonite KryptoLok Series 2 995 Integrated Chain would be a more appropriate secondary lock to consider.
Sometimes you just need more lock. Whether you have a cargo bike or an electric assisted bicycle with a nontraditional frame, or the best place for you to lock up your bike is to a telephone pole, a chain lock can sometimes be a necessity. We think the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Chain is the best chain for the money for high-security situations.
The chain uses 14 mm through-hardened links and comes in a fairly standard 39-inch length as well as in a giant, 5-foot version. The chain is connected by Kryptonite’s 15 mm New York disc lock, with a dual-locking shackle and a disc-detainer mechanism. And because it is in Kryptonite’s New York Series of locks, it is covered by the company’s antitheft protection in Manhattan.
While we did not take as long to cut through this chain as we did the New York Fahgettaboudit Mini, we found that it provided almost as much security; it also had a more usable length, and it was easier to use than Kryptonite’s New York Legend Chain. The only chain locks that took us longer to cut though were the Kryptonite New York Legend and the Artago 69T100E, both of which cost significantly more. The New York Legend took about 50 percent longer to cut through for about 50 percent more money. If you’re particularly concerned about security, we think spending that kind of money on a stronger secondary lock would be a more savvy purchase and would give you more security for the same amount.
Locks take a lot of abuse, from drops to rain to snow to road grime. Luckily, maintaining the locks we’ve chosen is very easy. Just open the lock, clean out any grime you can see with a cloth, spray in some degreaser if it’s feeling gritty, and then spray in a dry lube (such as Tri-Flow Superior Dry Lubricant or Finish Line Dry Bike Lubricant) and rotate the key a few times in the lock. Kryptonite even offers easy instructions on its website. If you live in a dry climate or the lock isn’t exposed to the weather as often, we wouldn’t even worry about doing it as often as the company recommends; just remember to never force the key to rotate. If the key proves difficult to turn, first check if it could use some lubricant, and if that doesn’t work, try one of the extra keys that came with the lock to see if your regular key is bent or damaged.
Kryptonite KryptoLok Series 2 Standard: This U-lock was our previous pick. The least expensive lock-and-cable combo from a reputable company, the Series 2 uses a disc-detainer mechanism, and you can add Kryptonite’s optional antitheft protection. The biggest issue with this lock is that it is only case hardened, and bolt cutters can cut through it. With so many U-locks being sold that a thief can cut quickly and quietly with bolt cutters, we believe that by spending about 30 percent extra on a more-hardened lock, such as our pick, you could drastically reduce the percentage of thieves with the tools necessary to cut your lock.
Kryptonite KryptoLok Series 2 955 Integrated Chain: For the money, this is a great chain. Its biggest drawback is that a thief could cut it with bolt cutters, but in our tests the square shape of the 9 mm chain tended to slip out of the jaws of the cutters, and it took quite some work for us to break it. In terms of cut time and strength, the Series 2 chain performed as well as the ABUS Granit CityChain X-Plus for a quarter of the price. This is a great secondary lock or lower-security main lock, as we found it much harder to cut than the Kryptonite KryptoLok Series 2 Standard U-lock.
Kryptonite New York Legend Chain: This was the strongest chain we tested. It has 15 mm hardened links with a shrouded padlock, making the chain the only exposed place to attack. Cutting through it would take about a minute, just about the same as with the Fahgettaboudit Mini U-lock. The bulk and design of the padlock, however, make the New York Legend Chain best suited as a leave-in-place lock, not one you would want to lug around and use multiple times a day. If you are planning to leave any chain lock in place, outside work or at home, we recommend removing the cloth cover from the chain (at the risk of scratched paint) so that you can spot any tampering: We have heard of thieves pulling a chain cover back and cutting it in the night and then covering it back up so that the thief can just walk by later when the bike is locked again and cut it free with only a knife. This is one reason that the ABUS chains have nonremovable covers.
Kryptonite New York Noose: This chain is lighter and less expensive than the New York Fahgettaboudit Chain, and as a result it brings a slight decrease in security. It has no real vulnerabilities, but if you’re already looking at this level of security, upgrading to the Fahgettaboudit Chain, just to be sure, makes more sense.
Schlage Cinch Chain 999478: This chain looks the same as the Kryptonite New York Noose, but Schlage sells it as a stand-alone chain without a lock. We thought it would perform similarly to the Noose, because Kryptonite and Schlage are owned by the same parent company, but in our tests we ended up cutting it more quickly.
OnGuard Brute STD: In our tests this U-lock had a very good cut time, falling between the ABUS U-Lock Granit X-Plus and the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Mini, but even though it had a double-locking shackle, it had so much movement that we were able to remove it with only one cut. The biggest issue with this lock—and all the OnGuard locks we tried—is the lock mechanism itself, as they are all particularly easy to pick, without fancy tools or advanced skill.
OnGuard Beast 8016: Again, this chain lock did well in our strength tests, and its cutting times were close to those of our picks, but the huge shortfall of all the OnGuard locks is that they are easily picked. We just can’t recommend any lock that is this simple to open.
OnGuard Pitbull STD: The less-expensive model in OnGuard’s line of U-locks uses a thinner shackle and lacks a dust/security cover over the keyway. Regardless, this model is also easily pickable—unfortunate, because the OnGuard locks did well in our other tests.
ABUS Folding Lock Bordo Granit X-Plus: The design of this lock and mounting bracket makes it by far the nicest lock to carry, as it folds very compact and transports rattle-free in its frame-mounted case. It is, however, not a high-security lock as claimed, and a thief can easily defeat it by drilling out the unhardened pins that hold the links together. With enough patience I was also able to pop the links apart by working large bolt cutters into the joints, as House of Chain demonstrates on a smaller version of the Folding Lock Bordo in this video. It would be okay for low-crime areas, but the price is too high relative to the level of protection it provides.
ABUS Lock-Chain Combination Granit CityChain X-Plus : This model was one of the lightest chains, but it was also one of the fastest chains for us to cut with the angle grinder. We also cut it, with some effort, using large bolt cutters. It did as well as the Kryptonite Series 2 955 Integrated Chain in our tests, but at four times the price, it isn’t an amazing buy.
ABUS U-Lock Granit X-Plus: While this U-lock was one of the lightest for its size, we took significantly less time to cut through it than we did our upgrade pick, and it costs significantly more than that Kryptonite model. The plastic housing surrounding the crossbar seems to add more bulk than necessary. It is definitely not a bad lock buy, but you can find more security for less money.
ABUS Ultra 410 Mini Combo: This U-lock was the easiest of all the locks for us to cut with bolt cutters. Our 24-inch cutters passed through with little resistance, and the same thing happened even when we used a pair with dented, dull jaws.
ABUS U-Lock U-mini 40: At first, we thought this lock, priced just above our pick, the Kryptonite Evolution Mini-7, would be a contender for the best lock. Both sides of the shackle lock and resist twisting, meaning a thief would need to cut it twice to remove it from most objects. It also uses ABUS’s high-quality disc-detainer lock mechanism and a 14 mm shackle, both of which represent an upgrade over the ABUS Ultra 410 and the Evolution Mini-7. Unfortunately, in our tests we cut the lock very easily with bolt cutters—it was one of the easiest for us to cut, actually, and it ended up performing on a par with the Kryptonite Series 2 Standard U-lock.
Blackburn San Quentin U-Lock: This lock took us just over 20 seconds to cut through with the grinder, placing in the middle of the pack, but it had quite a bit of wiggle after only one cut, enough for a thief to possibly remove it from a bicycle rack. It also has a hard plastic casing and plastic internal sleeve holding the lock mechanism together, both of which could cause long-term durability issues; Amazon reviews confirm many instances of the plastic covers breaking or coming off, leaving the lock body exposed and liable to scratch your bike. The strength of the steel is good, but the cover and internals need to be improved.
Blackburn Attica Chain and Pad Lock: The padlock portion of this lock unfortunately suffers from the same long-term durability problems as the Blackburn U-lock, being basically a shrunken-down version. In our tests the cut time was average for both the chain and padlock portions, which put this chain in the middle of the group.
Hiplok Gold: This chain lock has a design that allows you to wear the chain around your waist without locking it. (Wearing one locked is something that you should never do—keys get lost, locks jam, accidents happen, and paramedics need to be able to remove the lock easily in the event of an emergency.) It’s a nice feature, but a couple of zip ties or a Velcro strap can add similar functionality to nearly any chain long enough. In our tests, the cut time for this lock was among the quickest, but the real dealbreaker was our ability to snip it quickly with large bolt cutters. The chain needs to be just a little thicker for us to consider this model as a main lock.
Hiplok D Bike Lock: The plastic clips on the back of this U-lock make it wearable on a belt or pants, and this feature actually works well and is useful, as most lock brackets for mounting U-locks to the bike are not great and tend to make noise and come loose over time. The lock also has a double-locking shackle and is hardened, and we were unable to cut through it with bolt cutters. It does use a wafer-style mechanism, albeit a much better one than on the OnGuard models; a thief could still pick it with more basic tools than for a disc-detainer mechanism, and potentially with “tryout keys,” but to us it seemed much more secure than any of the OnGuard locks. Even with the dual-locking shackle, though, it showed some movement after one cut in our tests, enough for a thief to remove it from many bike frames. This drawback, not to mention a higher price than that of our top pick, kept us from selecting it, but otherwise it seems like a fine lock.
RockyMounts Compton Large: This lock, which is just becoming available, ranked as one of the heaviest locks we tested. It is made of stainless steel with an 18 mm shackle. Stainless steel is harder than mild steel but is definitely not as hard as hardened steel—something we proved in our tests, as it was able to withstand just over half the cutting time of the Artago and Kryptonite locks, both of which also use 18 mm shackles. We also took only 90 seconds to cut the Compton Large by hand using a hacksaw. In addition, this is the least ergonomic lock we tested, with nonrubberized, sharp steel edges. Although it is not the most secure lock, it would be the lock we’d pick up as a weapon if we found ourselves in the middle of a Wirecutter brawl.
Knog Strongman: We found a lot to like about this little lock, which is nearly entirely surrounded by a thick silicone covering, making for a nearly scratch-proof and silent-to-carry lock. In our tests, however, although it did have a dual-locking shackle, we ended up with a fairly large gap between the halves after one cut. Considering that it costs much more than our pick without offering much measurable advantage, and keeping in mind the many poor reviews on Amazon claiming that the mechanism corrodes and becomes hard to open over time, we had to pass.
TiGr Mini: This lock originated on Kickstarter. The main body, made out of titanium, features a flexible and very lightweight build. It had our favorite frame mount of all the locks we tried, and is made in the USA. The big dealbreaker is that it very easily succumbs to cutting with bolt cutters, despite the maker’s claims to the contrary. We found a severe weak point between the main shackle and the locking mechanism itself, a gap that permits even small bolt cutters to shear the lock open. Also, titanium is tough but is not necessarily hard, and we were able to hacksaw through the Mini in under 30 seconds while we had it in a vise.
Altor 560G: Another lock that began its life on Kickstarter, the 560G is also made of titanium, but it features a hinged design similar to the ABUS Folding Lock Bordo Granit X-Plus. More parts mean more weak points, however, and we found that we could use Vise-Grips or a punch to push out the pins that hold it all together, as they were not sufficiently formed over. We also quickly removed them with a drill, and the links separated. On top of that, we cut through the links with bolt cutters (though it did take some effort), and the lock fell to our hacksaw in just under 30 seconds.
Litelok: We found the band of this lock extremely difficult to cut through without power tools. The arrangement of the cables against a flat metal strip is a clever idea and works extremely well at slowing these types of attacks, though someone with enough patience could do it. The big dealbreaker for this lock: We used just a pair of small bolt cutters against the lock mechanism (this is where most thieves actually cut many cable locks, as it tends to be quicker), and that immediately revealed its weakness. The entire mechanism spread open and revealed the thin strips of metal holding a single post that made up the latch to the lock. A second cut through the post, and the lock came apart.
Artago 18ART120: This is a great U-lock with a quality mechanism and a cut time equal to the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit Mini; the legs of its shackle insert deeper, too, resulting in less movement after one cut. This design does, however, make the interior length of the lock a bit too small to be useful for most people as a bicycle lock, and the price is almost double what you can find the Fahgettaboudit Mini for. However, with Kryptonite supposedly discontinuing the larger New York M18-WL, if you are looking for a very secure U-lock with an 18 mm shackle, Artago makes this lock in a larger size.
Artago 69T100E: This very high-quality stand-alone chain is available for purchase without a lock, and in our tests it had a cut time equal to that of the Kryptonite New York Legend Chain. We have nothing bad to say about it, but the cost of buying a separate lock and this chain makes it one of the more expensive setups we tested, and it doesn’t come with the option of antitheft protection. However, if you already own a lock and are looking only to purchase a bare chain, our cut times on this chain were as good as those of anything else we tested.
A note on our current top pick: As we mentioned earlier, a Kryptonite representative told us that the company will be updating the design of the Evolution Mini-7 (our pick) and Evolution Mini-5 to include a double-locking shackle (as opposed to the current single-sided locking version with a bent-foot design). We’ll be keeping an eye out for this revamped design when the new models come out, and we’ll be testing the Mini-7 again to confirm that none of the other technical specs have changed. We’ll make sure to update this guide when the new locks become available.
As with everything these days, the Internet of Things seems to be making its way into bike locks as the manufacturers try to improve upon their offerings by connecting them to the Web. But this can be a trickier proposition for portable objects than for a fridge or microwave, because without the Wi-Fi in your home, they need to rely on either a cell service (usually with a monthly fee) or on Bluetooth (which has a limited range). Although none of the following connected bike-security devices seem to be perfected yet, we have started researching them in hopes that they can help in the future.
For this guide we wanted to test the Lattis Ellipse electronic bike lock, which uses Bluetooth technology to alert you if someone is tampering with your lock, but at the time we checked, the lock had still not started shipping, and we are still skeptical that the effective range of its Bluetooth connection will be more than just across the street, or will even get through a wall. We’ll need to wait and see.
Other than locking your bike as securely as possible, the only other option you have is to try to track it after someone has stolen it. Devices such as the Boomerang CycloTrac, Spot Trace, and Spybike Top Cap Tracker all are designed to alert your phone if your bike moves and then begin sending tracking information. They all rely on a clear view to the sky for GPS satellites and require a monthly subscription to send the data to you over a cell network. If the thief tears them off, however, they become useless.
The other types of trackers that have become popular are Bluetooth trackers such as Tile and TrackR, which use passive Bluetooth systems coupled with a community app, no GPS. This option requires you, or someone else with the app, to be within 100 feet to get a location on your bike. The system might work okay in some places and be completely useless in others; the experience would be like trying to find your lost Bluetooth speaker by walking up and down every city block and hoping to pair it with your phone.
Not electronic, but very interesting, is the Skunklock, which sprays a noxious-smelling fluid if someone cuts into the pressurized shackle. It does seem to have a couple of design issues that could allow a thief to cut the lock without getting sprayed, but we’re waiting patiently—with our gas masks—to test this model as soon as it’s available.
Originally published: March 9, 2017
3 a.m. milkshakes.