Choosing Bike Locks: Small, Medium or Ridiculous?

I see this question so many times, lets write up my daily outdoor locking strategy so I can just link to it from now on.

The Bad Penny That Keeps Coming Up

I have worked hard to avoid writing on this subject. I try to stick to writing about something unique that hasn’t been done to death elsewhere. And if there’s a subject that has been done to death, its Bike Locks…

  • How To…
  • Whats The Best Lock?
  • Is This One Any Good?
  • and on and on and on…

But the thing is, this is a frequent topic not going away anytime soon. An original stated purpose of this blog is to write down a comprehensive response to a frequently asked question, so I can just link to it, rather than wearing my fingers down, repeating myself.

So here we go.

First: Locking Philosophy

Here’s where I am coming from when it comes to locking: I’m a firm believer in overkill. The lock needs to look impressive and really be impressive. Also, I recognize even the biggest, baddest lock is not impenetrable. What I am trying to do is make my bike tougher to steal than the one next to it. Or the nearby car.

I know full well that against a portable, battery powered angle grinder, typical resistance is measured in mere seconds. The angle grinder attack is what I am trying to provide a best-defense against. My goal is to require multiple grinder cuts and turn those seconds into as many minutes as possible. I’ll do that with a combination of locks that use superior materials. Big locks.

SIDEBAR:
I am also familiar with Ramset style gunpowder-actuated nail guns, and what they can do.  I am not expressly attempting a defense against these.  First of all, they are a one-in-a-zillion risk where the wielder of such a weapon is guaranteed to garner *extreme* reactions from passersby and the local SWAT team.  Secondly, besides big, beefy badass locks (which mine are) protection against such tools is largely about savvy locking technique, which I am using.

Next, I know my locking location has a lot to do with how secure my bike is. I am not locking a bike in a back alley, away from public view in the bad part of town. Instead what I am doing is locking up in as public of a place as I can. Right in front of a store, preferably, with lots of foot and vehicle traffic, and people all over the place. In a neighborhood where someone grinding away with a saw is going to attract attention. Again… we live in an imperfect world. If you look around you will find Youtube videos of people ignoring a guy going at it with an angle grinder… but we do what we can and ‘in-public’ is better than ‘in-hiding’.

Last: I need to easily and quickly deploy my lock. Leaving it outside of a store is part of my daily routine. An inconvenient routine is one you shortcut, or don’t use. So locking up must be fast and easy.

Carry The Lock

Often ignored when considering a locking strategy, this step is important: A lock held down with 10 bungie cords or stuffed under things at the bottom of a pannier fails the ‘easy’ test.

In my case, riding a cargo bike makes this a lot simpler. I have a great big box available to hold my great big lock. As noted elsewhere, I keep my lock in the front compartment of my Bullitt, in this bag:

That bag looks big, but looks are deceiving. Inside the bag I have added a layer of foam around all sides – the same stuff you see in that picture covering the top, bottom and left sides of the cargo bay. Plus I keep my backup hand pump in there. Also the fact I set things on top of it means it gets squished down. Add all that up and its roughly double the size required to do its job.

In keeping with the ‘easy’ mandate, At a shop, my first move is to haul this bag out. Then I remove and attach the lock. The keys are always inside the bag so they are never forgotten. Once the lock is deployed, the keys stay in the bag and everything on the bike that isn’t nailed down goes in as well. Headlights, taillights, my dashcam etc. You need a bag for that anyway and this makes for a quick solution going in, and coming back out again.

Pick The Lock

Maybe its better to say we’re going to choose our lock hardware now. I am going to get right to it and show my top performers. We’ll mention the predecessors that didn’t quite cut the mustard later on. I will try to ignore locks that I have bought and learned they were cheap crap.

Pragmasis Protector 11mm Noose Chain

SIDEBAR:
There are plenty of boron steel hardened chains.  Why use this one?  It is heavy, but also a LOT lighter than competitors of the same thickness, like Kryptonite, Abus or Pewag. Why?  Because the links are much longer.  So what?  Well, the longer your link, the fewer links are needed.  That has no bearing on chain material used to make up length... but it is a big deal because fewer lengths of chain are needed to close the link.  11mm boron steel chain is all pretty much the same stuff.  But the longer links provide the magic to shave a few pounds off of a 6.5 foot chain.  

Additionally, as you will see in pictures below, long links can be threaded one inside the other to create independently locked loops on each side of the chain.

This chain is available in different lengths, and since I am securing an 8-ft long cargo bike, the 2-meter length is the right one for me. As you can see in the following section below, my first chain was a 13mm chain. After some time, I switched to the 11mm chain, with the noose end. Using a noose on one side means you can very quickly tie a noose on one side of the bike (or to the bike rack) and then feed the chain thru the bike frame to where you are using the lock, which secures the bike to the rack. I generally use the lock on the rack side, and the noose on the bike frame as you see below.

One look at a locking scheme like this and its clear if you want this bike, you will have to work for it. That ‘look’ is just as important as the lock actually being strong. You don’t want someone having a go at your lock – and giving up halfway thru.

Deterrence, ideally, means your bike stays put and your expensive lock is not ruined by a failed theft attempt.

I try to keep the chain off the ground, or at the least under the bike. This helps prevent freezing and/or smashing attacks.

Xena XSU-310 lock

This is a motorcycle lock, actually. Just like a bicycle U lock, but supersized. The shackle is a massive, solid 18mm hardened steel bar with 11.5 inches of internal vertical clearance. The body is mono-bloc stainless steel. The shackle is covered in thin, tough transparent vinyl covering. I was originally attracted to it because I wanted to use it in a coastal area and stainless doesn’t rust as easily in the moist, salty air.

This thing is a monster, plain and simple. I thought my Lockitt DIB U locks were big until I set this thing side by side with them. If you want a smaller-sized shackle, the same lock is available in two smaller sizes. But for me, bigger was better.

A thoughtful feature of this lock: Its locking pins don’t allow the shackle to rotate. If the shackle is cut through with an angle grinder, the lock is still secure. A second cut has to be made to create a gap to free the chain. That effectively doubles the time it takes for a successful attack.

It fits the 11mm Pragmasis chain just barely, without any snagging. The chain has a 20mm internal clearance and with the vinyl, the lock has about 19mm.

Now that I have been using it for awhile, I definitely prefer the larger size. Not for the added security it provides, but the added options. Its just plain easier to reach thru that front tire and hook onto something. Having that little bit of extra length over the DIB-260 lock I formerly used has been very helpful, as has the slightly wider loop of the U, which more easily fits around my forks and thru my spokes.

These benefits are perhaps specific to a bike. Maybe a smaller shackle will fit around your forks and spokes just fine. As such, don’t take anything for granted. Locks all have specs on their shackle sizes so take those and do some measuring before you buy any lock.

Lockitt (Pragmasis) DIB-190 and DIB-260 D lock

Pragmasis is a UK-based company and since the Brits refer to ‘U’ locks as ‘D’ locks, I’ll do the same here. This lock is not absolutely necessary to my setup, but it does serve three different purposes:

  1. I put it on independent of my other locking scheme, as shown above – it only takes a few seconds. So no matter what is done to my other lock, this one has to be defeated as well to free up the bike. If you don’t defeat this second lock, you have to carry the bike away.
  2. If my big D lock can’t reach far enough to attach to a solid object like a rack or a pole, I can use this lock like a second link in a chain to reach out further by another foot or so.
  3. If I am just running inside for a minute, or say… standing in a line within sight of the bike, I can throw this on by itself to keep someone from jumping on and riding away before I can stop them.

Its important to have a quickee setup for a bike that is being used for daily utility. Short, easy stops need to be accounted for in your locking routine. For the times when you don’t need to go whole hog, having that quick solution can be the difference between locking it and saying to heck with it and hoping for the best. Its human nature to become complacent.

You can see in some of the photos that I used to use two Pragmasis D locks. The Xena came later on. Since I have those two Pragmasis locks, I re-purposed the second one for use on my Mongoose Envoy, which lives in a different town and uses an identical locking setup.

Here’s what the Lockpicking Lawyer said about this lock:

Also-Rans

These are the bits I used to use, but replaced with the bits I listed above. there’s nothing wrong with any of this stuff. Its just not in daily use now.

Kryptonite Keeper 5-S2 Disc Lock

Putting this little lock in the Also-Ran section is really unfair, as I do use it for other bikes; just not ones that get regularly locked up. If anything, EVERY bike should have one of these secreted in a little bag somewhere. It is small, the key can stay in/with the lock so you never lose it, and it will stop someone from riding off with your bike. The only reason I do not keep it with my daily bike is I have the second U lock now for quick jobs.

The little bright orange cable is not for security. It is a ‘reminder cable’. You loop it around the lock, which is attached to your disk brake rotor. The other end goes up and onto your handgrip. This ensures you remember to remove the lock before you forgetfully try to pedal off with the lock still attached. Its easy to leave the cable permanently attached to your lock so you just snap it onto the rotor, pull the loop up to the handgrip and done.

Pragmasis Protector 13mm chain

This chain is in fact better than the 11mm chain I regularly use. 6-foot long bolt cutters need to be in a bench vise and tightened with a come-along to cut it. Its so strong a human can’t do it. One reason it is not in use is… its too heavy even for me. But not by much.

When I was using this chain, I made my own loop on one end as seen in the picture, with an RL-21 Roundlock closing the loop. That made for a second, independent lockup from the front U lock. The RL-21, as noted below, is effectively invulnerable to many forms of attack. Using it on the back wheel ensured the bike had to be carried away if the front half of the lock is defeated, or an extended stay is required to remove this second , independent piece of the puzzle.

Among other things, for this bike the 2M length of the 13mm chain was just too long

I said ‘one reason’ above, and that reason was not the biggest reason I went to the different chain. the other, main reason was the lack of a noose. You can lock up you own ‘manual’ noose like I did here in a couple of minutes.. It involves a little lock-fumbling and key-sorting and the noose is not cinched perfectly to the size you need in that moment. An actual noose chain on the other hand is deployed and cinched snug in a few seconds. You lose the second independent lock, but as you can see above I found another (easier) way to make up for that.

This is a big example of how important the ‘easy’ rule is and I spent about $150 more than I needed to learn it.

Lockitt (Pragmasis) RL21 Roundlock

You can see above how I used this lock. Here’s what the Lockpicking Lawyer said about it:

And here’s a vid from the guys who manufacture it. Use with the 13mm chain is shown as well:

Nowadays, I keep the RL21 with the 13mm chain. If I need to use that chain I can use the roundlock to secure it.

The ‘Other’ One

I mentioned above that I have a second lock for my Mongoose Envoy that is identical to this one (except it uses the Pragmasis DIB-260 instead of the DIB-190).

Here’s a pic of that very different bike. The lock is on the bike in its permanent location. You can just see the silver chain cover poking up at the back of the kangaroo pouch in those big panniers. Its just sitting there ready to grab, folded along the full length of the bag.

Since this bike is holding things to its sides, to balance the load I put the two U locks in the corresponding pouch on the other side. They go inside the same type of bag described above that I use to hold the entire lock on the other bike. I still need a generous pouch to throw all my stuff taken off the bike like lights etc, so that bag does the same job here.

AFTERWORD: What about a good strong cable?

There’s no way to put this nicely so I’ll just say it:

Cables are bottom of the barrel in terms of security. Big cables are not much better than small ones.

You can use diagonal hand cutters or mini bolt cutters to just cut a few wires at a time rather than trying to cut the whole thing at once and be through the thickest cable in a disgustingly short time. Of course there are tools that cut thru more effectively than hand cutters.

Cables are about convenience. Easy to roll up and stuff into a backpack or bag. Easy to deploy. Unfortunately they are also easy to defeat.

Dishonorable Mention: The Ottolock

The Lockpicking Lawyer made perhaps the most visible debunking of the worth of this lock. The manufacturer vigorously defended themselves. As an Ottolock owner I can say what you see in the video below is absolute, unvarnished truth. I can use ordinary snips like the ones in his video (actually I own straight cut snips like these) and snip snip snip I cut three pieces off the Ottolock cable/strip about as fast as you can say “snip snip snip”. I did this when I tried to use my Ottolock to clamp down a Luna Wolf battery pack and needed it to be shorter (in the end I used a velcro strap).

It is just as secure as it appears to be in this video.

Last But Not Least: INSURANCE

We’ve already addressed the limitation of locks, being they are imperfect. What happens when the bike gets stolen despite your best efforts?

I have anti-theft coverage on my daily-use cargo bikes – the ones that get locked up out in public. I use Velosurance. They are an agent for the bicycle policy offered by Markel Insurance Company. If you do some digging you will find just about every company offering bicycle insurance is in fact an agent for Markel (being an insurance agent myself, I looked diligently and never found another one). I spent time reading the specimen Markel policy (found on the Velosurance web site) and, upon seeing the policy paid out on a Stated Value basis, discussed this with a Velosurance agent in detail before I considered it acceptable.

A lot of folks think their bikes or ebikes are covered under their homeowner’s policy. Speaking as an insurance agent myself, I can tell you to assume nothing. For starters, policies vary by insurance carrier so what your friend Bob has – or thinks he has – doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on what you have.

Also, don’t take your agent’s word for the fact coverage that meets your needs is in the policy. Your agen’ts opinion is non-binding on the insurance company, and s/he will have no part in the claims adjustment process. If you want to get it right… have your agent reach out to a company underwriter to respond to your comprehensive use and coverage questions. Someone like that assuring you of coverage (again, after you ask the right questions) is binding down the road in case there is a claim and the claims department questions whether there is coverage or not.

I have homeowners insurance myself. I got a separate policy tailored specifically to my ebike. One thing in particular: A specialist doesn’t have qualms about modifications and upgrades. They understand them a lot better than a company that only sees something like what you are riding once in a blue moon… if ever.

Larry Vs. Harry Bullitt – The Cargo Box

This is the heart and soul of your Bullitt. The reason it exists. There are many brilliant cargo area customizations out there. This is not one of them, but I did do some stuff worth at least mentioning.

The Bullitt Build
1. Battery and Battery Box
2. Cargo Box (You Are Here)
3. Brakes
4. Front Motor & Wheel
5. Rear Motor & Drivetrain
6. Bits & Pieces

The Cargo Box

Truth be told, I didn’t do all that much to the cargo area. At least compared to some of the engineering marvels I have seen some owners put together. But I did do some things a bit differently than I have seen done before, so I decided to write them up.

Mounting Changes

I used the stock honeycomb deck sold by Larry Vs. Harry. As detailed in the Battery Box episode, the downward-facing bolts are now upward-facing studs. That means I need to use a nut up top – sticking out in the cargo area. So I need to manage that. Additionally, because under the honeycomb floor is a very, very expensive battery, I wanted to introduce as much security-through-obscurity as I could to the installation.

Security Nuts

As seen in the pictures below, I used some oddball security nuts. Now, anyone who has ever owned a pair of vise grips, or maybe some good channel locking pliers, knows you can get these nuts off of the stud without needing the special keyed security socket. But it will be a pain in the ass, and probably a 10-minute process (you’ll need to know in advance you must put a wrench to the socket cap underneath or the whole bolt assembly will just spin and not loosen) versus … what? 30 seconds? Its just another layer of security to make things more difficult for a thief thinking about stealing the battery out of the bike.

The ‘studs’ are in fact M6 socket cap bolts, sized in advance for this job. When I used a nice, thick, wide Grade 8 washer and screwed down one of these security nuts on top, the height of the washer and nut equals the length of exposed bolt. I did not use any sort of thread locker. Instead I made a visible registration mark – a dot – on the washer and a matching dot on the nut. So long as the dots line up, I can tell at a glance they are still tight.

Early on I played a few games to cap the nuts so they didn’t intrude unduly on the cargo area, but none of the ideas really worked well until I came up with my final solution, described below in the Padding section.

Wiring and the tubes

As mentioned in the episodes covering the front motor, the battery box and the brakes, I decided to run my brake and front motor cables through the cargo area. Partly because a battery box occupied the space where the brake cable was to be routed, and partly because I wanted the cables to run internally to keep them out of harm’s way.

As seen in the pictures above, I ran one cable down each side of the cargo bay. To keep the cable from getting in the way and snagging on stuff during daily life, I used furniture grade (thin but sturdy) PVC tubes as cable guides. Each tube is mounted to the side panel brackets very simply with criss-crossed zip ties at each bracket. The tubes are solidly mounted and are not going to budge.

In a couple of pictures above, some kind of black glop is visible at the point where the cable exits to the front of the bike. That is 3M 2228 moisture-sealing (mastic) tape. Slight variations of the same product are sold as ‘electrical insulation putty’ and thats what I used the tape for here. I wadded it up into a blob and stuffed it around the cable ingress point. It not only forms a waterproof seal, it holds the cable firmly in place at this point so it can’t rub back and forth on the (sharp-ish) edges of the honeycomb board.

Padding

As noted above, I was looking for a way to deal with the mounting studs/bolts sticking up into the cargo compartment. At the same time, I was also looking for a way to pad the cargo bay interior. As I go bouncing down the road, my cargo can bounce along with me in time with the potholes. Something to deaden and reduce that bouncing around was in order. I also wanted to use padding that was thick enough to support a person. Something that would not squish down paper-thin if someone’s backside were plunked down in the bay.

After some poking around, I settled on Minicel-T600 closed-cell EVA foam in a 1/2″ thickness. 1/2″ doesn’t sound like a lot but this is some serious foam. It is very tough, and incredibly fine-celled. It feels – and somewhat looks like – a fine-grained suede.

Its a perfect foam for a cargo bay that is going to have stuff tossed into it and dragged around. Because it is so strong, I can get a lot of mileage out of a foam that doesn’t cost me much in the way of lost cargo volume. I can sit on it and the foam doesn’t bottom out. Better still, it forms around and over top of the security nuts so you can’t tell they are there, unless you sit on one, but even so its not especially uncomfortable (I give a passenger another layer of that same foam in a square to make sure nobody has a problem).

Better still, its another layer in the way of getting at the battery box. If you are looking to help yourself to my battery, peeking into the cargo area (I do leave the tonneau on the bike when I go into a store) won’t give an immediate clue as to how to get underneath. You’ll have a minute’s extra work pulling up the floor, at which point you will learn about the security nuts. Again, not perfect… but layers.

I bought a large sheet of the padding and, after a lot of careful measuring, cut out a pattern that lets me lay a single, fitted piece into the cargo bay that covers the floor, the sides and the front. I drilled a couple of holes in just the right spots at the back panel and ran extra long bolts thru the padding and into the panel, so the layer of padding is actually bolted down at the back. I could have done two more bolts in the front but its not necessary. Its not going anywhere as it is.

CAD? Schmad. My finely detailed technical drawing used to cut out my pattern. Dotted lines are folding points.

I have toyed with the idea of cutting down the right and left sides of the padding so they are edge-fit-flush with the side panels (maybe needs about a 1″ lip on each side), rather than running up them and padding the sides. The idea would be to recover that 1/2″ of lost storage space on each side, at the expense of side padding. But, once I cut it there’s no uncutting it, and I have yet to need that space more than I want the clean appearance and full coverage I have now.

Front Compartment

I found I have enough garbahhge carried with me that its better to wall it off into its own semi-permanent compartment. If I need the whole bucket I can always mount panniers on my rack and move all this stuff to the back of the bike.

Thats a cut-down knee pad from Harbor Freight doing the job of compartment divider. And yes, thats a folding stool under the green bag (which is my 5a traveling charger)

The Divider

I really like these things. This is nothing more than a super-dense knee pad that you can buy on Amazon for about US$18-$20, Except, if I go to Harbor Freight I can get them for about US$6.50. I literally have a half-dozen of the things doing various jobs as a knee pad, a sun shield for my SoGen, or as is the case here a compartment divider. I had to cut it down some to fit my cargo bay tightly, and a bit off the edges to fit under the tonneau. It can also be pulled out for use as a knee and body pad if I am unlucky enough to have to work on the bike, roadside.

The Ridiculous Lock

Actually its a chain and two locks. A Pragmasis 2-meter boron steel noose chain, with a long Pragmasis motorcycle-grade U lock, and a medium version of the same lock. Since Godzilla is a utility bike I need the locks to always be there for me should I stop at a store. There’s nothing worse than going by the supermarket and needing something, but having to come back after I go and get my lock. There’s a mistake I made once or twice before deciding the locks stay on the bike always.

I’m not fooling around when it comes to locking Godzilla. This method is quick to deploy and requires multiple cuts with an angle grinder to free up the bike.

I keep the locks in a well-fitted, oblong MOLLE pouch that also holds their keys. I never have an issue of forgetting those keys as a result. Which means I don’t have to pack back up and leave before I even get in the door at the store (once again, thats a lesson learned the hard way).

The Chair

Well, really its a stool. I found back in the bad old days of the pandemic shutdown that riding a bike to a store and waiting for curbside delivery to show up was MUCH easier if I had something besides the bike to sit on. A collapsible stool fits the bill and so I keep one with the bike. Godzilla’s is an 18″ Walkstool which, despite its cost, I highly recommend.

The Charger

For many of my bike builds, I make my own weatherproof chargers. I often mount them permanently on the ebike. Its the ultimate in range-anxiety relief. But this time Godzilla has a 32ah battery. A monster battery for a monster bike so I figured I didn’t need a charger this time.

After I got a few hundred miles under my belt, I found I could still screw up, forget to charge and remember this in the middle of a ride clear across town. If I’d had a charger on board, I could have stopped at a local city park, kicked back and taken advantage of the electrical outlets present on the canopies, for the use of picnickers. But noooo I didn’t want to lug around a charger… so lets turn the pedal assist all the way down and hope we make it.

I didn’t need to do that more than a couple of times before I put one of my 320w, 5a chargers into my kit. I think the one you see above, in pictures I took in 2019, is the same one I am using in Godzilla now.


Thats it for the cargo bay. Who’d a thunk I’d come up with almost 1900 words to describe a big empty box? Lets see how much space I can take up talking about something simple like…

The Brakes