The Bike Lock Connundrum

Context

Pilu at Freshwater. The pizza cafe at Alexandria. By the beach at Cronulla. Outside Anaconda at Arncliffe. The Little Marionette at Annandale. Inside the carpark at Top Ryde. By the beach at Brighton. On a ride, it had never been an issue, the situations were relatively low-risk and there were always multiple locks to go around, if we actually needed to lock up.

Canley Vale wasn’t quite the same. We only had one lock for four bikes, and this end of Sydney was not what I would consider low risk. The actual lockup location also was round the corner from the restaurant, in a side street. This was slightly risky business.

One cut - Four bikes!
In a dicey side street: One snip – Four bikes!

Which brings us on to the conundrum. In the bike world, generally, the better (and more expensive) the bike, the lighter it is. In the lock world, however, the better the lock, the heavier and more cumbersome it is. All locks will add weight which is why roadies won’t usually carry one at all.

That chain and lock would weigh at least 5kg - but he needs it.
The bike messenger from Premium Rush. That chain and lock would weigh at least 5kg – but he needs it.

From what I’ve been reading, in the US, and especially New York, bike theft is rampant. Thieves are equipped with tools to break or cut the locks. If you use a cable lock, you can pretty much expect your bike to be stolen, as cutting the cable is less than a five second job with bolt or cable cutters.

WITH BIKE LOCKS, “LIGHT” AND “STRONG” DON’T BELONG TOGETHER

D-locks (aka U-locks) are universally accepted as the most effective lock as they require angle grinders to cut, or jacks to break. The problem with D-locks, however, is their weight and cumbersome nature. They start at around 1KG and go up to 2KG. You also need a way to carry them, either in a backpack or cumbersomely mounted on a frame. For commuting, when the bike is going to be parked for a long period of time, there really wouldn’t be any other option.

For our purposes however, our recreational rides usually find us in low risk situations, generally safer localities with people around and often right outside our stop, and for short stops. With distance and time spent on the bike, a D-lock would be a nuisance. Keeping in mind that cable locks only stop opportunistic thefts – where the thief isn’t armed with tools, the quest to find a cable lock began.

knog
The Knog Party Coil

The first product I looked at was the Knog Party Coil. Knog products are well made, for what they are. They look good, and you can tell that they are quality by handling them. They really know how to market them too. “Patented seamless overmould using industrial grade UV stable silicone“, they say. And “The unique combination of braided steel and fibre core crush before cutting, making bolt cutter attacks more frustrating for smash and grab thieves“. They even have a video:

They’re going full on for the trendy angle here.

The truth is, the actual cable inside the silicon was a mere 5mm diameter, with the silicone covering adding another 5mm on top. Even with the silicone making it 10mm in total diameter, the whole thing still felt a bit thin. I actually bought one at the Rebel sale for $15, thinking that all cables can be cut anyway. Even so, it feels quite thin and I decided it wasn’t enough of a deterrent – so I returned it, unopened.

Marketing aside, in this test here, the Party Coil was cut in 3 seconds. In another test, the Party Frank (which internally also contains a 5mm diameter cable) was cut in 20 seconds which is actually pretty good, but if it’s the same cable as the Party Coil, I’ll take it as it could have been cut in 3 seconds. Knog also makes stronger, thicker locks. The Kabana has a 10mm internal cable which is decently thick enough, but in this test it was cut in 6 seconds.

The upside to the Party Coil is that it’s only 330g and being 1.3m in length, it’s long enough but not overly long like most 1.8m cables, so it is rather compact. And did I mention Knog feels quality? It even comes with a coiled wrist band for the keys. Truth be told, I might have considered the Kabana, but at 500g and $33 delivered, it wasn’t going to be a contender.

The Brief

I did look at some D locks, but found there weren’t any in existence that were light enough and mountable. The lightest ones were rather small and didn’t come with a mount, either.

After some looking around, I decided on a criteria list:

  • Light (Up to 500g)
  • Compact (a shorter coil will be more compact)
  • Easy to mount (a coil cable can just go around the seat posts)
  • Not spaghetti thin, but not too thick (10-12mm ideal)
  • Key operated
  • Branded (but not too expensive)

Ideally a combination cable lock would be the most convenient as it is keyless, but there have been stories of some of these locks coming apart, and even more youtube videos of them being picked. This comes as no surprise, as there are more moving parts (the rotating number rings) which are not as well protected as a simple key lock and cylinder. This makes the key operated lock a criteria.

The Shortlist

Kryptonite Kryptoflex 1218: 12mm diameter, 1.8m length, 790g. Too heavy!

Abus Booster 670: 12mm diameter, 1.8m length, 642g. It defeated bolt cutters, but rather large and heavy!

Onguard Doberman #8029: 10mm diameter, 1.8m length, 413g. Did not review well.

Tioga TLK1218: 12mm diameter, 1.8m length, 421g. Reviewed well, cheap ($15), and light.

Abus uGrip 585 Chain (not cable): 5mm diameter chain, 0.65m length, 650g. Too expensive ($50+).

20150614_172448
The Chosen One

In the end, I settled on the Reid 1212 Key Cable Lock. It ticked almost all the boxes – it would be lighter than the Tioga which was my 2nd choice, and more compact than all the other cables, due to its 1.2m length It was still 12mm diameter, so not too thin or thick, and easily mountable a given, like the other cables.

The one thing it didn’t have was brand. Reid has evidently ordered these from China, rebranded. You can tell it’s not quite the same quality as the Abus, Kryptonite and Knogs of this world, by the quality of the keys and the plastic coating of the cable not being as tightly wrapped. But for $9 at the Reid sale, how could you go wrong? At the end of the day, (almost) all cables can be cut.

BUT WAIT – DON’T BELIEVE THE SPECS

As I mentioned above, the plastic coating is not as tightly wrapped. On inspection, you can see there is a gap between the cable and the outer plastic, particularly when you shine a torch through the cable. I measured the inner cable, and it looks to be more like 7mm, with the total diameter including the plastic being 11-12mm. I certainly don’t recall seeing a gap when looking at the Abus and Kryptonite ones in the store, which means they were definitely thicker and that the Reid is lesser than its stated specs. I think this one will have to go back to the store for the Tioga instead.

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