Wheel Locks & Seat Locks

It’s not just whole bikes that excite thieves. They love wheels and seats as well. And baskets and brakes. And all the other removable components on your bike.

But by far the most commonly stolen bike parts are wheels and seats. One of the reasons for this is that many bikes are now fitted with “quick release” skewers to secure the wheels and seat posts. These are clamps that allow you to easily remove your wheels or seat without using tools.

Very handy if you need to take your wheel off quickly to repair a puncture or want to adjust your seat height. But unfortunately they are also an open invitation to anyone with criminal inclinations. Because if your bike has quick release clamps, unless you use some additional security, anyone passing your bike can simply push open the clamps and walk off with your wheels or seat. No tools needed. So obviously this happens a lot.

What can you do to stop this? Well, you could simply replace the quick release skewers with bolt on skewers. Whereas quick release skewers can be tightened and loosened by hand, with bolt on skewers you usually need a Hex (Allen) key.

Both Nashbar and Halo make good quality, inexpensive bolt on wheel skewers which are easy to fit yourself. And for the seat you can either replace the whole seat post clamp or get a normal bolt for the existing collar. Of course they wont stop a thief with a Hex key! But in my experience they are a deterrent on low value bikes. And they’re relatively cheap.

Replace quick release skewers with bolt on skewers

But if your wheels and seat are even vaguely attractive, or you live in a high theft area, you’re going to have to do much more than this. Ideally, your locking strategy should include two locks that secure both the bike and the wheels. But what about the seat?

Bike Seat Security

I’m sure there are many things in life more annoying that having your bike seat stolen. But when it happens to me, I’m hard pressed to think of any. I’m not sure if it’s the public humiliation of riding your seat-less bike back home, the physical exertion of a journey without being able to sit down or the pettiness of the theft itself. Whichever it is, it’s enough to make a peaceful person harbor violent thoughts. But what can we do to prevent it?

The most extreme solution is to remove your seat post and take it with you every time you leave your bike. This will certainly stop anyone stealing it. But what a pain. And for me this option stinks of defeat. It’s an admission that the thieves have won. We are reduced to carrying around a grubby, cumbersome piece of metal everywhere we go. This is not why I ride a bike. That has to be a better option. Surely?

You could thread a cable lock through the seat rails and then around the space between the seat stay and the seat tube. This fastens the seat to the bike frame. But cable locks can be cut through very, very easily.

Using an old bike chain rather than a cable lock provides a bit more security as a chain is more difficult to cut. This is an increasingly popular option. However, it does attach your seat to the bike frame more permanently, so make sure you’re happy with your seat height first. You can stop the bike chain from damaging your frame by encasing it in an old inner tube. It’s pretty simple to do the whole thing yourself and there are videos on YouTube that show you how. Or many bike shops will now do it for you for a small fee.

Bike chain seat lock

Of course bike chains can still be cut and some thieves may even carry chain breakers. So a further option is to make it more difficult for a thief to loosen the seat post clamp. There are two main ways to do this. The first is to make a standard clamp difficult to unscrew. The second is to buy a special secure skewer for your clamp.

You can make a standard clamp difficult to unscrew by filling the socket with something that prevents a tool being used to loosen it. Whatever you use, it should be difficult to remove. But the thing to remember is that the more difficult it is for a thief to remove, the more difficult it will also be for you should you want to make some adjustments.

What to use? There are a few different options. For example, super gluing a ball bearing into the socket is a popular choice. Simply find a ball bearing that fits snugly into the socket, slather it in super glue and press it into the socket. Should you later need to remove the ball bearing to make some adjustments, you can use acetone or Z-7 Debonder to dissolve the glue.

Other materials you could use to fill the socket include steel epoxy, solder, Sugru or candle wax. Each one provides a different level of security depending on how difficult it is for a thief to remove. Don’t forget, the more secure it is, the more difficult and frustrating it will be when you need to remove it! But in fact, this technique is very effective and can be used to secure any of your bike components.

If you don’t fancy these DIY options, you can also buy specially designed, secure seat skewers. These can work in a number of ways. Some of them use non-standard socket shapes and keys. Others use gravity to lock the levers when the bike is in an upright position (as it always should be when it’s locked up).

These skewers are also available for wheels so I’ll look at them in more detail in the next section. But here’s a quick summary of what’s available specifically for seats…

Locking skewers for Seats

Locking SkewerModelLocking SystemSeat Tube SizesCheck Price
Pinhead seat collar with lockPinhead Seatpost
Collar and Lock
Unique Key28.6 mm - 31.8 mm
34.9 mm
Check price
Pinhead seat collarPinhead Seatpost
Collar
Unique Key28.6 mm - 31.8 mm
34.9 mm
Check price
Pinhead saddle lockPinhead Saddle
Lock
Unique KeyAllCheck price
Pitlock seat lockPitlock Seatpost
Lock
Unique Key33 mmCheck price
Zefal seat lockZefal Seatpost
Lock
GravityAllCheck price

However ultimately, if a thief really really wants your seat, he can saw through the seat post. So if you’ve got a nice seat, maybe the best option is to take it with you?

Bike Wheel Security

As I mention above and talk about further in the how to lock your bike page, ideally your locking strategy should include two locks. One secures the back wheel and the frame to the bike rack. The other secures either the front wheel and the frame to the bike rack or just the front wheel to the frame.

Or, if you’ve only got one lock and have quick release wheels, you could remove the front wheel and lock it together with the back wheel and the frame.

However, neither of these methods is ideal. Decent bike locks are heavy and cumbersome, so carrying two locks around can be a pain. As is removing your front wheel every time you leave your bike somewhere.

Surely there must be a more convenient way to protect our wheels? Well, yes there is. There are. Depending on what type of wheels you have, they’re called either “locking skewers” or “solid axle locks”.

Which one do you need? If your bike has quick release wheels like in the the photo below on the left, you would replace the existing skewers with “locking skewers”. If your bike has nutted wheels like in the photo below on the right, you would replace the regular nuts with “solid axle locks”.

hollow-axle-vs-solid-axle

These locks are available for both wheels and seat posts and use various ingenious methods to stop unwanted hands from unscrewing them. They’re certainly more convenient than carrying two U-locks around or removing your front wheel every time you want to lock your bike.

But how secure are they? Well that depends on which ingenious locking method they use. Broadly speaking, there are three different methods: those that use “unique” keys, those that use “non-standard” keys and those that use gravity!

Locks with Unique Keys

pinheadThese work just like normal bolt on skewers or nuts. Except that in each set the heads are a “unique” shape. And you use a special “unique” key to tighten and loosen them.

Because they’re unique you can only use your specific key to unlock your specific nuts. In actual fact, they’re not strictly unique. But there’s a huge number of different key combinations, so the chances that anyone else will be able to unlock your skewers are very, very small.

Of course, when you want to remove your wheels or seat you need to have your special key handy. However, to me this seems a small inconvenience. And at the moment these are the most secure type of wheel and seat locks available. However, there are just two companies offering locking skewers and solid ankle locks with “unique” keys: Pinhead and Pitlock.

Pinhead

Pinhead wheel skewersWith Pinhead skewers there are 11,500 different key combinations. Each key is engraved with a nine digit code that you can use to order replacement keys or more matching locks. And you can even register your key online so you don’t have to remember the code.

They are available for wheels, seats, and even headsets. And they produce versions for both quick release wheels and solid axle wheels.

Do they work? Well generally yes. It is possible to unscrew the heads without the special key, but it takes a fair bit of time and effort. And most thieves will not have the tools. I should mention that with older Pinhead models, it was possible to unscrew the head relatively easily with a Gator Grip universal socket. However, the skewers now come with POG washers that prevent this happening.

There are also some reports of them coming loose over time. So you should always carry your key with you to tighten them up. But I’d imagine you would always want to have the key handy anyway in case you have a puncture.

Overall, I think the Pinhead skewers are great. They will never be as secure as a second lock. But they’re far more convenient. And they’re far more secure than any cable lock. I would certainly trust them on shortish trips on low to medium value bikes. But I wouldn’t leave a bike for a long period of time in a high theft area with only Pinheads protecting my wheels.

Pitlock

Pitlock wheel skewersPitlock skewers boast over 1000 different key combinations. And they have the added security of a smooth shield of steel which surrounds the head and prevents any other tool being used to loosen it.

There are locks for both wheels and seats. And for both quick release wheels and solid axle wheels.

Each key comes with a code card enabling you to order replacement keys and further matching locks. And as with Pinhead, you can also register this code online.

Unlike the Pinhead key, the keys that come with the Pitlock have no lever, so in order to use them you will need to use a 10 mm spanner or insert another tool such as an Allen key into the hole to get enough leverage to screw and unscrew the nut.

Pitlocks have a slightly better build quality than Pinheads and are a bit more secure. However, they are also more expensive and not quite as easy to use. But if you’re looking for the ultimate protection, they are probably the safest locking skewers available today.

Locks with Non Standard Keys

Delta Hublox Security SkewersThese work just like the previous locks. Except that they all have the same, albeit non-standard shaped heads and keys. This means someone with a standard tool set shouldn’t be able to unscrew them. However, since all the keys are the same, anyone who owns the same brand as you, will be able to unscrew them.

So a thief who bought one would have easy access to all the wheels and seats locked with the same brand. On top of this, they can usually be opened easily with a Gator Grip universal socket. All this means they’re obviously much less secure. And while they’re also much cheaper I’m not sure that they provide much more protection than standard bolt on skewers or nuts. And don’t forget, you only get the one key which you will need to keep with you and if you loose it, it’s impossible to get a replacement (without buying another set!).

In the US, the Delta Hublox Security Skewers are perhaps the best of these non standard skewers. While in the UK, ETC and Trans-X are reasonable quality, although there are some reports that they can be unscrewed with pliers from the other end!

But I think that if you’re concerned enough about your wheel and seat security to consider upgrading your standard skewers or nuts maybe it’s worth spending the extra money on Pinheads or Pitlocks.

Gravity based Locking Skewers

Zefal Security SkewersThere are two main brands making these skewers, Zefal and OnGuard. And as far as I can tell they both work the same way and have the same advantages and disadvantages.

These skewers work slightly differently. They look just like normal quick release skewers. But once closed, the leaver cannot be re-opened unless the bike is turned upside down. And of course if a bike is properly secured to an immovable object, any prospective thief won’t be able to turn it upside down.

The great advantage of these skewers is that you don’t need to carry around an extra tool to unlock them. When the bike is upside down they work just like normal quick release skewers. It’s a great idea. Unfortunately though, it’s not that difficult to bypass the security…

For starters, they can sometimes be opened by a trick with a magnet which you can find by digging around the internet. But much more significantly, while the lever side may be secure, the nut on the other side of the skewer can easily be twisted off with a pair of pliers!

The other problem is that because they look like normal quick release skewers, thieves are more likely to try to force them open. This could damage your bike or even the skewers themselves to the extent that they’ll no longer open at all.

So while they may be the only secure skewers that don’t require you to carry a special tool around, I don’t think they’re the best choice. Sure, if carrying a tool around is a really big deal and you live in a low theft area, then they may be worth considering. Because they are cheap as well. But generally, I think the Pinhead and Pitlock skewers are a better choice.

So, as you can see, when it comes to wheel security there’s a fair few options, with different methods and each offering a different level of protection at a different price. Here’s a round up of the secure skewers that are available for bikes with quick release wheels…

Locking skewers for Wheels

SkewersModelLocking SystemLengthsCheck Price
Pinhead wheel skewersPinheadUnique Key125 mm
160 mm
Check price
Pitlock wheel skewersPitlockUnique Key119 mm
155 mm
Check price
Delta Hublox wheel skewersHubloxNon-standard Key95 - 115 mm
128 - 148 mm
Check price
Zefal Security SkewersZefalGravity123 mm
168 mm
Check price
Onguard wheel skewersOnGuardGravity123 mm
168 mm
Check price

And here’s a round up of the solid axle locks for bikes with regular nutted wheels…

Solid Axle Wheel Locks

SkewersModelLocking SystemSizeCheck Price
Pinhead solid axle wheel locksPinhead M9
Front Wheel Lock
Unique Key9 mmCheck price
Pinhead solid axle wheel locksPinhead M10
Back Wheel Lock
Unique Key10 mmCheck price
Pitlock solid axle wheel lockPitlock M9
Front Wheel Lock
Unique Key9 mmCheck price
Pitlock solid axle wheel lockPitlock M10
Back Wheel Lock
Unique Key10 mmCheck price

You can also buy packages where you get the wheel and seat locks together. Here’s a round up of those…

Locking skewers for Wheels and Seats

SkewersModelLocking SystemCheck Price
Pinhead 2 wheels 1 seatPinheadUnique KeyCheck price
Pitlock 2 wheels 1 seatPitlockUnique KeyCheck price
Trans-X 2 wheels 1 seatTrans-XNon-standard KeyCheck price
ETC 2 wheels 1 seatETCNon-standard KeyCheck price
Zefal 2 wheels 1 seatZefalGravityCheck price
Onguard 2 wheels 1 seatOnGuardGravityCheck price

Summary

Wheel security is relatively straightforward. If you want to be 100% sure your wheels are safe, you need to secure them both with good U-locks or chains. For the back wheel, you should be able to use the same lock you use on your frame. For the front wheel, you would need a separate lock. Either a small U-lock that just locks the wheel to the frame. Or for better overall security, a slightly larger U-lock that can lock the wheel to the frame and the bike rack.

If this is too expensive, or too heavy or just too inconvenient, then there are alternatives. You could replace your existing wheel skewers or nuts with secure ones. The most secure of these are those with “unique” keys such as Pinhead or Pitlock. The ones that use gravity from Zefal and OnGuard are probably the next most secure. And least secure (although still far better than quick release) are the ones with non-standard keys such as those from Hublox, ETC and Trans-X.

Seat security is a little more complicated. You can of course buy the same secure skewers and nuts that you can get for wheels. Or you can try one of the DIY options such as fastening an old bike chain through the seat and frame or super gluing ball bearings in the screw heads. Ultimately though, if thief really wants your seat, he can saw through the seat post relatively easily, so I wouldn’t  leave a £100 Brooks saddle alone for long, whichever method you employ!

To sum up, I think secure skewers and nuts can provide adequate security for most people in the majority of situations. And they’re so much more convenient than a second lock. But when you really, really want to be safe, use two locks!

20 thoughts on “Wheel Locks & Seat Locks

    • November 29, 2015 at 11:11 am
      Permalink

      Thanks! I’ll have a look at these and hopefully add them to the next update!

      Reply
  • January 29, 2016 at 8:24 am
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    Don’t bother much with atomic22, you can get gold cheaper than their parts! Great site by the way! Some of the systems are missing however… For exp.: http://www.sphyke.com or http://quick-caps.com/quick-cap-single-black I am ordering two of the last because the cheapest (but still expensive) system!
    Just need some solution (but not more valuable than gold) for the seat…

    Reply
    • January 29, 2016 at 6:42 pm
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      Thanks Mark. Yeah I’ve seen the Sphyke locks before but not the Quick Caps. I’ll try to add them both in the next update

      Reply
  • March 23, 2016 at 1:25 pm
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    Kryptonite also makes gravity locks. And BTW, it’s Zefal, not Zefel.

    Reply
    • March 23, 2016 at 6:21 pm
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      Corrected. Thanks! I didn’t realize Kryptonite made gravity locks as well. I’ll add them in the next update.

      Reply
  • April 11, 2016 at 3:19 am
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    i only skimmed the article but you should point out that almost all unique pin and funny shaped key systems are defeated by the same tool. This also includes almost every method of wacky keyed sockets and oddly shaped wheel nuts “locking” nice rims to cars.

    Reply
    • April 19, 2016 at 6:58 pm
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      “almost all unique pin and funny shaped key systems are defeated by the same tool.”

      Which is?

      I guess gluing a wrench or allen key to the security lock could work.

      Reply
      • April 19, 2016 at 9:27 pm
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        I think he’s talking about the Gator Grip I mention in relation to the Pinhead locks. For those locks at least, the Gator Grip doesn’t work anymore (as far as I’m aware).

        Reply
  • April 21, 2016 at 7:18 am
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    No, i’m talking about those nut/socket sets that are made to turn random shapes and stripped objects. picture a socket that’s just a nut on the outside for you to turn, but the inside cutout is a conical shape with spiraling bladed cutter pattern. The sets come with inside cones of varying depth, angle, teeth/cutter patterns to fit over almost anything. if you put these on a lathe and shoved a metal rod into it, they would chew it down the length like a pencil sharpener. These will grab a perfectly smooth dome (gatorgrip will not) ..no special and unique key notching. Of course, finding the right size you can remove any type of lugnut. Basically, all you need is the socket tool right size inside cone to fit onto the object you want to turn. The only things they might not work on is something made out of a metal as hard as the cutters so they can’t dig in. but they’ll still work if the object is even a little out of round.

    Reply
  • August 8, 2016 at 1:11 am
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    I just had to ride my fairly new bike home with no seat! Fortunately, I had the seat from my old bike I could put on but I need to replace the quick release lever as soon as possible. I don’t want to spend a fortune but I need a clamp that requires a tool at least to loosen. I tend to think the seat was stolen by some idiot kids just for kicks.

    Reply
    • August 8, 2016 at 11:26 am
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      Hi Tim,

      Yep, just replacing the quick release lever with a hex bolt normally does the job. If you leave your bike for long periods of time, or even overnight, you might want to think about additional security. The old bike chain method works well for me. Or you could just fill the hex head with hard drying putty.

      Good luck!

      Reply
  • October 24, 2016 at 8:57 pm
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    If you have a locked front wheel, then can you safely just U-lock the front wheel to a bike stand?

    Reply
    • October 25, 2016 at 11:34 am
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      Hi Isaiah,

      I’m not sure what you mean. Yes, you can safely U-lock the front wheel to a bike stand as long as the frame is locked to the bike stand elsewhere. But I’m not sure what you mean by “if you have a locked front wheel”.

      Carl

      Reply
  • October 25, 2016 at 3:25 pm
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    If the wheels have locked skewers, so they can’t be removed from the frame, then can’t you just lock the front wheel to the bike stand using a strong smaller lock system, rather than a longer heavy chain and lock system looping through both wheels and the frame. Might this reach Silver or Gold security standards?

    Reply
    • October 25, 2016 at 7:22 pm
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      Ahh sorry I understand. Yes for sure, locking the wheel to the bike rack with a U-lock is just as secure as using a longer heavier chain that loops through both wheels and the frame. And that’s regardless of whether you have locked skewers or not.

      As long as you use a strong lock on the frame as well.

      Reply
  • December 4, 2016 at 5:20 am
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    its becoming more important to lock your wheels. every week i see several people on bikes carrying a bike wheel around in the middle of the night. …the welfare street people type who dig through the recycle bins for cans and bottles. last night i saw 2 of them riding together at 3am, 1 carrying a front wheel, 1 with a back wheel. they obviously found a bike locked by the frame only. I would guess i saw 4 wheels in total being biked around just this week. I don’t know how many times i’ve seen one of them with a wheel bungee corded to the handle bars during the day where that wheel alone was worth many times the whole bike they were riding..

    Reply

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