There’s nothing worse than a jammed bike lock. Well, there is. There’s loads of things! But when you’re struggling with a stuck key or yanking at a frozen shackle, it’s probably difficult to think of any.
Especially if it’s raining.
Your bike lock is meant to protect you. And now it’s trying to screw you. It’s like a good friend stabbing you in the back!
But the good news is: with the right tools and a bit of patience it's usually easy to fix a jammed bike lock. And there also are several things we can do to prevent it ever happening again.
So here’s a simple 2 step process that will fix most jammed or stuck bike locks. And below that I've got 3 top tips to avoid jammed bike locks in the future!
1. Work out which part of the bike lock is jammed
Bike locks tend to jam in two places:
- in the key hole so you can’t turn the key
- in the body so you can’t separate the two parts of the lock.
How can you tell where the problem is? It’s simple...
If the key won’t go all the way into the lock or it won’t turn properly, then obviously the problem is in the key hole!
But if the key slides in easily and turns freely but the bike lock still won’t open, then the problem is probably where the two parts of the lock join.
A jammed key hole can be caused by dirt and debris, frozen water, rust or simply misaligned discs.
Whereas if the bike lock won’t separate, then a build up of corrosion has usually fused the shackle or bar to the inside of the lock.
Once we know where the problem is we can set about fixing it...
2. Attack the jammed area with WD-40!
WD-40 can be a miracle cure for all sorts of jammed locks. It will displace dirt and debris, remove rust, loosen the mechanism and dissolve the corrosion that's fused your shackle or bar.
So whatever's causing your bike lock to jam, WD-40 should be your primary tool in trying to fix it!
Often a squirt or two in the problem area is enough to do the job. But let's look at specific issues in more detail...
If the key hole of the bike lock is jammed
Misaligned Cylinder Discs
This is probably the most common cause of jammed bike locks. And luckily it's (usually) quite easy to fix.
The most obvious sign of this issue is that the key won't go all the way into the key hole. But in order to fix this we first need to understand why it happens...
A bike locking mechanism contains several rotating discs, one on top of the other. To lock and unlock the bike lock, all of the discs need to be turned in the same direction at the same time.
Have a look into the key hole of your bike lock and you should be able to see what I'm talking about!
Turning the discs is the job of the key. And in order to do that, the key must be inserted all the way into the key hole so it passes through the holes in (and engages) all the discs.
If the key doesn't go all the way into the key hole, it won't be able to turn all the discs and you won't be able to lock (or unlock) the bike lock!
The problems start when the holes in the bottom discs fall out of alignment with the holes in the upper discs, as this will prevent the key from being fully inserted.
So in order to fix this issue we just need to reallign the discs!
Like most problems in the key hole, dirt, grime and rust will exacerbate the situation by making the discs more sticky and difficult to turn.
So the first job is to loosen them with some WD-40! Hold the lock so the key hole is facing the floor and squirt WD-40 into the hole. This should dislodge any street gunk and allow it to drain out of the locking mechanism.
Then turn the bike lock around so the hole is facing the upwards and insert the key. Turn the key back and forth and try to gently push it further into the locking mechanism as the discs realign.
Once the key is all the way into the locking mechanism, it should turn freely and fully and the lock will open. This may take a little while but it usually works eventually.
If you struggle to realign the discs using the key, try a small flat headed screwdriver. This will usually be thinner than the key, affording you more control. Extra WD-40 will also help!
Gunked-up Key Holes
If the key goes all the way in but wont turn, then the locking mechanism may be jammed full of dirt and debris. Or maybe it’s started to corrode. So...
Apply some more WD-40 in the same way as above! Insert, turn and then remove the key in-between squirts of WD-40. If it doesn’t work straight away, do it again. And again. Usually, this will work eventually.
Whatever you do, don’t loose your temper and try to force it. This is when the key will break off in the bike lock!
Keys Stuck in Key Holes
If your key has got stuck in the key hole and you can't get it out, then the solution is the same as above: plenty of WD-40 in between gently trying to turn the key back and forth.
Spraying a load of WD-40 into the hole and then leaving it to do it's business for 5 or 10 minutes can work wonders.
Just as above: it's important that you don't lose your temper and try to force the key. That's when the key will break and your problems get a lot worse!
Iced-up Key Holes
If you think the bike lock is jammed because water has frozen inside the locking mechanism, you’ll obviously need to melt the water before it will open...
Sometimes breathing into the keyhole will do the job. Otherwise you can try warming the key with a lighter or match and then pushing it gently into the locking mechanism. You may need to do it several times.
If that doesn’t work and you're able to bring the bike lock indoors, then this will obviously melt the ice eventually.
But spraying the locking mechanism with car windscreen de-icer might get faster results. Or I have also heard of people using anti-septic hand wash!
Whichever method you use, make sure the key hole is completely dry before you use it again outside, otherwise it will just re-freeze.
If the body of the bike lock is jammed
If the key goes all the way in and turns smoothly, but the bike lock still won’t open, then corrosion has probably fused the two parts of the lock together.
In this case, try spraying loads of WD-40 into the joint. You’ll probably need to leave it some time for the WD-40 to do it’s magic. In fact, if you can, soak the bike lock in WD-40 overnight!
The WD-40 should dissolve a lot of the corrosion enabling you to separate the two parts of the bike lock.
But if it's still stuck, firmly striking the shackle or bar with the heel of your hand (or gently tapping it with a hammer) in the direction that the lock should separate can also encourage it to open up!
It might be a good idea to cover the bike lock with a towel first to prevent the hammer damaging the casing!
What to do if your Kryptonite, OnGuard or Abus bike lock is stuck
Well, the truth is: the basic principles are the same for all bike locks. But there is a big difference in the way the three companies deal with the issue of jammed locks!
Kryptonite has a great reputation for customer service, and this is really apparent in the way that they handle stuck bike locks. For starters, there's loads of useful info on their website...
If you can't lock your u-lock for instance, they suggest making sure that the "spline" (which is the silver metal thing on the shackle that clips into the frame mount), hasn't slid down towards the tip of the shackle.
If that happens, it can prevent the shackle from fully inserting into the crossbar, which will stop the u-lock from locking! Repositioning the spline further up the shackle and tightening the screw that holds in place should fix this quickly.
And if your key breaks off in a Kryptonite lock, you can get a locksmith to remove the key, send the lock, the key, the key number and the locksmith bill to Kryptonite and they will refund the bill and send you a new lock!
But in general, follow the same 2 steps to fix a stuck Kryptonite bike lock as you would any other bike lock.
You'll get no such customer service from OnGuard! And like a lot of the cheaper lock brands, I think their mechanisms need a little bit more care and attention to keep them in good shape!
So while the steps to fix a stuck OnGuard lock are the same, once it's fixed, I'd recommend that you clean and lubricate your OnGuard lock more regularly than other locks to prevent any further issues.
Likewise, Abus are not particularly helpful when it comes to their bike locks jamming. However, Abus locks are so well made, that they tend to suffer from fewer problems in the first place.
For instance, in my experience, it's much more difficult to accidently misalign the discs in an Abus lock!
If you do have problems, try the same 2 steps that I recommend for other bike locks. And once you get it working, bear in mind that Abus recommend their own PS 88 lock spray [Amazon] to keep their locks in good working condition.
How to stop your bike lock jamming again
Once you've got your bike lock open you're going to want to avoid all this frustration and stress in the future!
And luckily there are several things you can do to seriously reduce the chances of your bike lock jamming again...
1. Clean and lubricate your bike lock regularly
This is by far the most important thing you can do. And I can guarantee that most of us don't do it enough. In fact I would guess that most people have never cleaned or lubricated their bike lock at all!
But we should. A good clean and lubrication every now and then never did anyone any harm! So try to find time for this process at least every 6 months.
And to guarantee you'll have no further problems, make sure you treat both the locking mechanism and the body where the two parts join.
How to treat the bike lock key hole
Clean the locking mechanism with WD-40 [Amazon]. Turn the lock so the key hole is facing upwards and then squirt the WD-40 into the cylinder until it streams out.
Then, turn it around so the key hole is facing downwards and the WD-40 runs out. This should displace any water, dirt, grease, debris and rust.
For bike locks that are really gunked up, you may need to repeat this several times. Gently inserting, turning and then removing the key between squirts will help to flush the dirt out.
Once the lock is clean, you should always lubricate it. But never use WD-40 for this...
WD-40 is a water displacing, cleaning agent and will ultimately remove any existing lubricant. It’s great for cleaning a bike lock. And it’s fantastic for loosening up a jammed bike lock. But it will not provide any long term lubrication.
These perform well at low temperatures and repel moisture to reduce the risk of both corrosion and freezing. Put a couple of drops in the locking mechanism and spread them about by inserting and turning the key.
Some people recommend graphite based lubricants for bike locks. These are fine for dry environments. But bike locks are invariably exposed to moisture which tends to turn the graphite into a sticky mess that collects dirt and then jams the locking mechanism.
Stick with WD-40 for cleaning and TriFlow or Finish Line for lubrication. Use them regularly and you'll have far fewer problems with stiff, unresponsive locking mechanisms and your bike locks will last much, much longer.
How to treat the bike lock body
You shouldn’t need to clean the bike lock body too much. Just give the ends of the shackle and the holes in the lock a wipe with a rag now and again.
But it’s important to keep the points where the shackle meets the body lubricated and free of corrosion. Especially in cold or wet climates. This will prevent the shackle from starting to stick to the body.
White Lithium Grease [Amazon] in paste form is good for this because it’s thick, doesn’t run and will last a long time. Apply it to both the ends of the bar and the holes in the body, as and when you need to.
2. Don’t turn the key until it’s all the way in!
All bike locks will jam if you try to turn the key before it’s been fully inserted into the keyhole. As I've mentioned above, most bike lock mechanisms contain a series of discs and all of them need to be fully rotated before the lock will open.
If you try to turn the key before it’s all the way in, it won’t catch the discs at the bottom of the cylinder, so they don’t rotate and the bike lock won’t open.
Once this has happened, the discs are out of alignment and you won’t be able to fully insert the key and open the bike lock until you re-align them (see above).
3. Buy a good quality bike lock
Cheap locks are a false economy. Either your bike will be stolen because they provide such poor protection. Or your bike lock will start to stick because it’s not properly weatherproofed and rust starts to clog the locking mechanism or fuse the shackle.
Either way, sooner or later you’ll have to buy a new bike lock!
Get it right the first time instead. Invest as much as you can afford in a decent quality bike lock and it should last many years.
With this in mind, the best locks are made by Abus, Kryptonite and OnGuard. I’ve written lot’s more about the each of these brands, but if you’re looking for the very best quality, go for Abus.
Abus are an especially good choice if you live somewhere with a harsh climate. Their locks are subjected to a whole series of tests at temperatures as low as -40 degrees.
And to study their resistance to corrosion, they also use a salt air chamber which ages each bike lock one year for every day inside. No other manufacturer tests their locks as rigorously.
You should also buy a bike lock with a key cover. Key covers can stop dirt and grime entering and clogging up the mechanism. But be careful, because they can also trap water which may then freeze and then jam the lock!
Summary of how to fix a jammed bike lock!
A lot of the problems we have with jammed bike locks are avoidable. Buying a good quality bike lock, cleaning and lubricating it regularly and making sure you fully insert the key before you turn it will prevent the vast majority of problems.
And you will be much happier.
However, modern bike locks are complex, precision instruments and sometimes they will just jam!
Keeping calm and being patient is important here. Lots of WD-40 [Amazon] and gentle teasing in a warm environment will usually fix the problem in the end!
If it doesn’t, and the problem is to do with the key, then check out my tips on how to unlock a bike lock without the keys.
But if you just can't get it open, you’re going to probably need a new bike lock. In which case, check out the 3 simple steps that will guarantee you choose the best lock for both you and your bicycle.
But what do you think? Do you have any tips to prevent locks from jamming or to un-jam a stuck lock? Let me know below…
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