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.
Instead use a proper, Teflon based lubricant such as Finish Line [Amazon] or TriFlow [Amazon].
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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Thanks for this great info!! Found you when trying to help my daughter unjam her Blackburn lock. She used a bike multi-tool to get the cylinders realigned.
I don’t know much about the blackburn company and have never looked it up, but I will say i don’t like their pumps. Some time just over 5 years ago, most stores around me started carrying the brand and the first one i got barely worked because the piston didn’t seal right under high pressure so it took a very long time to fill a tire to 120+ psi. The second one barely worked because the head didn’t seal aorund the stem properly unless it was held just right. In both cases, the head has a crappy and stiff lever to clamp the stem, the rubber seal in the head quckily wore out until it was a struggle to work with. The first blackburn was bought to replace a Zefal pump (aluminum body and metal metal head) that lasted 20 years of year round use without a single part replacement. I will never buy another blackburn product, especially a pump. I’ve since gone to a Topeak which has been excellent over the last few years.
A good and cheap alternative to WD40 is diesel fuel. If your lock is really badly jammed and/or even rusty, try placing it into diesel fuel over night. If you slightly heat up the fuel (40°C or 105°F) it will work even better. If the lock is totally covered with diesel, it will reach every corner of the mechanism and also will wash out dirt.
The only drawback of this method is the smell…
Good tips … thanks.
This is really helpful, thank you. The only downside is that once I’ve used WD-40 and lube on my lock I get black grime all over my hands whenever I use my lock. Do you have any tips for cleaning the lock after lubricating it to prevent this happening?
I always use some kitchen towel and then some wet wipes!
Can you use motor oil as lubricant?
Hi, You could use it if you’ve got nothing else. But it will tend to attract dirt which will end up gunking up the mechanism further down the line. Better to use the right type of lubricant in the first place in my opinion. Thanks
I have now bought two magnum armoured cable locks at a total cost of about £110 and both have failed with the same fault. The key goes all the way in and turns 90 degrees easily but then stops and won’t turn another 90 degrees to open the lock. The first lock I bought I used for one summer then put the bike away in the shed for winter (using a different chain and padlock arrangement). When I came to use the magnum lock it exhibited the fault and no amount of WD 40 or jiggling the key would make it open. A local locksmith couldn’t do anything with it either. The second lock I bought in anticipation of buying an electric bike so it cost about £70. By the time I acquired the bike and started riding it out it was about 6 months after buying the lock. I went to where I’d stored it, got it out of the box it was in (inside the house and perfectly dry) and lo and behold, the same fault. I contacted masterlock but they wanted the receipt and for me to ship it and I may have to pay the investigation fee etc etc. I could have gone through all that or do what I eventually did, which was buy new locks, swearing never to go near the brand again.
It was exactly the same fault on both locks, one unused (the keys are still on the original sales tag), which leads me to believe it’s a design fault and they should have just replaced the locks immediately.
That’s really disappointing!
I’m not a big fan of Masterlock. I’ve generally found the quality of their locks very poor and your story unfortunately bears this out.
Thanks for letting us know…
In a pinch, I pour hot water in the lock. It just refreezes of course, but at least it gets the lock open. And hot water isn’t hard to find in a pinch 🙂
Wow – great help. I just unjammed my kryptonite lock. Boy, was I worried – I was wondering what kind of tools and how much sweat would be lost trying to forcibly break open this lock! Plus, in flat, un-hilly Bonn, where I live, my bike is like my car. Not only a useful page here, but also upbeat and humorous. Good job and thanks again!
The key goes all the way in and turns smoothly in my Bell u-lock. The lock opens and closes but the key don’t slide out of the cylinder. I disassembled the u-lock, removed the cylinder and discovered that when the key is pulled the pins don´t slide to release the key, even with the cylinder disassembled. I think the pins are worned out and they don´t slide out of the key’s grooves and probably only a new lock solves the problem.
Can you use Vaseline to lubricate the lock?
I wouldn’t recommend it. It will probably work OK at the start. But it’s likely to attract all sorts or dirt and dust which will ultimately clog up the lock. Better to get some proper lock lubricant.
I got a new uGrip BORDO 5700 as a gift some months back. Went to use it. Keys enter fully but won’t turn lock. Brand new.
Pfff that’s pretty bad. You should send it back.
Have the same problem with a brand new Abus lock
Hi my bike lock is magnum plus one of the high security lock the key turns but not unlocks its locks out where i work and can not do anything. Please success me what can I do.
Sound like the body is jammed. Have you tried spraying WD-40 in the joints where the shackle meets the body?
If one sides of the lock seems to open, even it back down so there both even and tap rather hard on the side that didn’t seem to open, and voila. It worked for me. Reminder to keep the key in place while tapping. Once I had it of and turned the key only one side of the lock was opening up. I cleaned it up real good no difference. I can still use the lock but it hurts the hands in -50 weather up here in Winnipeg, Canada. Its an expensive Magnum X4 piece of junk.
First comment I have shared but hoping it may be of use to others! I had tried many of the solutions above (WD-40, special rust remover, etc) over a period of weeks and still the key would not turn. Then one day I had the idea to use some of that quick working sink and drain unblocker – poured it down the key whole – waited a few mins – and it opened first time!. I guess WD-40 is not that good at desolving biological dirt trapped inside the lock. Take all precautions etc. as this stuff is strong. I then gave a good dose of WD-40 and it’s been perfect ever since!
Brilliant! That’s fantastically helpful Rob. Thanks!
I used to have a lock that would get jammed and I could fix it with a paper clip, so I still carry a paper clip when using bike locks. I guess I should keep them properly lubricated too, though.
My bike was stolen in June so I bought an ABUS U-Lock GRANIT X Plus™ 540 for my current bike, as recommended by the bike dealership. After a few months of summer weather and with with absolutely no traumatic hits, the lock just stopped working. The key turns, allowing the bars in but will not turn back to lock. Neither DW40 or any kind of grease does anything.
This was a pretty expensive lock for a few months use so unlike the owner of this site I can only recommend dodging the use of anything ABUS in future. Naturally, their website only offers upselling as answers to any question one might have.
Wow, that is really disappointing about Abus. Have others had similar experiences?
I think the abus granites come with a lifetime warranty….
Against manufacturing defects, yes.
In August 2016 I bought two OnGuard bicycles locks: the Mastiff chain lock (#8021) and the Doberman coil cable lock (#8028). These worked well for the first year and I kept them lubricated with regular use of WD-40. However, in November of 2017, a little more than a year after purchase, both locks became jammed. From that point I have been unable to open them with the lock keys. Frustratingly, I now have two permanently locked bikes that I cannot use. Needless to say, this is extremely disappointing to me as I paid $99.99 (excluding sales tax) for the Mastiff and $24.99 (excluding sales tax) for the Doberman.
I am unsure what to do to get my bikes unlocked, one of which is a mountain bike that is valued at more than $500 (not an overly expensive mountain bike, but still…). It is a mechanism problem as I can fully insert the keys and turn them, but the two parts refuse to separate. I have sprayed the locks with WD-40 again and again, but to no avail.
I really do want to like OnGuard company and products; however, I no longer believe that I received quality products and I cannot look favorably on OnGuard at the moment.
Sounds like it’s problem with the two parts becoming corroded together. Have you tried soaking the whole locking mechanism in WD-40 overnight?
Get yourself a 3lb hammer and bang away to loosen it up. Good luck 😉
There is your problem, you didn’t lubricate the locks, instead you washed the existing lubricant out with a volatile solvent, wd 40 is fantastic as a penetrating water displacing freeing and cleaning agent but is not designed for long term lubrication and it’s solvent component will wash out existing lubricants.
Thank you so much for posting. I knew WD40 was not a lubricant, but had no clue as to how to lubricate my lock. I’ve bookmarked site for future reference.
I much appreciate this advice, but printing it out was quite a problem as a header overlaid the text on the top of each page. After a struggle I was able to fix it by deleting a script in the source code header (and at the same time getting rid of some menus that are of no use in a printout. It would be nice if you could supply a pdf file accessible through a print button.
I just got some new onguard brute locks in today and I’m already thinking of oiling them both up before using them. Was thinking of using some gun oil on them as I used that on an old bell lock that i had outside for years on the snowblower. Worked great after a couple of squirts and turning it a few times. Gun oil is also recommended instead of wd40.
You mentioned locks being tested for cold weather, but what about heat? I live in Phoenix, AZ, where it easily gets over 120 degrees in the summer in addition to dry and dusty. Sunlight and heat will kill plastic and similar materials. Also, of course, heat makes materials expand. Do you have any recommendations for types of locks or maintenance of locks in this case?
Great article, I’ve read so many reviews on Amazon of locks becoming stuck it made it seem like an insurmountable problem. Not so!
Not really, although I’m sure keeping the lock out of direct sunlight would help alot!
Thanks for tips! I’d been wrestling with a temperamental lock for weeks – now all sorted and good as new 🙂
Graphite is a great lock lubricant. It is a dry powder lubricant, therefore it does not get grimy
or attract dirt. Just a couple squirts in the key hole once a month and it should keep things moving smoothly for a long time.
You recommended OnGuard, however I’ve had one of their u-bolts completely seize to the point of being unrecoverable. I was just lucky that my bike wasn’t locked up at the time, otherwise that would have been a real headache. I have since seen other reviews citing this as a common problem, so I would steer well clear of this brand.
TL;DR OnGuard locks are sh*t
Yes, I think I do mention across the site that OnGuard locks need a little extra care and attention. They need to be cleaned and lubricated regularly. Both the mechanism and where the shackle meets the crossbar.
Sorry to hear that yours became unrecoverable!
An added bonus is that as you should be trying to make your lock as tight around your bike and locking object as possible, having it pointing down will make it even harder to pick. It may also help deter people from maliciously shoving things into your locking mechanism to disable it.
Hi. Thankyou for this article. It was both useful and well written.
Pre check. Just check whether it’s ur bike in the first place. There are some bikes which exactly look like yours. I know u might be reading this article just like me..
But before you think of calling a mechanic to break he lock just confirm its ur bike. Otherwise u will end up with an amused mechanic, a frustrated bike owner and u who will feel why I did this
Here’s an exception to the above scenarios: somebody maliciously squirted crazy glue into my U-bolt lock cylinder, so when I inserted the key, not only would it not turn but it wouldn’t come back out. I had no choice but to go and get an angle grinder to cut through the shackle. I’m actually glad this happened because I learned how easy and quick it was to cut through a cheap U-lock — almost like a knife through butter.
Would it be okay to use a spray Teflon lube in place of Finish Line/Triflow since it’s what I have on hand?
Hi, yes that should be fine!
Wow – thanks! I couldn’t figure out why my kryptonite lock was no longer working. I moved the spline up and voila. It works. Now I have to go tighten that screw.
Thanks so much. Took a bit but persisted with your ideas and WD40….Voila. Open. Thanks. I’ll look after my lock from now on.