A cable lock might seem like a great way to secure your bike. They're cheap, light, easy to carry and easy to fasten around your bike when you're locking it up.
But unfortunately the one thing they're not is secure!
If there's one universal truth with bicycle security it's this: if you secure your bike with a cable lock it will be stolen. It's just a question of when. So please promise me one thing...
Never, ever, secure your bike with a cable lock!
If you've landed on this page because you're thinking of buying a one of these locks, I know how you're feeling, because I've been in the same position.
As far as I remember, my thinking at the time was: "my bike's not that expensive or desirable, so a thief won't be too interested in it". And also: "the shop wouldn't be selling these locks if they're not reasonably secure".
So I bought a cable lock for my new bike. And on the very first night I used it my bike was stolen!
Because the truth is: there's no bike that's too crappy to be stolen and the shops that sell these locks really don't care if our bikes are stolen or not.
Not convinced? Maybe you think I'm just trying to persuade you to buy a more expensive lock? Let's watch some videos and look at some crime data for more evidence!
Thieves defeating cable locks
Here are three videos of real thieves stealing bikes secured with cable locks. Of course: any lock can be beaten with the right tools and enough time. But notice how easy it is for the thieves if we use one of these locks.
Some of these locks are so flimsy that a thief can simply rip the bike free with their bare hands...
Here's another where the thief is using the tiniest pair of cable cutters to snip through the lock. Luckily he's caught before he can take the bike...
Thicker cable locks can be cut with slightly bigger cable cutters or bolt cutters. But it's still very quick and easy...
Cable locks and Crime statistics
What I'm saying is also backed up by the crime data. Numerous studies have shown that using a cable lock dramatically increases the chances that your bike will be stolen. For example...
Bike Thefts by Lock Type
Data from the Harvard Police Department (2011) shows that nearly two thirds of stolen bikes had been secured with a cable lock.
Why are cable locks so insecure?
Cable locks are made up of many thin strands of steel inside a plastic tube. And it's the thinness of these strands that make the lock light and flexible and cheap (there's less expensive metal).
But those thin strands are also what makes a these locks inherently insecure. Because they can be cut very easily with cable cutters of bolt croppers. These tools simply chew through the cables one by one.
A bit like cutting hair with scissors!
Thicker cable locks may seem more secure. But the truth is: thicker locks are mostly just thicker plastic casing! Inside there won't be much more steel.
Can I use a cable lock as secondary security?
The most important thing is not to use one of these locks as your primary means of security. And by "primary security", I mean the lock that secures your bike frame to an immovable object in the street (or at home).
Many people also use a secondary lock. Either as another layer of (different) security around the frame. Or more usually, to secure the front wheel or seat. Or both.
These secondary locks sometimes take the form of thin cable lassos, which are sold together with a primary u-lock. And they can only be used with another lock (because they don't have a locking mechanism themselves).
I'm not a big fan of these locks personally. They can be snipped through very quickly and easily with a tiny pair of hand held cable cutters.
What's more, I don't find them very easy to use. They're long and unwieldy. So they're difficult to carry around. They can be difficult to get around your bike when you lock up. And difficult to un-tangle from your bike when you leave.
Having said all that, they're better than nothing. And for sure: if you have quick release levers on your wheels or seat post you definitely need to protect them with something!
But you need to accept that a cable lock is only going to provide the most superficial protection. If a thief wants your wheel or seat, he will be able to take them easily.
To be honest there are much more secure and easier ways to protect your wheels and seat. And I'd urge you to check them out before you buy a cable lock for this purpose.
The most important message on this whole website is: do not use a cable lock to secure your bicycle!
If we all stopped using these useless locks on our bikes, bicycle theft would drop significantly.
It's frustrating because they promise so much. They're super light, easy to use and carry and very cheap. But they completely fail in their fundamental purpose: to protect our bikes from theft.
And it's true: you won't find another type of lock that offers all of the same practical qualities that a these type of locks do.
But you can find locks that offer some of those qualities whilst also fulfilling their main purpose: stopping a thief from stealing your bike.
I recommend you think about which of the qualities of cable locks are the most important to you and which you're prepared to compromise on.
Then use my simple three step guide to find a bike lock that's both easy to use and is able to protect your bike from theft!
More Good Stuff:
Win a Free Bike!
How to lock your bike (properly)
I was about to get one for my son’s new mtb.
Will look into other locks
I’m baffled at how people think a cable is any good. When I bought my first bike from a bike shop, they told me I only needed a combination cable lock, I bought it but never used it on it’s own I then did my own research and got a good u lock. Which served me well. However, I have caught several people looking at my bike but walked away possibly there may have been another one about telling him to walk away as saw me coming I don’t know. But I’m about to buy another u lock to lock the front wheel. I would say to you is to ensure you have a good lock for each wheel and register it with an official anti bike theft scheme. I don’t skimp on cost to protect my possession as i dont want to spend time and money looking for a replacement.
Yep, good points Lorrie!
I ride bikes off craigslist that cost 50 bucks. I don’t even have to lock them up.
If we are using the pie chart to determine which type of lock to use, then clearly an unsecured bike is less likely to be stolen. Or, we need more data before we draw conclusions from that chart.
I think you’re misreading the chart, Frank!
Of all the bikes stolen, that the smallest proportion were unsecured, is simply because most bikes are secured with something!
There are very few bikes left unsecured, so there are very few stolen bikes that were unsecured.
That would be correct, Carl. But by that same logic, the greatest percentage of bikes are stolen with cable locks because the greatest percentage of bikes are locked with cables.
Haha yes, that is a very good point Jim!
And perhaps Frank was actually making a similar point about the dangers of misinterpreting the data.
Regarding your point, of course that will be a factor too: that more of the stolen bikes were found to have been locked with cables, simply because more bikes are probably locked with cables.
So yes, we need to be careful about projecting our presumptions onto the data.
I would still bet you a large amount of money that if we left 4 identical bikes in a bike rack, one unsecured, one locked with a cable, one with a ulock and the last with a chain, the unsecured would be stolen first, and the cable locked bike would be stolen second. 🙂