If you’re looking for a cheap (affordable) bike lock, then I’ve got good news: you don’t have to spend a lot of money to adequately protect your bicycle!
In fact, baring a couple of notable exceptions (more on this later), there are budget friendly options at every available security level. However, you might need to make compromises elsewhere.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves!
First (and most importantly) we have to establish what level of security you require from a bike lock. Because if you get this wrong, it doesn’t matter how much money you save: your bike will be stolen!
The easiest way to do this is to answer the 3 quick questions in this quiz:
Ok, so the quiz should have recommended that you get a bike lock with a security rating that’s either:
Sold Secure is an independent organization that tests the security of bike locks and then gives them a rating according to the amount of resistance they put up in those tests. The ratings go from Diamond (most secure), down to Bronze (least secure).
I don’t recommend locks that are rated Bronze, because I don’t think they are secure enough. And I don’t recommend locks that are not rated by Sold Secure, because we can’t be sure what kind of protection you’ll be getting (appearances can be deceptive).
So now you know what level of security you need, you could just click through to the pages in the Sold Secure list above and start browsing bike locks. You will definitely find some bargains!
However, these lists are long, and the prices will vary considerably. So let’s narrow it down further (it’s easy). We can do that put looking at the best type of bike lock for someone on a tight budget…
There are 4 main types of bike lock:
If you want to save money, then you should definitely go for a u-lock (d-lock).
Chain locks and folding locks are nearly always more expensive than u-locks (when the security levels are the same). And while there are plenty of cheap cable locks, they won’t protect your bike.
Whatever you do: don’t buy a cheap cable lock!
OK so now you know what security level you need. And you know a u-lock will be probably be the most affordable option.
We can narrow it down further, though. Because some bike lock brands are cheaper than others!
Bike lock brands to avoid if you’re on a budget:
- Hiplok, Litelok (and other small niche brands)
Abus bike locks always have the best build quality of the locks I test. And that quality comes at a higher price. While the smaller niche brands like Hiplok and Litelok can’t take advantage of the economies of scale that the bigger brands can, so are also more expensive.
Affordable bike lock brands:
You can definitely find other budget friendly bike lock brands, but OnGuard and Zefal are my favorites because apart from being affordable, they are also reasonably well-made and easy to use.
Kryptonite is another favorite. Their customer service is second to none, and they have a great range of locks. They’re not usually as cheap as OnGuard, but it’s worth checking the prices, as you can often find bargains if you shop around.
OnGuard U-locks: The Best Cheap Bike Locks
Let’s look at OnGuard first because they are usually the cheapest and have the most comprehensive range of u-locks. I also think they’re the best! OnGuard have a different series of locks for each security level:
OnGuard Brute (Highest Security Level)
OnGuard Brute u-locks have 16.8 mm thick shackles and are the most secure portable bike locks this brand produces. They come is three different sizes, so you should be able to find one that perfectly fits your bike and locking habits.
Brute Mini 8002
3.5 x 5.5 "
Brute STD 8001
4.5 x 8 "
Brute LS 8000
4.5 x 10 "
If you were recommended a Sold Secure Diamond bike lock in the quiz at the top of the page, then this is the range to go for. However, be aware that not all the locks in this range have been awarded a Diamond rating…
The award of a Sold Secure rating is dependent on the lock being submitted for testing every year (at a cost to the lock brand). The lock brands don’t always do this for all their models, so some won’t have a rating.
You can be sure that all the Brute series of OnGuard locks provide more or less the same level of security though (the smaller ones will be slightly more secure), so this should only be an issue if you are also going to purchase bicycle insurance that stipulates your look has a certain Sold Secure rating.
OnGuard Pitbull (Second-Highest Security Level)
OnGuard Pitbull u-locks have 14 mm thick shackles, but are otherwise much the same as the Brute range, and are the second most secure portable bike locks that OnGuard produce. They are available in 5 different sizes, which gives you even more versatility:
Cans of Coke
Despite providing a lower security level than the Brute range, many of the Pitbull locks also have a Sold Secure Diamond rating.
So if the quiz above recommended “a Diamond or a Gold rated lock”, then a Pitbull lock would be a good choice, as they will be lighter and less bulky than a Brute, while still providing a very high level of security.
OnGuard Bulldog (Medium Security Level)
There is a confusingly large range of Bulldog u-locks (including 10 different model numbers) and they either have 11 mm or 13 mm shackles. Avoid the 11 mm shackles as they are not secure enough.
Here are the 13 mm options in 5 different sizes:
Cans of Coke
The Bulldog range is the one to go for if the quiz above recommended a Sold Secure Silver bike lock. Again, not all of these locks have been awarded a Sold Secure rating (despite being secure enough), so be aware of that, if your insurance policy stipulates a lock with an official rating.
Why I think OnGuard make the best budget bike locks
Apart from being very affordable and having good options at every security level, there are a number of other qualities that make OnGuard my favorite bike lock for those on a tight budget:
- Wide range of sizes
- Decent build quality
- Reasonable frame mount.
Wide range of sizes
A wide range of sizes means that you should be able to find a lock that suits whatever bike you ride, and how (and where) you prefer to secure it. The locks with longer shackles are good for people with bigger framed bikes. While mini u-locks are more suited to skinny city bikes.
You also have the option of a supplementary cable to help protect your wheels with many of the models.
Decent build quality
In the past, OnGuard had a reputation for poor build quality and specifically locks that would eventually jam (either from an issue in the locking mechanism or from a build up of rust where the shackle meets the crossbar).
I think they have largely fixed this issue, though. I have been securing my bike with an OnGuard Brute for at least 6 months. And it’s outside in the sun and rain, night and day. I have never had any problems at all (even though I’ve been ignoring my own advice about cleaning and lubricating regularly!).
I also really like the keyhole cover that OnGuard uses on all their locks. It’s one of those that’s situated inside the mechanism and parts automatically when you push the key into the hole.
I’ve always been a bit wary of this type of cover as I’ve had several experiences where they have broken, blocking the mechanism and making the lock unusable.
The OnGuard version is made from metal, though (the ones that broke on me were plastic). And not only has it caused me no issues in the 6 months I’ve been using it, I have come to really appreciate the convenience: I much prefer it to the Kryptonite covers that you have to manually slide back and forth.
Reasonable frame mount
Finally, the OnGuard u-locks come with a reasonably good frame mount. It’s a little bit bulky and a little bit ugly, but it fits most bike frames and is very easy to install. Again, many people will find it preferable to Kryptonite’s much maligned frame mount!
Zefal U-locks: An Affordable European Alternative
The French cycling brand Zefal also make very competitively priced bike locks. However, while they are available in the US, the best prices are usually found in Europe. As ever, it’s worth shopping around to see what you can find, though!
The Zefal u-locks are actually very, very similar to the OnGuard u-locks. They have the same quadruple locking shackle. The frame mount is identical. And the keys and the keyhole cover have exactly the same design.
In fact, I suspect they come from the same factory!
You don’t get anything like the same range of choice in terms of security level and size, though…
Zefal K-Traz U17 (Highest Security Level)
This is a standard size u-lock with a 14 mm thick shackle and a Sold Secure Gold security rating. It’s pretty much the same lock as the OnGuard Pitbull Standard. And is also very similar to the Kryptonite Kryptolok New-U Standard.
Zefal K-Traz U17
3.24 lb (1.47 kg)
9.1 x 4.5"
Other Security Ratings:
There are two versions, one with a cable to help protect your wheels, and one without.
As it’s almost identical to the OnGuard Pitbull Standard, I don’t have much else to say about it. It’s a fantastic, budget price, standard size u-lock. Shop around: if you find it at a good price, don’t hesitate (as long as it meets your risk level).
Read my full, hands-on Zefal K-Traz U17 review for more details.
Zefal K-Traz U13 (Medium Security Level)
Unlike the U17, the Zefal K-Traz U13 is available in several different sizes and configurations. All of them have a 13 mm thick shackle though, and are very similar to the OnGuard Pitbull range of u-locks.
K-Traz U13 S
3.5 x 5.6 "
4.5 x 9.1 "
K-Traz U13 Code
4.4 x 9.1 "
K-Traz U13 L
4.5 x 11.6 "
Again, although they all offer more or less the same level of medium-level protection, not all of them have been awarded a Sold Security Silver rating. So if your insurance policy requires a lock with an official rating, you need to be aware of this.
Are Kryptonite bike locks a good budget option?
Kryptonite are another one of my favorite bike lock brands. Their locks come in a huge variety of different sizes and security levels. They are generally well-made and reliable. And Kryptonite’s after sales support is the best in the business.
While they aren’t generally the cheapest option (OnGuard nearly always beat them for price), because there is so much choice, if you shop about a bit you can often find big discounts and bargains.
With that in mind, I can’t really recommend any particular cheap Kryptonite bike locks. However, once you know the security level you need, you can browse the Sold Secure Diamond, Gold or Silver lists looking for good deals!
Are cheap bike locks a false economy?
A cheap bike lock would only be a false economy if:
- The cheapness meant it was less secure (and your bike was stolen)
- The cheapness meant it was poor quality (and it stopped working)
- The cheapness meant it was really difficult to use (so that you had to replace it)
Cheap = Less Secure?
As we’ve already discovered, just because a bike lock is cheap doesn’t mean it is necessarily unsecure. You can find very secure bike locks for very low prices. In fact, there are relatively cheap bike locks are every security level.
If your personal circumstances are such that you need an angle grinder resistant bike lock, then there are no cheap options. In fact, there are only 3 portable options full stop (Litelok X1, Litelok X3, Hiplok D1000). Plus the Skunklock (which is more of a deterrent).
All of these locks are incredibly expensive. And there are no cheap alternatives. If you need this level of security, you will just have to pay. Because if you don’t, your cheap bike lock may well turn out to be a false economy!
Cheap = Poor Quality?
While security isn’t necessarily an issue with cheap bike locks, quality often is. Cheap bike locks often use lower quality casings, which can deteriorate quickly (this is usually only an aesthetic issue).
Much more importantly, cheap bike locks can develop sticky mechanisms and rusty connections that can make using the lock more and more difficult, until it stops working altogether! Luckily, all you usually have to do to avoid this is clean and lubricate them regularly.
That means squirting a Teflon based lubricant into the keyhole and adding some white lithium grease paste to the ends of the shackle, now and again. This should avoid any serious problems that cheap locks might have in terms of quality.
Cheap = Bad Usability?
Another compromise you might have to make is with usability. Cheaper bike locks may be heavier and bulkier than their more expensive counterparts. Their frame mounts may be big and ugly at best, or flimsy and weak at worst.
You might find that lower machining quality means that the parts don’t fit together very easily, which makes locking and unlocking your bike difficult and time-consuming. This can be really annoying!
There’s not much you can do to mitigate this, so usability issues are probably the biggest drawback of cheap bike locks.
Luckily, I’ve used all the locks I recommend on this page and can vouch for the fact that these locks are very usable and shouldn’t give you many more headaches than the majority of the more expensive bike locks!
Conclusion: The Most Important Thing (With Budget Bike Locks)
The most important thing to remember when you buy a cheap bike lock is that you can’t compromise on security.
There will be a certain level of security that your circumstances require, and you need to respect that.
Don’t buy a cheap cable lock. Do not buy a cheap cable lock.
You might think that your crappy bike will be OK with a cheap, crappy cable lock. But thieves will steal anything.
So it probably won’t.
Any one of the locks on this page will be heavier and bulkier, and a bit more expensive than your average cable lock, but there is an infinitely better chance that your bike will be safe with one of these.
More Good Stuff:
Bike Brands: where are they made?
How to lock your bike (properly)