How to lock your bike (properly)
I hope you’ve already read about how to choose the best bike lock. And you’ve got a good idea what level of security you need and the type of lock that’s right for you.
But it’s not just about the lock!…
You also need to know how to secure your bike properly. Because whichever lock you choose, if you don’t use it properly, your bike will be stolen.
So in this guide, I’ll show you several ways you can lock your bike. (And several ways you should never lock your bike!)
Why several different ways? Because locking your bike isn’t just about security, it’s got to be practical as well. And by the end of the article you’ll be able to make an educated choice on which one provides the best balance of security and convenience for your circumstances.
If you’ve already got a lock, I’ll show you how to get the best out of it. If you haven’t got a bike lock yet, even better. Because thinking about how you’ll secure your bike can help you choose the right lock.
Different techniques favor different locks. So make sure you’re familiar with the options below and try to think which one's best for you at home and in your neighborhood before you buy a lock.
The guide is divided into three parts based on the three places where you’ll likely be locking your bike: in the street, at home and at work or college.
Part 1. Locking your bike in the street
A badly locked bike in the street will disappear very quickly. Luckily, thinking carefully about where and how you lock your bike in the street can go a long way to prevent this happening…
Where should I lock my bike in the street?
Although the type of neighborhood you live in will effect this, there are some general tips which you should always try to follow…
Tip 1: Choose a busy place
Try to choose a busy location with lots of people walking past. If it’s an area well covered by CCTV, even better. Other people and CCTV make thieves nervous. They’d much prefer to be hidden away while they “work”.
Choose an place where lots of other bikes are already locked up. Ideally in the middle of a group of bikes rather than on the end. This serves three purposes:
Firstly, there’s bound to be badly locked bikes that are more tempting to a thief than your well-locked bike. Secondly, lots of bikes crammed together give a thief less room to maneuver and use their tools effectively.
And thirdly, the comings and goings of other cyclists may disturb them and if anyone is going to challenge a bike thief, (and lets face it most people just walk on by), its going to be other cyclists.
Tip 2: Choose an immovable object
A bike is only as secure as the object it is locked to. So make sure you always choose a fixed, immovable object that’s not easily broken.
Check the bike can’t be lifted over the top of whatever you’ve attached it to. Or that the object can’t be easily unscrewed or dismantled. Avoid trees, aluminium or wooden posts, sign posts, scaffolding and chain link fences.
If you choose metal railings, try to get the lock around as many railings as possible. But ideally the immovable object would be a specially designed bike rack that’s cemented into the ground.
However, you even need to be careful with these! Some sneaky thieves are cutting through bike racks when they're empty and then covering up the cut with tape to hide what they've done...
Once an unsuspecting cyclist has left their bike locked to the rack, the thief returns, prizes open the cut section and makes off with their bike! So check any rack you use hasn't been tampered with.
Tip 3: Don’t give thieves clues
If you’re going to the cinema, the leisure center or anywhere else where you might be away from your bike for a significant amount of time, consider locking your bike a couple of streets away.
Why? If a thief sees you locking your bike and then going in to any of these places they’ll know they’ve got a fair bit of time to work on your bike!
Tip 4: Take extra precautions
If you know an area is dangerous, avoid it. Or if you can’t avoid it, take an extra lock. And don’t leave your bike for too long!
A summary of where to lock your bike in the street:
- choose a busy area with CCTV
- lock your bike in the middle of lots of other bikes
- always secure your bike to a fixed, immovable object, ideally a bike rack
- don't lock your bike outside places you'll clearly be for a long time
- if you know it's a high theft risk area, take an extra lock
How should I lock my bike in the street?
This will vary depending on what sort of bike you’ve got, which lock you use and where you secure it. However there are certain tips you should always follow…
Tip 1: Lock your frame
Always lock your frame to the immovable object. If you only secure your bike through the wheel, a thief will simply remove your wheel and walk off with the rest of the bike.
This may sound obvious but it happens all the time…
Tip 2: Keep your lock off the ground
Try to keep the lock away from the ground. If it’s on the ground, a thief can use a hammer to smash the lock against the hard floor and this will break cheaper models.
Also, the closer it is to the ground, the easier it is to use the floor for added leverage in a bolt cutter attack like this.
However, also avoid the top tube. If the lock is around the top tube of the bike, a thief can use the frame itself to try to break the lock by lifting and twisting the whole bike.
Or since there's also likely to be more space left inside the lock when it's on the top tube, insert a length of metal that can be used to twist and pop the lock open.
So, ideally the lock should go high up around the down tube or the seat tube.
Tip 3: Make the lock difficult to access
Try to make the lock as difficult to access as possible. If it's difficult to access it will be difficult to attack.
And if you can position it so the key hole is facing downwards even better. This will make it more difficult to tamper with the locking mechanism...
Thieves may try to put superglue in the keyhole to prevent you unlocking your bike and forcing you to leave it in the street overnight and giving them more time to steal it when the streets are quieter.
Or some thieves may have the locking picking skills to open you lock without force. But if the key hole is hard to access both of these forms of attack become more difficult.
Tip 4: Fill the inside of a U-lock
If you’re using a u-lock, try to fill as much of the space within the U with the bike and the thing it’s attached to. This is really important...
The most common way that the better u-locks are broken is with leverage attacks. A length of metal or scaffolding pole is inserted into the space within the U and twisted until it pops open.
Hydraulic bottle jack attacks are less common also depend on there being enough space inside the u-lock to insert the tool.
But if there’s no spare room inside the U, a thief can’t use either of these methods. So keep those locks full!
A summary of how to lock your bike in the street:
- always lock the frame (not just the wheel!) to the secure object
- keep the lock as far from the ground as possible
- but avoid locking around the top tube
- make the lock as difficult to access as possible
- if you use a u-lock fill as much of the internal space as possible
Four ways to lock your bike in the street
Making use of those general tips, here are four popular ways to lock your bike on the street. Which one suits you best will depend on how expensive your bike is and which locks you have.
1. Locking your bike with two locks
The most secure way to lock your bike is with two locks. And ideally to a bike rack that’s cemented into the ground.
The first lock should go around the back wheel, the frame and the bike rack. The second should go around the front wheel, the frame and preferably the bike rack as well.
This means the frame is secured in two places and both wheels are secured to the frame and the bike rack.
Some people suggest that you should use two different types of lock because this requires a thief to carry two different types of lock breaking tools…
I like to combine a chain lock with a u-lock. I leave my bike out in the street all night. And as I secure it in the same place every night, I leave a heavy chain lock permanently attached to the bike rack so I don’t have to carry it around.
I depend solely on the U-lock in the day. But if I know I’m going somewhere risky or to a place where it might be left over night, I can always take the chain lock with me.
However, it’s worth mentioning that if you choose to leave a heavy lock in a public place, you run the risk of an aspiring thief using it to practice his art.
Or even worse, if a thief’s clocked your bike, he might sabotage the big lock while you’re away, forcing you to use only the other, smaller lock when you return. Whereupon he will pounce on your compromised security. So be careful!
I should add that in the photo above, the chain is actually far too loose and could be maneuvered close to the ground where it would be vulnerable to bolt cutters!
2. Locking your bike with one lock and a cable
Another very popular technique is to use one decent lock and a cable. Attach a u-lock or chain around the rear wheel, the frame and the bike rack as above.
Then push one end of the cable through the front wheel, pass one loop through the other loop and secure the first loop to the main lock.
The advantage of this method is that the cable is very light. So you’re saving a huge amount of weight over using two proper locks.
Of course, the problem with this method is that the cable is the only thing securing the front wheel. And as I’ve mentioned before, since all cables can be snipped through in next to no time, they offer zero practical security.
You might as well tie it up with string! On top of that, threading the cable through the bike in a tight, busy spot can be a right hassle. And although they’re light, they’re quite bulky and not so easy to carry around.
However, many people think the visual, psychological deterrent of the cable is enough. And if your bike has cheap wheels that don’t use quick release skewers, then this might be the case.
I don’t like this method though and I definitely don’t recommend it for quick release wheels.
3. Locking your bike with one lock and a removed front wheel
Attach the u or chain lock around the rear wheel, the frame and the bike rack as above. But also around the front wheel which you’ve removed from the front forks.
This ensures that both wheels and the frame are secured with one good lock. And if you’re using a u-lock it’s going to be full of more stuff and therefore less susceptible to a leverage or bottle jack attack.
However, bear in mind that this method requires a standard or larger sized u-lock. And using a chain instead would be very fiddly.
To use this method you’ll also need quick release wheels, which means you’ll have to do it everywhere you go to prevent the wheel being stolen!
Both of the last two techniques attempt to resolve the problem of how to secure the front wheel when you only have one lock.
This is especially important if you have quick release wheels which allow you (and anyone who wants to steal them!) to remove your wheels very quickly without the use of tools.
For me, quick release wheels (and saddles) are more trouble than they’re worth. How often do you need to remove your wheels?
Better to replace the quick release mechanism with normal nuts or secure skewers. This makes your wheels much harder to steal and in some cases negates the need for a second lock.
4. Locking your bike with the “Sheldon” method
Sheldon Brown, the renowned bicycle expert, advocated securing just the rear wheel to the bike rack, using a u-lock somewhere within the rear triangle of the frame.
He maintained that by using this method, you don’t need to secure the frame to the bike rack as well because the wheel cannot be pulled through the rear triangle.
One of the advantages of this method is that because you’re only securing the wheel, you can usually get away with a smaller, lighter u-lock. Check out my best lightweight bike lock page for some good examples!
However, I’m not sure about this technique, especially for more expensive bikes. With some effort, a dedicated thief could saw through the rear wheel to remove the lock.
I can also imagine an opportunist thief not realizing the bike was properly secured and causing significant damage to your bike while they tried to remove it.
However, if for whatever reason you can’t maneuver your bike into a position where you can lock the frame as well, I think this technique is OK for short periods.
Part 2. Locking your bike at home
It’s worth remembering that while street theft gets all the attention, over 50% of stolen bikes are taken from the owner’s home. That means from the front or back garden, from a shed or garage on the property, or from inside the house or flat itself.
What can you do to prevent this? Well, although bike security at home is often more difficult than bike security in the street, there’s still plenty you can do to protect your ride.
Let’s look at each of these areas of the home in more detail…
Keeping your bike inside your house/flat
Inside your house or flat is definitely the safest place to keep your bike. However, many people are either unable or unwilling to share their living space with bicycles.
Maybe they (or more often other family members!) don’t like the idea of big, wet, dirty machines cluttering up their home. Maybe they don’t like the hassle of dragging a bike into the building. Or maybe there just isn’t enough space.
If space is the issue, there are plenty of companies now offering storage solutions for bikes inside the home.
Such contraptions vary hugely in design and price. But at the end of the day they all amount to something you attach to the wall or ceiling to hang your bike from.
They look great in the adverts but the stylish bikes in the adverts are never covered in 3 months of London street grime...
However, if you can fit your bike in your house and there are no problems with it being there, this is definitely the safest place to keep it.
Keeping your bike in communal spaces
If you live in a flat with shared communal space inside the building, it can be tempting to leave your bike there (often in the hallway, just inside the front door). But this is a very unsafe place to store anything.
Usually there’s nothing to secure your bike to, and because it’s not your space, little opportunity to install something.
So in the end, your unprotected bike sits in the hallway waiting for someone to forget to close or lock the door and someone else to stroll in and off with it!
Because one things for sure: no one else in the building is thinking about keeping your bike safe.
One DIY solution is to fill a large bucket with cement and stick a ground anchor or an old u-lock in the wet cement to set. Voila, you have a pretty heavy anchor you can leave in the hallway to secure your bike to.
I have a friend who added some plastic flowers to the top of the bucket to make it look less intrusive to the other residents of the building!
Now theoretically this will only slow down, rather than stop a committed thief. But in reality it will foil most opportunists.
Keeping your bike in a shed or garage
If you’re lucky, maybe you have a garage or a bike shed at home. And if you can’t keep your bike inside your house, then this is the next safest alternative.
Usually, garages are more secure than sheds. However, you should never, ever leave your bike unlocked in either one (even if it's on your bike stand and you're still working on it).
Remember, over 50% of stolen bikes are taken from the owners home, so no matter how safe it feels, this is where you bike is most at risk.
Finding something suitable you can lock your bike to in a garage or shed can be a challenge though…
Bikes in garages
Garages have the advantage of concrete floors and brick walls. This makes it relatively easy to install a ground anchor which you can use with a heavy chain to secure your bike.
Just like locks, anchors vary widely in levels of security and price. Luckily they’re also rated by Sold Secure and ART, so it’s pretty easy to find a good one.
And since they will probably provide the biggest improvement to your security set up, I've written a complete guide to choosing and installing a good ground or wall anchor to help you find one!
Ground anchors can usually be attached to the floor or walls of a garage and are best used with chain locks.
Since you don’t need to worry about carrying these chains around, get the thickest chain you can afford. But make sure the chain is not so thick it won’t fit through the shackle of whichever anchor you choose!
Bikes in sheds
Wooden sheds don’t usually have concrete floors which makes installing a normal ground anchor difficult.
You could rip up a section of the floor, dig a hole into the earth below, fill it with concrete and then add an anchor such as the Oxford Terra Force to set in the wet concrete. However, this is a lot of work and may be completely unpractical.
Luckily, Pragmasis now offer a “shed shackle” specifically designed to give you something secure to lock your bike to in a wooden or metal shed or bike store. I think these are great.
They’re relatively cheap, practical and easy to install. What's more, if you couple one with a good chain, a thief would have to virtually demolish your shed to steal your bike.
There's loads of things you can do to make your shed more secure. From simple DIY tweaks like blocking the windows to more technological solutions like installing a shed alarm.
See my tips for boosting your shed security for lots of useful ideas!
Keeping your bike in the garden or yard
If you don’t have a garage or a shed but do have space in your garden or yard, consider buying a specially designed bike storage unit. The best (and most expensive) are made by Asgard.
If there’s no space for a storage unit, then you’ll have to just keep your bike under a bike cover. In this case, if you’re able to install a ground anchor somewhere in your garden, then do it.
Maybe there’s a patch of concrete to attach an anchor to. Or you could dig a hole in the earth, fill it with wet concrete and add a Oxford Terra Force to set firm. Or you could use the bucket trick I suggest for communal spaces.
One very elegant solution, which unlike the other options, requires no installation and will actually make your outside space greener and more attractive, is a PlantLock.
These are giant (90 x 40 x 52 cm), steel troughs, in which you can grow all sorts of shrubs, herbs and flowers. And on each side, there's a 19 mm thick, boron steel handle that you can lock a bike to. So each PlantLock can secure two bikes in all.
Once the PlantLock is full of earth and plants, it will weigh around 75 kg (or even more after rainfall or watering), which certainly qualifies it as an “immovable object”. And for extra security, there are even holes in the base, so you can bolt it into the ground.
The 19 mm handles are impossible to bolt crop, case hardened to resist sawing and tempered to repel any kind of brute force attack. The only way the PlantLock is likely to be defeated is with an angle grinder. But in reality, a thief is going to attack your bike lock instead!
Whichever of these methods you choose, the most important thing is that don’t leave your bike unsecured in your garden, no matter how private or out of the way it might seem. If you do, your bike will eventually be stolen.
Part 3. Locking your bike at work
Many workplaces now offer private spaces where you can leave your bike if you’re commuting. This is great news!
Obviously the security levels in these places will vary. But the most important thing to remember is that if anyone other than you has access to the space, you should lock your bike as if you were locking it on the street.
It doesn’t matter how small your office is or how secure the space seems. If other people have access to it, there’s a very real chance of it being compromised at some point.
While I was living in London I lost count of how many times bikes were stolen from office lock ups than seemed impregnable.
Buying the best bike lock is only the first step. You need to know how to lock your bike properly too. And you need to lock your bike properly everywhere: in the street, at home and at work or college.
In the street, locking your bike to a strong, immovable object in a busy area with lots of other bikes and CCTV cameras is a great start.
But make sure you lock it in the right way too: locking the frame and the wheels, keeping the lock off the ground, and making sure you fill as much of the space inside a U-lock as you can.
If possible, use the same techniques you use in the street to lock your bike at home or at work. It doesn’t matter how secure your home or work environments seem, never leave your bike unlocked.
At home, often there is nothing really secure to lock your bike to. If this is the case, it is certainly worth investing in ground or a shed anchor.
Of course none of these precautions will protect your bike if you use them with poor quality locks.
If you’re not sure which is best for you, check out my simple guide to choosing the right bike lock. And don't forget: if you don't want a jammed bike lock, you need to clean and lubricate it every 6 months or so!
Last Updated on June 10, 2021 by Carl Ellis
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