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How to unlock a bike lock without the keys

If you’ve lost your keys, or they’re just not working properly, then you probably need to work out a way to open your bike lock without your keys!

However, depending on the bike lock, this can be at best difficult, while at worst, it will completely destroy your lock. Which means it really should be a last resort.

So make sure that if the keys aren’t working properly, you’ve checked out my how to open a jammed bike lock page, and tried all the suggestions on there, before you give up on the keys altogether.

Of course, if you’ve lost the keys, then this isn’t even an option!

But don’t worry, either way, we can still fix this. There are several ways that you’ll be able to unlock or open you bike lock without using the keys. And we’re going to cover them all here.

Broadly speaking, we'll discuss two techniques:

  1. how to pick a bike lock
  2. how to force open a bike lock

How to Pick a Bicycle Lock

Now by rights, this shouldn’t be easy. And if it is easy, you’ve clearly got a rubbish bike lock and once it’s open, you need to replace it with a bike lock that’s very difficult, if not impossible for the average person to pick!

However, if your bike lock is very old or it’s very cheap, you may be in luck! So let’s review the ways you may be able to pick your bike lock open...

1. Use a plastic BIC pen to open the bike lock

Bike locks with a tubular pin locking mechanism can be “picked” very easily with the plastic case of a Bic ball point pen!

How do you know if you bike lock has a tubular pin locking mechanism? Well, it’s pretty obvious. The key hole and key will look something like this…

Tubular pin locking mechanism

A tubular pin locking mechanism: easy to open with a Bic pen

The technique is pretty straightforward, Simply remove lid and the ink tube from your Bic pen. The end of the plastic case will now be the right shape and size to fit into the tubular key hole on your bike lock.

Push the end of the pen into the keyhole, as far as it will go. Then start to wiggle it about a bit as you apply counter clockwise pressure. The idea is to catch the pins in the plastic at the end of the pen case.

A video will explain this far better than I can...

Now, the lock used in that video is a Kryptonite. And way back in 2004 there was a big kerfuffle when it was discovered that this pretty basic lock picking technique could open the locks of the worlds biggest and most respected bike lock brand!

However, Kryptonite quickly changed all their locks from tubular to disk lock mechanisms and offered a free exchange for anyone with an old tubular mechanism bike lock. So just to be clear: no new Kryptonite locks can be picked like this.

However you may be able to open a pre 2004 Kryptonite bike lock with this technique. And there are plenty of cheap, no-brand (or crap brand) bike locks that are still made with tubular mechanisms.

So if you’ve got one, you should definitely give this a go. But once you’ve opened the lock, please change it for a better one!

2. Use a “shim” to open the bike lock

Another option is to use a “shim”. This is a thin piece of metal or plastic which you can insert between the shackle and the locking bolt in your bike lock. This essentially eases the bolt out of the shackle, so opening the lock.

You can buy durable metal shims from the specialised shops. But you can also make them yourself from soda pop cans or plastic drinks bottles etc. Again a video can show you how to do this better than I can explain!...

And once again, this is a method that will only work on cheap, shoddy locks. So if this works for you: congratulations, you’ve opened your lock! But please upgrade your bike lock to something more secure.

3. Use a lock picking set to open the bike lock

Pretty much all bike locks can be picked with the right tools and the right skills. But if you’re on this page it’s very unlikely you’ve got either! That’s not to say you can’t buy the kit and learn the techniques of course.

But be aware: it’s not as easy as the YouTube videos might suggest. Celebrity lock pickers like the LockPickingLawyer and BosnianBill are highly skilled technicians with years of experience and a bag full of specialised (and often custom made) tools.

Just because they can open a $200 top of the range, high security bike lock in 3 minutes, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to do the same thing if you buy a cheap lock picking set off eBay. It’s not that easy.

However, it is learnable. And again for cheap locks there are loads of picking tips that you may be able to use immediately.

The basic principals are generally always the same, I think. You insert a “tension wrench” into the mechanism to apply some pressure to the cylinder. Then you use a “picking tool” to try to feel around for the key pins inside the mechanism, and one by one nudge them so they click into place.

Once all the pins are in place you should be able to twist the tension wrench to unlock the bike lock. Easy!? Probably not. But with practice and patience, anyone can learn how to pick a bike lock.

4. Call a Locksmith

If you’re unable to pick open your bike lock by yourself, then perhaps you should consider getting a professional in. A Locksmith may or may not be able to pick your bike lock, as it’s not a skill that every locksmith has.

However, they will almost certainly have more chance than you (or me). And if they can’t open the lock cleanly without the key, they’ll certainly have the tools to open it by force. Which brings us nicely to…

How to open a bike lock by force

If you’ve got a decent bike lock then obviously this should be very difficult. Otherwise, your joy on defeating your lock will quickly be tempered by the realisation that a thief could do exactly the same and steal your ride.

However plenty of people use hopelessly unsecure locks. So let’s deal with those first. I’m not going to go into too many details for obvious reasons. The general techniques I outline below are all well known...

If you’ve got a cable lock, then all you need is handheld wire or cable cutters. If you don’t have a cable cutters then small bolt cutters will do the job too. A hacksaw might take slightly longer. But not much.

All good reasons to not use a cable lock again!

If you’ve got a thin, cheap u-lock or a chain lock, then a large pair of bolt cutters may do the job. Try to get the lock as close to the floor as possible. Position the bolt cutters so that the lock is in its jaws and one arm is on the ground.

Then throw your weight on top of the other arm. Many crappy bike locks will shear open after a few bounces.

If you’ve got a decent bike lock, then hopefully these techniques won’t work! And if so, it’s probably time to get out the angle grinder. An angle grinder will cut through any bike lock eventually.

Depending on the quality of the grinder (and the lock), it may take a couple of battery changes. But it will cut through your lock. Obviously it’s important to wear protective gear. And obviously you shouldn’t be attempting this if you don’t know what your doing!

A final word on opening a bike lock without a key

Once you get your lock open, have a good think about how easy it was. If it was relatively straightforward, then your bike lock wasn’t good enough.

So even if you've managed to get it open without destroying it, it’s time to upgrade.

I have a simple three step guide that guarantees to help you find a bike lock that’s both secure enough to protect your bike from theft and practical to use on a day to day basis AND perfectly manageable within your budget.

Last Updated on March 2, 2021 by Carl Ellis