Bike Wheel & Seat Locks
It’s not just your bike that thieves want. They love your wheels and seats too. And your baskets and brakes. And all the other removable components on your bike.
In fact, if you leave your bike for long enough, you’re likely to return to something like the photo above!
But the most commonly stolen bike parts are definitely wheels and seats. One reason for this is that many bikes are now fitted with “quick release” skewers. These are clamps that allow you to easily remove your wheels or seat without using tools...
They're very handy if you need to take your wheel off quickly, to repair a puncture or you want to adjust your seat height. But unfortunately, they're also an open invitation to anyone with criminal inclinations…
Because if your bike has quick release clamps, unless you use some kind of additional security, anyone passing your bike can simply push open the clamps, unscrew them, and walk off with your wheels or seat.
No tools needed!
The good news is: there's a lot we can do to prevent this. And from simple and cheap DIY steps up to the latest technological advancements, we're going to cover them all here...
How to stop your bike wheels from being stolen
The most popular way to try to protect a bikes' wheels is to use a thin cable lock like this…
This type of long, looped cable is often sold and used with u-locks. The idea is that one end is attached to your u-lock and the other is looped around your wheel or your seat (or both)…
The problem with this method is that these cables can be snipped through with the most basic wire cutters in a matter of seconds.
And since all bike thieves carry wire cutters, if your wheel isn't stolen while secured like this, it’s only because the thief can’t be bothered!
Surely there’s a more secure option?
Well, for maximum security, your locking strategy should really include two locks. One secures the back wheel and the frame to the bike rack. The other secures either the front wheel and the frame to the bike rack or just the front wheel to the frame.
Or, if you’ve only got one lock and have quick release wheels, you could remove the front wheel and lock it together with the back wheel and the frame. I talk about more locking options on the how to lock your bike page.
However, neither of these methods is ideal. Decent bike locks are heavy and cumbersome, so carrying two locks around can be a pain. As is removing your front wheel every time you leave your bike somewhere!
Surely there must be a more convenient option?
Well, yes there is. In fact, there are several. And they all involve changing the way your wheels are currently attached to your bike.
First of all let's establish how your wheels are currently attached to your bike. It's usually either with the afore mentioned "quick release skewers" (for hollow axle wheels), or with "nutted bolts" (for solid axle wheels)...
To remove nutted bolts, a thief obviously needs a spanner (or similar tool), so they're significantly more secure than quick release skewers.
And if you've got quick release skewers, you could simply replace them with hex skewers, as to remove these, a thief would also need a tool, in this case a hex (Allen) key.
Both Nashbar and Halo make good quality hex wheel skewers which are easy to fit yourself. They won’t stop a thief with a Hex key! But in my experience, they're an effective deterrent for low value wheels. And they’re relatively cheap.
However, if your wheels are even vaguely attractive, or you live in a high theft area, you’re going to have to do much more than this.
And the good news is: you can now buy secure versions of the skewers or nuts that a thief won't be able to open with regular tools.
These locks use various ingenious methods to stop unwanted hands from unscrewing them. And they’re certainly more convenient than carrying two u-locks around or removing your front wheel every time you want to lock your bike!
How secure are they? Well that depends on which ingenious locking method they use. Broadly speaking, there are four different methods:
- those that use “unique” keys
- those that use “non-standard” keys
- those that use gravity!
- those that obstruct hex sockets
I'll provide summary tables here so you can compare the specs of the different wheel locks. Then below the tables I explain how they all work and the differences in security levels.
Click on the names or sizes in the tables to check out the prices of each lock. Some of these may be affiliate links.
Wheel Locks for Hollow Axle Wheels (to replace quick release)
95 - 115 mm
Wheel Locks for Solid Axle Wheels (to replace nuts)
M9 (Front Wheel)
M10 (Rear Wheel)
IXOW Wheelguard Nuts
Wheel Locks with Unique Keys
These work just like normal skewers or nuts. Except that in each set, the heads are a “unique” shape. And you use a special “unique” key to tighten and loosen them.
In actual fact, they’re not strictly unique. But there’s a huge number of different key combinations, so the chances that anyone else will be able to unlock your skewers are very, very small.
Of course, if you want to remove your wheels or seat, you need to have your special key handy. However, to me this seems a small inconvenience.
And at the moment these are the most secure type of wheel and seat locks available. However, there are just four companies offering locking skewers and solid ankle locks with “unique” keys: Pinhead, Pitlock, IXOW and Hexlox.
With Pinhead [Amazon] skewers, there are 11,500 different key combinations. Each key is engraved with a nine digit code that you can use to order replacement keys or more matching locks. And you can even register your key online so you don’t have to remember the code.
They are available for wheels, seats, and even headsets (see below). And they produce versions for both quick release wheels and solid axle wheels.
Do they work? Well broadly, yes. It is possible to unscrew the heads without the special key, but most thieves will not have the know how or the tools.
I should mention that with older Pinhead models, it was possible to unscrew the head relatively easily with a Gator Grip universal socket. However, the skewers now come with POG washers that prevent this happening.
There are also some reports of them coming loose over time. So you should always carry your key with you to tighten them up. But I’d imagine you would always want to have the key handy anyway, in case you have a puncture.
Overall, I think the Pinhead skewers are great. They will never be as secure as a second lock. But they’re far more convenient. And they’re far more secure than any cable lock.
Pitlock skewers boast over 1000 different key combinations. And they have the added security of a smooth shield of steel which surrounds the head to prevent any other tool being used to loosen it.
There are locks for both wheels and seats (see below). And for both quick release wheels, solid axle wheels, thru axels and all the other components on your bike!
Each key comes with a code card enabling you to order replacement keys and further matching locks. And as with Pinhead, you can also register this code online.
Unlike the Pinhead key, the keys that come with the Pitlock have no lever, so in order to use them, you'll need to use a 14 mm spanner or insert another tool such as an Allen key into the hole to get enough leverage to screw and unscrew the nut.
Pitlock even sell their own little tool, that you can attach to your keyring so that you'll always be able to lock and unlock your stuff!
Pitlocks have a slightly better build quality than Pinheads and are a bit more secure. However, they are also more expensive [Amazon] and not quite as easy to use.
But if you’re looking for the ultimate protection, they are probably the safest locking skewers available today.
While they don’t quite match the “uniqueness” of Pinhead or Pitlock, there are more than 40 different key combinations for the security skewers, nuts (and seat clamps) from IXOW [Amazon].
The key is a small cylinder with a recess that fits a hex key at one end and a series of protruding spikes at the other. These spikes fit into a matching series of holes on the heads of the skewers or clamps.
So if you stick a hex key in one end and the spikes in the holes, you’re able to tighten or loosen your skewers and clamps. Easy!
Each set features a slightly different distribution of spikes and holes which makes this solution more secure than the simpler non-standard key option.
And you get a service card which enables you to register your specific key so that you can order a new one should you lose the first.
While they won’t be as secure as Pitlocks either, these skewers are certainly likely to deter the vast majority of wheel thieves.
Hexlox are a bit different to the other options. Instead of providing skewers or nuts with specially shaped heads that match special keys, Hexlox work with regular, hex skewers. Hence the name!
They are essentially tiny, hex shaped nuts that slip into the hex sockets on your skewers (or any other components). By filling the hex socket like this, they prevent a thief inserting a hex key and unscrewing your components!
The base is strongly magnetized, so as long the hex socket is magnetic, it can't be removed by tweezers, screwdrivers, gator grips or other tools. And since the top of the Hexlox isn't magnetic, it can't be pulled out from above by another magnet.
The Hexlox are inserted and removed with a tiny key that will only work with your Hexlox. Like the other options, they keys are not strictly unique, but there are enough combinations to stop anyone successfully trying a selection of keys on your lock.
The great thing about Hexlox is that they'll secure any components that are currently attached to your bike with hex nuts. So you won't have to buy completely new clamps etc.
The come in a variety of sizes (4, 5, 6 mm). If your hex sockets aren't magnetic, you can buy magnetic inserts. And they also sell skewers, nuts and and seat and saddle bolts if you need those too.
So you can secure all the components on your bike with just a handful of these tiny bolts! What's not to love?!
Read my full, hands on review of the Hexlox here.
Wheel Locks with Non-Standard Keys
These work just like the previous locks. Except that they all have the same, albeit non-standard shaped heads and keys.
This means someone with a standard tool set shouldn’t be able to unscrew them. However, since all the keys are the same, anyone who owns the same brand as you, will be able to unscrew them.
So a thief who bought one would have easy access to all the wheels and seats locked with the same brand. On top of this, they can usually be opened easily with a Gator Grip universal socket.
All this means they’re obviously less secure. And while they’re also much cheaper, I’m not sure that they provide much more protection than standard Hex skewers or nuts.
And don’t forget, you only get the one key, which you’ll need to keep with you and if you loose it, it’s usually impossible to get a replacement (without buying another set!).
In the US, the Delta Hublox Security Skewers [Amazon] are probably the best of these non-standard skewers.
But if you’re concerned enough about your wheel and seat security to consider upgrading your standard skewers or nuts, then maybe it’s worth spending the extra money on one of the other methods?
Gravity triggered Wheel Locks
There are few brands making gravity triggered skewers and nuts. And they all work in more or less the same way…
While your bike’s upright, they’re locked and can't be unscrewed. In order to remove them, you need to turn your bike upside down. At this point, the gravity based mechanism is released and you’re able to unscrew the component.
How is this secure? Well, if your bike is locked up properly, it should be very difficult to turn it over into a position where the mechanism is released and the component can be removed. Clever!
And what's great about these gravity triggered locks is that there's no special keys that you need to carry around with you (and are likely to forget when you most need them!).
Kryptonite WheelNutz and WheelBoltz Locks
Kryptonite locks are available for both solid axle wheels (as WheelNutz) and hollow axle wheels (as WheelBoltz).
They are fitted and removed either with a 15 mm wrench (WheelNutz) or a 5 mm hex wrench (WheelBoltz), so they don’t look anything like quick release skewers.
Although they can be fitted and tightened with the bike upright, in order to unscrew them, you need to turn the bike over completely.
The gravity triggered bolt will then drop out of the way, allowing them to be loosened as normal.
Abus NutFix Wheel and Seat Locks
The Abus locks are similar to the Kryptonite gravity locks in that they’re available for both solid and hollow axle wheels. However there are important differences too.
Unlike Kryptonite, Abus offer seat locks as well as wheel locks. And they’re available in a range of snazzy colors. You use a 5 mm spanner to fit both the solid and hollow axle models.
But most significantly, to release the gravity mechanism, you turn the bike on it’s side rather than upside down. To me this seems a little less secure and it’s definitely not as practical when you’re trying to change a tire.
However, they’re so easy to fit and work so well, I think they’re a great choice [Amazon] if you’re looking to replace a secondary cable lock.
Read my full, hands on review of the Abus NutFix wheel locking skewers.
As well as the “unique” keyed solutions, IXOW also provide gravity protected skewers [Amazon] and nuts. Plus a seat clamp!
They work in the same way as the Kryptonite solution in that they’re tightened and loosened with a hex key and the bike must be completely upside down to release them.
As long as you remember to lock your bike so that it can’t be turned upside down, then I find this method works really well and you’re very unlikely to suffer a theft.
Read my full, hands on review of the IXOW wheel skewers here.
How to stop your bike seat from being stolen
I’m sure there’s loads of things in life more annoying that having your bike seat stolen. But when it happens to me, I’m hard pressed to think of any.
I’m not sure if it’s the public humiliation of riding a seat-less bike back home, the physical effort of a journey without being able to sit down, or the pettiness of the theft itself.
Whichever it is, it’s enough to make a peaceful person harbour violent thoughts. But what can we do to prevent it?
The most extreme solution is to remove your seat post and take it with you every time you leave your bike. This will certainly stop anyone stealing it. But what a pain. And for me, this option stinks of defeat.
It’s an admission that the thieves have won. We are reduced to carrying around a grubby, cumbersome piece of metal everywhere we go. This is not why I ride a bike.
There has to be a better option. Surely?
You could thread a cable lock through the seat rails and then around the space between the seat stay and the seat tube. This anchors the seat to the bike frame. But cable locks are very easy to cut.
Using an old bike chain rather than a cable lock provides much more security, as a chain is more difficult to cut. And this is an increasingly popular option.
However, it does connect your seat to the bike frame more permanently. So make sure you’re happy with your seat height first!
And be aware it may interfere with any bike seat cover or cushion that you might have fitted over your saddle.
You can stop the bike chain from damaging your frame by encasing it in an old inner tube. It’s pretty simple to do the whole thing yourself and there are videos explaining how on YouTube…
Or many bike shops will now do it for you for a small fee.
Of course, bike chains can still be cut and some thieves may even carry chain breakers. So a further option is to make it more difficult for a thief to loosen the seat post clamp. There are two main ways to do this:
- make a standard clamp difficult to unscrew
- buy a special secure skewer for your clamp.
Make a standard seat clamp difficult to unscrew
If you’ve replaced the quick release lever on your seat post clamp with a standard hex screw, it's a little bit more secure. But a thief with a hex key can still steal your seat very easily.
So you can make a standard hex screw impossible to loosen by filling the socket with something that prevents a tool being used to loosen it.
Whatever you use, it should be difficult to remove. But don't forget: the more difficult it is for a thief to remove, the more difficult it will also be for you to remove, should you want to change the seat height!
What to use? There are a few different options. For example, super gluing a ball bearing into the socket is a popular choice. Simply find a ball bearing that fits snugly into the socket, slather it in super glue and press it into the socket…
Should you later need to remove the ball bearing to make adjustments, you can use acetone or Z-7 Debonder to dissolve the glue.
Other materials you could use to fill the socket include steel epoxy, solder, Sugru [Amazon] or candle wax. Each one provides a different level of security, depending on how difficult it is for a thief to remove.
Don’t forget, the more secure it is, the more difficult and frustrating it will be when you need to remove it! But in fact, this technique is very effective and can be used to secure any of your bike components (except your wheels which probably need to be removed too often for this to make sense).
And if this method is too much hassle, then there is a more elegant (although more expensive!) alternative...
Hexlox work in exactly the same way by filling the hex socket with an obstacle that prevents an Allen key from inserted to loosen the clamp. However, in this case the obstacle is a small metal nut that’s held in place by a magnet.
It can’t be removed by a stronger magnet (since it’s protected from above by a non-magnetic steel shield), by tweezers, gator grips, screw drivers and several other tools and methods that hadn’t even occurred to me!
The only way to remove it is with the specific key that comes with your Hexlox. What I really like is that it doesn’t require you to change your existing set up, it’s quick and easy to install and it’s relatively cheap!
Hexlox work with wheels (see above), seats, stems, in fact anything that's attached to your bike with hex screws. Read my full, hands on review of the Hexlox here.
Buy a secure seat clamp
If you don’t fancy the DIY options (or Hexlox), you can also buy specially designed, secure seat skewers.
These can work in a number of ways. Some of them use non-standard socket shapes and keys. Others use gravity to lock the levers when the bike is in an upright position (as it always should be when it’s locked up).
These skewers are also available for other components and I cover them in more detail in the wheel section, above. But here’s a quick summary of what’s available specifically for seats...
Some of these may be affiliate links.
Security Skewers for Bike Seats
Seat Tube Sizes
Abus NutFix Seatpost Lock
You can also buy whole sets which will secure both your wheels and your seat. And even your headset too!
Wheel and Seat (and Headset) Locking Skewer Sets
Wheel security is relatively straightforward. If you want to be 100% sure your wheels are safe, you need to secure them both with good u-locks or chains. There's more information on how to do this on my how to lock your bike properly page.
But if this is too expensive, too heavy or just too inconvenient, then there are alternatives. You could replace your existing wheel skewers or nuts with secure ones…
The most secure are those with “unique” keys such as Pitlock, Pinhead, IXOW or Hexlox. The ones that use gravity from Abus and Kryptonite are probably the next most secure.
And least secure (although still far better than quick release) are the ones with non-standard keys such as those from Hublox, ETC and Trans-X.
Seat security is a little more complicated. You can of course buy the same secure skewers and nuts that you can get for wheels.
Or you can try one of the DIY options such as fastening an old bike chain through the seat and frame or super gluing ball bearings in the screw heads.
Ultimately though, if a thief really wants your seat, he can saw through the seat post relatively easily, so I wouldn’t leave a £100 Brooks saddle alone for long, whichever method you employ!
But secure skewers and nuts can provide adequate security for most people in the majority of situations. And they’re so much more convenient than a second lock.
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