Pinhead Complete Bicycle Security
Pinhead are a Canadian company that have making locks to secure bicycle components for nearly 25 years.
Secure wheel skewers and nuts are probably their most popular offering. But they also provide locks that will protect your seat post, headset, and now even your frame. A whole bike solution!
So I got hold of their one of their “complete bicycle security” locking packages, to see how easy they are to use and discuss the security that they provide.
How does the Pinhead system work?
The problem with most bike components is that they’re designed for maintenance rather than security. And this means they’re supposed to be as easy as possible to get on and off our bikes.
This ease of access reaches it’s pinnacle (or nadir), with "quick release clamps", which are most often used on wheel skewers and seat posts. If your bike’s got these quick release clamps, you don’t need to use any tools at all to detach the wheels or seat from your bike.
Just flip the clamp and unscrew!
Which is great if your a mechanic, or you need to fix a puncture in a rush. But it’s also great if you’re a thief looking for free wheels and bike seats! And this is why so many of them are stolen every day.
The most common way to combat this is by using a cable lasso in conjunction with your main bike lock. The main lock secures your frame and one wheel. While the cable threads through the main lock and the other wheel.
This provides a lightweight way to secure both wheels with one main lock. But the problem is: these cables can be snipped through in seconds with the one tool that every bike thief carries (small cable or bolt cutters).
There are a whole load of better ways to deal with this type of component theft. But one of the most popular is to replace quick release clamps (and Allen/Hex nuts, which are also easy for a thief to remove) with a system that requires a special key to loosen.
Pinheads do just that. Every skewer on your bike that’s currently fitted with a quick release clamp, and many components that are attached with Allen/Hex nuts, can be replaced with a Pinhead. And all of those Pinheads can only be easily loosened (or tightened) with a unique Pinhead key.
Essentially, each Pinhead nut has a smooth domed metal surface, pitted with three indentations. The shape and distribution of these indentations is unique to all the Pinheads in your set (well, not entirely unique but there are apparently 11,500 combinations).
The indentations match up to the teeth of the key that you get with each set of Pinheads. So when the key is placed over the Pinhead dome, the teeth fit into the indentations perfectly and give enough grip to tighten and loosen the Pinhead.
Each key is printed with a nine digit code that you can use to order new keys or Pinheads. And you can register the number online so you don’t have to remember it.
How easy are Pinheads to install?
The other problem with bike components is that there are lots of different types and they come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes.
Just for wheels, there are hollow axles and solid axles and through (thru) axles. There are loads of different types of dropouts (the part of the frame that connects with your wheel axle). There are tons of different seat post sizes and saddle configurations. And many different types of headset connections.
It goes on and on.
So unless you’re sure what you need, it’s a good idea to get in touch with Pinhead directly, and they’ll be able to help you choose the right Pinheads for your bike.
I got the City Lock Ultimate Pack which includes:
- 2 hollow axle wheel skewers (front and rear)
- 1 seat post lock
- 1 headset lock
- 1 frame lock (with frame mount)
Everything apart form the headset lock (which I'll have to send back), fitted my bike (a Ridgeback Velocity Hybrid), perfectly.
It took me around half an hour to swap my current setup for the Pinhead pack, but that’s because I didn’t know what I was doing, didn’t read the instructions properly and kept making stupid mistakes!
If I did it again, it would probably take less than 10 minutes to swap out the wheel skewers, fit the seat post lock, and install the frame mount for the frame lock. Because it’s actually pretty easy if you follow the illustrated instructions!
For the skewers it’s simply matter of sliding them through the axle (you don’t have to upend your bike), making sure that the three washers sit behind the Pinhead in the right order.
The seat post lock comes with lots of additional plastic shims, so that it will fit a variety of seat tube sizes. Although for more extreme seat post sizes there are specific versions. So it’s best to know the seat tube size on your bike before ordering.
It's worth noting that for some bike seats you might need two Pinheads: one for the seat tube and the other for the saddle...
The mount for the frame lock comes with loads of rubber shims so that it will fit a variety of frame sizes.
As for the key, I found it pretty simple to use. Sometimes it took a couple of seconds more than I would have liked to get the key in a position where it found purchase on the Pinhead. But once it was locked in, I had no problem generating enough torque to fasten the Pinheads really tightly.
And of course, once the Pinheads are installed, you’ll only be loosening them again if you need to change a tire or adjust your seat height. Which should be quite irregularly for most people.
Using the Frame Lock
The best thing about using a security system like Pinheads is that once they’re installed, you don’t have to worry about protecting your wheels or seat (or anything else that’s secured with them), when you’re locking your bike in the street.
You just have to worry about locking your frame. And that means you can use a much smaller (and therefore lighter and less bulky) bike lock.
Usually, that would be one of the locks from the big lock brands. But Pinhead now produce their own frame locks which are quite different, in that to unlock (and lock) them, you use the same key that you use on the components!
This obviously makes a lot of sense. Why would you want two keys if you don’t need to? And it means you won’t be tempted to leave the component key at home. But it does lead to an unusual locking experience.
I tried the City Lock, which is strip of “precision forged Cro-Mo steel and aircraft grade aluminium alloy”, (1.4 cm thick and 4.0 cm wide), formed into a small oblong, with a hinged opening at one end.
Now this is a small lock. Internally, it measures just 15.1 x 7.2 cm. But (as the name might suggest!), this is lock for towns and cities, and most importantly bike racks. You’ll have no problem securing your bike frame to a bike rack or a thin street sign.
But anything else will be too wide for this lock. However, those of us who live in towns and cities generally use bike racks, so this shouldn’t be an issue.
Unlocking the City Lock takes a bit of getting used to. You have to slide the key under a metal shelf that’s protecting the mechanism, move it around until it finds a purchase on the Pinhead inside, and then rotate the spring loaded bolt just slightly to release the hinge.
Once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s pretty straightforward. But getting the key in a position where it can turn the Pinhead will always be a bit trickier than a normal key.
Once unlocked, I had no problem getting the City Lock around my frame and a bike rack. Although it will fit easily around either the seat tube or the seat stays, I preferred the seat stays as this filled the inside of the lock more, which is better for security (less room for a leverage attack).
Also better for security, is to position the lock so that the mechanism is facing the ground. Owing to the shape of the City Lock this is actually pretty easy. However, you have to use the key to lock (as well as unlock), the City Lock, which can be a bit more fiddly if it’s upside down...
It would have been nicer if it locked automatically when closed (although to be honest, very few bike locks work like this).
Weighing just 660g, the City Lock is incredibly light. And combined with its diminutive size, that means carrying it around in a bag will be no trouble at all. However, it also comes with a frame mount.
Fixing the mount to your frame is super easy and it comes with several rubber shims to ensure it fits different frame sizes. Then, there is a small attachment on the actual lock that slides into the mount.
The frame mount kept the lock in place while I was riding around the city. However, be aware that there’s no clip to keep it secured, so on bumpy rides, there is a small chance that it could jump out of the mount.
How secure are Pinheads?
There are really two parts to this question. Firstly, how secure are the component locks? And then secondly, how secure is the frame lock?
The Pinhead component locks (on the wheels, seat post, headset etc), are a huge step up in security from the standard fixtures, the “one size fits all” security keys and the cable lassos, that are most commonly used to try to protect bike components.
Can they be defeated? Yes. In the past, it became apparent that Gator Grips (a universal socket which is designed to grip anything), could loosen Pinheads. So, the company added POG washers to their locks, and this tool no longer works.
And while there are also other tools that can be used to open Pinheads (just like any lock), the important point is this: bike thieves don’t carry around bags full of tools! Different tools are needed to bust different locks, so it would be completely impractical.
The casual bike thieves who make up the vast majority of those trying to steal our bikes, generally carry cable cutters, small to medium size bolt cutters or possibly a hand saw or metal pole. And these tools can easily defeat lasso cables. But they can’t open Pinheads.
The only way your Pinheads are likely to be defeated is if a thief has already clocked your wheels or seat and has returned with the tools he needs to get at them. And if your wheels or seat are desirable enough to warrant such a targeted attack, you’re best off with a second bike lock anyway.
Personally I feel very confident that Pinheads provide enough security to protect my components, even when my bike is left in the street overnight.
The frame lock is more difficult. It’s not been rated by Sold Secure or any other independent testing organisation, and its unusual design make it more difficult to judge. My view is that it may be secure enough for low risk circumstances.
But anything more and you need a Sold Secure rated lock. Fortunately Pinhead also produce one of these: the Pinhead Bubble lock which is rated Sold Secure Gold and gets a very strong approval from Bosnian Bill:
However, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to available at the moment. Have no doubt though: the Bubble lock used with the component locks would make a very secure and practical combination.
Pinhead Bike Security Summary
I like the Pinhead system a lot. It’s super easy to install. And once it is installed, it offers much more protection and is infinitely more practical than any cable lasso.
Indeed, it completely frees you from worrying about protecting your wheels and seat without having to carry around any extra weight or bulk.
For sure, like any locking system, it can be defeated. But a casual thief will not be carrying around the tools to do that.
Combined with a frame lock, the Pinhead system offers lightweight protection for your whole bike. And all controlled with just one key!
However, if you need a high level of protection for your frame, wait for the return of the Pinhead Bubble Lock over the City Lock.
You can also compare the Pinhead system to other methods for protecting your wheels, seat and the rest of your bike components.