The 8 Best U-Locks
This wiki has been updated 32 times since it was first published in June of 2015. Regardless of how expensive a bicycle is, the last thing you want is to return to where you left it only to discover that your ride has been stolen. These U-locks provide reliable protection against opportunistic and determined thieves. Many are designed to resist bolt cutting, picking, and brute force attacks, while those with cables make it easy to secure both your wheels and frame. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
April 06, 2020:
One of a U-lock's major benefits is that it can significantly reduce the amount of available space between itself and the object to which it is secured (e.g. a bike post), making it difficult for a would-be thief to pry the lock open with the blunt force of a crow bar, pry bar, or some other tool. Yes, I've actually witnessed a thief use a pry bar to try and steal a bike. Keep in mind that people drawn to committing acts of theft are pretty resourceful. When criminals are determined and/or desperate, they'll try almost anything to get what they want. But these devices can slow down their progress and, at best, prevent a loss.
While the majority of U-locks look similar at first glance, our list is representative of the fact that they're available in a range of thicknesses and lengths to accommodate bikes of all sizes. While not all of them will offer the high-tech "flair" that some of their smart counterparts are designed to do, we've included the ISmartView Padlock as one biometric option available. At the very least, our remaining options are reliable deterrents that will make your ride harder to steal. Furthermore, we've paid close attention to the materials from which these U-locks are constructed, the keys they utilize, and the types of attacks they're designed to withstand.
The Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboutit has been substituted for its predecessor due to its compact size and double-deadbolt design, making it perfect for use in heavily-traveled metropolitan areas. Many of our other options utilize this same design, like the Via Velo Heavy Duty. Similar to the Kryptonite, one of its keys is equipped with an LED for extra visibility at night. With the double-deadbolt, each end of the device's shackle is secured independently, so if a thief is going to try to break through it, he or she will have to deal with separately-engaging ends, each with its own tamper-resistant grooves that make twist attacks and blunt force impacts more difficult to accomplish in a short period of time. Removing wheels can be a pain, but the OnGuard Bulldog DT is wide enough to secure to most standard meter poles at a single attachment point. This means you don't have to worry about disassembling your ride just to keep it from being lifted.
Bike Index Cofounded in 2013, Bike Index is a universal, nonprofit bicycle registration service and database dedicated to helping individuals, bike shops, communities, and law enforcement both identify and recover lost or stolen two-wheelers. Users submit their name, bike manufacturer, and vehicle serial number to register. When a registered user reports their bike as lost or stolen, the index community is notified and works to help locate and recover their property. bikeindex.org
Spybike GPS Spybike designs advanced GPS tracking systems disguised as ordinary bicycle components that allow users to locate their stolen property. The company currently sells three different GPS trackers, including a lamp, seat post, and top cap. Products can be shipped worldwide from warehouses located in the United Kingdom, China, and New Zealand. This can provide you with some additional peace of mind and opportunity for retrieval in the unfortunate event that a criminal succeeds in compromising your U-lock. spybike.com
Gone In 60 Seconds
Ideally, you can fit the arm of the U-lock through the spokes of your back or front wheel, as well, to further inhibit any attempt at thievery.
In 2006, in a sleepy college town in western Pennsylvania, the trustees of Allegheny College donated a slew of bicycles to the school and its students. One of the student organizations promptly painted the bikes green (after the school mascot) and declared a bike share program open for use. The bikes were free for students to use. All you had to do was pick one up at a designated bike rack and deposit it at another rack wherever you ended up.
The thing about Allegheny College, however, is that it's situated at the top of a long, steep hill, with the vast majority of the town's businesses–and all of its bars–at the bottom of that hill. Within about two weeks, students had coasted downhill to the bars on all 75 bikes, gotten roaring drunk, and left them there. Every single one of them was stolen, presumably by the townsfolk who were impoverished by the disappearance of American manufacturing some 30 years prior.
All it would have taken to secure these bikes, to guard them against theft, was a U-lock. Sure, the students wouldn't have been able to access all those keys, but the school groundskeepers would have. Any student intending on coasting downhill without the gumption or physical stamina to make it back up the hill could at least lock the bike to a rail for the school to pick up later.
That's because a U-lock is one of the most impenetrable anti-theft devices on the market. Their cores and locking mechanism are made of composite materials that resist blades, saws, axes, and most temperature variances.
With a set of unique keys, a U-lock opens and wraps around your bike and whatever immovable rack or street sign to which you adhere it. Ideally, you can fit the arm of the U-lock through the spokes of your back or front wheel, as well, to further inhibit any attempt at thievery.
Protection With Flair
There's a good chance that you spent a lot of time selecting your bike. The bike you ride, in many ways, is a reflection of your personality, so you probably held out long enough to get that feeling of kinship with a bike before taking the plunge. Or, you're like me, and you found your uncle's old bike in you dad's basement and then took it without telling either of them. Looking back, I guess that makes it part and parcel with my personality, and it's a fine machine.
Looking back, I guess that makes it part and parcel with my personality, and it's a fine machine.
Still, when it came time to protect it in West Philadelphia (a town not exactly revered for bicycle safety, or any safety for that matter), I wanted to choose a lock that suited the bike's look and feel as much as it would protect it.
If protection is your bottom line, a thicker lock usually corresponds to a better guard against theft. What matters in evaluating the quality of a U-lock is its resistance to bolt cutters more than any other implement. Any locking device can fall victim to bolt cutters in a matter of seconds if the cutters are strong enough. A thick enough U-lock will keep even the biggest bolt cutters from approaching them in the first place, so if somebody wants to jack your bike, they have to spend a lot more time trying to break through your defenses.
The other major variable in your decision is whether or not you think the U-loc, by itself is sturdy enough to hold up against a protracted theft attempt. If you ride your bike to work and leave it parked for up to eight hours each day, you might prefer to increase your protection. Some of these U-locks come with thick steel cables you can use to reinforce your locking points, giving you valuable peace of mind.
In The Heart Of The Big Apple
While bicycle theft has been a problem since bikes were first invented in the 1800s, few places on earth manufactured higher theft and violent crime statistics than New York City in the 1970s. It was in this incredibly dangerous environment that the first U-lock was born.
In response to this danger, a company called Kryptonite developed prototypes for the modern U-lock.
At that point, cyclists were still using chains as their primary method of bike security, but if the chains used were too inexpensive–or not of a particular, hexagonal type–they were profoundly easy to bypass. In response to this danger, a company called Kryptonite developed prototypes for the modern U-lock.
Kryptonite went as far in the early 70s as to lock a bike to a signpost in the middle of Greenwich Village in New York, one of the artsier and more dangerous neighborhoods south of Times Square. They left it there for 30 days, and although thieves managed to strip and steal absolutely everything that could be stripped and stolen off of the bike, the U-lock and the part of the bicycle to which it was secured remained.
In recent years, Kryptonite and its competition have developed metal composites that resist common methods of theft with much greater efficacy than the simple steel of the original designs. The prices of the locks have gone up accordingly, but they work, and you can't restrict yourself when paying for that kind of protection.