how to lock up your bicycle on nyc streets

In the 5ith of our 8-part series for beginning cyclists, velojoy contributor Susan Lindell, manager of Recycle-a-Bicycle in Brooklyn, shares tips and techniques for locking up a bicycle on NYC streets.

Here in NYC we love to boast about having the best of many things. Unfortunately, our bike thieves fall into that “best of” category. So, as a city cyclist it is essential to learn how to effectively lock your bike. Here are some pointers to get your bike as secure as it can be.

Bicycle Lock Types

There are many types of locks. U-locks, chains, and cables are the most popular. It is important to note that within each type of lock there may be several models that offer varying degrees of security. Ask your local bike shop what the differences are and do some research to see what seems best for you. Generally buying the best one you can afford is a good idea. You will never regret being too safe. Here’s a guide to styles and some pros and cons of each.

Pros: Relatively easy to carry and use. Can usually be mounted on your bike. Available in many sizes.
Cons: Can usually only lock up your frame and perhaps one wheel. Because it is rigid, you are limited as to what you can lock to.
Suggested models: Kryptonite Series 4 or New York models, or Abus Futura (which Genia purchased).

Chain locks
Pros: Size and flexibility give you more locking options. Intimidating. Fashionable to wear.
Cons: Cumbersome and somewhat unsafe to carry on your person or bike. Usually still only able to lock frame and one wheel.
Suggested models: Kryptonite New York chain.

Cable locks

Pros: Light weight. Flexible. Good to use in combination with a U-lock for wheel locking.
Cons: Easily cut.
Suggested models: Kryptonite Kryptoflex. Use only in combination with U or chain lock to lock wheels only. Not recommended as primary lock.

Put Wheels and Seat on Lock-Down, Too

Now that you have your frame locked, you may think you’re all set. Not so, New Yorker! You must lock down anything that could possibly be taken, including your wheels, seat and seatpost. Also, don’t forget to remove any frame-mounted accessories such as lights, bags and pumps. Here’s how to keep your bike in one piece:

Wheels: Always lock both wheels. Whether they are quick-release or bolted on, they are still easy to steal. And the rear is just as easy as the front to steal but at least twice as expensive to replace. Use a cable to run through them and lock with your U or chain lock. Or get locking skewers to replace your quick releases. If you go with locking skewers, get a style that has a unique key rather than a one-size-fits-all key. My favorites are Pinhead locking skewers.

bicycle U lock and cable
Here, a cable lock is run through the front wheel, while the rear wheel is protected with a U-lock.
Skewer Lock Close-Up
A skewer lock replaces the quick release to help prevent theft of Genia's bicycle wheel.

Seat and Seatpost: Whether you have a beautiful Brooks or a beat-up no name, losing your seat and having to ride home seatless stinks. Stop in to your local shop and have them install a cheap and effective “seat chain.” Using an old bike chain, covered with a length of bicycle tube, the mechanic can lock your seat and post to your frame. You can also get a locking skewer set that comes with a seatpost lock. These are good, although your seat is still vulnerable since only the post is locked.

Seatpost Lock
A length of bicycle chain covered in an old tube secures the seat and post to Genia's bicycle frame.

Where (and Where Not) to Lock Up

Now that you are ready to lock up, you need to where to secure your bike.

Recommended things to lock to:

  • Designated bike racks
  • Sign posts — just make sure there is a sign at the top!
  • Strong iron fences — as long as they are not posted otherwise

Not recommended for locking:

  • Trees — It’s illegal, not secure, and just plain cruel
  • Subway railings — Illegal. Your bike will be set free by the MTA
  • Scaffolding cross bars — These are held in place only by nuts and bolts which can easily be unscrewed, making your bike vulnerable
  • Anything easily cut– Thieves have tools and know how to use them.

The best way to lock your bike is to use your locks of choice and secure everything on your bike. Remember, use your primary lock (U-lock or chain) to lock through your frame and to whatever you are locking to. Use your secondary lock (cable) only for your wheels. It’s a common mistake to only run your lock through a wheel. You may return to your safely locked wheel minus your bike!

Next: Genia has questions about riding safely in traffic, so we asked Emilia Crotty, education operations director of Bike New York,  for her expert advice.

photos: velojoy

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  • I prefer Pitlock skewers to Pinhead. They feature actual sockets that fit over the nuts instead of Pinhead’s “dimple” style openers. There are 256 different nut-socket shapes so that one Pitlock socket can’t be used to open other locks. Note you can use these for your seat post lock ring also obviating the need for an additional chain! I think the only place in the US that sells them is peter white: (they’re made in Germany).

  • Hey there this is kind of of off topic but I was wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with
    HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding expertise so I wanted to
    get advice from someone with experience. Any help would be enormously

    • Hi Roslyn, I would recommend using WordPress — no coding needed.
      Thanks for reading and good luck with your blog.

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