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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

What happens when your lock key breaks?

If you've ever had a lock key break you instantly realize that if you're ever going to get your bicycle back that you will have to cut the lock off.

Such was the case when an ex-girlfriend of mine in Spring 2011 who had an El-Cheapo lock from a dollar store. The key snapped off in the lock and tried as we could to budge the remaining bit of key using vice grips to try and turn the key, it just wouldn't move. (We think its inability to move was why the key snapped off in the first place.)

Anywho, what were we to do? She needed that bicycle and it was locked to the fence over top of my bicycle (which meant I couldn't get my bicycle out of there until we removed hers).

So I went to Canadian Tire, purchased a bolt cutter and we cut the lock off in less than 5 seconds. It was ridiculously easy to cut off a dollar store cable lock.

However since then I've learned that other cable locks aren't much better when another friend lost their key. They had a more expensive cable lock, but the end result was a $10 to $15 cable lock takes about 20 seconds to cut through with a bolt cutter. The cable wires basically squish out sideways, slowing down the cutting process. Still at 20 seconds that is basically very little effort.

For myself I place all my trust in my U-lock. But even U-locks aren't perfect as they can be cut through using a grinder as you can see in the video below.

In the video it takes him about 35 seconds. He says 25 seconds in the video but if you actually count the seconds from 1:20 in the video when he starts the grinder to 1:55 when he stops it then it takes approx. 35 seconds to cut off a U-lock of that type.

Some U-locks, depending on the company, can take between 5 minutes to 20 minutes to grind off. Certain chain locks can also be grinded off in roughly the same time or less.

El-Cheapo chain locks can be removed with just a bolt cutter.

What it makes you realize is just how easily bicycle locks can be removed if you have the right tools (even faster if you had a lightsabre, teehee).


Speaking as someone who has NEVER had their bicycle stolen I will however say that there are other ways beyond the lock which will deter bicycle thieves.

#1. Always get a high quality U-lock. The longer it takes to grind off the better. Research videos online which show how long it takes to remove the lock.

eg. It is apparently super easy to remove a Masterlock U-lock with nothing more than a broken pen if you watch the following video. So hot tip, don't buy a Masterlock.

#2. Always ride a bicycle that doesn't look that good. Thieves usually go after the good looking bicycles that can be easily sold. If your bike looks like a crappy beater they are less likely to steal it.

#3. NEVER lock your bicycle out by the street in a place where it is easily noticed by thieves and leave it there for days and days. Especially in a bad neighbourhood. Even if it isn't stolen by thieves it can still be removed by city officials who look for bicycles to be removed. ALWAYS lock your bike near your building to a more secure location.

#4. Paint your name and phone number on the bicycle frame using bicycle paint or some other kind of paint that is difficult to remove. Bicycle thieves are lazy. They don't want to waste time removing your name and phone number in an effort to sell the bicycle.

#5. ALWAYS remove the seat and take the seat with you. Thieves don't want to steal a bicycle without the seat because it will take them extra effort to sell it or steal a seat from someone else.

Basically in combination, a u-lock, a crappy looking bike, your name/phone number on it, a secure location, the lack of a seat will deter bicycle thieves from stealing your bike. Thieves are lazy that is why they are thieves in the first place. They aren't going to go through all the extra trouble required with that combination of things to steal and sell your bike when they could just steal an easier target with an el-cheapo lock instead.


Thanks to technology you can also now get tracking devices for tracking down your bicycle after its been stolen. Its not really a deterrent to people stealing your bicycle because if they have the right tools they can just cut off or remove the tracking device (if they notice it), but in the event it is stolen you may be able to recover your bicycle.

Here is some GPS tracking devices available via Amazon. Some of them are designed more for cars or tracking people, but they can also be used for bicycles.

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About the Author

Charles Moffat is equal parts bicycle mechanic, cyclist, painter, sculptor, fantasy writer, poet, website designer and pun maker. For more details see



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