Whether you ride for recreation or utility, there will be times when you need to leave your bike unattended. If you want your bike to still be there when you return, you’ll have to rely on some form of security other than faith in humanity or just plain dumb luck. In other words, a lock. Bike locks are a lot like auto/health/life insurance: you buy it, but you hope you never need it. How do you choose the right lock, though? The answer is, it depends.
If you’re leaving your bike unattended for several hours in a high-risk environment (large city, college campus, etc), your security requirements will be different than someone who dashes into a backroads convenience store or market to purchase a mid-ride snack or drink. The former requires some pretty serious hardware, whereas the latter offers a bit more leeway. Generally speaking, a bike lock’s security is proportional to its weight. Sure, there are some exceptions, but for the most part, the heavier the lock, the more punishment it can withstand.
Strong, light, cheap. Pick two
Each of the locks featured in this article are designed to fulfill different requirements. As such, head-to-head comparisons based on absolute security aren’t really applicable. After all, it should be obvious that a 3-pound lock and chain provides more theft protection than a zip-tie weighing less than one ounce. So instead, I evaluated each of the locks in ways consistent with their intended usage. I did not, however, perform any destructive testing. Locks are listed by actual weight (lightest to heaviest), and prices are in US dollars.
Hiplok Z LOK ($20.00 MSRP)
Hiplok built a name for themselves by offering wearable versions of conventional bicycle locks, but their new Z LOK is anything but traditional. Weighing just 18 grams, the Z LOK resembles a giant zip-tie more than a bike lock. Looks can be deceiving, though, as the Z LOK features a reinforced steel core and dual locking mechanisms. Easily carried in a pocket or seat pack, Hiplok’s compact Z LOK is designed for convenient, minimalist security. While the Z LOK won’t stop an experienced thief, it offers enough of a deterrent to prevent your bike (or helmet) from being snatched by a random passerby. Priced at $20 for two locks and one key, the Z LOK is a real bargain, provided you understand the device’s limitations. One potential flaw with Hiplok’s system is the key. Despite the unique, two-prong design, all Z LOKs are keyed the same, leaving your gear vulnerable to anyone who purchases a Z LOK.
OTTO DesignWorks OTTOLOCK ($60.00 MSRP)
Expanding on the compact, highly portable theme is OTTO DesignWorks’ aptly named OTTOLOCK. Available in three lengths–18″, 30″, and 60″–the OTTOLOCK can also be used to secure cargo or other outdoor gear and equipment. Constructed from three layers of stainless steel, four layers of Kevlar®, and an aluminum head, the OTTOLOCK eschews keys in favor of a resettable (three-digit) combination lock. Despite the lock’s sturdy construction, the lightweight OTTO is easily coiled into compact 4″ package. Like the Hiplok above, the OTTOLOCK is intended primarily for short-stay security and protection from opportunistic theft. OTTO’s patent-pending design may not provide the same level of security offered by much heavier u-locks and chains (my 30″ review sample weighed only 149 grams with mounting strap), but it’s a definite step above cable locks that are easily defeated by bolt cutters.
Kryptonite Messenger Mini+ ($85.95 MSRP)
Kryptonite built the first u-lock in 1971, and since then the Kryptonite name has been synonymous with bicycle security. In 2014 the company collaborated with professional messengers and couriers to develop the Kryptonite Messenger Collection. As part of that collection, the Messenger Mini+ offers maximum flexibility and versatility in a durable, single-lock package. Traditional mini u-locks provide excellent security (less space means less room for a thief’s tools), but they can be too cramped for some bikes. Thanks to the Messenger Mini+’s wheel extender, though, there’s plenty of room for fenders or bigger tires (that’s a 2.25″ knobby in the above photo). Compared to the regular Messenger Mini, the extender adds 306 grams, bringing the total weight to 1126 grams. Even with the additional weight, the Mini+ is lighter–and more convenient–than two separate locks.
Knog Straight Jacket Fatty ($39.95 MSRP)
Known primarily for their brightly-colored silicone bike lights, Knog also offers a wide range of bicycle locks including cable, chain, and d-lock models. Occupying the top spot in the Australian company’s chain lineup is the 1286-gram Straight Jacket Fatty. Priced at less than 40 bucks, the Fatty boats an impressive array of features including an 8 mm hardened steel shackle padlock with brass body and a heat-treated chain. Nylon covers on both the padlock and chain keep your bike looking good, and 1000 unique key variations provide additional peace of mind. Why choose a chain over a u-lock? Compatibility, for one. Chains easily accommodate larger objects such as lamp posts, and the Fatty’s 800 mm chain offers more options for safer parking locations. That added convenience, however, does come with a weight penalty (about 150 grams more than the Krpytonite).
Summary & Recommendations
If your riding is mostly recreational and you tend to leave your bike unattended for just a minute, the Z LOK is a good choice for unplanned donut stops (and you won’t even notice the additional 18 grams). OTTO’s lightweight ratcheting design is compact and convenient, but the $60 price places it firmly into u-lock territory. After several weeks of alternating between Kryptonite’s Messenger Mini+ and the Knog Straight Jacket, I found myself gravitating towards the former due to its lighter weight and rigid form factor. No matter which model you choose, the best lock in the world is useless if not used correctly. If you’re unsure how to properly lock your bike, ask your local bike shop for advice or check out the late, great Sheldon Brown’s Lock Strategy article.