How to Lock Your Bike: The Ultimate Guide

One thing (of many, honestly) I did not realize when I first started bike commuting was that there is a lot to think about regarding locking your bike! Whether you’re a new bike commuter or a savvy veteran, thinking about how to lock your bike may have looked a little bit like this: 

I don’t wish this stress for anyone. Thankfully, I created this guide that not only walks you through the bike locking process, but also demystifies and explains some of the other considerations you must take (type of lock, location, etc.) – all in one place. 


Fair warning: this is a long post that you should sit down and digest if you have a moment…BUT if you’re short on time, you should (at the very least) check out the graphic below detailing the 4 different ways to lock your bike!

WHY You Should Lock Your Bike

Obviously, because you don’t want to get your bike stolen. But why is it such a big deal? Why can’t you just get an expensive, heavy duty lock, put it on my bike, and be on my way? 

Because bike thieves literally. do. the. MOST. 

I never realized the many ways in which a person could bypass a bike lock. They use bolt cutters. They’ll use the ground as leverage. They will even use saws. It’s ridiculous!

As a result, you want to lock your bike in a way that deters others from being able to utilize the most common tactics. Bike thieves are opportunists and if your bike even looks a little hard to steal, they will likely avoid it in favor of some other bike.  

It is important to note that these tips and suggestions are all preventive strategies rather than “cures.” No lock is 100% thief-proof. However the more you know,  the better you can prepare!

WHAT Type of Bike Lock to Use

If you are still looking for information about what type of bike lock to purchase, check out this post that goes into more detail. Essentially, you will choose a bike lock based upon the level of security you think you will need.

Use this infographic to help you narrow down the type and strength of bike lock you needOnly use a cable lock

Use a lock that is a combination lock 

WHERE To Lock Your Bike

As a bike commuter you will most likely be locking/parking your bike in a public place – (on the street or in a garage, closed space, etc. If anyone has access to your bike other than you, you should consider it a public space and full measures should be taken.  

On the other hand, when you head back home from work, there are also factors to take into consideration about where you lock/park/store your bike once you get home. 

Locking Your Bike in the Street/Public Spaces

Tip 1: Lock in a busy area 

If you’re locking your bike on the street, the number one rule is to choose a busy area with high foot traffic.  There are many different ways to steal a bike; however, none of them are particularly…subtle. A bike thief will think twice about attempting to steal a bike with many eyes watching.

Tip 2: Use a dedicated bike rack

In many cities where bike commuting is common or becoming more popular, you may see dedicated bike racks dispersed on the street.

They come in a variety of shapes and sizes – some can even be in the shape of a bike! The most important characteristic is that they are securely affixed or cemented into the sidewalk/pavement and cannot be easily broken or moved.

A signpost or pole may look like it is achieving the same goal; however, if you lock your bike to a signpost, someone can remove the sign and slide your bike over the top of the post – doesn’t matter how you have it locked. 

The same thought process goes for parking meters, trees, scaffolding, or chain link fences. Anything that can be pulled out of the ground, dismantled, cut or broken is a no-no for locking your bike. 

Tip 3: Be prepared

This is as simple as scoping out the available options for parking and locking your bike before you make that first ride to work.

Do the options look real grim (a signpost here, a sapling tree there)? In this scenario it might be better to look at options other than street/sidewalk parking. Does your place of work have a parking garage? Is there a place to secure your bike in there? Maybe your job will allow you to park your bike indoors? Maybe your job is open to installing a rack (or other solution) for its employees interested in bike commuting? Whatever the solution, it is always best to know what you are working with before you arrive; especially since you will most likely be leaving your bicycle outside for a prolonged period of time. 

Choose a busy area

Choose a dedicated area for locking a bike

Be prepared aka know what your options are at work
Secure your bike to anything that can be dismantled, broken, cut or moved

Ride to work for the first time clueless about where you’ll like your bike

Locking Your Bike at Home

Tip 1: Don’t let your guard down

It is just as important to think about where and how to lock your bike once you get home as it is when you arrive at work. You may be surprised to find that a large majority of bikes are stolen not from the street, but from the bike owner’s own home!

Don’t think your bike is in the clear just because you’re home. Never leave your bike unsecured! Read on for some tips on how to protect your bike from being stolen from right under your nose.

Tip 2: Consider your space

Locking your bike at home is all about finding the best, most secure space. Do you have a shed or garage? Amazing! Those are definitely great places to store your bike. Maybe you live in an apartment with a dedicated or general communal space for bikes; another excellent choice!

But, even if you don’t have or can’t get either of those options, bringing your bike into your home is also perfectly reasonable. I mounted my bike to the wall to conserve space in a small apartment during medical school. It worked really well…

But it definitely did not look as wonderfully chic and fancy as this.

Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash

It is important to work with the options you have, because having a spot to secure your bike when you get home after a long day’s work is pivotal to your bike commuting success.

Tip 3: Get the right equipment

If you’re locking your bike on the street, bike racks and other stable objects are ready and available for you to use. However, at home that is often not the case.

You will often need to buy or DIY a stable anchor point to secure your bike. For example, in a garage you can install a variety of ground anchors that can be affixed into cement on the ground or wall. In a shed, you can use shackles that are easier to install in wood, metal or the earth.

If you live in an apartment building and only have a communal hallway, a smart solution is a DIY anchor! You fill a large bucket with cement, place an anchor or U-lock inside, then wait for it to dry. You’re left with a VERY heavy, makeshift bike post that any bike thief would think twice about trying to move.

Be as wary of bike thieves at home as you are in public

Find a secure spot at home

Get or DIY any needed equipment to make your spot at home secure
Let your guard down

Leave your bike unsecured at home

HOW to Actually Lock Your Bike

Okay now for the most important part! The framework for locking your bike involves 4 key points. 

4 Key Points

  1. Lock the frame. Always lock the frame. If you only lock your wheel, all a bike thief must do is remove your tires; then they are off with your beautiful, shiny new frame (the most expensive part of your bike).
  2. Lock one or both of the wheels. The front wheel is less expensive than the back wheel because the rear wheel includes the cassette (set of cogs on the bike), but the rear wheel is often harder to remove.
  3. Fill the U-Lock as much as possible/get a tight fit. If you have a U-lock “fill” it as much as possible. That means leaving as little space within the U of the lock as possible when you lock your bike. This prevents bike thieves from using any spare room to get in their tools. This may also mean you opt for a smaller lock as well. 
  4. Point the keyhole downwards. This simply makes it less easy for lock-pickers to access your lock!

With the basic framework in mind, now check out the four main strategies for locking your bike below:

4 Main Strategies

Two U-Locks

This is by far the most secure way to lock your bike; the frame is secured in two places and both wheels are secured to the frame and the bike rack (if possible). However, it is not always the most practical method. Bike locks can be heavy and carrying around two is not ideal. Furthermore, in the beginning it takes a few minutes to get your bike lock properly secured – adding another only increases the time it takes to get from bike to your work desk. 

U-Lock + Cable Lock

This is a very popular method since it locks the frame and both wheels without having to carry around another heavy lock. Although cables can be easily cut through, (the reason you should NEVER rely on a cable as your sole means of protection), an opportunist bike thief is probably not looking to only steal a tire. 

Sheldon Method

This ingenious strategy is often promoted by bike blogs and avid bicyclists! Sheldon Brown was a bicycle mechanic and technical expert who maintained that by using this method, you don’t need to secure the frame to the bike rack as well because the wheel cannot be pulled through the rear triangle. You can also use a very small lightweight lock since you’re only securing the wheel. I usually don’t find it difficult to secure my frame in addition to the wheel, but this strategy definitely comes in handy for tight spots!

U-Lock + Removed Front Wheel

To be completely honest, I am not personally familiar with this method because I don’t have a quick release axle for my front wheel! A quick release axle allows you to remove the wheel without using a tool. This method ensures that both wheels and the frame are properly secured. Furthermore, your U-lock will be “filled” as much as possible; it will be harder for bike thieves to insert their tools or access the keyhole.

If you’re just here for the bike theft videos…

Alright friends, you have come to the end of “How to Lock Your Bike: The Ultimate Guide: I hope you learned something and now feel more confident about protecting your bike from thieves! Check out my post on other accessories to get for your bike commuting journey!

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