Adventures in Bike Locks
Recently I was forced to buy my third bike lock, and while contemplating what a cool and funky bike lock it was, I was moved to write a short treatise-cum-review of Bike Locks I Have Known. It's OK, you don't have to read it.
Innocent days of yore
Back when I was a lad, everyone seemed to have these weedy little combination locks. You could probably have got them apart using a pair of toddler-friendly Fisher-Price plastic scissors, or maybe a sharp look if you were feeling particularly mean. I also discovered they were piss-easy to pick, by a method similar to the traditional way of picking locks (I'm sure someone else has described it on the web, so I won't bother). Anyway, that was back when the world was a nice, and a bike lock meant "I'd rather you didn't take my bike," rather than "SOD OFF!". But that's as may be.
The traditional padlock and chain
This is what I had for a long long time. At first it had a protective plastic sleeve on the chain but that didn't last long. After that the chain was more flexible, and trickier to carry. You have to find some torturous way of wrapping it round your bike without it getting in the way or rubbing the paintwork off. And of course it rattles like buggery, quiet bike rides are a thing of the past, and your friends cast aspersions upon your bike's probable state of health. Far better, if you ask me, to dump it in your bag (a chain folds itself up quite neatly, though it does weigh a bit. Well, what do you expect? It's metal, isn't it?). Also annoying when it's been raining, since the chain's all cold and wet.
Anyway. None of the Chain's manifest disadvantages sufficed to persuade me to get rid of it, until my hand was forced. Having locked my bike at the Oxford train station while going to see Shockheaded Peter in London, I returned to find that, perplexingly, somebody had cut the chain but left the bike. It was at this point that I realised that the chain was, well, a bit weedy. Except it wasn't even a chain, it was two inconveniently short chains. I needed something new.
The magic self-coiling steel cable
Since two short chains weren't much good to me, I headed down to Reg Taylor's, surely the best bike shop in Oxford. Soon I was proudly wielding the impressively-named Kryptonite KryptKeeper, shipped all the way from America to protect my bike from evildoers. I was mildly disappointed to find it wasn't actually made of Kryptonite, and would thus be no bloody use were Superman to have designs on my bike. But "twisted steel cable" seemed a good second. And it was black and shiny, giving the distinct impression that it was pretty damn hard. Unfortunately it turned out to be, well, pants. Here, briefly, is What's Bad About This Lock.
- The self-coilingness. This looked pretty cool in the shop -- the cable's six feet long, but springs neatly back into shape so you can attach it to your bike. Does it bollocks. Cables aren't noted for their intelligence, and this one didn't have a clue when I wanted it coiled and when I wanted it uncoiled. Ever tried insinuating a tightly coiled steel cable through your spokes, bike frame and some nearby railings? In the dark? In the rain? No fun, let me tell you, not even a little bit. Make one slip and the damn thing self-coils and you have to start all over again.
- The non-self-coilingness. Of course, when I actually wanted the thing coiled so it'd fit nicely on my bike, it splayed out all over the place like some abstract sculpture of a dahlia.. It comes with a little velcro strap to keep this tendency in check, but who the hell's got time to faff about with velcro straps? In the dark? In the rain? Life's too short.
- The keyhole had a little slidey flap on, presumably to keep the rain out. Don't know why they bothered, since the lock got horribly stiff after three days anyway and needed some serious lubrication. Speaking of horribly stiff, so was the flap itself. It took serious effort to slide and unslide it, not to mention time. In fact, with the time spent on unclipping, unvelcro-ing, and uncoiling the lock, unsliding the slidey thing and so forth -- and their complements when locking -- walking would probably work out faster. Anyhow, the slidey thing mercifully fell off after a week, allowing me to move on to.
- The lock itself. As mentioned above, on the stiff side. Also won't lock unless the key's in it. So not only do I have to wrestle this boa-constrictor of a self-coiling steel cable, I have to do it with my whole keyring dangling off the end of it. Bloody hell.
Fate had decreed that the CryptKeeper would not stay with me long. I used it to lock my bike on the platform at Birmingham New Street Station while I waited for a connection. Upon my return the station staff had kindly removed the lock (and bike) with a fuck-off great pair of boltcutters, in case it was a bike-shaped IRA bomb. Nice one, guys. The CryptKeeper looked pretty sorry after that (unlike the chain, it's utterly useless once it's been cut) and I needed something new.
The hardcore shiny panzer lock
The next morning I walked into Cycle Heaven, surely the best bike shop in York, and emerged with the serious-looking Abus Steel-O-Flex 860. OK, so "Steel-O-Flex" doesn't sound quite as hard as "Kryptonite KryptKeeper", but it's still fairly cool. Anyway, this is one of those funky reptilian-looking affairs made up of steel rings with plastic on top. Needless to say, it's black and shiny. And it's far more pleasant than the self-coiling bleeder I was stuck with before. It's a decent length and doesn't coil itself all over the place, the lock is lovely and smooth, and it does lock with the key out. What's more, when unlocked it feels reassuringly weaponlike -- handy if you're attacked while unlocking your bike (don't scoff -- my brother was set upon by skinheads while unlocking his bike in Joensuu). I suspect that this one will outlast the bike, unless I lock it in a train station again. (Addendum: I didn't, and it did.)
Last modified 2004-03-13 07:32 GMT