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How to Lock a Bike without a Rack

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Depending on where you live, your bike can be your main mode of travel. Keeping your bike secure when you’re not riding it will take a series of locks to make the bike both difficult to move from the location and tough to roll away.

With the right locking techniques, you can be pretty confident that your bike will be there when it’s time to go home. You can also get a bike that is security rated so you can get insurance to cover the cost of a stolen bike.

Types of locks and which is the best

It’s important to use more than one lock when securing your bike. Again, you want to make it hard to remove the bike from the current location and to make it hard to pedal away.

Someone carrying a bike with cabled tires is going to be much slower than someone riding away with your best bike.

Lock typeSecurity
Cable locks4/10
Chain locks7/10
Folding locks 5/10


A D-lock gets its name from the shape of the lock; a large curved capital D with a straight back bar that can be removed with a key or a code. If you’re only going to be able to lock the frame, get the smallest D-lock that will work. Large D-locks can be pried open by a thief with time and tools.

You can get D-locks with a “Sold Secure” rating that will let your insurer and potential thieves know that you went above and beyond. It is important to note that most bike locks can be busted open, cut, or ground through with enough time.

Where you lock your bike can be as important as the locks you use. More on that later on.

Cable Locks:

Cable locks are made of woven aircraft cable and generally have a vinyl coating to reduce the risk of corrosion. Because a lot of this cable is treated with a lubricant to further reduce corrosion, be careful when handling it without the vinyl coating or sleeve; this cable can be messy to handle if you decide to DIY your cable bike lock.

At both ends of your cable lock is a loop for either the bar of your D-lock or a keyed or combination lock. Do not use just a cable lock when securing your bike; one snip with the bolt cutters and your bike is gone.

However, if you pair a cable lock with a D-lock, thieves will have to put in a lot of time and fiddling getting things apart, which increases their risk and your security.

Chain Locks:

A chain lock is looped similarly to a cable lock in combination with a D-lock or a padlock. Chain locks need to be ground through rather than snipped, which adds another layer of security.

Again, any bike lock can be busted open or cut with the right tools and time. However, if you’re securing your bike with other bikes, a chain lock, and D-lock combination means that your bike will be more of a hassle to steal.

In short, if you’re running away from a grizzly, you don’t have to be faster than the grizzly. You just have to be faster than the slowest member of your pack. Multiple locks, properly placed, make your bike less of a target.

Folding Locks:

A folding lock is a great option for those who love to travel with their bikes. Many folding bike locks can also be mounted to the frame of your bike with little to no rattling on bumpy cobbles or bricks.

Most folding locks are medium security; because of the way they’re built, there are built-in prying spots for thieves to get in and bust up the lock to get away with your bike.

However, if you can use a D-ring to secure the frame and perhaps the back tire, you can use a folding lock to loop around another securing member and the front wheel, again, causing more delays for thieves and turning your bike into the one that nobody has the time to steal.

Best locations to lock your bike

Time is one of the best tools a bike thief will use to bust up your lock or strip off your best gear. On a quiet side street, a thief will have time to work through multiple locks. In a busy space with lots of traffic, such as a train station, a bike thief will have a lot of camouflage while they work to overcome your locks.

Using locks that require an electronic tool such as a grinder or a drill is a good start to protecting your bike. These tools mean that a potential thief has to make a lot of noise and draw a lot of attention to themselves. Additionally, a hearty D-lock that has to be busted open with a sizable prying tool will direct the thief toward an easier target.

You also want to bind your bike to something that can’t be cut, such as street rails or handrails. A stout wooden post is not a good option. An open-top bollard can also be easily overcome; if the lock is too loose, all the thief needs to do is lift your bike over the top of the bollard.

If at all possible, lock your bike somewhere that is highly visible. If there’s a security guard in the area, it’s a good spot and thieves will go to the next block. If there are security cameras trained on the area, even if it’s just a doorbell calendar, you do have some recourse to spot the thief.

Once you find a spot that is highly visible and easy for you to access quickly so you’re not assumed to be a thief, it’s time to build your locking style.

Talk to your employer about creating a secure place for folks to lock their bikes. Once you demonstrate that a bike commute can work, your co-workers may choose to ride as well. A secure spot to lock up and a camera focused on the bike-locking storage area will deter thieves.

It should be noted that nothing will stop a really determined thief focused on taking your bike, but your locking technique can slow them down enough that hopefully a security professional will notice and send the thief off.

Locking techniques

Start by locking the frame to an immovable steel structure, such as a bollard with a large cap or a rail with a continuous top. You want to make sure a potential thief can’t simply lift your bike up and over the structure, you’re locked to. Hook your D-lock around the frame of your bike and the steel structure.

Next, lock the rear wheel. If you have a large enough D-lock, lock both the rear wheel and the frame in the same loop. You want this connection to be pretty snug. Large gaps between the lock, the bike frame, and the structure will make it easier for a thief to get a prying tool in there.

Finally, loop the front wheel into a cable, a chain, or a folding lock. If you have a pannier or a canvas carrying bag on the front of your bike, make sure that you have reserved space just for these locks.

If you are worried that your bike is going to be stripped over the course of the day, carry a backpack with dedicated space and weight tolerance for your bike locks.

Other tips and tricks

If you lock up in the same spot each day, it may be possible to simply leave your locks on the frame. However, if you’re not securing your bike to a bike rack on a daily basis, it’s probably not a good idea to leave your bike lock on a handrail or a bollard.

Make sure that your bike lock is weather tolerant of your specific conditions. If you ride in the winter, make sure your bike lock is water tolerant and rust-proof. If you ride in sandy conditions or extremely dry conditions, follow instructions on the best way to prevent sand and gravel build-up inside your locks. Any signs of corrosion on the outside of your lock will let thieves know that the inside of the lock is weakened.

Look for the “Sold Secure” rating to confirm that your lock is covered by insurers. Bikes are not cheap and if it’s your main mode of transportation, the highest quality locks are well worth the money.

If you have costly components on your bike, thieves may well strip away the high-quality gear and leave you with frames and wheels. To avoid theft or stripping, consider having a basic bike that you ride in and lock up each day. Use your high-end bike for weekend touring and entertaining rides.

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How to Use Downtube Shifters – Some old road bikes still come with downtube shifters. Learn how those work and how to use them properly.

About Alek Asaduryan

Alek Asaduryan is the founder of YesCycling and has been riding bikes and in the cycling industry since 1991. Since then, his mission is to make cycling more accessible to everyone. And each year, he continues to help more people to achieve that. When he's not out riding his beloved fitness bike, Alek reports on news, gear, guides, and all things cycling related.

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