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A Look At Wheel Locks For Bike Touring


ABUS Wheel LockThe latest question in our email inbox asked about a ‘mystery lock’ that one UK cyclist saw a lot of European bikers using during their summer tours.

I’ve just finished a long tour and came across several European cyclists with locks fitted to their rear wheels. They weren’t skewer locks but a simple turnkey system to lock the rear wheel in place making it harder for someone to wheel away a fully loaded bike. I’d like to get hold of one for my next solo tour but I can’t find a soul in the UK who’s ever heard of them. Can you help me with the name of this product? -Keara

Keara is talking about a type of bicycle lock that’s known by at least 4 names: o-lock, ring lock, wheel lock or frame lock. They’re standard issue on every bike in the Netherlands, across much of Europe and in Japan.

The varying names all refer to the same thing: a lock that attaches to your frame. You put the key in and push down on a lever so that a metal ring slides between the spokes of your back tire, locking the bike.

We love these locks because they’re so darn convenient but of course there are advantages and disadvantages to everything. Here are some points on both sides of the argument:

Pros

  • Ideal if you want to quickly secure your bike while you run into a shop.
  • Can be part of your overall anti-theft strategy, when used with one other decent lock.
  • It’s attached to your bike, so you’re guaranteed to have a lock wherever you go. You can’t forget it at home.
  • You don’t have to carry it in a bag or find anywhere to wrap it while on the move.
  • For couples, some companies offer two locks in one package and both locks take the same key. This is really handy if you’re traveling together and is a bit of insurance in case one person loses a key (the ABUS 4850 LH NKR has this feature)

Cons

  • Not meant for overnight security or parking your bike in a big city. Anyone can lift the back wheel of your bike and roll it away.
  • Tends to be on the heavy side, especially the locks with a high security rating.
  • Usually fits on your bike, but not always. We’ve occasionally seen a frame that just doesn’t have space for a wheel lock.
  • You have to make sure you get a lock that has space for bigger touring rims and wide tires. Some are designed for city bikes and thin tires only.
  • If you lose the key, this lock is a bit unusual and may not be as easy as a standard lock to break.

Also…

If you’re going to buy a wheel lock, it’s important to know that on many models the key can only be removed when the lock is engaged. This means you must always use the lock because otherwise someone could lock your bike while you’re away and take the key.

Cable Lock To Go With Wheel LockThat said, some models are the exception to the rule.

We own the ABUS 4850 LH NKR model. It does allow you to remove the key at any time. You can also get this lock as a twin set – ideal if you have more than one bike you want to lock (you only have to keep track of one key for both locks).

This model is also designed to be used in combination with a compatible cable lock such as the Abus 4850 Amparo Cable Lock (see photo) for extra protection. One end of the cable lock slots into the wheel lock. If you get a cable lock that slots into your wheel lock, try and get one that’s at least 150cm long. In our experience, a cable lock that’s 100cm long or less can be too short to reach around some objects.

What Do You Think? 

Have you used a wheel lock before on tour? Would you put one on your next bike? Share a thought by leaving a comment.

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26 Responses to “A Look At Wheel Locks For Bike Touring”

  1. Amaya says:

    I’m a huge fan of wheel locks. They are standard equipment on Kogas and I use mine all the time.

    Dragging out a big bulky lock can be a hassle, so more often than not cyclists will just leave the bike thinking they’ll be gone just a second.

    That’s the window when disaster strikes.

    One of the main reasons Eric’s fully loaded Koga was stolen is that his wheel lock had broken.

    If the wheel lock had been working, I’m 99.9% sure he’d still have the bike and we’d be in Colombia and not Canada.

    I give the wheel lock a two thumbs up.

  2. Mark Creighton says:

    I have an Abus lock fitted as standard to a bike I bought in Holland a few years back. This has the ability to have a chain or cable lock plugged into it, which means the bike can be fastened to a sationary object.

    I’ve toured with the lock. It was really handy being able to lock the back wheel if you were just nipping into a shop. Depending on where you are and how long you’re likely to be away, this can be safe. It’s not that easy trying to carry a loaded touring bike. For buzy places, longer trips away from the bike and overnight, you can use the chain.

    I’d fully recommend these locks for any bike.

  3. Margaret Gibbs says:

    These locks are available in the UK, not as widely as the rest of Europe but they are around if you look. After seeing there use in the Netherlands I bought a couple from a bike shop in London and fitted them to mine and my husbands bikes. Also all Pashley’s come with them already fitted.

  4. Nation says:

    I’ve been after one of these for ages!! Very hard to find in the UK.

  5. I don’t know about touring, but in my everyday city usage I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Stopovers at school, kindergarten, shops, my own driveway… click-klock,click-klock. It sure engages about 6-8 times a day. During the night, or in front of a pub, or on stranger tides, I add my frame-mounted, seriously heavy U-shaped lock to secure it against a lamp-post.

    On one folding bike I even saw the frame lock installed on a front wheel. Given that the hub dynamo is one of the more expensive parts of a standard bike, this new thinking may not be the worst idea.

  6. Eric Hendrickson says:

    Ran into this type of lock for the first time this summer, two German ladies had them. They had a type of attached chain that went around a tree while the wheel lock looked the same. Not sure of the type but it looked like it worked very well even being a bit heavy.

  7. jason says:

    Been using one of these locks since last year. Found them extremely usful when just nipping in shops and even combined it with a cable when needed a bit more security. They are not as hard as you think to find in the U.K. Abus are distributed in the U.K by a company called ZYRO. They are dealt with by many bike shops around. An easy way to tell is if the shop sell Altura clothing they can get this lock. Just ask.

  8. Pilar says:

    We have just been touring in Holland and of course have seen these locks everywhere. I almost bought one (or two!)of these but wasn’t sure which bikes would they fit. Could anyone tell me a bit more about which type of frames/wheels these locks are good for? I expect they would fit my tourer (SuperGalaxy, wheels 700C) but I suspect they would not fit the Yuba Mundo (super-chunky cargo bike with very chunky 26″ tyres).

    Any help welcome!

  9. ROS BURKE says:

    While operating a bicycle shop in Australia for 15 years, I have never been able to locate this product in Australia. I even considered importing them as they seemd so convenient. When I get to Europe I will definitely buy one (or more).

  10. Hi

    Not specifically about locks for touring but Ride On posted a test of various bike locks this past week. Worth a read in my view. The blog posting can be found at http://rideons.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/locks-test-2011/.

    Andrew

  11. I’ve got a Defender wheel lock on my tourer. Very handy bit of kit as past of an overall security strategy. Would recommend highly. Can be bought in the UK via mail order from http://www.dutchbikebits.com

  12. JaccoW says:

    For those of you looking for them; the most used ones are:
    - Axa Defender http://axabasta.intermix5.nl/cat/front/items.asp?level=2&id=11
    - Abus Amparo 4850
    http://www.abus.de/us/main.asp?ScreenLang=us&sid=44616335608483510102011838765111&select=0104b04&ArtikelGrID=10

    Both are compatible with plug-in chains from the same brand, but like said above, they are not for overnight parking. I’ve had bikes stolen using plug-in cables here in The Netherlands, but I think you’ll have a better chance in the rest of the world.

  13. Oddbikes says:

    I live in Amsterdam where stealing bikes has been elevated to high art.

    My current (insurance approved) setup is the Axa Defender ring-lock and accompanying chain. They work well together but the main issue for me is the weight – more than 2.5KG in total.

    That’s OK for in the city but definitely not good for touring.

  14. Nicola says:

    We have just collected our santos travel masters with these locks and picked up some chains to plug in too. They are great and so are ours bikes just cycled them 250 miles in 4 days home fully loaded and feel great :)

  15. sirmy says:

    This type of lock is available from practical cycles in the UK, they’re the only place I seen them in the UK (and then only a choice of 2)

    http://www.practicalcycles.com/userimages/procart25.htm

  16. Willeke says:

    I am Dutch and I have used the ring locks all my cycling life, if at first the easy to break old version. But the last 25 years or so several of the Assa and Axa kind. I have one transport now, a recumbent trike, I have not been able to fit one on, hate that.

    For those who can not find a proper lock near home, you can try the shop site of one of the bike blockers, David Hembrow:
    http://www.dutchbikebits.com/index.php?route=product/category&path=35
    Only one kind available as standard, but knowing David, if you tell him what kind of bike you have, he will help you out if he can.

    By the way, I think that a removable key is not the best, one of the good things about this kind of lock is that you can never forget your key.
    And for full anti theft, link your bike to a stable object with a different lock, by preference a different brand and type of lock.

    • friedel says:

      With a non-removeable key, aren’t the chances of losing it higher, because it’s not on your key ring? It’s a separate key that floats around in your pocket when you’re off the bike.

      With ours, the key to our lock stays on our main key ring, so it’s always with us. I suppose we could forget to take our house keys with us, but then we have bigger problems!

      • Willeke says:

        I have a little snap hook on every bike key, works as a keyfob when I have the key in the lock, and when the key comes out of the lock I just snap it onto my keyring. Or wherever I think it is the most handy at the time, like the zipper of my wintercoat.
        I have the key to the second lock of the bike on my keyring, but will only use the second lock when parking for a long time or in an iffy location.
        When the bike is in the shed, it is locked, so the key is on my keyring and I need the keyring before going out.

  17. Kingerz says:

    Better than nothing yes, but with some bikes being 7 or 8kg now it would seem that lifting one up and stealing it would be not at all a problem for thieves who will even now happily angle grind through a u-lock.

    • Friedel says:

      Obviously much depends on the bicycle you ride, and where you ride it. I don’t know of too many (any?) touring bikes that fall below the 10kg mark. We’re not recommending this type of lock for an extended stop in a big city (unless it’s combined with other locks), but for a quick run into a supermarket, for example, it’s ideal.

  18. Well I have ordered the Abus 4850 from Bike24.net and a Abus cable lock from Evans for my Surly Long Haul Trucker. Hopefully this combination works out.

    Andrew

  19. Dominic says:

    I ordered an Abus 4850 CL from bike24 and it arrived this morning. It was pretty easy to attach it to my Thorn Raven. The CL mount uses giant ziptie like things to attach to your seatstays. There’s a good amount of excess sticking out the other side but I’m not certain if you’re meant to clip that off.

  20. revelo says:

    Anyone recommending cable locks should first test cutting through a typical cable with a pair of cable cutters (the sort used to cut bicycle shifter and brake cables, about 20cm long, easy to fit into a pocket). About as difficult as cutting a piece of nylon cord with a pair of sharp scissors, which is to say trivially easy. A thief could walk around with cable cutters in a backpack looking for bikes locked with a cable. Walk up to the bike, pull out the smallish cable cutter, slice through the cable, put the cable cutters and cable in the backpack, ride off. The whole operation would look no different to passersby than if the owner of the biker were unlocking the cable lock with a key.

    Ring locks require bolt cutters, hacksaw, or angle grinder, all of which are bulky, plus the cutting operation is much more conspicuous. Very unlikely you’d have a problem with thieves like that in small towns. Big cities are another story. I’d never rely on anything but a sturdy U-lock in big cities.

    Ring locks weigh about 400g versus maybe 300g for a thick cable lock or 200g for thin cable (thick cables are just as easy to cut as thin cables) or 800g for a U-lock. So ring locks aren’t lightweight, but they are a good compromise, since they actually work, whereas cables are worse than useless since they lull you into a false sense of security. I carry a ring lock myself plus an ultra-thin cable looped into the ring lock. The purpose of the ultra-thin cable is to notify potential thieves that the bike is locked, since otherwise they might not realize this and so try riding off with the ring lock in place, which might break spokes.

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