A Look At Wheel Locks For Bike Touring
The 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:
- 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)
- 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.
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.
That 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.