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Are Cheap Bike Locks a False Economy?

To achieve a cheaper price point for consumers, bike lock manufacturers often compromise on features.

This leads many cyclists to wonder if the cheap bike lock they’re considering is secure enough for their bike or if it’s the easy target thieves are looking for.

Knowing of the confusion this causes and the large number of thefts related to the use of inadequate bike locks, we thought we’d get to the bottom of this once and for all. 

Are cheap bike locks a false economy? Let’s find out.

three cheap bike locks
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    How Cheap is "Cheap"?

    The average price of a bike lock has fluctuated on an upward trend over the last few years, alongside the global increase in the cost of living and due to disruption in manufacturing.

    However, you can still find bike locks for sale online for less than £5 ($10). But don’t be fooled by these.

    We at BikeLockWiki never recommend bike locks that a reputable security organisation hasn’t independently tested. 

    We advise our readers to use locks which bear Sold Secure or ART certification (or similar), as these organisations are known for their expertise and thorough testing procedures. 

    This rules out the bottom end of the market of cheap bike locks, as these locks rarely have testing certification. 

    Bike locks in the Sold Secure Silver category can be purchased at a wide range of prices—the cheaper options in this category retail at around £20/$25.

    The cheaper Bike locks in the Gold and Diamond categories will typically set you back between £25/$30 to £45/$55.

    Considering that the Sold Secure Gold and Diamond are the highest security ratings in the “Pedal Cycle” category, £25-£35 ($30-45) is a good deal and can be considered “cheap” when compared to most other locks in these categories. 

    What's the Best Type of Bike Lock When Shopping On a Tight Budget?

    Apart from cable locks, which aren’t secure enough to be used as a primary bike lock, the cheapest lock type to manufacture, on average, is a U-lock (otherwise known as D-locks). 

    U-locks have fewer individual parts than chain locks and folding bike locks.

    With fewer individual parts, less machinery is required to produce the end product than other lock types. This helps to keep costs low for both manufacturers and consumers.

    Since the production costs of chain locks and folding locks are higher than those of U-locks, manufacturers are more limited by budget when attempting to achieve comparable price points to a U-lock. 

    Kryptonite Kryptolok and Master Lock 8278 Cheap U Locks
    The Kryptonite Kryptolok (Pedal Cycle Gold) and the Master Lock 8278 EURDPRO (Pedal Cycle Diamond) are two of the best cheap bike locks

    Having a restricted budget means brands will normally scrimp on features, ultimately reducing the quality of the bike locks they produce. 

    We’ll cover more on bike lock security ratings a little later, but you should know that more “cheap” U-locks hold independent security ratings than any other bike lock type. 

    Therefore, it’s safe to say that U-locks are the best all-round option if you’re shopping for a cheap bike lock

    Cheap vs Expensive Bike Locks - Features To Expect

    When comparing cheap bike locks to expensive locks, you’ll typically be able to identify several key differences just from holding either lock. 

    The table below shows the differences you can expect when comparing top-market bike locks to their cheaper counterparts.

    Cheap Bike Locks Expensive Bike Locks
    Materials: Cheap bike locks tend to use more low-quality plastic and less corrosion-resistant metals. Expensive bike locks steer clear of low-quality plastics and typically use metal or rubber housing, providing a higher-quality finish and a more durable lock.
    Security: Manufacturers use less advanced locking mechanisms, lower-quality steel alloys, and thinner shackles to achieve a cheap end product. This typically makes cheaper bike locks easier to defeat. Expensive bike locks don't compromise on security and will use higher-end locking mechanisms, better steel alloys and chunkier shackles to thwart more attack methods.
    Durability: Made from lower-quality materials, cheap bike locks show wear and tear pretty quickly. If left exposed to the elements without cleaning and lubrication, cheap locks are more vulnerable to rust. More expensive bike locks use less plastic, reducing visible wear over the years. Additionally, the quality of the lock's internals is higher, meaning it's less vulnerable to corrosion.
    Usability: Cheaper bike locks can feel clunky to use, and some will have sharp corners which need to be worn in with use before becoming smoother to operate. Cheap locking mechanisms can also be fiddly to use and can be vulnerable to corrosion after little use. Top-end bike locks are smooth to use with finely machined parts which work seamlessly from new. Their improved features also mean that expensive bike locks typically offer a better user experience.
    Features: Basic features including dual-locking shackles, keyhole covers, flimsy mounting systems, plastic lock housing, and low-end locking cylinders. More advanced features including anti-grinder technology, bolt cutter-proof shackles, auto-engaging locking mechanisms, stronger mechanism protection and higher-quality components.

    So Are Cheap Bike Locks a False Economy?

    After reading the table above, you may think that cheap bike locks no longer sound like such a good idea.

    Yes, the majority of cheap bike locks do offer inadequate levels of security, but you’d be wrong to rule out all cheap bike locks. A select few provide excellent security levels and are available at a very reasonable price. 

    We recently revisited our article covering the 6 best cheap bike locks and updated it with even better, higher-security and lower-costing locks. 

    The locks in this article are all Sold Secure Gold-rated or higher, so you can be confident in their security. 

    How Much Should You Spend on Bike Security?

    Police in the UK advise cyclists to spend 15% of the value of their bike on its security. 

    Of course, whether you want to follow this rule is your decision.

    But remember, thieves will search for and single out more expensive bikes secured with inadequate locks.

    Additionally, please understand that the table below represents how much you should spend on your bike’s overall security rather than a single bike lock. 

    Within the budgets below, consider additional security devices such as bike sheds, GPS trackers, alarms, and don’t forget bicycle insurance. 

    The table below provides a sensible budget for the security of bikes of varying prices:

    Bike Value: Recommended Security Budget:
    £500 to £1000
    ($500 to $1000)
    £75 to £150
    ($75 to $150)
    £1000 to £2500
    ($1000 to $2500)
    £150 to £375
    ($150 to $375)
    £2500 to £5000
    ($2500 to $5000)
    £375 to £750
    ($375 to $750)
    & Bike Insurance

    How To Tell If A Cheap Bike Lock is Secure Enough

    Buying cheap bike locks that are untested by independent organisations is like walking through a minefield.

    Some might work well, but others will leave your bike vulnerable. 

    The only reliable way to tell if a bike is secure enough for your situation is to check to see if it has security ratings from a reputable security testing organisation.

    This is why we recommend all of our readers opt for locks which have been tested by Sold Secure and earned the Pedal Cycle Silver rating or higher. 

    Additionally, if you buy your bike lock from a reputable manufacturer such as Kryptonite or ABUS, you’ll be more likely to end up with a decent lock.

    Many small manufacturers over-exaggerate their locks’ security and can confuse consumers by saying their products are “Gold-rated”. 

    Unless it’s Sold Secure Gold Rated, “Gold-rated” means nothing.

    How To Get The Best Bike Locks for a Cheap Price

    Ultimately, if you’re looking for the most secure bike lock for the cheapest possible price, your best bet will be to shop on second-hand websites such as eBay or Craigslist. 

    Usually, when buying a second-hand bike lock, you can expect to pay half of the original RRP. 

    Otherwise, it’s worth looking out for returned items on Amazon warehouse. These will typically have a 15-20% discount as they’re “used” items that a previous buyer has returned. 

    By purchasing a second-hand bike lock, you could pick up a better lock than your budget would afford if buying a new one. 

    Or, wait until someone sells one of the cheap bike locks you want to buy and save the difference. 

    Just remember to check the lock you commit to buying is rated by a reputable company like Sold Secure.

    You can browse Sold Secure’s entire category of bike locks they’ve tested here

    Our Findings - Trends We've Spotted With Cheap Bike Locks

    three bike cable locks that have been cut by thieves
    Snip, snip, snip.

    Over the years, we’ve amassed a collection of locks that have been cut or broken by thieves and left lying around after theft. 

    Almost 90% of the locks we’ve gathered are cheap, flimsy combination cable locks. 

    If you remember one tip from this guide, please remember that cable locks should not be used as your primary bike lock. 

    You may think a lock for the same price as a bag of chips is a good deal. But when your bike is stolen because you locked it with a cheap cable lock, you’ll be back at square one, although this time, needing a new bike as well.

    Additionally, low-end U-locks seem to be making a return to the scene. We’ve seen many people choosing to secure their e-scooters and bikes with cheap and spindly U-locks. 

    Surprising trends, but understandable when you consider the cost of living crisis we’re facing and the public’s poor understanding of security devices. 

    Summary - Are Cheap Bike Locks a False Economy?

    So, are cheap bike locks a false economy? Well, some are, and some aren’t.

    We can’t provide a direct answer to this question without knowing which bike lock you’re considering. 

    However, follow these factors when buying a cheap bike lock, and you’ll have no issues.

    1. Is the lock a cable lock? If so, don’t bother with it (unless used as a lock for auxiliary bike components)
    2. Is the lock rated by a reputable security testing organisation? (Sold Secure, ART, etc.)
    3. Does the lock offer a security rating sufficient for your bike’s value?

    Fortunately, a handful of cheap bike locks have topped the charts in terms of security and have been tested by Sold Secure.

    So, we put together a guide covering the best cheap bike locks. These are all Sold Secure Gold or Diamond-rated locks and will cost you no more than £40m. Most are cheaper though.

    Worth a read if you want value for money.

    Otherwise, consider buying a second-hand bike lock if your budget is tight. You’ll get a substantial discount buying second-hand and might be able to afford a higher security lock. 

    Not all cheap bike locks are a false economy, but some are drastically worse than others and misleading information provided by some manufacturers doesn’t make this an easy decision for cyclists. 

    Author of This Post:
    Picture of James Grear (Lead Editor)
    James Grear (Lead Editor)

    Understanding how devastating it is to have a bike stolen, I've researched & immersed myself in the world of bicycle security since 2013.

    I then built BikeLockWiki in 2019 to share everything I'd learned with the worldwide cycling community so that cyclists can improve their bike security skills and make informed decisions when purchasing new products and services.

    Learn More about Me & BikeLockWiki here.

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