Cutting the overall weight of a bike setup has been something that cyclists have obsessed over for a long time.
Bike-packing and bike touring are common examples of cycling disciplines where cyclists often try to eliminate any extra weight possible, often scrimping on necessities.
There are countless threads on Reddit and other forums with weight weenies discussing whether they should take a U-lock (otherwise known as a D-lock) or a Cable lock with them on their next bike-packing adventure.
So, for anyone who’s unsure of the differences between these lock types, we’ve summarised the debate of U-lock vs Cable lock in this comprehensive article.
Pros & Cons of Either Lock Type
U-locks (D-locks) are the most common type of bike lock cyclists use.
These locks typically use a hardened steel shackle, which encompasses your bike’s components before being secured by the locking crossbar.
Worthwhile U-locks use shackles with a diameter of 12mm or more, as thicker shackles offer better protection against more tools a thief carries.
The chunky shackle that U-locks use means they’re heavier than cable locks.
However, thanks to Stan Kaplan, most U-locks are sold with a mounting system, allowing you to attach the lock to the frame of your bike.
Unlike cable locks, a U-lock’s shackle is solid and not capable of flexing around larger objects, which can be an issue when your locking options are limited.
That said, there are various shackle shapes of U-lock available, some offer increased width for locking to larger objects, while others are longer, allowing you to secure multiple bikes with ease.
Hundreds of U-locks from various brands have been independently tested and rated for the security they offer by organisations such as Sold Secure and ART.
Cable locks are the least secure type of bike lock on the market, but despite this, they’re commonly used by many cyclists.
Cable locks use a braided metal cable of hundreds of thin metal strands to encompass your bike and secure it in place.
The main problem is that these braided metal cables can be cut with minimal effort. Some cable locks can even be broken by hand!
Compared to a U-lock, the two clear advantages of a cable lock are its lower retail price and its ability to flex and stretch around larger, immovable objects.
Cable locks tend to be made from very low-quality materials, making them lightweight, portable, and affordable.
Whilst that might sound great, with a small pair of pliers or a tiny set of bolt cutters, thieves can remove cable locks in a matter of seconds.
That said, cable locks do have a valuable use when it comes to bicycle security.
Are All Bike Cable Locks Useless?
Despite what we’ve been through in this article already, there is one breed of cable lock that’s Sold Secure Pedal Cycle Silver-rated.
We recently got hands-on with the LITELOK GO-O and were massively impressed by its performance.
This is the only Sold Secure Rated cable lock on the market. Read our review of the LITELOK GO-O if you’re interested.
What To Use Either Lock Type For
So, as we’ve now established, there are many differences between cable locks and U-locks.
Making mistakes with your bicycle security can be extremely costly, so it’s essential to understand how each lock type is best utilised.
Now, whilst cable locks offer minimal security, they’re a great way to prevent opportunist thieves from targeting your bike.
If you walk around town, you’ll spot bikes with missing wheels or seats (saddles). This is because opportunist thieves often target bikes with easily removable components such as quick-release wheels or seat posts.
Here’s where cable locks come in handy.
Since cables are incredibly lightweight, they’re easy to carry alongside a more secure lock as a secondary bike lock.
You can use a cable lock to secure your wheels or other components when locking your bike up. When thieves spot this, they will likely move onto an easier target.
So, cable locks are best used as secondary bike locks for securing additional components.
Most U-locks are suitable for use as primary bike locks.
To be sure of a lock’s security, it’s worth buying an independently tested U-lock with a reputable security rating such as Sold Secure or ART.
When using a U-lock, utilise as much of its internal shackle space as possible. This is achieved by threading it around your rear wheel and frame simultaneously.
So, as long as you know that the security a U-lock offers equals or exceeds the level your bike requires, you’ll be fine to use it as your primary bike lock.
Are Cable Locks Suitable for Quick Stops?
There’s nothing better than stopping halfway through a gruelling ride for a hot cuppa and a slab of cake at a cosy cafe.
And seeing as you can see your bike through the window, it’ll be fine to lock it outside with a cable lock, right?
Cable locks make the mouths of thieves salivate. If used as your primary bike lock, an experienced thief could cut the cable and ride off on your two-wheeled steed within seconds.
Trying to cut weight when it comes to the security of your bike typically means using a less secure lock.
As one Reddit user put it, when comparing U-lock to cable locks for bike touring: “I’d rather have too much weight than not enough bicycle”.
No matter how quick your stop’s going to be, risking having your bike stolen isn’t worth it for the tiny bit of weight you can save carrying.
Use a lock that offers sufficient protection for your bike, preferably with proper security accreditation.
Summary: U-Lock vs Cable Lock
We hope for the sake of your bike that you now understand why cable locks aren’t suitable for securing a bike on their own.
Many U-locks are sold with a cable extension. These are similar to cable locks but rely on another lock to secure them.
If you have a cable extension, you can use it, but remember that it’s only a small deterrent, and if you have a nice wheelset, thieves will still be tempted to cut the cable and pinch your wheels.
If you have any questions about the security of your bike, please get in touch, and we’ll be more than happy to help!