Bike Lock Showdown: Best Lightweight Locks for Bikepackers
Selecting the perfect bike lock for bikepacking can be daunting. Balancing security and packability presents a challenge, considering the multitude of options available. After a year of testing, we have gathered our insights on 5 lightweight and packable bike locks, providing a comprehensive guide for your bikepacking adventures.
I never lock my bike. More precisely, I refrain from taking any of my bikes to places where I would need to leave them unattended for extended periods without having them within my sight. Unfortunately, I have experienced the misfortune of having three bikes stolen throughout the years, and the circumstances surrounding each incident were utterly ridiculous. One was taken from inside my own house, another was stolen from within a bike shop while I was there to purchase a lock (really), and the third was secured with a u-bolt to a metal handrail in London, UK, only for the thieves to pry the handrail out of the brick wall to gain access to my 10-year-old Giant road bike. Reflecting on it, part of me believes they almost deserved that bike.
When it comes to bikepacking, the requirements for bike locks are quite distinct from those needed for locking up in the city. In particular, weight and packability are crucial factors, possibly even more important than the actual security provided by the lock. During my previous bikepacking trips, I have carried various locks for situations when I needed to make a quick stop at a grocery store or restaurant. However, typically, I am away from the bike for no more than 15 minutes, or I try to keep it within sight by positioning it near a window. Unfortunately, I have never been entirely satisfied with any of the solutions I have used so far, as they have all been too heavy or bulky.
This article has been a year in the making. Throughout this time, I reached out to several companies, asking if they would like to participate, without having a clear vision of how it would all come together. In a sense, we are comparing apples and oranges within this article. Some of the locks featured prioritize security, while others focus on quick usage and packability. We intentionally included locks with combinations as well as those requiring keys. This deliberate choice allows us to present a diverse range of use cases and strike a balance between different attributes.
Testing & Evaluation
I have been using these five locks for the past year and have taken them along on a variety of adventures, including overnight trips, day excursions, and longer rides. Typically, I store my lock in my framebag, positioned at the top above all the other items packed inside. When the lock's length permits, I secure the back wheel and seat stays to a post or any available object. For the sake of clarity in the photos, I removed my seat bag.
In evaluating each of the five locks, we focused on four key attributes. Firstly, weight: considering that we are already carrying a considerable load, we wanted to know the exact weight of each lock. Secondly, packability: we assessed how much space each lock occupies and where it can fit within a typical bikepacking setup. Thirdly, security: we aimed to gauge the level of security provided by each lock. It's important to note that we did not personally test the locks by smashing or breaking them. Lastly, usage: we examined how easy it is to dismount from the bike and lock it up. With these criteria in mind, let's dive in.
1. Litelok Go Flexi-U
Litelok generously sent two sizes of their award-winning GO Flexi-U for testing purposes. Considering packability, I opted to stick with the small lock as the large one was too big for my needs and wouldn't fit in my framebag or any other spot in my bikepacking setup. Among all the locks we received, the GO Flexi-U unquestionably stands out as the most secure option. According to their website, the GO Flexi-U is classified as "insurance rated" and crafted from a patented composite material called "Boaflexicore," featuring high tensile steel and an aerospace-grade steel alloy lock body. The GO Flexi-U can be best understood as a flexible U-bolt. If you're accustomed to u-locks, chances are you'll appreciate the GOFlexi-U.
Initially, I had high expectations for the Litelok Flexi-U. When I first laid eyes on the box, it became one of my favorites. However, I struggled with attaching and detaching the small-sized lock from my bike. The key mechanism operated smoothly, but opening the lock required a sideways motion that could be awkward depending on where you chose to secure your bike. I constantly worried about damaging my carbon wheels, and maneuvering around my 2.6x29 wheels proved challenging. The primary issue I encountered was its lack of packability. Despite its flexibility, it didn't compress enough to fit into a bag. On the company's website, there are pictures of the GO Flexi-U stored in the straps of a Tailfin rear bag, which might be a clever storage solution for those who use one. The small version was quite heavy, weighing 650g/22.4oz (the large one weighs 725g/25.6oz). The GO Flexi-U's standout feature is undoubtedly its security, but even though it doesn't fully meet my requirements for a bikepacking lock, I still keep the GO Flexi-U close at hand for other activities.
2. TiGr Blue Mini U-Lock
At first glance, the TiGr Blue may not appear to be a suitable lock for bikepacking. However, it turned out to be the most surprising among all the locks we tested. The very challenges it presented soon revealed themselves as its advantages. Marketed as the world's lightest insurance-rated u-lock, the TiGr Blue is constructed from hardened high-carbon blue steel, protected by a clear coating. It is truly a thing of beauty. The lock, its mechanism, and its keys are all finely machined, emanating a sense of quality that instills confidence. Weighing in at 423g/15oz, the TiGr Blue is slightly heavy but still falls within reasonable limits.
The primary challenge I anticipated with the lock was its shape. I had no idea how it would fit into my bikepacking setup until I went on a ride with a friend who had one tucked into his framebag, with the pointy end of the lock wedged into the top corner of the inner triangle. How did I not think of that? Not only that, he managed to utilize the negative space of the lock to store some gear, like a water filter and a few power bars. Inspired by his clever solution, I immediately tried it myself and was amazed by how well it worked. Besides its packability, the TiGr Blue's locking mechanism was user-friendly and oddly enjoyable to use.
3. Altor Apex Titanium
When it comes to aesthetic design, the Altor Apex Titanium would undoubtedly take the crown. Every aspect, from the lock itself to the keys, mechanism, and even the packaging, is crafted with such attention to detail that it would make any product designer drool. It truly resembles a work of art that could easily match something from 22 Bikes. However, it is worth noting that the website does not mention it being an insurance-rated lock. Weighing in at 715g/25.2oz, the Apex Ti appears to prioritize security with its folding design, despite its captivating beauty. So, don't be deceived by its appearance alone.
Out of all the locks we examined, the Apex Ti proved to be the heaviest. Nevertheless, I appreciated how it folded flat, allowing it to fit quite easily within the space I had in the top of my framebag. Once again, the mechanism and keys showcased a remarkable level of craftsmanship. However, locking the Apex Ti could be somewhat cumbersome, as aligning the head of the lock required some effort to securely close it. On the other hand, unfolding the lock and attaching it to my rear wheels was a straightforward process. The lock truly stands out and provides a noticeable level of visibility, which instills a sense of security. Nevertheless, with a price tag of $189 USD, this beautiful titanium lock leaves me somewhat perplexed and prompts me to question who it's for.
4. Ottolock Cinch Lock
Compared to the three locks mentioned above, the Ottolock Cinch Lock may initially appear almost laughable. Its appearance resembles that of a kids' lock found in a department store and may not inspire confidence in terms of security. However, weighing only 145g/5.1oz, its remarkable portability, and packability make it a worthwhile trade-off for security concerns. Constructed with Santoprene® plastic and reinforced by steel bands wrapped in aramid fiber, the Ottolock Cinch possesses a playful quality that sets it apart from the other locks on this list.
The Ottolock Cinch has been my preferred lock for all of my trips over the past year. It seems to effortlessly fit into any spot within my bikepacking setup. The vibrant chartreuse green color acts as a deterrent, sending a clear message to potential thieves to stay away. Additionally, it comes with a fantastic pouch that can be securely attached anywhere on the bike if storing it in a bag isn't your preference. However, my only complaint about the Ottolock Cinch is that the locking mechanism feels somewhat cheap, and aligning the combination dials can be challenging for someone after a long day of riding. Moreover, the removable rubber strap used to coil the lock can be a bit tricky to position correctly. Despite these minor inconveniences, the Cinch achieves the perfect balance for me between security (whether psychological or physical, that's for you to decide), packability and price. It will undoubtedly remain in my gearbox for a long, long time.
5. Hiplok Z-Lok
The Hiplok Z-Lok might not even be considered a traditional bike lock, haha! On the Hiplok website (why don't these companies use the letter "C"?), they categorize it as a security tie, which gives the impression that a lawyer was involved in its branding. Weighing in at 68g/2.4oz, the Z-Lok is constructed with nylon-covered stainless steel and resembles a twist tie. It's clear that using the Z-Lok as your sole line of defense in a high-risk area would be ill-advised, but that's certainly not its intended purpose. The Z-Lok was specifically designed to secure rear wheels and deter opportunistic thieves from quickly snatching your bike.
TI also carried the Z-Lok on numerous trips, but primarily as a supplement to the other locks mentioned earlier. I found pleasure in discovering creative spots to place it, which would genuinely impede a thief, such as threading it through the front chainring. The Z-Lok is available in a variety of vibrant colors that serve as a clear warning to potential thieves. Similar to the Ottolock mentioned earlier, my only challenge with the Z-Lok was its combination mechanism. Setting it up with my preferred code was straightforward, but fine-tuning the dials proved to be a tad frustrating when fatigued from long days of riding. Nevertheless, at a price of $24.99 USD, it serves as a handy and compact secondary security measure.
When it comes to bike locks, there really is no definitive answer. It ultimately boils down to striking a balance between various attributes. If your primary concern is security and you are willing to prioritize it above all else, then the Litelok Go Flexi-U is likely the ideal choice for you. On the other hand, if packability and minimizing space usage in your bikepacking setup are paramount, then the Ottolock should be seriously considered. Additionally, incorporating a Z-Lok as a secondary precaution could provide added peace of mind. Remember, it's essential to align your lock choice with your personal priorities to ensure the best fit for your specific needs. Ultimately, finding the right bike lock is about understanding your own requirements and making an informed decision based on those preferences.