I originally titled this question as "I'm looking for a convenient absolutely fail-safe automatic lock that works all the time". But, judging by some rather cold responses, that title seems to be quite an oxymoron for city dwellers.

Please don't get hung up on the way the question is worded, but rather focus on the problem and on finding solutions. Please use some imagination. Try to think of alternatives that will help to solve the problem.

Two bicycles have now been stolen from me within the last year. Both were mountain bikes. The second was full suspension. I am interested in getting into touring as well. So I'm thinking of 27-speed for my next bike. I also like the full-suspension mountain-bike idea. But before I get another bike I would like to be absolutely sure it cannot be stolen. Of course, that does not mean I will be entirely and certainly successful in meeting that objective. But I live in a small town and am also interested in rural, remote, solitary touring in rural areas distant from metropolitan areas. So professional bike thievery is not a major problem here. There simply are not enough bikes around to make professional bike thievery worthwhile. The problem is more about opportunistic crime and the difficulty of always remembering to lock my bike. It would be ideal if a bike could lock securely and automatically when it is dismounted. Simple motions to lock bike may be easier to remember and undertake rather than always trying to go through a bothersome rigmarole to lock a bike. In this regard, I saw a question dealing with having to lock a bike many times a day and the need to make locking a simpler operation. That question seems to partly address the problem(s) I have in mind. All kinds of compromising situations can arise unexpectedly when bike riding, and it can be easy to forget to lock a bike under such circumstances. So techniques are needed to easily avoid leaving a bike unlocked when such compromising situations arise.

I would like a very convenient, fail-safe lock that does not depend on my remembering to lock the bike every time I dismount. If you think such things don't exist or can't be designed or developed, please try to think of "best-practices" alternatives and techniques that might be useful.

I am thinking that the ideal lock would lock up the bike automatically when the bike is dismounted and could be unlocked only by key or combination or by my presence within five feet, say by a radio chip (perhaps a small RFID chip or other credit-card-like passive responder) carried by me, say worn on my belt.

And of course, the lock needs to be "fail-safe" under all conditions. So it should not lock up when someone is riding it. And since the radio operation would likely depend on batteries, the lock also needs to be unlockable by key or combination when the bike is about to be mounted so that I am not left stranded if the batteries fail. It would also help if the radio operation is very low power so that batteries would last and so that the radio operation would be extremely dependable.

Does anyone know of any such lock or an engineer/manufacturer who would be interested or willing to design, build, and market such a lock at a reasonable price? Are there any such people who use this bike stack exchange? If so, could could you please provide an answer? While a specific lock on the market may perhaps be especially useful, this is really a generic question that includes alternative and potential designs and techniques for solving the problem. Try to think creatively about alternative ways that this problem might be solved.

ADDED COMMENTS Thurs, Mar 26, 2015, 5:23 am PST:

It is clear now that most answerers are thinking in terms of big-city professional bike thievery. But that is not the problem I am faced with. I live in a small desert town, Joshua Tree, CA, although the area has growing signs of ugly, big-city life and all the problems that come with that. I have lived extensively in several different, crowded, congested metropolitan areas myself, and I know from personal experience the kinds of problems that can arise in such an environment. And I sympathize with the "hard-hearted" problems that such a life often engenders. But that is not the problem here. There simply are not enough bikes around here to make professional bike thievery worthwhile. So I think the nature of the problem for big cities is very skewed when that scenario is applied to a small-town area. That does not mean that professional bike thievery won't or does not happen here. I think the problem here is more of a random, opportunistic nature. But the general picture seems to be very different here than in big cities. I am still looking for some creative, imaginative engineering perspective in the answers. I gather that most answerers are not professional engineers familiar with the challenge of creative, imaginative, scientific design and development processes. But I appreciate all efforts to help with this problem.

I realize that, for very many big-city people, professional bike thievery is a very old, thoroughly worn-out problem that does not inspire imaginative, new thinking. It's like "ya, ya, it all started with the Garden of Eden. So what else is new?"

This is my first post on this stack exchange (or any stack exchange for that matter), and I now see that clicking on the "security" tag provides lots of alternative answers, which may be helpful. I do see there that there are some creative engineering designs and some imaginative engineering behind those designs. So that provides some hope.

I might add that, besides relevance for local, small-town life and travel largely for errands and for enjoyable, healthy exercise, I am also interested in solving this (potential) problem for long-distance bike touring which is largely remote and rural in character, that is, remote from metropolitan areas, although I might find some occasional need to visit metropolitan areas; so I definitely do need to be aware of professional bike thievery hazards if and when I do visit metropolitan areas.

I definitely think there needs to be a "rural" tag available for use here.

  • "I want to be absolutely sure it cannot be stolen" -- that is impossible, unless you leave the bike inside a building in a room with a high-security ($500+) lock that only you have the key to. The room would need a steel door with a steel frame firmly attached to concrete walls. Even then I would be reluctant to say that "it cannot be stolen". On the other hand, if you leave your bike outside, it will probably be stolen, no matter what kind of lock you use. – Nik Mar 25 '15 at 18:49
  • Really before you get another bike you want to be absolutely sure it cannot be stolen. And you don't want to remember to lock it up. A 2 million dollar Ferrari does not come with a fail safe lock. – paparazzo Mar 25 '15 at 19:38
  • I want to be absolutely sure it cannot be stolen. And that is an absolute fact. That does not mean that the bike won't be stolen. I'm looking for helpful answers. My impression is that there is extremely little engineering imagination and talent in the design of locks currently available for bikes. So please try to think of "best answers". And please use some imagination. Please. That includes strategies for dealing with the problems indicated. Saying that it simply cannot be done is not helpful. – Richard Haney Mar 25 '15 at 20:01
  • If stating you cannot secure a device a person can carry is not helpful then you cannot be helped. So you think very little has been done to secure a wallet also? – paparazzo Mar 25 '15 at 21:14
  • We understand you want to be absolutely sure it won't be stolen, but we know that it is absolutely impossible to actually deliver on that desire. Your impression is incorrect. – whatsisname Mar 26 '15 at 2:10

There are locks that can be unlocked with your cell phone, but none of them lock your bike automatically.

I'm pretty sure the product you are looking for doesn't exist. The reason this doesn't exist is because it wouldn't be possible. You could build a lock that would automatically lock the wheels based on a proximity detector linked to your cell phone. But the bike wouldn't actually be locked to anything. It would be trivially easy for a thief to pickup up the bike and walk away with it, or throw it in the back of a truck and drive away. They could then break the lock with any number of tools once they had it in their own garage, even it it required destroying the wheels.

Even the best of locks when used properly don't completely guarantee that you bike won't be stolen. Thieves have been known to use portable angle grinders to cut locks which can cut any lock ever made like it's butter.

The easiest kind of lock you could get would be a wheel lock. It's permanently attached to your frame so that you can't forget it. It does require that you use the key to lock it, because if it locked and you didn't have your key on you, you would have to walk home. It is very susceptible to the "pick up and walk away" theft method, and therefore I would not use it on a bike of much value, but it does have the convenience of always being there, and being very easy to deploy.

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  • I think the essential idea is that the lock should be extremely convenient to use and that it would make stealing the bike extremely difficult for the thief. A flick of the wrist could turn the handlebars so the front wheel is locked perpendicular to the frame. That means the thief would need to carry the bike instead of roll it or ride it off. Perhaps there are ways to lock the wheels just as easily and reliably. And an easy, flick-of-the-wrist, snap-in lock for the bike's usual location at home could also help.More usual locks also helpful.Think convenience, make thievery very difficult. – Richard Haney Mar 25 '15 at 20:19
  • There are always going to be relatively unforeseen hazardous conditions. (Think old wooden tall ships on the high seas.) Under such conditions it is easy to forget about potential theft. A convenient, simply actuated, reliable, "flick-of-the-wrist" locking device/mechanism would help. For example, it would be hard to forget to simply turn the front wheel perpendicular to the frame. – Richard Haney Mar 25 '15 at 20:56
  • @RichardHaney Absolutely sure and difficult are way different. And lock a front wheel is at best an inconvenience. So how would locking versus turning be hard to forget? You remember to secure or not. – paparazzo Mar 25 '15 at 21:07
  • "Absolutely sure ..." is what I'd like. But simply making thievery difficult is an obvious alternative as to meaning and as to a needed solution (or combination of solutions). I'm not trying to be contentious, and sorry if I've offended. I'm trying to stimulate some useful brainstorming here. – Richard Haney Mar 25 '15 at 23:15
  • First you say you want to be absolutely sure that theft is impossible, then you say "There are always going to be relatively unforeseen hazardous conditions.". You don't even have a consistent position. – whatsisname Mar 26 '15 at 2:13

This answer will probably garner a lot of downvotes, but I'll say the best lock is no lock at all. I haven't used a bike lock in years. I don't ever leave my bikes somewhere that I feel the need to have them locked. My bikes are secured in my domicile, in a similar situation at work, and anywhere else they don't leave my sight.

There are many different bike locks out there, all of which have short comings (weight, ease of use, security). Any lock can be defeated by a determined thief; many in less time than it takes to properly lock your bike.

I risked being let go at my job to get what I considered a secure area to store my bike. There are numerous non-secure bike racks that I didn't feel were appropriate. People's cars are easily insured against theft. Bike's are actually very difficult to insure (I've looked into it). Once I made that point to my employer, I think they began to understand why an outside rack was not acceptable storage for my uninsurable multi-thousand dollar investment. I pay rent for a space at work now and consider it well worth it.

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    I am not going to down vote you but a secure area at home and work eliminates a lot of stuff - like going to the store. – paparazzo Mar 25 '15 at 19:22
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    When dealing with multi-thousand dollar bikes, you are probably right to use this logic. If you can't get good bike storage at work, it's best to get a bike just for commuting that you don't mind being stolen. Depending on your budget that could be a $50 bike, a $200 bike, or a $1000 bike. You have to make this decision based on how often bikes get stolen in your area and how much you can afford to replace in the case where it does get stolen. – Kibbee Mar 25 '15 at 19:24
  • @Blam You are correct. I will take my bike to a convenience store or shop where I can see it through the window. I will not take it to the grocery store without taking it inside, and since that's awkward, I generally don't. I stopped frequenting the local Farmer's market because they asked me to leave my bike out front. I have at least one restaurant in town that has placed my bike in the keg lockup for me. I drive to non-bicycle friendly businesses, or better yet, don't frequent them. – Deleted User Mar 25 '15 at 19:44
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    I locked my bikes even inside the house (mounted eyelets to concrete walls, locked to here). Room mates used to think I was paranoid until they lost all their bikes during a break-in. Vancouver BC has/had rampant bike theft. – Rider_X Mar 25 '15 at 22:18
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    Because a "beater" bike requires more money for something that will likely be stolen. I'd be less angry burning a $100 bill yearly. It would require far less time than the effort required to maintain and winterize two bikes yearly. Not to mention it would kill all the joy I wring from riding. I can't imagine the horrible that riding a poorly maintained beater at -40F would be. – Deleted User Mar 25 '15 at 22:25

I think a more practical solution to your problem of forgetting to lock your bike would be a device (or method) to remind you to lock it.

You could try a bluetooth proximity alarm tag. You pair the tag with your phone, then attach the tag to your bike. When the phone gets out of range of the tag an alarm goes off on the phone (range is typically around 10 feet).

So when you park your bike and walk off, your phone will sound an alarm. This will remind you to go back to the bike and lock it.

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  • Thanks everyone for all the suggestions. I am not wealthy. I am retired and I have a very limited budget. But if someone designed a very effective, easy-to-use locking "system", I would scrimp to buy it, provided the price is reasonable enough. I don't own "new-fangled" cell phones. And the lack of locking devices on expensive autos is totally irrelevant. I anticipate using the bike for around-small-town errands and perhaps for long-distance touring and perhaps wilderness-like trails as well. – Richard Haney Mar 25 '15 at 23:38
  • My first bike was stolen at a community center when I was consternated about a human-relations problem and forgot to use the cable lock that I usually used. My second bike was stolen out of my garage when I fell asleep after an exhausting day and I neglected to close and lock my garage door. Those are conditions that are hard to plan for entirely. So I'm looking for a combination of devices and techniques that greatly reduce the chance a bike will be stolen. – Richard Haney Mar 25 '15 at 23:40
  • I have added comments to the initial question above to clarify a few things, especially to clarify that the problem I am faced with is largely "rural" in character, largely because there are simply not enough bikes around in this small-town area to make professional bike thievery worthwhile. I am also trying to reach professional engineers who are familiar with the challenges of creative, imaginative, scientific problem-solving and design. Are there any such people around on this stack exchange? – Richard Haney Mar 26 '15 at 14:25

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