11

When I lock my bike I always lock the front wheel with my bike to the rack since front wheel is easier to remove. Is this the right choice?

I have only one U-lock so can only secure one wheel, not both.

8
  • Are you thinking of a particular sort of rack? With a long enough D lock and little enough rake (e.g. a compact road frame) it would be possible to lock the front wheel and frame to something like a Sheffield stand but in many cases it wouldn't, especially wheel bender racks
    – Chris H
    Aug 13 at 8:17
  • Are you parking your bike in a dangerous/risky area? Do your wheels have nuts, QRs, or something else securing them?
    – Criggie
    Aug 13 at 8:53
  • 1
    That is why I always supplement my heavy metal lock (yes, it rocks \m/ ) with a long cable lock: The cable can secure the wheel that the heavy metal fails to reach. This also provides some protection in depth: The ideal tools for breaking a heavy metal lock and a cable lock are different, so thieves without both are strongly discouraged. Make a point of fixing both locks to something solid, and thieves will most likely just walk by. Aug 13 at 10:53
  • @cmaster-reinstatemonica I do exactly the same, though it does not to be a heavy D-lock as some are small enough for bolt croppers to get through, and those will mangle a cable with enough effort.
    – Chris H
    Aug 13 at 15:26
  • 1
    @ChrisH That's why I said "heavy metal": I meant any type of lock that is best opened with an angle grinder. I did not mean to imply anything about the type of heavy metal. It could be a thick armor chain, bar chain, or D lock. Aug 13 at 15:40

10 Answers 10

14

I would lock the rear wheel.

The problem of locking the front wheel with U lock is that there's no way to lock it easily (or at least I can't imagine one). The front wheel is attached to the fork, but the fork doesn't have a closed "loop" so there's no place in the fork where you could lock the front wheel. So if you lock the front wheel, chances are you will find the front wheel locked to the rack, with the rest of the bike and the rear wheel missing.

Also, a typical front wheel is less expensive than a typical rear wheel since rear wheels have slightly more expensive hub (with a freewheel mechanism) and a cassette -- although a dynamo hub could equalize the costs of front and rear wheels. Considering that there are very many options to secure the rear wheel, that's the recommended wheel to secure.

The front wheel obviously could be secured with a separate cable. Carrying a long enough cable could of course be cumbersome. I always ride with my messenger bag and I have found that a cable fits to the messenger bag easily and isn't too heavyweight.

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  • Even with a dynamo hub I preferentially lock the back wheel (by D-lock) though I also carry a cable lock for the front wheel when commuting, and use either a security skewer (tourer) or at least track nuts (hybrid with very old dynamo hub) on the front. I find a long cable lock preferable to a looped cable; it provides a minor extra deterrent for securing the whole bike, and mine passes through helmet vents. +1
    – Chris H
    Aug 13 at 8:11
  • 4
    I think OP is locking the front wheel + frame to the bike rack.
    – Michael
    Aug 13 at 8:37
  • 2
    It is quite possible to lock a front wheel and frame to a sheffield type stand using a U lock. This picture shows how and after a bit of practice I can do this with a much shorter lock than pictured. thebestbikelock.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/…
    – Eric Nolan
    Aug 13 at 15:02
  • @Michael I asked for clarification on that. It might be possible but it's not always easy
    – Chris H
    Aug 13 at 15:20
  • I agree, I would add that the rear wheel not only is more expensive, but it adds hassle if you have to find a proper replacement, finding the same cassette might not be that easy.
    – FluidCode
    Aug 15 at 14:53
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The most important thing is that the frame is securely locked to a solid object.

If you can also lock one or both wheels it’s nice but I wouldn’t worry too much. The rear wheel is more expensive but also harder to get out.

If you take out one (or both) of the wheels you might be able to lock both wheels + frame to an object with a single long-ish U-lock.

I don’t think single wheels are commonly stolen, just like seatpost+saddle, handlebars or derailleurs are usually not stolen.

It’s different if your wheels (or other components) are very expensive and/or you live in a high-risk area. In that case I’d try to lock as much as possible. For example thread an additional cable lock through the saddle rails, rear wheel, frame and a solid object.

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  • 4
    Stealing seatposts is actually not that uncommon, but I have no idea why anyone would do that. Clarification: I am aware that in many cases when there's a bike locked in a public place with no seatpost, it was actually the owner who took the post as a security measure. But sadly I am aware of cases when the seatpost truly was stolen ...
    – Szabolcs
    Aug 13 at 15:56
  • 1
    @Szabolcs really nice seatposts are not exactly cheap in some parts of the world. Where I live, the nice dropper seatposts found on some more expensive bikes are multiple hundreds of USD by themselves, and the same goes for good carbon seatposts. Combined with a nice saddle, that could be well over a thousand USD in what is one of the easiest parts of a bike to quickly remove, so it’s not hard IMO to see why someone might steal it. Aug 13 at 16:31
  • 1
    A nice seatpost + saddle is more like 350€. With MTB dropper posts maybe 450€. But yes, very easy to steal for what they cost. And especially the saddle is compatible with basically all bikes, so somebody might even steal it for their own use (and not just to sell it). If somebody is determined they might even steal the seatpost alone if the saddle is secured with a cable lock.
    – Michael
    Aug 13 at 16:37
  • 1
    @AustinHemmelgarn Those bikes are not left unattended in town. I'm talking about relatively cheap everyday bikes (which is the majority of bikes here). You just go out to have a drink, and when you're back your bike is there but no seatpost ...
    – Szabolcs
    Aug 13 at 18:02
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    @Szabolcs I would assume just to mess with the person, because people do that.
    – DKNguyen
    Aug 13 at 22:04
9

Interestingly, just locking the back wheel can also secure the frame if you do it in the right position, as shown in this post on pinterest:

rear wheel lock

You can remove neither wheel nor frame because the wheel does not fit through the triangle; it keeps the frame in place. This is often a lot easier than trying to secure both frame and wheel, which is simply unnecessary, if you think about it. (There is a caveat for expensive bicycles: The wheel is the weak spot here, easy to cut, so if the thief is willing to destroy the back wheel and carry the bike it can be stolen easier than by cutting the lock. But for everyday bicycles it is sufficient protection.)

If that makes anybody feel better: I regularly locked frame and wheel for about 40 years before I learned about this life hack, probably on this site ;-).

9

Bottom Line:
Nothing is perfect. You need to develop a strategy based on what parts you are willing to replace.

I use a U lock and a steel cable similar to the pictures below and I take my quick release skewers with me.

Here are some suggestions from other sources

According to one maker of U shaped locks this is the best way to lock your bike: thread a cable on both wheels then close the loop with a U-lock.

Here's another version from another source.
enter image description here

Kryptonite suggests several options depending on your situation.

  1. Frame only - If you can only secure one thing then secure the frame
  2. Frame and rear wheel
  3. Frame, rear wheel and front wheel using a cable
  4. Frame, rear wheel and front wheel using two U shaped locks
3
  • This is an excellent answer because it covers the full spectrum of how much security you want to put in place. There is no universal answer, some bikes are expensive and precious to their owners and need all those locks. My bike lives at the end of the street, secured as described in 1). It's cheap enough that I'm not worried.
    – Clumsy cat
    Aug 13 at 15:18
  • 4
    Here is something Interesting I learned in this stack a while ago: It is sufficient to just lock the rear wheel in the triangle area in order to secure the frame as well. You cannot (easily) pull the wheel through the triangle. Aug 14 at 0:47
  • Nitpick: The method in the picture is not the best. A better method is to use a real cable lock instead of the cable, securing both frame and front wheel to something solid, independently of the U-lock. That way, breaking the U-lock with an angle grinder won't suffice to take the entire bike. Aug 14 at 6:41
6

Having a U type lock, I'm inclined to, if I really have to, remove the front wheel, put the nuts in my pocket, and secure through the frame, back wheel, and front wheel, to a solid point. By now, the two wheels are next to each other, and there's little left to be removed.

2
  • This a pretty common strategy when using a truck bed rack that anchors via the front fork drop-outs (minus the wheel)
    – mikes
    Aug 13 at 20:28
  • Locks keep honest people out. Help them stay honest by taking the freaking nuts with you, FFS? +1
    – Mazura
    Aug 14 at 2:47
3

If assuming that the bike is not equipped with any additional locks, I'd also lock the rear wheel, for reasons already explained in other answers.

But to go a bit further than the initial question, you can also secure wheel individually, and then use your U-lock with the non-secured wheel, or just the frame if both wheels are secured.

The most common one is the "frame lock" for the rear wheel if your frame allows it. It looks like something like the picture below (most don't have a chain attached though). Then you can use your U-lock with the front wheel.

frame lock

A another solution that I find elegant (but haven't tried personally) is the Abus Nutfix (if there are similar products, I'm not aware of them, and it can also be used for seat tubes). The way it works is that you can only remove the wheel if the bike lies horizontally, so if you bike is attached vertically, there's no way to get the bike horizontally and then remove the wheel(s). You can secure one or the two wheels, then use your u-lock with the unprotected wheel or just the frame if both wheels are secured.

[EDIT]: the Pinhead product line seems also interesting to secure wheels and other bike components (Thanks Chris H)

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  • 1
    Frame locks seem to be a continental thing - they're rare outside of Europe, so there's a regional cast here.
    – Criggie
    Aug 13 at 8:58
  • So the nutfix prevents you putting the bike on a workstand then taking the wheel off? Nasty
    – Chris H
    Aug 13 at 15:22
  • @ChrisH from what I understood, it's fundamentally a cap on a nut (you use a classical wrench to unfasten the wheel). You can only raise the cap to reveal the nut when the bike is horizontal, but once the cap is raised, you can put the bike vertically. Seems to be a very minor inconvenience to compared to have to carry additional cables and locks to secure the wheels if you have to do that several times per week.
    – Renaud
    Aug 13 at 16:29
  • 1
    I didn't know about Pinhead, I added it in the answer. Thx
    – Renaud
    Aug 13 at 20:48
  • 1
    @gerrit: they used to be common here in Germany as well, and you still find them on older bikes. Aug 14 at 16:14
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It is as if answering "If you have to cut your arm or your leg, what will you choose?" There is no right answer, I am afraid.

The bicycle is unusable with only one wheel, so having any of them stolen means you walk home, and have to buy a new wheel before you can use it again.

The front wheel is cheaper, but is also usually easier to remove if not locked. For a seasoned bicycle thief, the difference in time to finish the move is negligible.

5
  • 4
    A bicycle missing the front wheel is easier to walk home than one missing the rear wheel
    – JoeK
    Aug 13 at 7:34
  • If everyone else locks up leaving their front wheel vulnerable, locking up leaving the back vulnerable would seem more attractive to thieves (there are always people who leave the frame vulnerable even for expensive bikes)
    – Chris H
    Aug 13 at 8:13
  • 3
    Lots of people have dirt cheap bikes and it's no more than a minor inconvenience to replace a wheel. Comparing it to losing an arm or a leg is really absurd, my bike is not a precious mechanical child, it's a way to get to work.
    – Clumsy cat
    Aug 13 at 15:13
  • @ChrisH yeah... though I also often see bikes where just the front wheel is chained to the rack, nothing else. So bike thieves probably have enough use for sparse front wheels already! Aug 13 at 23:25
  • @leftaroundabout I know, there was a lovely steel road bike locked up just by a cheap cable lock on a QR front wheel next to my battered hybrid with big locks recently. My size too. It survived a whole working day outside the station, at least.
    – Chris H
    Aug 14 at 7:42
1

If you're parking in a way that the bike is in danger, perhaps don't park there. See if you can store your bike inside, somewhere better.

If you have absolutely no choice, then lock both wheels to the frame and to an immovable object by taking the front wheel off the bike and attaching it to your lock.

Getting a second lock is also a practical solution, though it means carrying twice the weight in locks. If you routinely park in places like this, swapping a QR wheel axle for a solid one with nuts can help too. You will need a ~15mm spanner in your toolkit for puncture repairs. There are fancy wheel nuts that need special spanner tools, but overall effectiveness is debatable.

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  • 1
    For a lot of bikes this answer is overkill, and it sort of ignores the premise of the question. Sometimes, replacing a wheel is annoying, but not a disaster.
    – Clumsy cat
    Aug 13 at 19:29
  • @Clumsycat err replacing a stolen wheel/tyre is annoying and costly, and will also mean phoning for a pickup or a walk home plus inconvenience until a replacement is sourced. I guess it ultimately depends where OP parks and the risk level.
    – Criggie
    Aug 13 at 23:25
  • Exactly how annoying and expensive is something only OP can know. If their whole bike costs £40, and their work is 20 mins on foot, then it's not really a big deal. Plus, it's a much rarer occurrence if your bike is cheep. Point is, there are circumstances where only locking one wheel is reasonable, and OP is the only one with the information to make that judgement, so I think we should take them at their word when they say they only want to lock one wheel.
    – Clumsy cat
    Aug 14 at 11:14
1

I think that generally does not matter because the lock is more to prevent somebody to jump on and quickly ride away. Just do not use a cheap lock that can be cut away in a matter of seconds.

Regardless of how do you lock, lots of parts still remain accessible and removable. But not all thieves are interested in parts and non-rideable bicycles.

0

If the front wheel is easy to remove (i.e. has a quick release) then it's generally fairly easy to remove it, place it beside the back wheel and lock both and the frame to some sort of post using standard bike locks.

Otherwise, I'd use a good solid D lock or similar to lock the back wheel and frame to the post (you must always ensure the lock goes around the frame so that thieves cannot remove the back wheel and take every but it! Then use a cheaper/lighter chain/cable lock to lock the front wheel to the frame.

Also if the seat has a quick release - remove it and take it with you. And remember to remove anything removable like a computer - I lost a few computers and at least one seat when I used to commute to university many years back.

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  • 1
    Your tip about removing the front wheel if it has a quick release is good, but already covered in Tim's answer bicycles.stackexchange.com/a/79306/32271 the rest of the answer requires two locks, which is not what the question asked.
    – Clumsy cat
    Aug 15 at 12:52
  • @Clumsycat Where in the question does it exclude the use of two locks? Sure it says they have one but that doesn't mean they're not willing to buy a second cheap one for the front wheel? Aug 16 at 6:41
  • The question states OP has one single U lock available, and is asking about which wheel is "more" important. @Clumsycat feel free to add an answer to the question.
    – Criggie
    Aug 16 at 7:02

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