October 2, 2004

Bike locks prove vulnerable to simple stealing methods

Bike owners were recently disturbed by reports that their U-shaped Kryptonite bike locks can be rendered ineffective with a ball-point pen.

The vulnerable locks belong to the Evolution and Kryptolock series. Avid cyclists first revealed the lock's flaw in online chat rooms, while some owners demonstrated with short online videos how to disable the lock themselves.

The lock manufacturer, Kryptonite, promises to hasten the manufacture of a pen-proof model of their former design. The new model will utilize a disk-style cylinder; a design already employed by the company in their New York lock, according to The Associated Press. Questions have been raised as to why the company was not using the pen-proof cylinder on all their models.

The Kryptonite Company has agreed to replace faulty tubular cylinder locks with non-tubular locks. They have also offered to exchange co-branded tubular cylinder locks including Giant, KHS Ultra Cycle, Raleigh and Trek. They expect to begin shipping the upgraded locks in mid-October. The company includes an insurance policy with the purchase of any of their locks, which covers up to $3,000.

U-shaped bike locks have served as the industry model for 30 years. The U-lock was designed by Michael Zane in the early 1970s, swiftly establishing a cult following of cyclists. His company, Kryptonite, was bought by Ingersoll-Rand in 2001 after sales reached $27 million. Brands other than the popular Kryptonite also use this now common design.

The implications of the design's defect are particularly felt on University campuses where many students rely upon their bicycles to navigate the campus and surrounding community. "I'm extremely concerned. If someone stole my bike I'd cry. My bike is my life…if not my life at least it's my bike and I like it," said Joe Ochiltree, a third-year in the College who owns a Kryptonite U-lock. The fear of theft is reinforced by the vestiges of bikes that litter the campus, with missing wheels and seats.

But not all students have lost faith in the Kryptonite brand. Alex Grelli, a fourth-year in the College said, "I was worried I had wasted my money but my lock isn't one of the vulnerable ones. I think the company is doing a good job with their exchange policy."

Ochiltree has applied for an exchange on the Kryptonite website. He expects to receive his lock after October. "I'm not mad at the company. I mean the lock worked for two years," he said.

David Jones, who works at Art's Cycle on 55th Street, still recommends Kryptonite locks, though his store only sells Kryptonite's chain locks. "Evolution system locks are the problem, but the others are still good locks." He maintains that Kryptonite locks are an effective theft deterrent. "Most thieves around here are thieves of opportunity. People buy U-locks but then don't lock the front wheel to the bike. Kids come by and see things they can run with, especially bike seats and front wheels. If you lock up your bike the right way, it's going to be safe."

On its website the Kryptonite lock company has a list of suggestions for ensuring bike safety.

•Lock bikes in a location with other bikes. There is a good chance that another bike owner will leave his bicycle less secure than your own, rendering it more enticing to thieves.

•Take up as much of the open space of the U-portion of the lock as possible with your frame and wheels. This creates a tight lock-up and makes it more difficult for thieves to maneuver their tools.

•Always position the U-lock keyway downward.

•Any detachable components on the bike, such as the seat, should be secured with a cable lock.

• Don't position the lock close to the ground.

•Don't lock your bike to itself. It can easily be carried away.

•Don't lock in the same location consistently—a thief may take note and target your bike.

•Use a locking cable and a U-lock for the most effective theft deterrence.

•Lock in a visible and well-lit area.

•Lock to a fixed object. Be sure your bike cannot be lifted over the object it to which it is locked.