U-Lock vs. Cable Lock – Which comes out on top?
So, you got a new bike, but you live somewhere that is known for bike thefts.
Now it’s time for you to buy a lock, but which type is best for you?
Today we want to do a U-lock vs. cable lock comparison to see how they stack up against each other.
Weight and Size + Ease of Transportation
The first thing to consider when deciding between a U-lock and a cable lock is the overall weight and size of the lock itself.
Cable locks are generally fairly small and lightweight, which is nice because it means that you don’t have to lug a huge lock around with you.
When you are biking around, you probably don’t want some massive U-lock in your backpack.
If you don’t have a backpack, transporting a U-lock can be uncomfortable.
If you want a small and lightweight lock, it’s a cable lock that you want to go with.
U-locks are heftier and stronger, but they are also bigger and heavier.
Many U-locks come with frame mounts for your bike, so you can just pop them right into the mount whenever you aren’t using the lock.
However, these can get in the way of a comfortable cycling experience.
On the other hand, cable locks can be wrapped around handlebars, which makes life a lot easier.
Simply put, it’s a trade-off between lightweight convenience and heavy-duty strength.
Flexibility and Length
The next factor to consider when deciding between a U-lock and a cable lock is how long and flexible you need your lock to be.
Cable locks are pretty convenient when it comes to this, because you can find them in all lengths.
They tend to be very flexible and long, which makes locking up a bike easy.
Often, when you are out in the country or in the city, you might have to lock your bike to a thick pole or tree, you might have to work around other bikes, or you might want to lock up more than one bike at a time.
This is all easily done with a cable lock.
You can feed the cable through multiple frames and tires, and with a long cable lock, you can easily deal with thick poles.
On the other hand, although a U-lock is very strong, this is not one of its strengths.
With a U-lock, you can really only lock up a single bike. In addition, due to their limited size, you won’t be able to lock up more than a single part of your bike at once.
You won’t be able to lock your bike around a tree or thick pole with one.
So, cable locks are much more versatile and flexible than U-locks when it comes to what you can lock them to.
If you need to deal with multiple bikes, big poles, or large spacing, a cable lock is what you want to go with.
Theft Deterrence and Overall Strength
Cable locks are better when it comes to weight, transportation, storage, and flexibility, but how do they stack up in terms of theft deterrence? Not too well unfortunately.
There are some really high-quality cable locks that can handle a lot of punishment, but these are going to cost you a lot of money.
For the most part, thieves who really want to steal a bike will not be deterred by a cable lock.
For one, they don’t look all that intimidating, and in all reality, they are not intimidating at all.
Most basic cable locks can be picked or unlocked using a simple pen bypass trick.
Those that use combinations can often be figured out in a matter of minutes.
If all else fails, some basic bolt cutters, a grinder, or in some cases even wire cutters can be used to quickly break and cut through a cable lock.
In terms of overall security, cable locks are really not the best.
On the other hand, you have your big, fat, and hefty U-lock.
Although they might be inconvenient to use at times, they do come with the advantage of being strong.
A good U-lock will be thick enough so that it cannot be cut through using basic tools like wire snippers or bolt cutters.
Many U-locks will require heavy duty bolt cutters or even power grinders to get through, and yes, criminals know this.
Malicious thieves will often see a U-lock and immediately be deterred.
This is because they know that U-locks can be very hard, if not nearly impossible to open without a key.
If it is a high quality U-lock, even many keyless bypass methods won’t work.
Therefore, if you are going for security, lock strength, and theft deterrence, it’s the U-lock you need to get.
Key or Combination
The other thing to think about here is that most U-locks are all key operated.
Cable locks can be key or combination operated.
If you're worried about losing the key to the lock, then yes, a combination lock is the way to go.
However, these can be hacked relatively easily, especially if there are only 3 or 4 numbers to figure out.
An experienced thief can figure out these combinations in a matter of minutes.
On the other hand, a U-lock that uses a key needs the key to open, and no amount of guessing numbers will get a thief through that.
The bottom line is that both U-locks and cable locks each have their merits.
If you need something that is lightweight and easy to transport, a cable lock is the better of the two.
If you need a lock to lock up multiple bikes, or you need to lock your bike up to a large item, such as a thick pole, a cable lock is also what you want to go with.
On the other hand, there is no arguing the fact that U-locks are much tougher, harder to crack, and offer much better theft deterrence.