Bike thieves make their living stealing bikes, so to beat them at their own game, you have to be conscientious, prepared, and watchful. Though theft is worse in cities than it is in small towns or suburbs, it still pays to be smart when locking up your bike. After all, spending $40 on a lock is a lot cheaper than spending $400 on a new bike.
I've worked with some people who make the argument that, "This bike only cost me eighty dollars. It doesn't make sense to spend forty on a U-lock." Or, they say, "My bike is a piece of junk. I'll get a piece-of-junk lock. Nobody will steal my piece-of-junk bike." Both valid points. But I offer this: bike thieves don't discriminate. If a bike is easy to steal, they will steal it, good or bad. Someone will pay twenty dollars for your piece of junk, and you'll be without a set of wheels and wary about ever owning a bike again. And if they can't sell the bike at the flea market, they'll sell it for scrap. And that's just wrong.
Still, you're on a budget. You'd like to spend $100 on a nearly theft-proof lock, but you don't have that much to spend (though if you do, I encourage it). What are some locks that are cheaper but still able to deter the prowling eye of the thieves with the big, white, windowless vans? Following is a list of just a few locks I recommend for protecting your bike.
You can never go wrong with a u-lock. The classic u-bar shape is designed to loop through your frame, one of your wheels, and something cemented into the ground, like a parking meter or bike rack. Of course, thieves can cut through anything, but some things are harder to cut than others, and a u-lock is the best form of bike theft deterrent. Made of hardened steel and locked with a pick-and-drill-resistant 'disc-style cylinder,' this lock resists attack of all forms; bolt-cutter, drill, car-jack, power-saw. At $40, it's at the higher end of budget locks, but it will do the trick. Read Full Review
Following the same u-lock philosophy as Kryptonite, this lock comes with a few extra features for a few dollars cheaper. Using a double-bolt system, this lock has to be broken on both sides before being opened by a thief, and it comes with a cable to loop-through and secure whatever wheel the u-lock itself won't protect. Best suited for bikes with quick-release wheels, this lock also comes with a mounting bracket like the Kryptonite, but has five keys instead of two, one of which has an LED light for night-time lock-ups. Read Full Review
U-locks are best for the city. And shorthand is, the higher the price, the better the security, but if $40 is still a bit of a stretch and you still want something semi-secure, then Master Lock's basic u-lock will still provide a strong deterrent. It doesn't come with the same kind of warranties as do the OnGuard or Kryptonite locks, but it's only $25 and it keeps your bike safe and locked up. That's what you want. It comes with two spare keys as well as a mounting bracket, so transportation is a breeze. Read Full Review
If you're not in the city, a cable lock is usually all you need. Bike thieves usually don't venture out into the suburbs because, strangely enough, invisibility is easier in the city. Because of this, bike theft is more rare in the burbs. Still, there will be the occasional person looking to steal something for a quick rush, so a simple cable-lock usually suffices to prevent this. The key-entry OnGuard Doberman cable-lock is easy to maneuver, easy to use, and easy to cart around. For twenty bucks, it's definitely affordable. Read Full Review
Again, a cable lock won't get you very far in the city, but everywhere else, it's all you really need. Small town thieves will often take bikes because they're bored and it's convenient, so as a trip-up, a small and discreet cable lock will thwart these types of disinterested thefts. If this is all you feel like you need, then the $15 Bell combination cable lock will get the job done. Don't trust your $1,000 road bike with it, but for trips to the corner store, it affords you piece of mind. Read Full Review