Lock that rear wheel!

Two free bikes

Chicago’s Rapid Transit Cycles reports that they replace more rear wheels to theft than they replace front wheels. Apparently, some cyclists believe the rear wheel is more difficult to remove than the front wheel, so they wrap a lock through the frame and front wheel but leave the rear wheel unlocked.

Reality, of course, is that the rear wheel is just as easy to remove as the front wheel. It can actually be a little faster, in fact, because rear wheel dropouts don’t typically have the “lawyer lips” to keep the wheel in place like front forks have. Adding to the pain is that the rear wheel is the most expensive part of the bike after the frame.

In low crime areas, I typically wrap my Kryptonite Mini lock through the rear wheel inside the rear triangle, just like Sheldon Brown illustrates in his article on lock strategy. Mary’s Bianchi Pista shown below is also locked like this. Bianchi Pista at San Jose Diridon Station

I also run a cable lock through the front wheel. If I need more security, I remove the front wheel and lock it against the frame and rear wheel using a larger U lock.

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0 thoughts on “Lock that rear wheel!”

  1. Quinn says:

    For years I have been telling people to lock their rear wheel, since is more to replace it, Plus the cassette, and more a part of the dribe train, and damaged more often.

    I personally Always back into a rack, running my cable lock through my rear wheel & triangle, and though the front triangle around the seat tube, I also adjust my brakes so that the tire Has to be flat A/o you have to loosen the cable to get the wheel off.

  2. Jen (SLC) says:

    I use locking skewers on my wheels, but I don’t know that I trust them when I’m leaving my bike locked for more than an hour or so. Does anyone have experience with locking skewers and bike wheel theft?

  3. RichF says:

    Lock the rear wheel, sure, but think about the “Sheldon” method carefully. Thirty seconds with a bolt cutter will hack a gap in the rim/tire/spokes allowing the lock to pass through, and the thief disappears with the rest of your bike.

    Lock the frame AND the wheels.

  4. MoleMan says:

    “Thirty seconds with a bolt cutter will hack a gap in the rim/tire/spokes allowing the lock to pass through, and the thief disappears with the rest of your bike.”

    With the tension on the rim from the spokes I would think that it would take longer than 30 seconds. Do you have a bolt cutter and a junk wheel? I would like some verification of that claim.

  5. Quinn says:


    If the lock is around the Frame and rack, cutting though the rim/tire, still won’t release the lock, frame Or rack, they get away with a cut up rim.

    and if they hack the frame to slide the lock out, what’s the use in stealing the bike?

  6. Fritz says:

    Quinn, Rich is saying that putting the lock around the WHEEL only (rather than the frame) is not effective. Wheel only is the method advocated by Sheldon Brown and several other city cyclists (including myself).

    I might have a junk wheel to try this on — it would be a good to post a video to see how difficult or easy it actually is to cut through a wheel.

  7. Quinn says:


    Anyone experienced in (urban) cycling, that only locks 1 wheel deserves to get their bike stolen. Trial-by-fire.

  8. RichF says:


    I have a bolt cutter, had a junk wheel, and did give it a try. Unfortunately, this was several years ago and I have no pictures to show. Tension is high, but you don’t go after the rim directly. Cut half a dozen spokes – if you do them at the crossings you get two at once – and viola, no tension. Then do the rim. Oh yeah, deflate the tire first.

    One catch is that only fairly large bolt cutters have jaws that open far enough to fit around the tire and rim. Even so, you need to gnaw your way through.

    My 30 second estimate is optimistic for a first timer. It took me a whole minute. With practice, half the time wouldn’t surprise me. No, I haven’t been practicing….

  9. Joe Astier says:

    I recommend using a modern U-lock (bic-proof) and a short cable with eye loops for the wheels. I use a 3-foot cable and it’s plenty.

    You can girth-hitch the cable through the front wheel, run it through the rear wheel, and then put the remaining eye through the U-lock. All you have to lock with the U-lock is the frame to a secure object. Run the cable in such a way that if they cut the bike frame they have to cut the cable as well to swipe the bike.

    I would only call it moderate security, but it does positively lock all wheels and the frame, and is far easier than trying to do that with a U-lock alone.

    Better security is to never give thieves a chance. Always use locked bike cages if available, never lock the bike outside overnight, lock it where you can watch it if possible, and if you can’t watch it keep the time to a minimum. Only use solid objects (watch for sucker poles) and only in well-travelled areas. I’m surprised at how flimsy some bike racks are. Blow those off and find something better.

    Good luck.

  10. Fritz says:

    It’s all good advice, Joe. Thanks for the note. +1 on the suggestions to avoid flimsy racks and “sucker poles” (which I’ve seen), as well as keeping time out of sight to a minimum.

  11. justfrank says:

    You really can’t be to safe locking your bike in urban areas (I have limited experience with non-urban areas). All the advice I see here is good. What you want to do is create a strong deterrant, which is all bike security is. This is what I recommend to my customers http://www.chicagobikeblog.com/2007/05/avoiding_bike_t.html. However, no method is completely foolproof.
    People will steal anything they can, including suspension forks, handlebars, shifters, even brakes. One of our customers had an extremely frightening experience, when he unlocked his bike and rode away, only to realize his brakes were unhooked. Perhaps the thief was trying to teal his wheels and got spooked.
    Check your bike before you ride it.

  12. justfrank says:

    Oh, and Quinn, I disagree with you that anyone deserves to have the wheel stolen. OK, I guess your operative word is EXPERIENCED. And yes, experienced cyclists generally know better. But inexperienced cyclists often give up after what you call a “trial by fire”. I prefer to give everyone a fighting chance, and get more people on bikes. That’s why we try to give our customers (experienced and inexperienced alike) the best tools and information for cycling in the city.

  13. Quinn says:


    There are enough resources in todays world to find out about bike culture and crime rate etc, of an area. Also, If the person is serious about bike commuting, I would hope they would have the forethought to use those resources, And, if they are not a a serious commuter, they probably have a “mart” bike, and not a Kona JTS or KHS flite.

  14. justfrank says:

    How do you get to be a “serious” commuter without ever having to be a novice? People with “mart” bikes sometimes move up to better quality ones, though not necessarily ones with the fanciest names. I have known hundreds of very serious bike commuters who get around on one speed cruisers and $300 hybrids. The model name and price tag of your bike do not make you a serious commuter.
    Many bike shops, in fact, are often criticized for having an elitist attitude toward beginner cyclists (and, BTW, commuting cyclists as well), and, in my opinion, they do a huge disservice, because they actually discourage novices from becoming “serious”.
    “Mart” bikes are often the most viable option for many folks in urban areas who cannot afford more, or have limited access to resources and information. Not everyone has a computer at their disposal to access the resources you mention. A good (but only one of many) example of that is the immigrant population manning a lot of service jobs in a town like Las Vegas.
    One other point I would make, is that not all people who cycle necessarily need to subscribe to bike culture. There are many ordinary people out there who are mystified by words like “fixie”, and “flip-flop hub”. Heck, hey don’t even own a messenger bag. They just want to get on their bike and get from point A to point B. I agree that they should take the time to educate themselves about potential dangers and pitfalls, and, in time, many of them do.
    In my book, they are all cyclists.

  15. Jennifer says:

    Thank you, justfrank.
    -“serious commuter with $300 hybrid

  16. Quinn says:


    you are missing my point, I am speaking more about the Quality than money.
    In other words, someone that commutes daily by bike, recognizes that a $75 “mart” bike is noth going to hold up, and seeing that I have never seen Performance hybrid, or anything close to it, Jennifer, calm down.
    Whether the bike is a $300 hybrid, $1k 29er or an $1800 road bike, they are all made by a company with a higher standard of quality than the companies that make the mart bikes.

  17. Dave from Van says:

    that sweet lookin Bianchi would be gone in half an hour in this town. I am to the point where I have one cheap bike for errands and such that i will lock up, but the good roadbike, and mtb is strictly UTA* only.

    My question is to the bicycle designers and manufacturers: If you can make a front fork that is as light as a cheese sandwich, why can’t you make an integrated security system for our bikes? I want pocket vibration alarms, and taser response ability!

    save the planet, ride a bicycle

  18. TrekJeff says:

    People need to keep in mind the tools that are available out there today. A cordless dremel with a 2″ cut off wheel will slice through the best lock out there….I speak from the experience of loosing my new build this past June. The best way is never leave your bike for more than 15 minutes….that’s about the time it took me to cut through the left over pieces of my NY theft proof lock. Bolt cutters wouldn’t dent it, but that little dremel sure had it’s way.

  19. Jen says:

    Thank you, justfrank.

    (looking forward to my very first bike commute tomorrow, on a $300 hybrid)

  20. Bruce Hallman says:

    Just a warning, here in San Francisco, the crack heads in 15 seconds can steal a bicycle seat/stem and sell it on the street to get quick money to get high. They carry 4mm Allen wrenches too.

  21. spike says:

    I’ve been riding a bike (commuting, shopping, basic transportation) in New York City (downtown Manhattan) for 33 years. I lost a rear wheel 19 years ago. That’s it since then. I leave my bike on the street, locking the frame and front wheel with a Kryptonite lock. It’s nice bike, but not a recognizable stock bike. I’ve never had a bike stolen in 35 years. What am I doing wrong?

  22. Yell says:

    I use two u-locks. Yes, two. One for the front and one for the back. My baby isn’t getting jacked if I can help it.

  23. justfrank says:

    Spike, I must be doing something wrong too. I still have my 1989 Bridgestone with original wheels, and I commute in Chicago. I use a Kryptonite Evolution mini (the kind that can be picked with a BIC pen, BTW) and Pinhead wheel skewers.
    Maybe not being recognizable as a stock bike is the key. My bike has slowly morphed from a mountain bike to something that resembles a cross between an urban hybrid and a Raleigh three-speed to an untrained eye.
    If I were you, I would lock the rear wheel, just in case. They really are more expensive to replace.

  24. Charlie says:

    I felt quite secure with my cable lock in the Boston area until my wife and I opened a group home with 4 ‘street kids’. They scoffed at my cable lock (and any other lock with brass components). ” Couple of squrts of freon in the keyhole amd a sharp blow with a hammer shatters the components and I got me a new bike!”
    Live and learn…

  25. nick says:

    I have a thick U-lock, park the bike on the mean streets of boston’s chinatown everyday. I only lock the frame and have yet to have any problems. Of course I’m taking a risk assuming criminals will pass up my bike (no quick-releases) to snag a similarly unsecured bike with ‘pop-off’ seat and wheels….

    My real point for posting was to bring to light the value of customizing your commuter bike. Every thief knows the more shit (stickers, reflective tape, duct tape, oddly colored grip tape, etc.) a bike has on it the less they’ll be able to sell it for. Make your bike your own.

  26. neil says:

    don’t be a dick. also, try not to blame the victim.

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