U-lock 101: Liberating bicycles from jammed bike locks

U-lockMy son gained two strong opinions at college about combination U-locks for bicycles: They're great when they work, but a real pain when they malfunction.

When he went off to college for the first time this fall, he took a brand-new Kryptonite combination U-lock with him. He didn't want to risk losing his bike, and he'd heard — from me — that cable locks are easily compromised.

His first problem arose when he was riding across campus and his U-lock fell to the ground off the handlebar. A button that opens the lock broke off and disappeared into the grass.

While a replacement was in the mail, he and his friend used a MasterLock combination U-lock to attach their bikes to a rack at a nearby mall on a Friday. When they returned, the button that releases the lock jammed, and they could not get it open.

Seeking help

He called me on Saturday, and I suggested spraying some WD-40 and applying a little pressure on the crossbar to coax it free.

Dad's suggestion didn't work, so he was faced with a huge problem: How to retrieve their legitimately owned bicycles from a bike rack. The bikes sat there all weekend. By the time they removed all but the essentials, someone already had stolen his bike computer.


He was feeling helpless over the weekend. Then, on Monday, he endured what he calls “the most ridiculous day of my life.”

He called students services, building services, and campus security at his university. They couldn't help because the bikes were locked up off-campus.

He called the local police. They couldn't get involved until the bikes were stolen. He called a local locksmith. He didn't do U-locks. He called MasterLock but couldn't find a product specialist who could help him.


While I was out on a bike ride the following Tuesday, I got a text message on my cellphone. “I GOT IT!”

After he had exhausted all the possibilities, he had gone online and learned that a grinder with a cutoff wheel was his best do-it-yourself solution. He didn't know what that was, but a local tool rental business was able to set him up with just what he needed for $15.

The locked bikes had become a slight distraction throughout his freshman dorm, so a small group of classmates arrived at the mall to free the bikes. They contacted mall security, who supplied an extension cord for the grinder and set up a safety perimeter around the job site.

The grinder did its work in a shower of sparks. The bikes were liberated in four minutes.

Real world

“I guess I'm not ready for the real world yet,” my son told me after the episode.

Why's that?

“I went through all the channels and couldn't find the person who could help.”

I told him that he had graduated into the real world, because when no one could help he took it upon himself and fixed the problem on his own.

Let's just hope he doesn't have to grind apart too many U-locks in his life.

Later in the week, that replacement Kryptonite combination U-lock arrived in the mail from the distributor. The only problem — it was missing the button that opens the lock. Another replacement is enroute.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.bikingbis.com/2009/11/02/u-lock-101-liberating-bicycles-from-jammed-bike-locks/

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