Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cutting a bike lock

Image of a bike lock being cut by a power grinder

Image of a bike lock being cut by a power grinder

This week I fought with my bike lock, and conceded defeat. After many months, including quite a few rainy ones, the locking mechanism stuck on my OnGuard Rottweiler armored cable lock. No amount of WD-40 or Tri-Flow lubricant would free it. I tried every key that came with the lock, in case my usual key was worn down. No luck. It wouldn't release.



Fortunately I work at the most bicycling-intensive university in the U.S., the University of California, Davis. I contacted the bicycle program staff at UC Davis' Transportation and Parking Services (TAPS), inquiring if they could help me. Of course, was the response. Within an hour two of TAPS' student staff arrived, just one stop on their busy day removing abandoned bikes and freeing stuck ones like mine. A few minutes of grinding, and my bike was free.



This Rottweiler is a pretty heavy-duty lock. Perhaps overkill in most situations. (Not as severely secure as the locks on my "always outdoors" bicycle.) On the other hand, I've never lost a bicycle to theft. As I describe on my Bike Commuting Tips site, my approach to securing a bicycle is to "outrun the bear." Make my bike more secure than others in the vicinity. Thieves will go for the easier target.



I'd be interested to hear if others might have had similar trouble with OnGuard locks. For the most part I've been very, very satisfied. But are OnGuard locks more vulnerable to corrosion than other bike locks? (Note: I did lubricate this lock fairly regularly.) Could there be another flaw beyond corrosion?


Image: Paul Dorn

Visit: Paul Dorn's Bike Commuting Tips Site

20 comments:

Bike Jax said...

Man, that sucks. I don't know about problems with the lock you described. But I had the same issue with a U-lock. Luckily I wasn't far from home and walked home and got the bottle jack out of my car to solve my problem.

Since then ('94) I have been using the same heavy cable and Master Lock.

Paul Dorn said...

My friend, Ambassador David Takemoto-Weerts, who directs the UC Davis TAPS Bicycle Program, shared this:

"When lubricating bike locks (or any locks), I recommend only using a product like Lock-Ease Graphite Lock Fluid. I buy mine at Davis Ace. As the internet ad copy says: 'Protects to match sticking, rusty, and freezing. Lock-Ease makes locks act easier year-around. Prevents sticking, guards in countervail to rusty and hold out....Enters as a speedy penetrant finishing completely lock intelligence. The especial bearer and then evaporates, leaving a graphited long-wearing take. After vaporization, testament non go, regular in hottest climates won't indurate at sub-zero temperatures. Recommended concerning every part of types of locks. Also recommended in spite of house appendages, tools, cannon, reels and other mechanisms.'

In short, lubricants like WD-40, Tri-Flo, etc. are not recommended for locks. While they may free up a gunked-up mechanism, they also tend to leave a lubricant that will collect dirt and such that can eventually freeze-up the lock. The stuff I use enters as a liquid which quickly evaporates, leaving a graphite coating on the works."

Spirit of the Season said...

I had repeated problems with my OnGuard lock seizing up when I used it a few months ago to lock up bikes to my car rack while driving around in dusty conditions.

I ended up just drenching it the mechanism with WD-40 (not because that is the best thing to use but because it is all I had) and then periodically respraying both the key mechanism and the moving parts of the lock. That solved the problem.

Subcommander Sasquatch said...

I've had similar problems with Kryptonite locks over the last few years. Thanks for the graphite lube suggestion, David.

Marrock said...

Since I'm usually locking up my bike and my BoB Ibex I have seven feet of Kryptoflex cable and a Master Lock No. 40, been using this arrangement for a few years now and so far I've had no problems.

Anonymous said...

How are the locks on your "always outside" bike holding up? Have you had similar problem -- if so, what did you use to break open the lock? (What would a thief use for that heavy lock/chain?) What's the purpose of that bike vs. your commute bike -- a beater bike for trips to sketchy areas?

Smudgemo said...

I'd email On Guard and ask them what to do. Maybe they'll warranty it. Maybe it wasn't just lack of lube that was the problem.

Michael G said...

I've had similar trouble with an OnGuard U-lock, where not only did it stop releasing from the shackle, but ultimately the keys failed to turn 180-degrees to release the shackle as well.

Unfortunately, all I had was a dremel tool and a power inverter for my car, but after about an hour I managed to break it free.

The picture you have of your lock being cut is an angle grinder, which is preferred for cutting locks. If you need one, Makita makes a cordless 18V @ 10,000 RPM angle grinder which I recommend.

Not sure about Davis' bicycle theft, but in Richmond I use Pinhead locking skewers with a Mini-U around my headtube. I haven't had any issues and it's a much smaller package to carry around than a thick cable lock (Cable locks are also typically braided and are easier to grind through).

Anonymous said...

I had an On Guard U-Lock, which worked flawlessly in my living room. When I locked my bike up at work, I was stranded! The U-Lock would not budge after half hour-plus of manipulation! I got a ride to the bicycle shop, and they gave me a little device and some advice on how to manipulate the lock cylinder. After more careful manipulation, I liberated my favorite $$$$ mountain bike. I returned the lock. Then I tried an On-Guard Beast Chain...It unlocked one time, then would not relock, no matter what I tried. Piece of crap design! Now I use Krytptonite. I need a reliable lock, and Kryptonite is great! Never failed me for ten years previous usasge.

Mllerustad said...

Both OnGuard locks I've owned (a cable lock and a U-lock) had key problems. One had a key get stuck in the lock, while today the other had the key snap off, leaving a bit inside, less than a week after I bought it! I've come to the conclusion that OnGuard's key mechanisms are pure crap.

Now, to figure out how to liberate my bike from the broken U-lock without getting arrested... Wish I had a friend with an angle grinder :P

pich said...

If your lock wont open and you're fairly certain you remember the code do the following, it got my On Guard model 5010C lock open, it may work for other combos style locks.

Set the numbers to what you think the code is. Then take the last dial and turn it to every number and try and open the lock. If no luck, set the numbers again to what you think the code is, and work your way through the 3rd, 2nd and 1st number wheels while the rest of the supposed code is displayed.

My code had been set to 2-2-3-9 (and I had used it for 2 weeks)but seized on me. After calling OnGuard and being told to do this, it unlocked at 2-2-1-9. When resetting the lock, make sure the re-set dial is FULLY UP when setting the code and FULLY DOWN when locking it in. Use a key or something else stiff to make sure it's as far down as you can get it. If nothing else call OnGuard, as they offered to replace my lock had this trick not worked. Good Luck!!

Anonymous said...

I found that armed cable locks are very easy to remove. The one I had only took seconds to beet with a knife and cuters. The lock is designed to sit in a straight line. So they need extra cable to bend. Cutting the cover over the joints or removing the cover over the plates, allows the plates to seperately and you have exposed cable.

Brimstone said...

PB Blaster is possibly the best penetrating lubricant for un-sticking stuff, much better than WD40. Find it at autoparts store or Wal-Mart. Also heating the keyway with a pinpoint butane flame, such as a creme brulee torch, may un-stick things as dissimilar metals expand at different rates and move apart slightly.

Fred Locks said...

When I used to use my bike a lot I had a U-lock and the lock just decided to not open. Unfortunately I was miles away from home but lucky I was near a few houses so I kindly asked if someone could help me to remove the lock so I can get to my bike. A gentleman helped me and after an hour I was on the way home. It really did put me off using my bike but with the traffic and prices these days, using my bike everywhere is the best option.

V. R. Philadelphia said...

Googling "bike lock lubricant" looking for advice, I found this page. Not wanting to bother going out and buying a graphite lube, I ground up a bit of #2 pencil lead in a mortar and pestle, poured it in my lock and gently worked it in with the key. Now my once sticky Kryptonite is working almost like new again. Maybe there's a down side to this method, but it's gotta be much better than letting the rusty lock and key destroy each other!

Anonymous said...

Well the other day my on guard u-lock got stuck. Maybe its a problem with that companies locks.

Mike, University of Florida said...

I know this post is old but I had trouble with my OG U-lock. Within a week of use (purchased it brand new), the key got stuck and I couldnt remove it. I will probably never go with OG again!

Anonymous said...

I had an OnGuard Pitbull Mini LS that froze up on me, used it less than a half dozen times in the course of a year, kept it in the garage with my bike. Tried all my keys, WD40, ended up calling the locksmith. OnGuard is trash.

Paul said...

I'm not sure how fresh this post is, but my OnGuard Pitbull corroded completely inside despite the fact that it's been in my garage for the entire time I've had it. I've contacted a service company and I'm trying to get a new one, fortunately my bike wasn't attached at the time.

justin arnote said...

man im having the same prob i stick my key in and it wont release same lock it seems its gotten worse with the cold weather coming on i guess ill be cutting my bike free in the morning