Tips on Using a Small U-Lock

The safest U-locks are also the smallest U-locks. This prevents the thief from getting the lock in a better cut position or allowing any kind of car jack tool to fit inside it. Along with other locking components, the u-lock is your main defender.

Unfortunately, small U-locks can sometimes be harder to use. A normal empty bike rack is usually pretty easy, but when you need to use parking meters or something that’s slightly bigger, the going can be tricky.

If you live in an area where you are often needing to lock up to larger objects like trees and fences, maybe a would be better suited for your needs. Especially the for the highest security folding lock.

But back in the city, here are a bunch of GIFS showing me locking my small U-lock in various ways. I’ll go over some common tips & tricks to make this task a cinch, and more locking tips below!

The Pole or Bike Rack

An empty pole or bike rack should be a pretty easy lock job. Just make sure you get your bike very close to the object you’re locking to.

A few different options for locking to a pole. The best way is on the front tube of your bike (inside the frame triangle of course!!) since it can’t be moved around much, but really all of the options should be fine.

The Parking Meter

Parking meters come in many different thicknesses and heights. The most important issue I see is people not getting their bicycle close enough to the meter. Try to lift it up and push in, like so…

Normal, but short parking meter


Can’t fit? Try lifting up the bike up and getting it closer. This parking meter was a little short for my bike (see how the handlebars touch the meter) so I couldn’t get it as close as an empty pole, but still plenty close.

The extra large parking meter with a sign on it

Some parking meters have signs on them, which can make it a doozy to lock around the sign. If there aren’t any non-signed meters nearby, you can usually fit your bike lock above or below the sign.


This parking meter has a very thick tube AND an annoying sign on the front of it. I was able to fit the sign right behind my front tire in this case.


Another angle of that pesky extra wide meter with the sign. (You can even see the old smaller pole at the top near the meter!)


This parking meter is so thick that I have to use the U-lock at a straight angle or it won’t fit. You can see here I can’t lock the top tube because of the angle. The solution (if you can’t get the front tube) is to lock to the rear tube.


You can always lock the back tube down low if you can’t get the front tube working. This is an example at a pole, but it’s a reminder that you can still lock BELOW that pain in the ass sign rather than above it in some cases.


I got stuck on this one. One of my locking attempts was nearly thwarted by this thick pole. My issue was not going straight through.

That’s all the gifs I have for today, but there are some other techniques and things to remember.

Locking to something with another bike already attached

Usually, a single rack, pole, or parking meter can handle two bicycles locked to it with ease. With racks you can just use the other side, since usually there are two bars into the ground. With poles and meters it can be tricky depending on how the other person locked their bike. You can use the low technique locking on your bottom or rear tube, but other than that it’s just trial and error. I always look out for an empty meter before trying to squeeze in.

The Sheldon Method

For a while I owned a bicycle with a internal shifting hub in the rear wheel. This made the rear wheel even more expensive than usual, and I couldn’t find a locking skewer for a wheel of that size. This forced me to use the Sheldon Method of locking the rear tire through the rear triangle.

This is pretty easy with a small U-lock and is a good way to guarantee the safety of your rear wheel as well, but now that I have locking skewers on both wheels it’s much easier to just lock the frame and be done with it.

Make sure the object you’re locking to is secure!

I once locked up to a rack at Costco in San Francisco (yes you can do a Costco run on a bike!), and discovered just before leaving that the rack was not connected to the ground on one side! I could lift it up and swivel it around. I was able to get some employees on it, and the next time I arrived they had, well, fixed it by enclosing off that section of the bike rack area with a cage :/

This is a good reminder to make sure the object you’re locking to is secure. I give the object a good push-pull before I walk away to make sure it’s not wobbling around or just barely hanging in there. If so, go elsewhere. And while you’re at it tell the nearby establishment and call it in to your city using 311 so some other poor cyclist doesn’t get screwed.

Lastly, make sure you check out my posts on the best u-lock and other locking components to lock up your wheels, seat, and lights!

With a little bit of practice, you’ll soon realize that no rack is impossible. You’ll be locking your bike up faster than you can get out of an Uber.

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