Keep Your Bike Wheels Safe

Watch me install some solid axle wheel locks and a bike seat lock on a Public C7 bicycle.

Gear Recommendations for 2020

Keep your bike wheels safe with one of these locking skewers! Throw out that annoying wheel cable. Pinhead is the easiest and very secure, but the others should do the trick. Check out my other recommendations to keep your bike fully secure. If you don’t know what type of axle your bike has, read below.

Hollow Axle Locking Skewers

A Pinhead skewer keeping your wheel safe.
A hollow axle Pinhead skewer keeping your wheel safe.
  • Pinhead ($$, unique key) – The Whole Shabang (wheels, seat post, and handlebar stem)
  • Pinhead ($$, unique key) – The wheels and the seat post
  • Pinhead ($$, unique key) – Just the wheels (This is what I use with a separate chain lock for some seats)
  • Sunlite ($, non-standard key) – Low budget option but I still want to scare off the thieves. Includes the wheels and the seat post.
  • Abus NutFix ($$, no key required) – Just the wheels
  • Kryptonite Wheel Boltz (no key required) – Just the wheels
  • Zefal (no key required) – The wheels and the seat post
  • Zefal (no key required) – Just the wheels

Solid Axle Wheel Locks

pinhead locking skewer for solid axle hub on Public C7 bicycle. It has a few rust spots on it.
A well used Pinhead locking nut on the wheel. This bike has a solid axle, so you just need to replace the nuts.
  • Pinhead ($$, unique key) – The wheels and the seat post
  • Pinhead ($$, unique key) – Just the wheels (This is what I use on my Public C7 Cruiser bicycle)
    • Technically this product is only for one wheel, but for the Pinhead solid axle wheel locks, you may only need one nut per wheel. If one side of the wheel is tightened, it will still be hard to remove the wheel. However, for extra security you can make sure you have locking nuts on both sides of the solid axle.
  • NutLock ($$, unique key) – This company only sells solid axle wheel locks in different sizes. They look similar to pinhead but potentially even harder to steal from the looks of it (but I have not yet tested this) and a little cheaper.
  • Abus NutFix ($, no key required) – Just one wheel
  • Kryptonite WheelNutz ($, no key required) – Just one wheel

Pinhead has through axle bike locks as well, but you’ll have to find out exactly what size you need. Here’s a useful sizing chart.

What Type of Axle Does My Bike Have?

Remove whatever quick release lever or nut you have on your wheel.

  • If you can pull out the entire skewer stick, you probably have a hollow axle.
  • If you just take the nuts off, it’s probably a solid axle.
  • A through axle also comes out entirely but is much bigger and you only unscrew it on one side.

Why Lock Your Wheels?

So you’ve got a badass U-lock and you know how to lock it, but that only locks your frame. In a high theft area, thieves will want your components! What to do about your wheels? And your seat?

First there’s the paranoid option of taking your front wheel off and locking it together with your frame and rear wheel in a huge U-lock.

No!

Everyone knows this is a pain, so fortunately it is a rare sighting. Even in “emergency” situations, why would you have a U-lock that big?

If you walk around town, you may see a popular locking technique where people run a cable through their U-lock and their wheels.

NO!

Fiddling with a cable through both wheels AND your U-lock is more work than necessary. That mess of cable is a deterrent to a thief as well as yourself. You may decide the cable weaving dance isn’t worth a bike ride. Additionally, it doesn’t even keep your wheels as safe. A thief can cut through that cable lock the same as any other. There are better ways.

The Answer is Locking Skewers

First, there were normal skewers where you can simply unscrew them with an Allen wrench. Then, there were quick release skewers so you could change your tire easily. Then, there were LOCKING SKEWERS to keep your wheels safe from thieves.

Locking skewers prevent you from worrying about your wheels. They’ll be fine. Set it and forget it. The only time you need to worry about it is for a flat tire. Make sure to carry your key around if you locking skewer requires one.

There are 2 types of locking skewers available. Keyed and keyless.

Keyed – As you’d expect it has a special key to unlock. Some brands have unique keys for each set, and some just have a non-standard key that’s the same for all skewers but you can’t buy it without the set. If yours is a unique key, take a photo of the key with the special number on it as soon as you get it. This lets you order a replacement key if you lose it. (Pinhead is one brand I use that has keyed skewers, Sunlite is another brand that just has a non-standard hex size key)

Keyless Gravity – This is a fancy locking skewer that doesn’t require any key! Gravity to the rescue. Essentially you turn your bike upside-down or sideways and the wheels are unlocked just like quick release. You turn it right side-up and everything is locked down. It usually works via a pin falling mechanism, hence gravity. These can be great because you don’t need an extra key, but the mechanisms can be finicky to use sometimes and you need to make sure you lock your bike in a certain way to be effective. (Abus (hollow axle, solid axle), Kryptonite (hollow axle, solid axle), and Zefal are some brands with gravity skewers)

I used to use the Zefal locks myself, but I have since upgraded to Pinhead for the extra security and ease of use. It also seems Zefal locking skewers are no longer available right now (April 2020).

Troubleshooting

So you have a locking skewer and you have an issue. Here are some common issues and solutions.

I have a flat tire, but I forgot my key at home or lost it! What do I do?

Don’t worry, not all is lost, I’ve had that happen to me a few times. A bike shop usually has enough tools to get it off with some McGuyvering. You may be able to do it yourself depending on the tools you have; pliers, hammer, screwdriver, allen wrench, another person to help, those might be useful. Yes, this means a thief with a bunch of tools could also remove your wheel. But trying to get a locking skewer off would be way harder than just chopping one of those cables everyone uses with bolt cutters, so I wouldn’t worry about it.

My Zefal keyless skewer is stuck!

Try to push the lever in (farther in the closed position) to let go of the internal pin and let it fall, then try again to pull and open it. If you think of how it works, there’s a pin that drops out of the way when you flip the bike over. If you pull on the lever and never take the friction off the pin, it will never drop out of the way.

I can’t get my Zefal keyless skewer tight enough!

This can require some finesse on an old skewer. Make sure you close the skewer when it’s loose to make sure it’s working. Then release just enough to screw the other side in and tighten so when you close it it does the final tightening.

Be Happy and Lock Your Bike

I hope owning wheel locks like the ones above will help make your bike commutes easier and worry-free! It’s worth noting that motivated thieves may still steal a wheel someday, so you should be mentally prepared for this situation.

Proper locking technique and gear go a long way, but check on your renter or home insurance plan for total peace of mind!

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