Thursday, May 19, 2011

Amateur Cable Destruction

I do not have much practice cutting bike lock cables. So, it took me a few tries to figure out how to easily get that satisfying SNAP! sound of the jaws slicing through the cable. This is a relatively small bolt cutter, 18", and I cut this cable without pushing one handle on the ground, and without using my weight, only arm muscle. I did this to gain an understanding of what it actually takes to defeat this type of lock that I see most people using to lock up their bikes out there. And the answer is, with just a little trial and error: not much. I had a few fails before I figured it out, but once I got the hang of it, it was about half muscle, half technique. It wasn't exactly easy, but it was certainly quick, and didn't take very much effort.

Brake cable cutter result

I also tried using a brake cable cutter, as in the previous video that I showed on this blog, and found it much harder, For one thing, I had to expose the inner cable to permit the cutter to get a bite. That really only involved using a pocket knife to slice around it, but I pulled back the plastic to show the results better. I'm no gorilla, and didn't feel like putting in an all-out effort to try to slice the cable. The point was to see if it would be easy for anyone to do. There's probably also technique to it, too, and I didn't work at it too long, but with that, my conclusion is that a bicycle brake cable cutter is not the easiest choice. You can see I did some damage, and could have gotten through it eventually, but I was looking for the insta-cut, the SNAP!, and couldn't easily get it.

Bolt cutter, for size. I think I paid $7 for it.

This tool is pretty small, barely bigger than a place mat. I am also aware that there are other tools that can defeat a U-lock (there are plenty of videos out there), but the ones I have seen at least either take longer than this, or else make lots of noise and sparks. I posted this because sometimes, a visual demonstration is more convincing than just a verbal explanation. It took me less than ten seconds with a cheap little bolt cutter, and I'm not even very good at it. Cables are next-to-useless for locking up your bike, they are only better than no lock at all, and should only be used if you or someone has almost constant (no gaps greater than five seconds!) eyes on it. But who wants to stare at the bike rack? That's just annoying, although probably much less annoying than having a ne'er-do-well with a $7 bolt cutter and ten free seconds steel your ride. Just use a decent U-lock, cable for the wheels, and be done with it. That combo will probably slow them down enough, or get them to move onto easier pickings: all the bikes locked up with cables. Get up. Go ride.



  1. Great Post, Good Demonstration. A picture is always worth 1000 words!!

  2. I guess I'm going to be the guy who persists with his cable lock until he comes out one day and finds it lying on the ground next to where his bike used to be. But, my use profile is a lot closer to the "almost constant eyes on it" than not, so maybe I'll be fine.
    Thanks for the set of security posts. It was good reading.

  3. Your clippers are overkill for my own preferred cable lock, which is still far superior to what many use (nothing at all). All I need to do is get back to the bike before the thief can get out his/her cutters and get to the bike. Still, a second u lock at work is not a bad idea...

  4. PaddyAnne, thanks! I'll try to keep it to around 350 words...

    jt, I've been that guy once already, and it's no fun.

    limom, yes, it was. Maybe.

    Steve, I did want to try a thinner cable, since I see those all around--the actual usage of something this size is less frequent than the thinner, lighter cables. Like you concluded, I decided that anything smaller would generally be easier than this, and that would be clear from the demonstration.


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