Can You Cut a Bike Lock with Bolt Cutters?

Your bicycle’s lock jammed or you lost the last key for it? Here’s what you need to know if you’re thinking of freeing the bike with bolt cutters.


Locks are essential gear for securing your bike whenever you need to park it outside, especially in neighbourhoods where theft is common.

But if your lock jams or you lose your key, you may very well have to be the one who breaks it. This, as we are about to discuss, is where owning a pair of bolt cutters can come in handy.

Bolt cutters can cut almost all cable locks and weaker chain locks or U-locks. However, if you locked your bike with a heavy-duty lock and the lock failed, you may need the help of a locksmith to free it.

Oh, and it goes without saying: If you locked your bike to a public bike rack, you should carry proof of purchase, such as the bike store receipt or the bike owner’s insurance policy, with you.

A lot goes into making a sturdy bike lock, and there are many factors that influence whether a bolt cutter is the best option for cutting one. In this post, we will discuss why that is—and what are the best methods to free your bike when using your key is not an option.

Why Would You Need to Cut a Bike Lock With Bolt Cutters?

If you ride your bike every day and lock it everywhere you go, sooner or later, you may need to buy a bolt cutter.

The first and most common reason is because you lost the key. With the bike secured and they key nowhere to be found, cutting the lock is one of the few ways to free your bike.

On the other hand, your lock may have been tampered with by an unsuccessful would-be thief. The good news is that they didn’t manage the steal your bike. The bad news is that, in trying to, they disrupted the lock’s inner workings and rendered it unusable.

Of course, it may happen that the lock jams, freezes, or turns out to be defective. And, last but not least, a thief could have put a lock on your bike hoping that you’d leave and give them the time they need to pick or cut yours.

What Are the Best Bolt Cutters to Cut a Bike Lock?

Bolt cutters come in a number of sizes—12, 14, 18, 24, 30, 36, and 42 inches—depending on how big and heavy-duty they need to be.

If you need to cut a cheap cable bicycle lock, small, 12-14 inch bolt cutters will do.

For a thin chain or U-lock with a radius of 0.4 inches (10 millimeters) or less, you will need a bolt cutter 18-24 inches in diameter. The bigger the bolt cutters, the more likely they are to do the job.

Heavy-duty bike locks will require significant force from a large bolt cutter ranging from 30-48 inches.

If you ever need to cut your bike lock and buy a bolt cutter to do it, make sure the bolt cutter’s packaging clearly states what it can—and cannot—cut.

With any size cutters, you want to make sure that they are suited for metal. If not, and you’re trying to cut a U-lock with 12-inch bolt cutters, you might find your bolt cutter’s jaws dented and buckling, rendering them useless.

In short, use the right tool for the job.

If you’re at home with a locked bike, an angle grinder can cut through almost any kind of bike lock in time but be sure to exercise extreme caution when doing this and make sure your angle grinder has the appropriate cutting capability.

This option is also very loud and creates a lot of sparks.

What Are the Best Bike Locks to Prevent Theft?

Bike theft is here, and it’s here to stay.

For most cyclists, the bike lock is the first and last line of defense against getting their bike stolen.

First, keep in mind that it doesn’t matter how strong your bike lock is if you’re securing it to something weak.

 A chain-link fence, for example, can easily be cut through with wire cutters or a handheld bolt cutter, the common tools of thieves. Make sure you’re always tying up your bike to something sturdy. Now, on to the locks themselves.

Chain locks (especially thick ones) can ward off most amateur thieves and have the added benefit of being usable to tie your bike to almost anything, but the problem is that chain locks are very heavy, often weighing in at over 8 pounds.

That’s quite a bit to lug around with you everywhere you want to bike. U-locks, on the other hand, sacrifice versatility (you’ll only be able to hook these up to standard bike racks) for strong protection.

Indeed, U-locks are not unbreakable to the common thief. While they may take up space on your bike due to their awkward shape, U-locks will only tag on an additional 2-4 pounds. Buyer beware on cheap U-locks, though.

They may be hard to cut through, but cheap U-locks are easily picked. Folding bike locks are more convenient and generally better than chain or cable locks, but are still subject to weak points where the lock folds.

Another alternative to the steel-grade bike locks is a smart lock.

Smart locks can have their uses:

They are portable, convenient, and accessible through phone apps.

Some are unlockable by fingerprint, eliminating the need for a key (and therefore the risk of lock-picking) and have theft alert systems, albeit at a short distance. In theory, they are just as resistant to breakage or fire damage as regular locks and will sound an alarm if tampered with.

Lastly, many smart locks come with GPS tracking, so if a thief manages to bypass the digital lock and the bike is stolen, it can be tracked.

Final Words

In conclusion, most, if not all bike locks can be cut through with bolt cutters. Sometimes, locks malfunction or are tampered with, rendering the lock inoperable. In this event, you’ll need to find a way to cut the lock.

 If you need something to get the job done, a tough set of bolt cutters will free up your bike so that you can use it. U-locks in particular can be extremely hard to cut through and may require professional assistance.

Related: The Best Bicycle Locks

If you’re looking for the best bike lock to protect your bike from thieves, a U-lock is generally considered to be the sturdiest kind of lock you can use. Folding bike locks, cable locks, and chain locks all have their uses, but may be susceptible to more skilled bike thieves.

Hopefully, with all this information in mind, you’ll know the best bolt cutters for the job and the right lock to protect your bike.