Few things can ruin your day as much as a jammed bicycle lock, especially if you have plans and are in a hurry. So what you should you if and when this happens to you?
If your bike lock won’t open, the first thing to do is figure out why it’s stuck. Usually, it’s because of problems in the keyhole or body. Rust, corrosion, and debris can be solved with WD-40. Keyhole issues require finesse, patience, and possibly the help of a locksmith.
There are many problems that can cause your bike lock to jam.
Luckily, two common solutions—a spray with WD-40’s penetrating oil and a gentle blow with a rubber mallet—can solve most of your problems. So let’s take a look at what options you have and how to open that jammed bike lock.
Figure Out Why Your Bike Lock Won’t Open
First, take a moment to look over the lock.
Only once you know exactly what the problem is can you work on fixing it. As we already touched on, the issue on a keyed lock is either in the keyhole or in the body. On a combination lock, the issue is typically internal or with the body.
To identify why your bike lock jammed, follow these three steps:
- Try to insert the key in the keyhole. If it doesn’t go in, the issue is with the internal mechanism of the keyhole. If it goes in, move on to step 2.
- Try to turn the key. If it doesn’t turn, the issue is again internal to the keyhole. If it turns, move on to step 3.
- Try to separate the body. If it doesn’t open, the issue is with the body connection. If it does, it’s your lucky day; the jam cleared itself!
The first two keyhole problems are normally caused by debris getting into the keyhole.
On disc-tumbler locks, which use slotted rotating discs separated by washers, the discs can sometimes misalign or fail to rotate smoothly due to corrosion, rust, or—in winter—ice.
The place where the body meets the lock can also be blocked by corrosion and rust. This is a bigger problem for people in humid climates, especially if they live near a body of water.
Finally, someone may have unsuccessfully tried to pick your lock and left a broken lock pick. There is also a possibility that a bike thief intentionally blocked your lock so that you would give up and take public transportation home, giving them the time and the opportunity to pick or break the lock in the evening.
How to Fix a Jammed Bike Lock
The solution to a stuck bike lock depends on where it’s stuck. However, there are two solutions that cover most problems.
The first and easiest solution is WD-40.
Contrary to what some people think, WD-40 is not a lubricant. It’s a blend of oils intended to displace water, lubricate metal, and remove soil or dirt. (Which is why it works so well for unjamming bicycle locks.)
Depending on how stuck the lock is, a quick squirt will usually solve the problem.
For more stubborn locks, you may need several rounds, followed by trying to work the lock by inserting and turning the key, or even a good soak. Indeed, a can of WD-40 and a bit of patience will go a long way.
If WD-40 doesn’t do the trick, you may need to use brute force. (This won’t help with any internal mechanism problems of course.)
However, when the body is determined to stay stuck, a quick blow from a mallet—a hammer with a rounded rubber head—should break up any jams. Just be sure to avoid applying too much force or you may end up damaging your lock.
Fixing a Jammed Keyhole
If you can’t get the key all the way into the keyhole, or it won’t turn, chances are you’ve got a jammed internal mechanism. There are a few different causes, so let’s go over them.
The inner workings on your bike lock’s keyhole are relatively delicate.
So take your time and be gentle with the key; you don’t want it to break inside.
One possibility is that the inside of the lock is corroded, rusted, or otherwise jammed by debris. If this is the case, you need to loosen the rust and remove the dirt.
With the keyhole pointed towards the ground, spray some WD-40 inside. Wait for the WD-40 to drain along with any dirt and debris. Then try inserting the key again. If it does not go all the way in or fully turn, repeat these steps.
It could be that the discs in the lock are misaligned.
In this situation, gently insert the key as far as it goes. When it gets stuck, gently wiggle the key back and forth. “Gently” is the word as you don’t want to break the key and make the problem worse.
Continue alternating between pushing the key in and wiggling. Any debris in the lock will make matters worse. Cover all of your bases by giving the lock a quick dose of WD-40.
If it is cold out, there could be ice in your lock.
Since you likely can’t bring the lock inside you need to warm it. Breathing on the lock may be enough in some cases. Otherwise, you will need to use a lighter or another heat source.
Alternatively, you can spray some de-icing fluid in the lock.
Related: How to Deal With a Frozen Bicycle Lock
Fixing a Stuck Body
If the key goes all the way in and turns just fine—but the lock doesn’t open—then you can safely conclude that the lock’s body is stuck. Luckily, this problem is a little easier to solve than the others.
Once again, WD-40 is your friend.
First, identify where the body of your lock meets the locking mechanism.
These joints are where it is getting stuck. Start by spraying a generous helping of WD-40 into each joint. Any moving part you can find needs some lubricant. Let the liquid work its magic, then try to free the lock body again.
If spraying the joints of the body doesn’t work, you should try spraying the lock with WD-40 and leaving it to rest overnight. If you don’t have the time, or the trick doesn’t work, you can try more forceful methods.
A good blow from a hammer with a rubber head should break loose any corrosion on the lock.
However, you can also break the lock this way. To minimize damage, don’t hit any plastic parts and strike the lock in the direction it would normally open. You can also cover that section in towels to soften the blow.
Related: If nothing works, consider cutting the lock with bolt cutters. Check out “Can You Cut a Bike Lock With Bolt Cutters?” to find out how.
How to Prevent Your Bike Lock Jamming Again
At this point, your lock should be open.
If it is not, call a locksmith or consider cutting the lock. Whatever the end result may be, no one wants a jammed lock twice. There are a few things you can do to prevent this from happening ever again.
First, clean your bike lock often.
Use a sewing needle or a toothpick to remove debris from the locking mechanism and wipe down the lock with a dry rag.
How often you should clean the lock depends on where you live and how you ride your bike. If your bike gets really dirty really fast, weekly cleaning may be necessary. If you ride on paved roads and in dry weather, cleaning the lock once or twice a month should be enough.
Second, lubricate the lock monthly.
Since WD-40 isn’t a lock lubricant per se, and it best used for getting locks unstuck, I recommend buying DuPont Silicone Teflon Lubricant. This is the OG lubricant from the company that invented Teflon in the 1930s, so it’s as good as it gets.
Third, only turn the key when it’s all the way in. This prevents disc misalignment.
Hopefully, this article has helped unjam your bike lock. In the future, be sure to maintain your lock as best you can. It also helps to upgrade to a quality lock. Higher quality locks won’t jam as much. When in doubt, check out our roundup of the best of them.