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Feeling Insecure? The Abus Lock Interview

Feeling Insecure? The Abus Lock Interview

Posted on 22 October 2009


Many people in North America are jumping back on bikes again, but are - legitimately - scared of theft. This, of course, is fair enough. In Europe a large network of institutions support the bicycle users daily lock-up, from insurance companies, to police, to city planners, to the bicycle industry itself. This, obviously, is not the case (yet) in North America. But what really prevents bike theft? Is it the quality of the bike? Is it better policing? As we discover from Axel Roesler, head of sales for ABUS locks, it mostly has to do with the lock. The truth? Buy a good lock, and your bike won't get stolen. We recently visited Axel in Germany and asked him some questions.

Bespoke: What is your job description at ABUS? How long have you worked there? What does a typical day look like for you?

Roesler: I'm Area Sales and Marketing Manager in our Mobile security division covering the North American, Asian and part of European Bicycle , Motorbike and Marine markets. I have been working for ABUS since August 1999. The typical working day has two completely different faces. The typical office day in the German Head Quarters or the day being away in one of my countries visiting distributors or customers with the distributors Representatives. While being in the office I prepare and organize all my trips to the different countries, customers and shows each year and prepare offers and promotions, shows and exhibitions.

Bespoke: There is this belief that if you buy a lousy bike, you won't get your bike stolen? True? False? Why?

Roesler: This is definitely not correct. In many North American cities and the same in Europe the bikes are not stolen for personal use. Very often criminal groups are behind this and are offering to kids or other people a low-fixed value for a stolen bike. So most of these opportunist thieves which are trying to make some quick money don't really know what they are stealing. And they don't care - they take the easiest victims and make the same money of them.

Bespoke: What are the tools generally used to break through lower quality locks? How often are more sophisticated tools used? Are the sophisticated tools also used by drug users or more professional thieves?

Roesler: As there are so many thin and cheap cable locks out there, very often simple cable cutters are used to cut through them. Or small one foot bolt cutters. Bigger tools have the disadvantage that the thieve is looking suspicious when walking around with them. More professional thieves are also using very often picking tools to open the cylinders of cheap locks. This is a strength of our ABUS locks by the way! The very high picking resistance. This knowledge comes from the 85 years of cylinder production and engineering in Germany.

Bespoke: Does ABUS do any market research into who is stealing bicycles? A recent report from Amsterdam stated that nearly 70% of all theft is from drug users. Would you say this is true across the world?

Roesler: Many European crime prevention organizations supply official theft figures. In most of the countries you can say that more than 70% of all bike thieves are opportunist thieves. Almost 90% of  these thieves exist and work with small tools which they can hide inside their jacket and they don't have professional technical knowledge. They usually take the easiest victims and they do not even try to get a better bike which is locked up with a good lock. The rest of the thieves are professional thieves - They are using bigger bolt cutters and more sophisticated tools. The average attack time against both kind of thieves is not more than 3 minutes usually. The important rule is "time resistance equals security." The better the lock is the more unlike it is that the thieve will even try!!

Bespoke: Not too many people know that a little bike store in Toronto was the first company to bring Abus bike locks into North America, but perhaps this is not surprising. Toronto is known for its huge bike theft problem. In fact, Toronto Police busted the worlds largest bike thief last year. But Toronto also has a huge number of city cyclists that demand a good lock. How much of your market is in Canada right now versus the USA? What are the challenges of selling ABUS in North America?

Roesler: The bike store in Toronto is called Curbside and they used to bring in ABUS through our home security distribution since many years. Then since 3 years now we started with Cycles Lambert nation wide distribution in Canada and with J+B Importers nation wide distribution in the USA. Although we gained a very interesting markets share already, both markets are still very young for us. Canada has become a very strong market for us especially with regards to high end U–locks and foldable locks. In the States for example we are selling more high security chain locks, U locks and armored cable locks. Our challenges are to show the products to each and every store and to make the retailers try the great brackets and the quality.

Bespoke: When it comes to bicycle theft, we can isolate three areas of responsibility. The first is government: they need to install proper locking stations and enforce the law. The second is the citizen, who needs to ensure they buy the best possible lock. The third is the bicycle industry itself, who need to ensure a bike is as theft proof as possible. In North America, police don't appear to care about bicycle theft, the government is often slow to install bike infrastructure, the bicycle industry keeps putting 'quick release' wheels and seats on bikes that encourage theft, and the consumer continually buys terrible locks. How is this different from Europe? Are some countries better than others?

Roesler: To be honest there is not a big difference between European bike markets and North American bike markets. For sure the infrastructure for cycling is better in Europe but the theft is way higher compared to North American cities. The only huge difference between North America and Europe is that the quality of locks people are using is much higher in Europe. The European consumers understood that the better their lock is, the  lower the chance and risk of theft is. So in many bigger cities such as London, Berlin, Cologne, Copenhagen, Gothenburg, Amsterdam... you will see people locking up their bikes with more than just one lock. Also the typical European consumer understands that if s/he buys a quality accessory it will last for many more years and doesn't need to be replaced.

Bespoke: We have often said that if government won't do anything about bike theft, then it is left to the consumer and the bike industry to make better choices. The bike industry this year has produced bikes that are more theft resistant (although they still lack the RFID chips seen on Batavus bikes), but it appears the onus of responsibility has been left on the consumer. Do you agree?

Roesler: Yes, it looks like that in North America the responsibility is left to the consumer. In European countries the responsibility is split between government, insurance companies and the industry. In many countries the Government has organizations such as for example in Great Britain the British Transport Police. Those organizations are taking care and are trying to educate cyclists about what to wear, what kind of lock to use and what kind of light to use while commuting in cities. The responsibility of the lock industry is in our case to build and produce locks which are easy to use and which are easy to carry on your bike and which are of course secure.

Bespoke: Which lock do you recommend in an heavily urbanized area with high theft and poor policing?

Roesler: In European countries the Government organizations recommend the use of a high-end U Lock and in addition a second chain or cable lock. For North American cities Our Granit line of locks would be strongly recommended to use. We offer the Granit 51 Plus, and Granit 54 X Plus U Locks, the Bordo X Plus 6500 foldable lock (my favorite) and the City Chain Plus and City Chain X Plus and the armored cable locks called Steel O Flex Granit 1000 and Granit X Plus 1050.

Bespoke: If you look at most North American bikes, they were never designed for city use, but rather recreational use. They often feature quick release wheels, and parts and accessories (like lights) that can easily be stolen. How can a bike be more theft resistant? What future projects is Abus working on to make bikes more theft resistant?

Roesler: We as a manufacturer are constantly trying to engineer and develop easier to use locks and better systems which make the carriage of the lock more convenient for the consumers. We guess that for example the new EAZY KF bracket is a huge innovation regarding U Lock transportation on the bike. Also we are working with most of the huge bike brands together and supply them especially for the European markets with OEM locks (dutch-style ring locks which are fitted to the seat stay). Beside this we can provide very quick service in getting locks keyed the same (keyed alike) This allows our consumers that they can use several very secure locks with the same key.

Bespoke: What makes ABUS the best locks out there? What separates them from the competition?

Roesler: ABUS is an international 85 year old and family owned company which is nowadays an international operating company with up to 2500 employees. Our main production facilities are in Germany but being an international operating companies we have own production facilities all over the world. All locks are engineered in Germany and still the majority of locks we sell in North America are produced in Germany. In other words the huge advantage with ABUS is that we control the quality. Most of the locks in the North American market are produced in China. Also a huge difference compared to those locks is that we are testing our locks out of each production lot in our test laboratory. We are freezing them to minus 40 degrees  (simulating ice spray attacks) and  doing hammer blow attacks, torsion, twisting, cutting and sawing attacks. Also very important is that our locks offer the highest possible corrosion resistance. Most of the cities in North America have either way very cold winters, very humid summers or very salty conditions during the whole year. We are testing the interference of materials in our corrosion test chambers and can promise therefore a very high corrosion resistance. Also our brackets do not brake at freezing temperatures. These things are unique with ABUS and satisfy our customers world-wide.

Bespoke: What kind of tests do you put your locks through? What does a typical test do to each lock? What agency performs the most rigorous testing on bicycle locks in Europe?

Roesler: As said we do raw material tests before they can be used for production and then each employee has test tools to control the quality through each production step. After the lock is assembled the lock is checked with both keys and tested in our test lab on different machines in order to ensure the quality with reproducible figures. We are doing cutting, hammering, twisting, tensioning and sawing attacks.  All the European Tests are very tough but the tests differ from country to country. In our company logo we use the phrase “Security Tech Germany” so with our German production and engineering we develop locks which are approved in all of those markets. Our own test laboratory gives us the advantage of testing our locks before the actual test and improving our locks. The ABUS Power Cell and Powerlink technology which you find on U locks and Chain and Cable Locks for example are results out of the own engineering facility and test laboratory.

Bespoke: In cities like Amsterdam and NYC, everyone uses a chain. In cities like Toronto and Chicago everyone uses a U-Lock. Why do you think this is the case?

Roesler: I think in New York its a little bit of fashion and in Amsterdam each bike is already secured with a ring lock which is securing the frame and the rear wheel so a chain is a good addition in order to lock front wheel and frame to something. Chains are also easier to use as they are more flexible. However the U Lock is still the most secure type of lock as it is a very solid and inflexible construction.  In North America still way too many cable locks are used which are more immobilizers rather than decent locks. We are offering a great mixture between a chain and a cable lock which we call a Steel O Flex lock (special hardened steel shells are protecting the inside cable). Another huge trend we see in North America is the use of our Bordo foldable locks. They combine a similar  security of a U lock and the flexibility of a chain lock into one lock and are very easy to carry on your bike.

Bespoke: Has anyone ever broken through the top end Abus locks? If so, how?

Roesler: Basically any lock can be broken as there is never a 100% resistance.  The most criminal thieve will maybe cut the lamppost off in order to get a bike he wants. But the better the lock the less possibility a thief will try to steal your bike. Our Granit line of locks are constantly winning international lock tests of  magazines, consumer test organizations, TV Channels and are meeting most of the European test requirements of insurance companies.  Another nice and funny testimonial happened during a Greenpeace demonstration against nuclear waste transportations in Germany where a demonstrator and the Granit X Plus 54 U Lock stopped the whole transport. Police and Fire workers couldn’t open the lock so that finally they had to improvise… Because of that the whole transport has been delayed a couple of hours!


Editors note. In 2009 Kryptonite was largely and unfairly blamed for the "Bic Pen" attack, where thieves would attack their (lower priced) locks by "forming" a key out of a Bic Pen into the round keyhole of a U-Lock. However, because everyone called "U-Locks" a Kryptonite (the same way "tissue" is called "Kleenex"), Kryptonite took a hit. We didn't like Kryptonite for other reasons: they rusted. And, when their sales took a hit due to the pen fiasco we took it on ourselves to order something different. After many trips to Europe we noticed that no one used a Kryptonite lock - no one had even heard of them. But, Abus was everywhere. So, we found a local hardware company and imported a pallet of Abus bicycle locks, and that's where it all began. Today, Abus is rapidly taking over Kryptonite for sales in North America and we're happy to hear it. They take their quality seriously and they still build them in Germany. 

- February 2016

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