Retractable cable combination lock: visual deterrent to amateur thieves


looks snippable?

“Visual deterrent” is key, since it doesn’t look like much of a physical deterrent. I could use one of these to protect my stuff at skating rinks or the beach, where a regular combination lock isn’t big enough to loop around other things. I love the Cool Tools columns!

I keep a short, heavy Kryptonite cable lock locked around the seat post of my bike. It’s always there when I need it, and it doesn’t rattle or bother me. And it’s about 100 times stronger than the one in this photo.

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I don’t carry a heavy lock. It is fixed to the frame of my bike.

I have a Mini Leatherman in my pocket that is capable of cutting through the lock shown in the article in a couple snips. But I’m a professional non-thief.

I use one of these on ski trips. Yes, it’s easily snippable but I think it provides just enough deterrent to cause the thief to skip my snowboard and grab an adjacent unlocked one instead.

Hardened Steel cable is surprisingly difficult to snip, but the plastic housing on the combo lock itself looks pretty darn flimsy. Those spinning combo locks are typically trivial to pick as well.

I guess it’s better than no lock at all.

Hmm, according to the Amazon reviews, the latch mechanism is so terrible on these locks that all it takes is a good tug to pull it out. Maybe it’s worth spending a bit more on a lock that’s not so crap?

Why are we encouraging the use of this kind of pointless crap while simultaneously lamenting how ultimately ineffective the TSA is?

Either there’s a value to security theater, or there isn’t.


Or buy a cheap uLock for a comparable price, and get actual (though minimal) theft deterrence? You could cut this with scissors.

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I agree with Mark on this one.

Before installing this cheezy cablelock on our urban porch, we lost a chair every 6 or 10 months - people would just walk up the steps, and take a chair. About a decade ago, I used this to hold two chairs to the porch. Yep, anyone can break it. But, amazingly, nobody has.

It’s minimal security. But sometimes, that’s all you need.


Well, we haven’t had many casual terrorist attacks recently…

You can’t cut aircraft cable with scissors, diagonal cutters, wire knippers. You might be able to get some strands cut but you won’t be able to cut all the way through unless you have specialized cutters. You can ruin your nice leatherman though.

The review quite clearly says it is minimal security against convenience theft. But hey you guys know best.


That is a lot of plastic to house a superfluous jam-prone retraction system. Here’s what I used to lock up my backpack in hostels and guest houses around the world:

  1. A short bicycle seat leash, which is a steel cable with loops on the ends for your lock, as short and thin as I could find. A foot long is all you need.

  2. A travel luggage lock. There are a lot of bad ones out there, so don’t cheap out here.

These two things took up hardly any room or weight in my luggage. Uses:

Thread it through the straps in a full backpack in such a way as to make cutting it the only easy way to open it.
Lock the backpack to something so nobody walks away with it.
Thread it through the handles of a wardrobe a few times so it’s tight, to keep the maids from rifling through your stuff.

The surprising use was to lock up the door of my room. You would be surprised how many cheap Asian guesthouses don’t have doors that lock, but do have some sort of latch or eyebolts that you can tie closed by threading this through.

The thinner the better; it fits through more things and ties tighter.

I never had anything stolen over many months, including leaving my bag in a hostel storage room for weeks.

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I have cut through that type of cable with the ancient Mini Leatherman’s cutters, so you might want to rethink your assessment of what is and isn’t possible.

Well, we haven’t had many casual terrorist attacks recently^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H ever.

And that’s awesome, but its a completely different type of lock. The lock reviewed here is great for the first level of deterrence, meaning you need a tool to unlock it. I use one of these to secure a motion detection camera that I film wildlife with. If someone happens to be hiking with bolt cutters and they’re an asshole, I’ll lose my camera. But otherwise they’re not going to be able to take it.

And on a sidenote, you could level the same complaint against the lock you pictured. This one for example makes yours look as ridiculous as the one reviewed here:

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What idiot doesn’t carry a U-lock for their bike? It is not optional equipment that you leave behind 'cause it’s heavy. You either have a good lock or you don’t have a bike anymore.

The post tries to apply “you don’t have to outrun the bear, just the other guy” logic (“Let them steal someone else’s bike”), but that’s bullshit; the only bikes less secure than this thing are already gone, because they were left out unlocked and taken by a homeless guy five minutes later. With this piece of crap, you are the other guy, and any thief with a hammer, wirecutter, or strong hands will be taking your bike instead of the one with even a cheap cable lock on it.

It may be useful for other stuff, but flogging this as any kind of bike security is bloody irresponsible. I’m seriously disappointed in both Mark Frauenfelder and Master Lock.

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I bet you have not. But thank you for your concern.

you may have cut through a cheaper look alike product, but all my experience with hand tools and aircraft cable says it can’t be done. It can be cut with a hack saw if you have something to hold it tight. It can be cut with cutters that completely capture the cable in curved jaws and have extremely hard edges. It can be cut with a torch with no effort. It will deform and slip by the edges of any other cutter and can ruin the edges if you try hard enough or even screw up cutters by bending the edges apart so they won’t cut anything. You might be able to cut most of the strands even but the last few will defeat a standard cutter because they will simply slip between the cutting edges.

There are softer and fewer stranded cables that can be cut with diagonals or the silly cutter at the base of a regular plier or needle nose. I am assuming that Master is using the real thing, since it is not so expensive and they make real products. The stuff that is sold in a plastic jacket is definitely softer than aircraft cable.


Get about 30" of 3/16" steel cable and the aluminum swage blocks that are used to clamp the ends. Don’t worry about stripping the plastic coating or using a swaging tool to put on the blocks. Just put a loop at each end of the cable and clamp it in place by putting it on an barbell and smashing the block with a large hammer. Now you have a very sturdy cable that can be rolled into a very small coil and slipped in your pocket.

This is the important part - before clamping the cable, hold one loop in your fist and stretch the cable back towards your face. Make sure the cable is several inches shorter than your arm. Now you have a pretty fierce steel whip weapon that is too short to easily smack you in the face. A good swipe with this cable will nearly cut a magazine in half.

Oh yeah, you can tell the cops it’s just a bike lock. Carry the little padlock, but don’t even bother to put it on the cable if it’s for beating someone

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