The pen is mightier than the....u-lock

In a bizarre case of coincidental product syncronicity, the plastic barrel of a certain type of biro can easily open a certain type of tubular cylinder locking mechanism, popular on u-locks. This was first described in a British bicycle magazine in 1992 but the issue then disappeared from public view. But, in a powerful demonstration how quick and cruel the internet can be, an American cyclist has rediscovered the Bic-pick and posted a Quicktime movie to a bike bulletin board, showing a Kryptonite lock being popped open in seconds. Kryptonite has responded, but slowly...

The current debate was kicked off by Chris Brennan, a San Francisco bicycle-owning computer security specialist. His posting to http://www.bikeforums.net on Sunday was seized upon by fellow cyclists as a new and worrying problem.

Kryptonite's corporate reputation was dragged through the mud in 450+ posts, despite the fact the Bic-opening method applies to many tubular cylinder u-locks.

Posters to the Bikeforum bulletin board were up in arms, threatening to ditch their Kryptonite locks. Some US bike shop owners threatened to pull all Kryptonite stock from their shelves.

The owner of City Bikes, in Washington DC, said:

"At first I didn't believe it. Then I tried it - wow - there it is - easier than a lock pick. The Bic thing has shaken my faith in any of the tubular cylinder locks, and we are pulling all of them from the shelves until we can figure out which tubular cylinder u-locks can't be defeated with a pen, if any.

"We are going to try and get our customers replacement locks ASAP, whatever Kryptonite chooses to do. I have not been impressed with Kryptonite's response or from the postings of people who have talked to them directly. In my mind there is no excuse for losing your bike to a guy with a Bic pen."

The locks susceptible to the Bic method are Kryptonite's Kryptolok and Evolution locks.

When BikeBiz.com contacted Kryptonite on Tuesday, the company said it was aware of the Bikeforum debate and wanted 24 hours to formulate a response.

The full response is below. It does not include any notice of a product recall or recompense for consumers who own the Kryptonite locks that can be popped with Bics. The company instead says its latest generation of locks do not use tubular cylinders and these will be rushed to the market, ahead of schedule.

Kryptonite's New York series of extra-secure u-locks have used disc cylinders, impervious to Bic pens, since 2000.

In 1992, journalist John Stuart Clark - the cartoonist with BicycleBusiness magazine, the print version of BikeBiz.com - teamed up with a Nottingham bike thief to show how easy it was to break in to the majority of bicycle locks then on the market. One of the methods he revealed was the Bic pen method.

His article in New Cyclist magazine led to follow-ups in bigger circulation bicycle magazines such as MBUK, and a BBC consumer rights programme also carried a feature on the Bic method.

A PDF of the original John Stuart Clark article can be found here: http://www.brickbats.co.uk/Journalism.html

Despite the apparent ease of the method, most bicycle thieves, then and now, prefer swifter, more strong-arm tactics, such as prising locks open with car-jacks. Savvy consumers also use more than one type of lock, thwarting the opportiunist thief only carrying tools for one type of lock-busting.

The Bic method has therefore been known about for some time (begging the question why it was never foiled by lock manufacturers) but it soon disappeared from public view, until last week's posting by Brennan.

The immediacy of the internet, coupled with the opportunity to post movies, enabled Brennan to spread his message quickly.

Some bicycle owners posting to bikeforums.net couldn't crack into their locks using the Bic method, many others could and Quicktime movies started spreading around the world like wildfire.

Here's a selection:

http://thirdrate.com/misc/krypto.mov

http://biginjapan.com/.../asse...ev_disc_web.mov

http://biginjapan.com/.../asse...o_ev_speedy.mov

http://www.engadget.com/.../lock.wmv

http://gallery.iamjp.com/.../MOV00104.MPG

Kryptonite, understandably, is worried at the damage to its reputation but the US company wants to make it clear it's not just Kryptonite products at fault.

An article on Kryptonite's woes by an Associated Press writer is now being syndicated to US newspapers. The writer missed the fact the Bic method is not a new one but the article ends positively for Kryptonite.

The AP writer interviewed Jon Currier, an employee at Belmont Wheelworks, who said the episode would not have a long-term affect on Kryptonite because the company has fixed security glitches before.

"[Kryptonite] is the Jello of bike locks," said Currier. "They're the original and the survivors."




Here's the company's full statement, released last night:

We understand there are concerns regarding tubular cylinders used in some Kryptonite locks. The tubular cylinder, a standard industry-wide design, has been successfully used for more than 30 years in our products and other security applications without significant issues.

The current Kryptonite locks based on a tubular cylinder design continue to present an effective deterrent to theft. As part of our continuing commitment to produce performance and improved security, Kryptonite has been developing a disc-style cylinder for some years. In 2000, Kryptonite introduced the disc-style cylinder in its premier line of products, the New York series. In 2002, Kryptonite began development of a new disc cylinder system for both its Evolution and KryptoLok product lines, which currently use the tubular cylinder design. These products are scheduled to be introduced in the next few weeks.

"We are accelerating the delivery of the new disc cylinder locks and we will communicate directly with our distributors, dealers and consumers within the coming days. The world just got tougher and so did our locks."



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