Sphyke Theft Prevention – Secure Combination Wheel Skewers
- by Christopher Jones
- Published: 11 December 2013
Almost as bad as having your bike stolen is having parts of your bike stolen. It’s more than just upsetting to return to your bike and find the wheels, the saddle, or more missing thanks to some ratbag thief. The onus is therefore on bike owners to do all they can to prevent theft, and the Sphyke is part of the arsenal to help keep thieves from stealing parts of your secured bike.
The concept behind the Sphyke is quite simple: it’s a combination lock that prevents access to your skewers so that thieves can’t simply undo the quick-release or unbolt the front and rear wheels. If you are locking your bike up in public, it is best to run a cable lock through wheels and a D lock through the frame (and one wheel) and attach one of these bicycle locks to something solid. Of course, this means that you needs to carry two different locks, which is not always convenient. Using the Sphyke solution provides you with more security on both the front and rear wheels, as well as on the seat post which is often secured with a simple bolt or quick-release.
I used this sort of strategy as a regular cycle commuter in Berlin, Germany, where I used non-standard skewers and seat clamps on both of my city / commuter bikes. The 5-sided allen key bolt solution made it more difficult for a thief to remove the saddle and wheels, but if a thief noticed that a bike was regularly locked at a certain location, and they really wanted it, it wouldn’t be particularly difficult for them to get hold of a torx set with a 5-sided allen key bit and then make off with the parts. The more common this solution becomes, the less security it offers.
As chance would have it, the Sphyke is the brain-child of an Australian in Berlin. It is a young company and the founder, Ian Berrell, says that the Sphyke is “regarded as the most sophisticated and innovative solution against wheel and saddle theft.” In order to put that claim to the test, I took their current generation front wheel skewer, the Sphyke C3N 120, for a spin.
My original 5-Sided allen key bolt skewer solution – it has become a little rusty over time.
The release key for the 5-sided bolt with a flawed design that made it difficult to tighten but easy to unscrew.
Before removing my old skewer from my commuter, I studied the Sphyke skewer and instructions closely. The head-part of the Sphyke with the combination lock has plastic rings with letters for the combination and each letter seems to have been been traced again by hand with a black ink pen; perhaps the letters are hard to see without it. Inside the head-part was the locking mechanism and there also seemed to be a sliver of metal. I wasn’t sure whether it was part of the mechanism or just a bit of excess; it was the latter.
Although the product was professionally packaged, the instructions were printed on a scrappy piece of paper with hand coloured red dots to highlight the setup. The setup required removing the plastic rings and then putting them back on with the desired three letter combination that are lined up with with a red mark.
[Edit] I am informed that for Sphyke items ordered online the instructions are complete. For the review version only, the instructions were provided in basic format only.
A small sliver from inside the combination lock was just excess
The following step required using a permanent marker to fill in the dots [see image], the purpose of which is to ensure that the plastic rings are correctly aligned, however it has no bearing on the combination you’ve set.
A permanent marker to mark the position of the plastic rings.
The skewer itself has a cone type screw on one end, which obviously can’t be unscrewed, while on the other end there’s a cylinder for which a standard (6-sided) allen key is required. Pictured below is the setup, although the springs are not provided with the Sphyke – I used the springs from my old skewer.
The skewer and combination lock
After configuring the Sphyke skewer, I ran into a problem trying to re-install the wheel: I simply couldn’t get it on. The “lawyer tabs” at the bottom of the drop-outs (a safety measure to prevent the wheel from accidentally falling out) were in the way and, since I was not feeling like a pro-cyclist, I had no intention of filing them off.
To get the wheel on with the Spyke skewer, I had to remove the skewer, discard a washer, mount the wheel without the skewer, and then insert the skewer. It was fiddly, however once I knew how to do it it was straight forward. That said, I wasn’t happy with the amount of space between the drop-out (outside edge) and the lip of the cylinder; in the photo below you can spot a gap. Sphyke commented that they built the skewer to suit both ultra-thin and chunky forks, hence the ability to adjust the length with the washer. Although it was tight, this gap was only on the front side, however on the rear the cylinder touched the dropout. I tried a few times and fiddled with the washer, but it seemed that this was the right and only way it fit.
A small gap between the dropout is unnerving, however it was secure
The cone screw head means the skewer can’t easily be attacked on this side
Once the skewer is tight, it is time to put on the combination lock ‘end-cap’. The red marking on the combination lock is simply matched up to the red mark on the skewer; it easily fits on and then mixing up the combination makes it difficult for thieves to access. After the complications of getting the skewer installed, I wasn’t expecting the combination lock to work easily, but it was simple to get on and off.
The combination lock slides on top
Front view of the Sphyke security skewer
The final part of the system is a soft plastic cap which reads C3N (and not NED, as I originally thought). Although it is a good fit, it is a part that could potentially go missing.
Overall, this is a chunky solution, but on my commuter bike looks are not particularly important. The combination lock relieves you from relying on special tools that can easily be misplaced, though you do need to remember your three letter combination code. If a thief tried to attack, I could imagine that they would easily destroy the plastic rings and that would be the end of the fun for everyone – you will have your wheel (or parts secured with the lock) but would have to painstakingly test every single combination the next time you wanted to remove the wheel. Perhaps this is an extreme scenario since bike security is about taking precautions that deter thieves; using better locks, using two locks, using additional locking mechanisms such as the Sphyke for the wheels and parts, avoiding locking in locations that favour bike thieves, and so on. While thieves could potentially resort to an angle grinder, it is a messy job with a risk of damaging the frame or forks.
• A nice idea for bike security
• Specialist tools are not required
• Difficult for thieves to pick or destroy
• Poor documentation
• Hand drawn letters on the combination lock
• Installation issues and gap left me uncertain
• Subjectively Expensive
A front and rear wheel Sphyke skewer set will set you back around $60, while a set that includes a seat post lock is around $75. This is a big investment for budget commuters and, based on price alone, may be more suited to commuters and urban cyclists with more expensive bikes as well as cycle tourers who appreciate a secure bike setup which doesn’t get in the way of basic maintenance, such as changing a flat tyre. While the website information is somewhat difficult to navigate through, further information and purchases can be made on www.sphyke.com
Purchases can be made online and early 2014 a new Australian distributer will be announced and the Australian prices confirmed.
To prevent bike theft, in the Australian Cycling Forums a useful resource has been created: Tracking Stolen Bikes and preventing theft.