What to do When you Lose your Bike Key in Japan (How to break your bicycle lock)

Everyone in Japan rides a bike. Between the yearly car-tax and shaken (every two years you have to pay somewhere close to $1,000 – or more –  to get your car inspected/fixed), I don’t actually see the point of owning a car.

And I don’t want to drive on those narrow Japanese roads. I’m not that good of a driver.

So I bike instead. Actually, pretty much everyone bikes. You can even attach (up to two) children’s car seats onto your bicycle. One of the coolest things about bikes in Japan, though, is the fact that when you buy your bike, it comes with a pre-installed lock around the back tire.

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It works something like this: When you put your bike key into the lock and twist, it unlocks. When you get to your destination, you just pull the key out, and the lock springs back into place. In this way, you actually can’t bike without your key.

When you buy a bike, it usually comes with two keys.

So naturally, when I bought my bike, about nine months ago, I also bought a combination lock, giving myself about a month before I lost both keys. I’m not very good a keeping track of things (to put it lightly).

Then, when one of my friends moved back to America, I bought/begged him for his bike. Unfortunately, he had already lost one of his bicycle keys. Then, a couple days ago, I lost the other one.

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Normally, I would just go back to double-biking (my fiance bikes, I sit on the back of the bike), but they’ve been really cracking down on that lately in Tokyo. So after one day of being bike-less, I went up to my fiance and was like.

“Honey, we need to break the bike lock.”

“But-”

“Break it. Now.”

So he did.

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And I took pictures (as I usually do), so I could help everyone else out.

Before I start on the tutorial, I want to make a couple quick notes:

  • If you have a broken bike lock, you have a higher chance of being stopped by the police and having to wait while they run your bicycle’s registration number (yes, bikes have registration numbers, just like cars. You can report them stolen and everything). Having a broken bike lock looks mad suspicious. It looks like you stole it. Thankfully, when my friend went to America, he gave me all the forms to do a “Change of Possession” for the bicycle, so the bike is in my name.
  • Don’t ever try to break the lock of a bike that’s not yours. It’s not worth it. Bikes can be as cheap as $70, just buy your own. Being deported for stealing isn’t worth it.
  • You will need a tool kit to break the bike lock (at least to have a clean break).

How to break the built-in bike lock on your Japanese bicycle:

  1. Drag your bike to an isolated areas. Or, if it is parked in a public location, wait until nightfall. If you left it parked in front of your apartment complex like me, wait until the middle of the day before you break the lock on your bicycle. Tokyo is a busy city – you don’t want to get caught breaking the lock. It looks like you’re stealing your bike (but thankfully, if any police catch you, as long as you have an ID on you, they can run your bike registration number to confirm you story).
  2. Get a tool-kit, or at least a screwdriver. You will need a screwdriver if you want to completely detach the lock from the back of the bike (riding a bike without a lock looks MUCH better than riding a bike with an obviously broken lock).
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  3. Unscrew the bike lock from the frame. The metallic, circular lock will still be surrounding the tire. You just need to detach the lock from the frame before you can start working on it.
  4. Pull the lock down towards the end of the bike. This way you have plenty of room to work.
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  5. Using a screw-driver (or whatever you want to use), jam the tip in between where the two parts of metal meet. You’re going to need to use leverage to open a hole large enough to squeeze the tire through. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, scroll down to the bottom of the article and check the “final” picture of what your detached lock should look like.
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  6. Keep doing that until you have at least an inch of space. 
  7. Grasping both parts of the metal, slowly pull the lock over the tire. Be careful about the sharp metallic edges – you don’t want it cutting your hand or piercing the tire.
  8. Pull the lock off. It should look something like this.
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Now you have a fully functional bike again. Oh yeah, you should probably buy some sort of lock. I recommend a combination lock, so that you don’t have to go through this whole process again.

If (for some reason), you want another one of these locks, you can buy them at most bike shops for about 1,000 yen ($10).

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About Grace Buchele Mineta

Born and raised in Texas, I am a part-time blogger on the search for the next greatest adventure. In my spare time I enjoy writing, drawing comics, and traveling with my husband, a boxing businessman from Japan. Contact: Website | More Posts

2 Comments on What to do When you Lose your Bike Key in Japan (How to break your bicycle lock)

  1. Hey! Thanks sooo much for your blog post. Super helpful. I followed it step-by-step and managed to get it out after some hardcore pulling and yanking. It wasn’t the easiest thing for a girl and I consider myself pretty tough but I did it with some patience and persistence.

    • Glad to hear!

      In any case, just be careful – police officers are much more likely to pull you over if you have a missing/broken bike lock. I recommend going to a supermarket and picking up another bike lock (they have combination ones too, if you are prone to loosing your key) so you don’t get pulled over in the future!

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