Behind the Scenes at ABUS

German lock specialist’s history of innovation.

With ninety years of leading lock manufacturing, ABUS has become a steadfast ally in the fight against bicycle theft. And bike thefts – often from lousy locks or bikes not locked properly – are common. In 2012, more than 215,000 bicycles were reported stolen in the US, with another 40,000 reported in Canada. These numbers are considered only a fraction of the actual number of bike thefts that happen every year.

A recent visit to ABUS provided a look behind the scenes at the testing, design, and manufacturing of locks. For ABUS, security is serious business. They understand that losing a bicycle can be heartbreaking.

The company was founded in 1924 in Volmarstein, Germany by August Bremicker und Söhne; his initials form the acronym ABUS. The original factory, still in use today as the main padlock production facility, sits halfway up what is one of Europe’s steepest inhabited roads. A 25 percent grade welcomes us near the top and bikes are not permitted to ride down, only up. They still make padlocks here and the ABUS truck still makes the climb up the hill each day, transferring goods to their headquarters a few miles away.

Now a family-run company for four generations, ABUS is an expert in the field of bicycle security. After debuting their first bike lock in 1958, they invented the bicycle U-lock in 1971, born of a padlock that was modified with wider, longer shackles. This major advancement in secure mobile security was matched again with the invention of the Bordo folding lock in 2004.

For a company rooted in tradition, ABUS puts a lot of stock into innovation through constant research and development. They build their own tools and much of their own machinery, keeping a tight rein on quality control from raw materials to engineering brainpower. “At every step there is not only a tool making a part, but a tool controlling the quality of that made part,” said Axel Roesler, ABUS Sales and Marketing Director. “People working in production are incentivized to find bad quality parts and engineers handle different projects at once. This keeps them fresh and keeps them looking outside the box for solutions.”

The steel used in ABUS bicycle locks is temper hardened, a process that requires more time than standard case hardening and allows ABUS to use less metal while still building a stronger lock. “Our aim is to have locks that are very well hardened on the outside, where a thief would apply a bolt cutter or hacksaw to it, but also to have the inside of the lock shackle still soft and flexible so when he hits it with a hammer or attacks it with a crowbar the lock does not break,” said Roesler. The benefit of this process is 30-40 percent less weight and physical size compared to a similar gauge lock, with more protection against pulling, twisting, hammering, and cutting.

Products are tested many times during assembly and manufacturing. ABUS subjects their locks to a series of brutal tests, bettering all of the existing European and international standards along the way. Approximately 12 tons of cutting force is required to break a Granit X-Plus 540 U-lock shackle while the locking cylinder still remains in perfect shape. A saltwater bath test soaks locks for the equivalent of decades of exposure to see how the metal would react over time in a seaside city or other harsh environment.

For ABUS, their latest success story has been the Bordo folding lock and its smart design. The Bordo is easy to lock to many places, expandable by connecting to other Bordo locks, and provides an elegant way to attach to a bike while riding. ABUS now runs around-the-clock production on the Bordo line just to keep up with growing international demand.

Beyond the products, the company prides itself on its workers, many who have been on payroll for decades with some celebrating 40+ years on staff. Employees are encouraged to bring family members into the fold, and many do, finding a place to do good work in this organized and efficient facility. Through their “homework” program, mothers on maternity leave can earn income on their own schedule using mobile assembly stations and still have secure positions when they are ready to return to the facility.

It is no secret that many people have a special bond with their bicycle. “Most bicycle people, they love their bike … If stolen, it’s not just a replaceable bike that gets lost, it’s an individual bike that gets lost,” said Roesler. As a family business with strong employee relations, a 90-year history of manufacturing, and unfaltering commitment to innovation, ABUS is a bike security ally for riders around the world.

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