Described as “pretty much immediately vomit-inducing” by its inventors, SkunkLock is a bike lock with one major difference. Brandishing a tool to cut a conventional lock from a bicycle does not usually hold any hidden hazards, but this time the potential bike thief will get more than he bargained for. The emission of a forceful and foul smelling spray in the face will cause severe and involuntary vomiting.
San Francisco-based Daniel Idzowski and Yves Perrenoud created Skunklock to address the perennial problem of lock-cutting. Though most locks will prevent opportunistic theft, when faced with an electric saw-wielding thief, they don’t stay intact for long.
According to Idzowski, San Francisco’s bicycle thieves make short shrift of traditional locks.
“They talk in seconds: a 15-second bike, a 20-second bike, and it goes up to 30-60-second bikes, with Kryptonite locks that require two cuts, each about 25 seconds,” Idzowski said.
Fed up with having their bikes taken (Perrenoud’s bikes were stolen on average every 16 months, despite the use of high-end traditional locks), the inventors were inspired to come up with an effective solution to bicycle theft when a friend’s valuable bike was stolen as they all ate lunch.
“The real last straw was we had a friend park his very expensive electric bike outside a Whole Foods, and then went to have lunch and chat,” Idzowski said. “We went out and his bike was gone.”
Apparently the thief had removed two locks, costing $120 each. The work of one minute, in fact. The inventors turned to crowdfunding to raise the money to realize their vision, setting up a page on IndiGoGo, where Idzowski introduced himself to potential donors:
“After my friends and I had our bikes stolen over and over we decided to revisit how a lock could deter a thief and start a revolution in the process,” Idzowski said.
Swiss-born engineer and avid cyclist Perrenoud, as well as motorcycle enthusiast Idzowski used carbon and steel to create a hollow U-shaped lock containing noxious, pressurized gas. With many similar symptoms to that induced by pepper spray, the “victim” vomits, has difficulty breathing, and generally, gives up on the bike (well, one hopes). The ingredients are legal, though decidedly nasty.
Testing it first on themselves and also on some brave volunteers, they discovered the effects of the spray at varying ranges, from around 2 feet to 20 feet.
“At 2 feet, it was pretty bad. It was absolutely vomit inducing in 99 percent of people,” Idzowski said. “At 5 feet, it’s very noticeable, and the initial reaction is to move away from it. At 10 feet, it’s definitely detectable and very unpleasant.”
By the end of October and with 23 days still to go, they had already raised over $30,000 via IndiGoGo — a third more than their initial goal of $20,000. By pledging $99 to the “Super Early Bird” fund, 50 lucky customers had secured their own Skunklocks, available in June 2017. Plus, 200 “Early Bird” locks will go to those who pledged $109. Any further locks can be ordered for a pledge of $119.
Not all bicycle theft is due to cutting the lock. If you are patient and sufficiently desperate, you can potentially steal a bike by picking the lock. According to the inventors, as Skunklock uses complex disc-cylinder tumbler locks, this would take around half an hour’s work for even a skilled lock-picker, quite a bit longer than the minute required to cut a conventional lock. Also, any intrepid thief determined enough to come back after he’s had a go at cutting Skunklock would have a hard time of it.
“You’re basically just puking on yourself the entire time,” Idzowski said. “They could change all their clothes, shower, if the bike is still there, come out and cut the remaining 75 percent of the lock. You can’t prevent a theft 100 percent, so that’s why we call it a deterrent lock, not a solution.”
Though if any solution to widescale bike theft is to be found, it seems that Perrenoud and Idzowski have come up with a fairly foolproof—and decidedly messy—version.