Kryptonite is an Allegion-owned brand of bicycle lock for securing a bicycle to a pole or other fixture, when the owner wants to leave the bicycle in a public place. The basic design, made of hardened steel of circular cross section bent into a U-shape with a removable crossbar, has been emulated by numerous other manufacturers, and adapted with variations in size and shape for other applications, such as locking motorcycles.
The product was named after kryptonite, the fictitious substance that can thwart the powerful comic-book hero Superman. The name is used under a limited trademark agreement with DC Comics dating back to 1983.
The Kryptonite u-lock was developed in 1972. In the early 1970s, in the US, the only proven method to secure one's bicycle was by the use of case hardened security chains with hexagonal links, but some cyclists were making the mistake of using inexpensive chains or cables that could be breached by thieves using commonly available tools. Indeed, local hardware stores would often sell inexpensive chain cut to length using simple bolt cutters. The first Kryptonite lock model was made of sheet metal cut and bent to shape, but the company soon went to the now universal circular cross section.
In an early test of the Kryptonite lock, a bicycle was locked to a signpost in Greenwich Village in New York City for thirty days. Thieves stripped the bicycle of every part that could be removed, but the lock resisted all attempts to break it. Ingersoll Rand acquired Kryptonite in 2001. In 2013 Ingersoll Rand's security products were placed in a spin-off company called Allegion.
In 1971, Michael Zane read a newspaper article that sparked his imagination. He discovered that bicycle mechanic, Stanley Kaplan had designed and built a new bicycle lock, which he named the Kryptonite lock. Zane and Kaplan quickly became partners. Aided by the metal manufacturing experience of Ernest Zane, Michael’s father, the partners began to produce and market the locks amid a rapidly growing bicycle industry. In this first year, the company sold approximately 50 locks.
In 1972, Zane bought the lock idea and the company name from Kaplan, and founded the Kryptonite Corporation with $1,500 from his personal savings. Using his father’s sheet metal business, Zane Manufacturing Company, as a subcontractor for the metal work, Michael Zane’s Kryptonite Corp. began manufacturing a slimmer, stronger lock made of stainless steel versus the original hardened steel version. Concentrating in the Boston area where the company was based, Zane started selling the lock to local bike shops. Realizing the need to expand his market and having no money for national advertising, Zane decided to undertake an experiment. He locked a bicycle to a parking meter with a Kryptonite lock on the Lower East Side in New York City for a month. By the time he retrieved the bike, it was completely stripped except for the part attached to the lock. The press was alerted to the experiment, and the resulting publicity helped move Kryptonite locks into New York City bicycle shops, as well as those in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Michael’s brother, Peter, joined the company in 1974. Peter concentrated on exporting and legal matters, while Michael handled marketing, design, research, and manufacturing. In this same year, to supplement and encourage their lock sales, the brothers started Liberty Distribution, a bicycle accessory distribution company. It was also at this time that Kryptonite began guaranteeing its locks—if your bike was stolen while secured with a Kryptonite lock, the company would send you up to $500. The guarantee quickly became a selling point.
The next year the company received another free publicity boost; Consumer Reports awarded the Kryptonite’s U-lock its highest bicycle security device rating. Distribution expanded to Chicago and Los Angeles, and the company sold approximately 25,000 locks.
In 1977, Kryptonite introduced the K-4 lock. Michael Zane refined the company’s basic U-shaped lock by creating a bent foot on one end making the lock easier to use and simplifying the design. This design gained the Kryptonite K-4 U-lock a place in New York’s The Museum of Modern Art permanent design collection in 1983 and won both Japan’s Good Design Prize and Germany’s Museum of Utilitarian Art Award in 1988.
In 1978, Kryptonite expanded into the motorcycle lock market and began exporting its product into European markets. In the late 1980s, just as Kryptonite began to offer a newly designed mountain bike lock, anti-theft guarantee claims began to increase dramatically in Manhattan. This increase in theft forced Kryptonite to stop offering the guarantee in Manhattan and spurred the Zane’s to redesign their locks. During this same time, Kryptonite was under constant competition from various domestic and foreign competitors. Many of these competitors adapted Kryptonite’s U-lock design. Some so closely mimicked the Kryptonite design that the company took legal action.
In 1992, in response to an increase in thefts and ongoing competition, Kryptonite introduced its Evolution series of locks. This new design placed the locking mechanism in the middle of the crossbar of the lock, rather than at the end, making it less susceptible to breakage.
The next year Kryptonite entered the automobile security market. In its first year on the market, the Kryptonite Steering Wheel Lock was named one of Motor Trend magazine’s top ten innovative car care products for 1993. Kryptonite’s entrance into automobile security generated interest from Winner International Corporation, the maker’s of The Club automotive lock, resulting in a number of court battles.
Kryptonite introduced the New York Lock in 1994. This newly designed lock allowed Kryptonite to reestablish an anti-theft guarantee for $1,000 in Manhattan. The company recreated its earlier publicity event by successfully locking bicycles throughout New York City to prove the efficacy of its locks. Kryptonite also issued a top ten list of cities with the most bicycle thefts (based on its claim reports) and expanded its involvement in theft prevention activities.
In 1995, Gary Furst became CEO of the rapidly growing company. In the following year, Kryptonite celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary and developed a program called Flex Security, focusing on innovative locking systems for homeowners and contractors. In addition, Kryptonite entered the computer security market by creating locks for desktops and laptops.
With its expansion into new markets and rising sales, larger companies became increasingly interested in Kryptonite. In 2001, Ingersoll-Rand, a leading industrial firm, bought Kryptonite.
Until 2004, Kryptonite locks used the tubular pin tumbler locking mechanism. In 2005, after it was demonstrated that the tubular pin tumbler locks used on Kryptonite locks could easily be opened with the shaft of an inexpensive Bic ballpoint pen of matching diameter, Kryptonite changed their locks from the tubular to a disc mechanism, preventing the use of cylindrically-shaped objects to defeat the locking system. After this problem became public, Kryptonite offered a free exchange program for all owners of locks with tubular mechanisms. Kryptonite launched a Messenger Collection in 2015, created with input from actual bicycle messengers in New York City.
- "Putting a Legal Lock on 'Kryptonite'". Law.com. Retrieved 2011-03-09.
- Allen, John (1988). "Flat steel and bar stock — The Kryptonite lock story". Bicycle Guide. Retrieved 2016-10-27.
- Stock, Ellen (23 Apr 1973). "Best Bits". New York Magazine. New York Media, LLC. Retrieved 6 January 2009.
- BikeBiz editorial staff (2004-09-16). "The pen is mightier than the u-lock | Bicycle Business". BikeBiz. Retrieved 2016-08-24.
- Kahney, Leander (2004-09-17). "Twist a pen, open a lock". Wired. Retrieved 2016-10-27.
- "Company History" (retrieved 24 August 2016)
- Lindsay, Joe. "New Bike Locks From Kryptonite". Bicycling Magazine. Retrieved 27 March 2015.