9

I have seen a few GPS devices either in the backlight or unside the seat tube which you can track if you lose your bike (your bike gets stolen).

What do you think about this stuff. Is it worth the money and how easy is it to track your bike with this things.

12

Pain in the ass, and waste of money.

As of the last time I checked, you can't track them directly (there'd be no way for you to receive a signal from a battery-operated device 5mi away), so you need to sign up for a recurring monthly service. On top of that, they chew through battery pretty quickly, requiring a recharge every few days.

Contrast that to just buying a decent set of locks. If you need to lock up your bike in the same place every day, get a thick $80 chain and a cable for the front wheel. If you need something lightweight to carry around you, a $50 u-lock is going to be a reasonable level of protection.

If your bike is worth more than a few grand, you're absolutely crazy to leave it outside at all.

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  • 3
    Agreed. If you want to use a bike locking it away on any place you go, the bike should not appeal to thieves. If your current bike is too atractive, it's worth considering to have another one. After all, the ideal number of bikes to own is N+1 (with N being the number of bikes you already own). Jan 23 '12 at 15:34
  • Also s - 1, where s is the number of bikes which would cause separation from your partner (shamelessly stolen from the rules). Jan 23 '12 at 16:35
5

A new product, SpyBike, is out on the market and it partially negates the claims I made in my previous answer. The website is hideous, but the general idea appears to be:

It sits invisibly in your head tube, under your stem cap. You wave a keyfob over it to "activate" it when you leave your bike somewhere. This way, it remains completely disabled and therefore doesn't drain the battery when not in use. When activated, it enables low-power vibration sensors (again, preventing the battery from being drained). If it detects constant vibration for more than a few seconds, it uses an embedded SIM card with 2G data plan to send you a text message notifying you, and enables a GPS tracker. GPS coordinates are sent to their tracking software over the data plan, and you can view live updates on its location from your browser.

If you're set on using GPS to track your bike, this product seems like it might be at least tolerable, if somewhat of a pain to set up initially.

2
  • Have you used it?
    – gerrit
    Jul 22 '15 at 10:05
  • 3
    in 2018 most cellco's are in the process of shutting down their 2G networks to increase density, which means this item won't work anymore. Technical obsolescence strikes again.
    – Criggie
    May 29 '18 at 1:33
1

A new alternative is the Apple AirTag or the Samsung SmartTag (possibly similar systems from other companies exist or will come soon).

These are small tags with Low Energy Bluetooth technology that the smartphone can locate. As they are small (ca. 4x4x1cm) and the battery (CR2032, ubiquitous battery in various items like fitness trackes or kitchen scales) is supposed to last for a year, you can hide one (or several) on your bike somewhere.

If the tag is not within reach of your own phone, then it uses the network of other Apple/Samsung users to locate it. It seems (from reading a couple of reviews) that it takes only a few minutes to locate a tag when it is in a reasonably busy place.

I don't have experience with them yet, but they seem a promising alternative to traditional GPS trackers. I used a traditional GPS tracker for a while but hated the hassle of charging it every few days, and it needed a phone card (a cheap one that was deactivated when I didn't use it for a while). Theses smarttags are much more user-friendly in the sense that you can hide them on the bike and then basically forget about them, only change the battery once or twice a year.

Of course they are less reliable than GPS trackers (which work anywhere and send you a message from wherever there is phone network coverage) as they rely on other phone users passing by, so if the bike is hidden in a shed in a remote location you won't find it. But if it's in a city, they have a good chance of working. And as they are active for many months, this increases the chance that they get found.

Update (thanks to comment from @Renaud): The Apple AirTag (but apparently at the moment not the Samsung SmartTag) has an "anti-stalking" feature that limits its use as a tracker for stolen items (but it is a very important for privacy and to reduce abuse). If I understand correctly (based on an article in the German Heise magazine and an article in Laptop Magazine), it activates when the AirTag is separated from its legitimate user for a certain period (after 8 to 24 hours).

After that period it starts to alert nearby iPhones of their presence and also starts to beep (although the Heise article mentions that it is easy to disable the loudspeaker with a bit of technical skill).

So this means that after a few hours it's likely to be found. And if it starts to beep after just 8 hours, it will be practically useless as it will beep every day when you're at work or at night.

Furthermore, the iPhone app allows you to list any nearby trackers, so a thief would be able to check if your bike has a tracker. Of course not all thieves would be aware of this or even have an iPhone, so I guess it might still have some value, especially if you notice the theft soon and can start tracking within a few hours. Also, if a thief checks for trackers before stealing the bike, they may just leave it alone as it increases their risk, especially if they can only find out that there is a tracker somewhere but not actually find where it is hidden it on the bike.

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  • 2
    Apple AirTags (for sure, possibly others) "send" a notification to warn you if you're being "followed" by a tag that is not linked to your account. In other words, a thief with an iPhone will be notified if someone has installed an AirTag in a bike that they just stole, which limits the use of such devices as trackers.
    – Renaud
    Dec 13 '21 at 13:08
  • @Renaud Ah, interesting, is that the "anti-stalking" feature (it was mentioned in some reviews but I didn't read the details)? That sounds useful and important to reduce abuse, but is indeed a drawback for tracking stolen items. Although it will depend on details. I'd assume this feature has complicated rules so that it doesn't get triggered by your office colleague who sits next to you for eight hours a day. So if the thief isn't near the bike for a long time it might not alert him. Also the tag will still be detected by other random users, I guess. Dec 13 '21 at 13:49
  • Indeed, but it looks I was not up to date. From iOS 15.2, "Find my" (the app that allows to find trackers and devices will offer an option to enumerate all tags that can be used for "tracking purposes". laptopmag.com/news/… . That being said, the most likely behaviour of a thief that knows about trackers would be to move the bike to a "public location" to see if the owner reacts, and then would take it "indefinitely".
    – Renaud
    Dec 13 '21 at 14:27
  • @Renaud Thanks! I've added an update to my answer, can you check if I understand this correctly? Dec 13 '21 at 15:04
  • @Renaud Or the thief will check if the bike has a tracker and leave it alone if it has, as it increases the risk. But if they do leave it in a public place, that would be an improvement too, as you can recover it. Dec 13 '21 at 15:16

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