New anti-theft GPS bike tracker: What does our expert think?

Posted by on December 2nd, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Watch out thieves, there’s a GPS in there.
(Photos: GPS Track This)

[Via BikeBiz]

Word is quickly spreading on the Interwebs tonight about what many have considered the Holy Grail of bike theft — a GPS tracker for bicycles.

UK-based GPS Track This now offers (wholesale only at this point it seems) the “Spylamp Bicycle GPS Tracker”, a small device that is hidden in a rear light. They also offer a free smartphone/text/web service that can track your bike when it gets stolen. Here’s an excerpt from a story in BikeBiz.com:

“Activated by pressing the on/off button for three seconds, the light flashes three times to confirm it is activated. The Spylamp has a vibration sensor, which is armed when activated, detecting movement in the event of a bike thief stealing the bike. The device sends an SMS text message to the owners mobile to notify that the bike is moving, and then uploads its position to GPS Track This’ website every 20 seconds until the vibration has stopped. The website plots the course of the bike on a map, revealing the bike’s location.”

I asked our resident bike theft expert, creator of StolenBicycleRegistry.com and co-developer of the BikePortland Stolen Bike Listings Bryan Hance, what his thoughts were about this potentially revolutionary product:

1) I question if it’ll play nice with US cellular networks, the SIM/text charges will differ over here depending on the cellular provider. Its tech specs make it look compatible with our networks but since they’re shipping with a UK/Tesco prepaid SIM I wonder what the cheapest equivalent will be here in the U.S. (The two biggest cell providers in the U.S. that support GPRS, according to Wikipedia, are AT&T and T-mobile. The cheapest prepaid T-mobile card is $10.)

2) 1 year battery life? seriously? my standard light doesn’t even last this long, so I wonder if this is actually true

3) Cops may not 100% like it because they don’t like people recovering their own gear. Leads to assaults. Plus even with GPS tracking if it’s in an apartment building or other high density area you’re pretty much screwed. But still better than nothing.

4) Thieves will adapt and start looking for these but this mention is more promising “The firm also similar tracking devices in the works too, including a tracker hidden inside the bicycle frame”.

If the Spylamp proves reliable in the field, it could change how law enforcement and communities across the globe deal with the scourge of bike theft. Bryan has requested a review sample. We’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, poke around the GPS Track This website or download the Spylamp owners manual (PDF) to learn more.

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  • Nick December 2, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    T-Mobile’s cheapest pre-paid plan costs $10 every 3 months to keep the line active. Each text message it sends costs 10 cents. Pretty reasonable, I think.

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  • Matt Haughey December 2, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    Garmin recently released a GPS beacon that lasts up to a year called “The Chirp“. They made it primarily for use as a geocaching point (people with GPS units traipse around the countryside looking for it and get clues as they get close) but after reading about that light with GPS, it’s possible to do something like that Chirp epoxied underneath your seat or in a seat bag to track.

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  • Steve Montalto December 2, 2010 at 5:50 pm

    Hum – it’s an interesting idea but a rear light can easily and quickly be removed. The attachment to the bike needs to be more permanent and their should be a separate “permenant”, and visible, notice that the bike is traceable to serve as a deterrent.

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  • Joe December 2, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    how about a zapper, person jumps on gets zapped falls off and runs.. haha love this device BTW… would be cool it you could track and wait, then wham,
    knock them off with a bat.. LOL

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  • KWW December 2, 2010 at 7:02 pm

    Great, my bike stolen and they can now recover the light….

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  • Tim Roth December 2, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    What KWW said. More often than not, tail-lights get stolen before the bike does. Flaw.

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    • jim December 2, 2010 at 9:58 pm

      that was the first thing I thought too, people steal lights more than bikes

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    • KWW December 3, 2010 at 1:36 pm

      What I was inferring is that many bikes when stolen are stripped of equipment, so that ID’ing them becomes harder.

      Plus, the equipment can also be sold at any bike parts store that buys parts, ahem…

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  • CaptainKarma December 2, 2010 at 9:41 pm

    I totally like the Chirper. Sounds like a better scenario.

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  • ayresjk December 2, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    yeah….first thing to do now when stealing a bike….chuck rear light. seems like it would be better if it were mounted discretely in the frame or handlebar?

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  • q`Tzal December 2, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    Any self contained GPS device will not work from inside the frame as GPS signals are completely attenuated by metal; essentially a faraday cage. I have heard rumors the same would apply to carbon fiber and graphite frames. The thickness of the frame material and the overall low power of the signal when it reaches earth support this.

    The crafty frame builder will put the device inside the frame but route out two wires for the antenna which get attached to the bare frame, contoured and painted over.

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    • dwainedibbly December 3, 2010 at 5:33 pm

      If the frame is metal, make the frame itself the antenna! (sorry if someone else has already suggested this)

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      • q`Tzal December 8, 2010 at 12:13 am

        An effective antenna needs to be quarter of a wavelength long relative to the desire receive frequency.
        Received signal power for a particular frequency drops off quickly as the antenna’s natural resonance differs from the desired frequency.

        The GPS SPS L1 band frequency is 1575.42 Mhz, or 1575420000 Hz.
        The wavelength a GPS antenna designed for 1575.42 Mhz is:
        c / 1575420000 = .19029 Meters, or ~ 19 CM. or ~ 7 1/2 Inches.

        The frame of a conductive metal bike is clearly the wrong size to use as the antenna for GPS.

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  • jim December 3, 2010 at 1:22 am

    Maybe they will make it mandatory for all bikes to have chirpers? Then big brother can keep tabs of your every movement, places, time of day, who else was there, do you need to pay a toll for that last trip…. kind of like what they had in mind for cars.

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  • sean December 3, 2010 at 5:55 am

    Why not take the “chirper” and insert into your handlebar, seapost – or is it too big?

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  • Spiffy December 3, 2010 at 7:07 am

    I think it’s a great idea… if the light is stolen you can track it individually… and everybody leaves the lights on the bike when they steal it, at least until they get it home to swap them out…

    but if it becomes mainstream then thieves will start ditching the light right away… will definitely need to be hidden in the frame somewhere with an external antenna wire…

    wondering about the cost myself… and I’ve dealt with GPRS and I just don’t trust the reliability of it… I’d like to see how it works around here with all the trees or downtown buildings…

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  • bhance December 3, 2010 at 7:45 am

    Chirp looks very cool however I’m not sure it would work for bike tracking. Issues:

    - need for a Garmin-brand handheld to locate & program a Chirp
    - Max. 32 foot range
    - “Do not mount the chirp inside a metal container.”
    - No active map-based tracking

    Although a Chirp-like system would be excellent for recovery warehouse kind of use – ID’ing bikes already in a pile somewhere. Way better than the RFID style tagging since it ups the detection to 32 feet …

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  • Alistair December 3, 2010 at 8:45 am

    This is how it begins, someone gets a novel product in the field so they (and other compnaies) can learn what works and evolve what doesn’t.

    Remeber the Apple Newton? Ugh.
    Then at last the iPhone. Brilliant.

    We want less bike theft and GPS & Cellular will likely be part of the solution so this makes me very happy.

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  • rider December 3, 2010 at 9:13 am

    This is great, unless of course it leads to “Where you at?” Boost Mobile style commercials.

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  • bDave December 3, 2010 at 9:30 am

    I’ve been told that in the southern-most states, nearly everyone has Lojack installed on anything that isn’t bolted to the ground. I’m moving to Europe soon and I am outfitting both of my bikes and my luggages with ReuniteIt! and Lojack tags.

    Draw your own conclusion: http://www.lojack.com/why/pages/lojack-vehicle-recovery-vs-gps-vehicle-tracking-and-anti-theft-devices.aspx

    For bikes: http://www.reuniteit.com/bicycle-security.aspx

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  • bhance December 3, 2010 at 10:27 am

    LoJack only works in places where the local PD’s have purchased the LoJack RF-locating gear. Great tech though. And sticker systems are nice but easily defeated.

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  • matt picio December 3, 2010 at 10:42 am

    Awesome – now I can find out who keeps stealing my tail lights.

    The light portion is kind of irrelevant – there are a number of locations where this device could be placed – you could even build it into a water bottle cage or a saddle, or handlebar bar ends – anywhere not encased by metal.

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  • jv December 3, 2010 at 11:15 am

    The best application of this type of product would be to integrate it into the bottom bracket ! – A BB is one of the bike parts least likely to be quickly stripped, and also could be used to generate a tiny amount of power to keep the unit charged forever. As mentioned before – bike lights are not secure. I have replaced 3 already in the last 2 years due to my own negligence in taking it off before locking up my bike…

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  • Hart Noecker December 3, 2010 at 11:58 am

    A GPS tracking system for what is obviously a too-expesive-to-be-left-on-the-street bike? Talk about yuppie-crack.

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  • Mindful Cyclist December 3, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    Like the idea, but have to agree with so many others here that a light is a very easy thing to steal. I have one bike that I do not take the light off, but the clip is broken and would like to replace the thing anyway.

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  • jim December 5, 2010 at 1:40 am

    I remember years ago in NY NY a person used to gift wrap their garbage everyday and leave it on their porch, everyday the garbage was gone. With this device they could find out who has been stealing their garbage all these years…

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  • Jon December 30, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    Regarding the sim charges and if they work in the USA. We supply thousands of sims for our tracking systems. These unit are built to be used worldwide, the sim picks up the APN number here from T-Mobile, AT&T etc.

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  • Guest January 22, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    If a bike thief carries light tools to break the lock/cable/chain, u-lock, then an extra pair of pliers to smash the tail light without having to remove it would be simple and effective. Additionally, pro bike thieves are up to date on this product.

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  • Henry January 31, 2012 at 4:12 am

    Matt Haughey
    Garmin recently released a GPS beacon that lasts up to a year called “The Chirp“. They made it primarily for use as a geocaching point (people with GPS units traipse around the countryside looking for it and get clues as they get close) but after reading about that light with GPS, it’s possible to do something like that Chirp epoxied underneath your seat or in a seat bag to track.
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    It says on Garmin’s site that the Chirp has a range of 10m

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  • Juan November 2, 2013 at 9:36 am

    I wouldn’t buy this device because is not well built. doesn’t work properly and the support people are not professional even though is not a cheap device. I want to share my experience with SpyLamp 2.

    I ordered SpyLamp around May, I’m located in Canada so I guessed was going to take some time the delivery. But first took like 3 weeks just to get a tracking number after I paid. I ha to send emails to support and they apologize because they said they were changing mail carriers. So finally I got a tracking number after almost a month of paying.

    I finally received the device on July. I left it charging and went to buy a SIM card to test it, I noticed that every time I disconnected it was turning off. I gave a couple of tries and the device was not working.

    I contacted support again and they said the battery was not working that they will send a battery so I disassemble the bad one and assemble the new one. Kinda weird but there you go another waiting.

    Is October and never get anything. I think I was very patience but was time to contact them again. They said we send the battery since July. We assumed you get it and everything was fine (so the assumption means no tracking number). And I said no I never get it. I asked for my refund because there have passed 5 months. But after that I never heard back from them. I keep sending messages but haven’t get back.

    So you guys think about it before buying a device that is useless and expensive.


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  • DaleS June 14, 2014 at 5:13 am

    Just wanted to add the company appears to be dodgy. Use paypal protection to get refund because refunding you is not on their priority list and they will start ignoring you.
    It took 3 weeks for it to come (I am only 3 hours away) and then i couldn’t get signal (though I am in a large town)
    Juan’s review saved me because I didn’t go for the replacement option they offered me.
    they rudely shut the door on me and I won’t be coming back.
    BTW it’s a shame, I would have wanted to buy another and try it because it still sounds amazing to have.

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