Date reviewed: September 2017 | Tested by: John Milbank | Price: £299 + installation & subscription | https://biketrac.co.uk
With a shocking increase in motorcycle theft, more riders are looking closely at security products. The first step should always be to make your bike as difficult for a criminal to take as possible – our thorough review of chains and locks is a good place to start – but if a thief really wants your machine, there’s sadly a good chance they’ll get it.
A tracker can not only see you reunited with your bike, it can help the police catch the gang behind the theft. Many insurance underwriters will offer discounts for trackers, particularly those with Thatcham-approval, and if your bike is recovered after a theft, the impact that incident has on future policy prices could be reduced.
• Biketrac is monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week by a secure operations centre.
• An iOS and Android-compatible smartphone app allows you to easily monitor your bike and activate garage or transportation modes to reduce false alerts.
• Biketrac tracks your bike using cellular data, GPS and an RF (Radio Frequency) beacon if needed. An RF signal can be pinpointed exactly, even when inside a shipping container or similar, though it requires an investigator to be within approximately one mile before they can use it.
• All your journeys are recorded and can be viewed on a map when using a desktop Mac or PC. Speed data can be disabled.
• A ‘Bike Down’ alert will notify your contacts if the unit detects that you’ve had an accident.
• Made in the UK, Biketrac is Thatcham approved to Category 6 and Category 7. Category 6 applies to devices with street-level mapping, a back-up battery, a police or licensed security agreement, communication to and from the server, storage for positional data and an ignition-off theft alert. Category 7 adds the RF beacon.
• A subscription costs £99 per year (27p per day) or £9.99 per month (33p per day). Other options are £179 for two years (21.5p per day) and £229 for three years (21p per day).
Fitting takes about an hour, and must be carried out by a professional – in the event of a theft, your insurance company may ask to see the installation certificate. Fitting prices will vary, but ex-RAF electrician Pete Mouncer – the Bike Alarm Man – sells a fully-fitted BikeTrac for £325 if you go to his Warwickshire workshop, or £375 if he comes to you. You can find dealers near you here.
I can’t show you the device, as like other leading tracker suppliers, BikeTrac doesn’t want to publicise what the crooks need to look for.
BikeTrac can be used on a machine that has no battery (like a motocross bike) – a loom and mains charger are available free of charge, and the device is simply put into service mode from the smartphone app, or armed/disarmed using the web portal (which can be accessed on the phone, though this feature is also coming to the app).
As with other fully-fitted trackers we’ve tested, there are no problems installing this into a CAN bus-equipped bike, as it requires just a 12V supply, earth, and a switched connection from the ignition.
The most important settings are easily to hand on the smartphone app
BikeTrac will allow twenty seconds of vibration before sending you a movement alert text message – I find that’s fine for moving the bike in and out of the garage before a ride. You’re allowed unlimited texts, but you still need to remember to disable alerts if you’re working on the bike, washing or transporting it, as you’ll shortly get a phone call.
BikeTrac recommends that alerts are triggered by motion – a geofence option is available (whereby the unit looks for the bike moving a certain distance without the key in), but on this device, it could mean that it doesn’t ‘see’ itself moving if it can’t get a satellite fix, for instance in a van.
Because of this alert method, the secure operations centre will call you within a minute or so of the text arriving. They’ve never complained during the half-dozen or so times I triggered it in the last month, but it’s taken some getting used to. Ultimately, if you’re not jumping between bikes as often as I am, you’re far more likely to get into a routine, so this trigger method won’t be a problem.
BikeTrac’s ability to communicate will depend on where it’s mounted on your bike. I’ve found that the GPS location isn’t very strong, and doesn’t pick up inside my garage. One evening I was working on the bike – moving it into position then putting it on a paddock stand and removing the calipers and front wheel. I had the mudguard out and a new one fitted before I got a text message (followed immediately by a call); the movement sensor would struggle to detect a thief tampering with your bike, for instance cutting the chain if the machine’s in the garage, but our theft tests confirmed that this didn’t stop it successfully tracking.
The app allows you to check the last reported location of your bike
The device checks in every four hours – if it fails to make contact with the server over a period of 24hours, you’ll be notified by email that the bike’s in a communications black spot. It’ll pick up again as soon as it regains contact – it’s unusual these days to be somewhere with absolutely not cell signal.
BikeTrac draws power from its own internal battery when the bike’s off, and when that drops by about 15% (the company says this can be as long as two weeks), we’re told it will draw just 4-8mA from your bike for only around 15 minutes.
Using your computer, you can set the point at which the device sends you a warning that your bike’s battery is low – having this adjustability is useful if you have a lithium pack fitted, as the discharge characteristics are different to traditional lead-acid batteries.
The ‘Bike Down’ feature is a good addition, as it will send a text to the contacts you’ve added to the device with your location, a time stamp, and a link to a map if the bike tips beyond 70° with the ignition on immediately after registering speed (so it won’t go off if you drop the bike in the car park). It can’t contact the emergency services direct, and the secure operations centre won’t currently get involved, but it could give your partner, parents etc a chance to notify the emergency services that your bike has recorded a crash if you can’t be reached. BikeTrac told us of one its customer’s mothers, who was able to call an ambulance for her son after he’d suffered broken bones that prevented him getting to his phone.
Your journeys can all be downloaded… and you can disable that speed data
With all your rides recorded by BikeTrac, it’s easy to search on your desktop computer (not on the smartphone app) for any of them by date and time. Points are recorded every minute, and the resulting track can be quickly downloaded as a .gpx file to share with others or to install on your sat-nav. Each point shows the speed you were doing when you hover over it, but this feature can be turned off.
All our trackers tests are conducted in the same way – we don’t tell the manufacturer when we intend to perform a mock theft, and while we won’t waste police time to raise a crime number, we expect the call centre to demonstrate its full service.
Level one: Stolen and left in street: A movement alert was received five minutes after the bike was removed. Within a minute after this I had a call from the secure operations centre. Had this been a genuine theft, I’d have called the police for a crime number while BikeTrac continued to monitor the bike. Once they have the number, they lock the system down – a requirement of Thatcham approval that means customers aren’t put at risk by trying to retrieve the bike themselves, and the crooks aren’t alerted before the police arrive to catch them.
BikeTrac continued as if it were a real situation. We simulated it being pushed by crooks on a scooter, then left in the street. My bike was successfully tracked all the way, its location pinpointed ready for recovery.
Level two: Stolen and hidden in a building: The movement alert again notified me within five minutes, followed very quickly by a call. The bike was wheeled from the garage into a van with a steel bulkhead, then moved to a building.
In this case, the unit failed to gain any GPS signal – this meant that tracking relied on cell-tower information, and while BikeTrac can narrow the roads being used down significantly, the system loses accuracy over a system with strong GPS communication.
With the bike hidden in a garage, a GPS fix still couldn’t be found, so final location required an operator to attend with an RF detector. This is rare, with only five percent of BikeTrac’s incidents in 2016 requiring this.
If the bike’s left in a van that shields the satellite positioning, the RF beacon may also need to be used, though again, the positioning of the device in your bike, and the building’s structure will dictate whether it’s required.
A strong advantage of having an RF beacon installed is that, if the police aren’t sure where a bike is, they might struggle to get a warrant – using RF will guarantee the location, and make it much easier to convince a judge to release the paperwork. If a bike is taken into a block of flats for instance, recovery without an RF beacon can be very difficult.
Level three: Stolen and hidden in a shipping container: With the bike again taken from a garage and moved in a van with steel bulkhead, while movement alerts were received within a mile of the original location, and a call a mile later, a GPS fix couldn’t be gained.
Once the bike was placed in our shipping container, the signal was completely lost. BikeTrac tells us that they have successfully recovered motorcycles from containers before, but in this case the complete lack of communication meant that the RF beacon couldn’t be activated. In this situation, the bike was lost.
None of our devices to date have managed to beat this test, but Datatool TrakKing’s GPS location data did put the bike just outside the shipping container before communication was lost. While this isn’t enough to give the police a warrant, it’s possible that if they were aware of suspicious activity, or the container was on its own, they might still be able to gain access. BikeTrac didn’t manage to get a GPS fix while we had the van’s back doors open and it was unstrapped, or while wheeling it the 15 metres from the van to the container, so the only location data the company had was from the cellular network. This still put it in the right area though, so if the RF beacon had been enabled, an operator could easily have found the bike.
As soon as the machine left the container again, tracking recommenced, and BikeTrac was able to locate it.
Cellular data put the bike in an accurate enough location for the RF beacon to be used
Bike-jacking is very rare, but if your machine was taken from you as you were riding it, you could contact the secure operations centre at any point to start tracking.
The secure operations centre staff are quick and efficient. There’s only a very small team at present to attend if the RF beacon is required, but so far this hasn’t proven to be any issue – only 15 times in 2016 were they needed.
Once a bike is located, any officer or PCSO can attend to keep it secure or aid recovery. A quick response is still the best method of recovering a motorcycle, and BikeTrac’s systems work well.
In our tests, Datatool’s TrakKing had the disadvantage of not being equipped with an RF beacon. Conversely, BikeTrak’s GPS location abilities are much weaker, which could – in some circumstances – delay recovery. However, both companies have similar recovery rates, so which you choose comes down to the features and abilities of each – both are very good systems, and there’s no denying that, if your machine was hidden in a location such as a block of flats, an RF beacon is almost essential.
In 2016, 299 bikes were stolen while fitted with BikeTrac. 15 of these required an investigator to go out to use the RF beacon. 38 machines were never recovered, though of those, 18 tracker units were found, having been removed and dumped by the thieves. With only five percent of thefts requiring the use of RF tracking, it’s clear that thieves are still tending to leave bikes for a period to check if trackers are fitted – most recoveries are completed by BikeTrac within one to one and a half hours.
The chances of getting your bike back quickly if you have a professionally fitted tracker have been proven to be significantly higher than without. It’s your choice, but if you love your bike, I think a decent tracker like this is certainly a worthwhile investment.
For more information on tracking systems, click here.