- TECH ARTICLES
With bike theft on the rise and lots of requests for electric bike GPS tracking systems from our customers over the years, an email from a company based in France was quite timely. Trackap got in touch offering us an all in one hardware and app solution designed for ease of use from every angle. Naturally, we were interested. Was this the product we had been waiting for?
We actually didn't know the true value of the electric bike GPS tracking systems on the market. How many exist? What are the costs? How easy are they to fit? Are there any ongoing costs? What support is there if something goes wrong? What do you actually do if your bike is stolen? Will I get a discount on my insurance? Here, we dig into the rising popularity of technology trickled down from the car market.
How good is an electric bike GPS tracking system?
We secured a demo unit from Trackap and fitted it to a staff members Haibike AllMtn 3.0. Being a strong mountain biker and a Senior Technician on Bosch and Yamaha systems with a decade of experience exclusively on ebikes, Dan was best placed to give us the feedback we needed on fitting and app integration, as well as attempting to "rough it up a bit".
Another thing to consider was that a some of our eBikes leave us with a tuning kit fitted. On the Bosch systems, this is always a Speedbox 3.0. We had to make sure that if we were going to offer a tracking system to our customers, it needs to work flawlessly with and without any optional extras so we fitted one of those too!
Dan rode some of the roughest terrain around our local area on his well timed week off. Light forest trails, hard pack, right up to root riddled and rocky climbs and descents and some big jumps and drops thrown in for good measure. The device didn't miss a beat and he was still able to locate it in the back of his van before setting off home, and it was still locatable at home the following day.
Clearly it can take some abuse, and continues to work regardless of terrain and while running in series with a tuning kit. While the Bosch eBike system is happy to be ridden through water and the tracking system is splash proof and mounted inside the frame, it can't be fully submerged, so this is something to bare in mind.
The true test of a tracker is when the bike is stolen. Thankfully Dan still has his bike, so we can't comment on that part but from a week of solid testing, its clear that the kit has the ability to easily report its location on demand, any time you need it and so we have every confidence that should the worst happen, its location will be easy to get, and the Police should have no trouble recovering it!
How do electric bike GPS tracking systems work?
The basics are simple. A small "dongle" fitted into the wiring of the bike, along with an accompanying app for you to take a peek at where you left it, or where it is if you discover its now not where you left it. The two talk to eachother, telling you where your bike is in real time.
The kit itself looks like this;
The little black box is the tracking device. This is located inside the frame of the bike and is attached to the wiring. We've come up with ever more inventive places to fit tuning kits in tight bike frames over the years so you can be assured that it wont be visible and will be difficult to get at when fitted to your bike! The little wires and their plugs are used to integrate it into the bikes main wiring loom, effectively "stealing" the tiny little bit of power it needs to operate. Its such a tiny amount of power that you wont notice any decrease in range of your ebike.
In the interest of security, we're not going to show you where/how its fitted to a bike. It'll only offer potential thieves an idea of what they're looking for when stealing their next ebike. You'll know its there. They wont!
The GPS tracking system sits silently in the bike, waiting for a "ping" from you and operates on 2G mobile network service and GPS. When using the app, you can request the bikes location any time of day or night and this request is normally routed via the tracking system manufacturers servers. Their server will send the request signal to a satellite which in turns "looks" for your tuning kit. Your tuning kit hears the "call" of the app and offers it a "virtual handshake", confirming its the correct device and then sends it GPS coordinates. This information is sent back via the satellite to the tracking system operators server, then to your device. This entire process normally takes just a couple of seconds.
How easy are electric bike GPS tracking systems to fit?
We don't like to make things seem more difficult than they are. The kit is designed with certified bike technicians in mind, but fitting or removing a GPS tracking device on an electric bike isn't out of the scope of a competent DIY bike mechanic or anyone who knows their way around an ebike.
Despite this, fitting any ebike GPS tracker is going to mean removing wiring plugs to motors/the battery which are covered by a manufacturers warranty and for that reason alone, this product, just as with the Tuning Kits we sell, wont be offered for sale individually and will be an "add to bike" option only, offered only on new bikes purchased from us or as an accessory fitted during routine maintenance/servicing. This is to protect your warranty, not to be annoying or obstructive. We don't honour warranties on bikes where these components have been visibly fiddled with or have had aftermarket components fitted outside of our workshops by well trained hands.
Are there any ongoing costs to owning an ebike GPS tracking system?
Normally yes, and they vary wildly.
Some companies offer kits with a high upfront/installation cost but no ongoing running costs. Often, these are great to start with, but with no further investment in the company producing them from the bike owners, you're relying on others seeing the same benefit and buying the kits to enable the company to continually develop and maintain their service.
Trackap from e-Bikeshop costs £199 for the unit and installation which is less than many, and over £100 less than the E-Connect system from Haibike (now discontinued in the UK), and comes with a free 1 year subscription, then costs €36 per year (just over £2 per month, payable directly to the product manufacturer via the app) to maintain the service. Trackap are committed to the continual development of their service both in hardware and the user interface with lots of new features in the pipeline and this aspect of their service really stood out in the week long discussions we had with them over whether this was a product worth bringing to our European customers. (Currently, Trackap is only available in Europe).
What support should I expect if something goes wrong with my electric bike GPS tracker?
At e-Bikeshop, we're eBike experts and this extends to the products we sell alongside our bikes. With any product we intend stock, we spend time testing it and getting to know it before we offer it to our customers. Not only do we get to know the product inside out, but we also grill the manufacturers on their own ability to support their product in the process.
We try to keep as much product support as we can "in-house", positioning ourselves as a one stop shop for any issues with any of the products we sell. Our technicians are some of the best in the business, and our office based Support Technicians are always on hand to help with aftersales enquiries about the products we offer.
If you ever experience an issue with a product sold by us, we would always recommend you give us a call or drop us an email first, but Trackap have committed to always be in the background if we need their help. Your £2 per month subscription fee supports their ongoing service backup! We of course do it at no cost, as part of your investment in us when you buy a bike or other product!
Will I get a discount on my insurance?
On motor vehicles, discounts are commonly offered when you can provide proof that your vehicle is fitted with an insurance approved tracking system like those from Tracker Networks but they're normally only found on fleet or high end vehicles or slightly more commonly on motorbikes since they're more easily stolen.
As with any insurance terms, whether or not you get a discount on your insurance and how much it is will vary from provider to provider. We exclusively use Bikmo to offer 2 weeks free insurance on any bike sold by us, which covers the bike for loss, theft, damage and third party liability but they don't currently offer any discount for bike owners with a tracker fitted and this is likely because unlike on motor vehicles, there are no minimum set and industry recognised standards of equipment/reliability of service on ebike systems yet.
Because of the lack of industry standard in products, the currently very low rate of uptake in tracking systems on eBikes (likely due to lack of education on benefits and how they work) and therefore a very sparse amount data required by insurance companies to calculate any reduction in "risk" to them, its very hard for an insurance company to provide any meaningful or calculated "reward" for fitting one.
Regardless, we think the investment in a tracking device for ebikes is something that should be rewarded, and we'll continue to work with and support our insurance partner in making sure they have everything needed in case this is a future possibility.
What should I do if my eBike is stolen?
Contact the Police straight away.
You can either reach them on 101 (please don't call 999 for a stolen bike unless you're in immediate danger or seriously hurt), or pop into your local station. Its a good idea to take a picture or description of your bike including the brand, model name, size and any distinguishing features (bumps, scrapes, any stickers or accessories fitted etc) along with your frame number if you have it to hand. Your bike may be being stored/hidden with many others and it'll help them get it back to you quicker!
Although tempting, its never a good idea to go looking for your bike yourself. It might have been stolen by a mischievous child, or it could have been stolen by one of the many gangs using them to further support other far more serious organised crime and you wont know which until its too late.
Trackap has an area of its website specially designed for Police to use and when you report your bike as stolen via the app, it will generate you a special code which they can use to monitor its location while they investigate.
Did you know - It's estimated that around 285,000 bikes are stolen in the UK each year (and this figure is rising!) but less than 25% of these thefts are ever reported to the Police, with owners believing that nothing can or will be done. Of the total number reported as stolen, more than half of them are actually recovered by Police, often while investigating other crimes or when multiple bikes are stolen by the same thieves and one bike leads them to a stash of others. Unfortunately, fewer than 5% of stolen bikes end up back with their owners because the Police are unable to locate the owners of the unreported ones! These bikes are normally held for a set time period before being sold at Police auctions, the money going back into the pot to help protect local communities from similar crimes. Electric bike GPS tracking systems go a long way to helping you get your stolen bike recovered!
If that isn't a good enough reason to purchase a GPS tracker for your new eBike, we don't know what is!