Scooter & bike GPS tracking from £12! PT1 | FEATURE
Scooter security is high on the agenda with scooter thefts a national problem and scooter-jacking occurring in some city centres. What can you, as a scooter owner, do about it?
One practical solution that could both help get your scooter back, and maybe even get the thieves collared, is to fit some form of a tracking device.
What sort of tracking device?
This technology has rapidly fallen in price given that almost every smartphone now includes both GSM and GPS tracking features.
What is the difference?
GPS tracking means Global Positioning System (the US satellite navigation system which does now have other rivals). This is the same technology your sat-nav unit uses. Depending on the number of satellites that the unit can “see” the accuracy of position can be down to a few metres.
GSM tracking works from the mobile phone network and triangulates signals from various masts in range to give an indication of position that is much less accurate than GPS but also far more likely to work when inside a building or below ground.
Dave Plummer from Datatool explains:
“In reality GSM triangulation is next to worthless for stolen vehicles unless you have an alternative way of locating the vehicle such as RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) that works when you get within range. Most RFID systems only cope with about 1km in open ground, less in built up areas so you’d still have to be lucky.”
Nowadays it’s easy to find cheap tracking units online for far less than £30, but typically for eBay, not all the ones that are advertised as GPS trackers are actually GPS trackers; many of them work on GSM signals alone which is nowhere near as useful. There are other tiny Bluetooth-based systems which we are going to ignore here. They are best reserved for finding your keys in your house and not really any use for a stolen vehicle. Before any online purchase, make sure to read descriptions and user feedback.
What are the practical options?
They are many and varied, but for simplicity let’s look at three main options:
- The DIY approach: this means picking up a cheap tracker off the internet, fitting and configuring it. In reality any vehicle tracker needs to be powered (or at least recharged) by the main 12V battery so ideally you need a 12v DC scooter and a ‘wired’ option. Cheaper tracking devices tend to be quite power-hungry which is not a problem on something ridden every day, but may mean that a modern scooter needs to be left on trickle charge if you still want the electric starter to work after a long period of disuse.
- The ‘sealed unit’ option: For a bit more money you can buy a ‘sealed for life’ option which doesn’t need to be wired to the vehicle and has a battery life of several years.
- The monitored option: if you can afford it then you can have a tracking system professionally fitted to your vehicle and this will be monitored. Monitored systems will usually be quicker to alert the police and therefore are more useful for recovery of the vehicle and apprehension of the criminals.
What are the running costs?
They can range from as low as £12 for a cheap unit, up to a few hundred for a fitted and monitored system like the Datatool TrakKING Adventure system (£229 plus fitting and subscription). Iggy tested the latter on his way to EuroVespa in France last year.
On top of all of these comes some form of regular fee. All these devices communicate their location using the mobile phone network so at the absolute minimum you will need a pay-as-you-go SIM card for a mobile network. For options 2 and 3 these costs are factored into a subscription fee.
OPTION 1: The DIY
Eden Bakewell of Lambrettaimages.com has been using a cheap GPS/GSM Chinese tracking device for a couple of years. He answered some questions on his experiences with a generic TK102B.
What is the cost of a unit like this?
Average around £13 for 1 unit.
What are the running costs for this device (any subscription or SIM contract charges?)
You need a contract 2G SIM with unlimited text and some data. Half a gig would be more than enough per month. 2G SIMs from Lycamobile or GiffGaff are perfect for Tracker units with a year’s worth of credit starting at around £40. You cannot use the 3G-only 3-network.
Have you seen any better models with regards to theft recovery?
There are plenty of other trackers around but for the price this seems good value.
How easy is this to hide on a scooter?
Obviously I’m not going to say where it’s hidden in my scooter but it’s not much bigger than a matchbox so it would fit under the headset. Behind horncover, etc etc. It’s just too big to fit inside the frame tube.
Is it difficult to set-up?
Not if you are a bit of a geek, but it certainly isn’t straightforward*
Has yours ever failed or suffered technical difficulties with your tracker?
Not had any faults with the one I have so far.
Has the battery ever run flat?
The battery can run flat during the winter months if the scooter isn’t used. The unit can be wired to the scooter loom so that its battery can charge from the scooter battery and has its own internal battery that lasts about a week if not hard wired.
Have you ever had a potential theft or a false positive?
Thankfully not. I have had alerts for vibration. More than once this has happened not long after I have left the scooter. I’ve gone back to look and found some nutter sitting on the scooter having his photo taken. Cheeky bastards.
What would you say was the biggest downside to the use of such a tracker?
Biggest downside would be the initial set up as all the commands have to be text to the unit using specific and exact commands. Also as I only have 1 unit currently I have to swap the unit between scooters.
You can read more about what Eden has used his tracker for in the next episode.
VIDEO: Oxford Dantracker device
OPTION 2: THE SEALED UNIT
If all of that sounds a bit too much like hard work then there are simple, sealed for life units like the Dantracker device. These are waterproof and run off an internal battery so you can fit and forget.
- Sealed and waterproof
- Claimed 10 year battery life with replacement offered if the battery runs flat.
- Easy to swap from vehicle to vehicle
- Initial cost much higher than DIY option.
- Odd shape not so easy to stash on a scooter where it can’t be found.
- Moderate subscription costs.
- A test unit that Iggy tried proved inaccurate but this may have been a one-off. Andy (in the accompanying video) seems very happy with his.
OPTION 3: THE MONITORED OPTION
If you have a scooter with 12v DC and want complete peace of mind a monitored tracker is the best option. They’re hard wired-in, hidden, don’t need recharging and the tracking is very accurate. With a monitored tracker you aren’t just buying hardware, you are buying a service. For instance, with Datatool the device will be remotely checked every 28 days.
- Knowing your scooter’s whereabouts is monitored 24/7.
- Phone call alert if it’s moved without the ignition being on.
- Easy to access live tracking on mobile/computer.
- Thatcham Cat 6 approved.
- Trained staff available to support customer in the event of a theft.
- Not really an option for classic scooters that don’t use a 12V battery.
- Initial purchase/fitting cost is much higher.
- Annual fee (£99 for Datatool). Monthly option of £8.95 per month
- Can’t be easily swapped to other scooters (requires dealer to reinstall on new scooter).
“I’ve used the Datatool TrakKING Adventure for the past two years. It tracked me all the way to Croatia and back in 2015 and also St Tropez last year, not to mention giving me extra peace of mind on a day-to-day basis (and a chance to find the scooter myself if it did get stolen). The unit was fitted by a mobile Datatool fitter at home, it took around two hours to fit and is well concealed. Tracking is perfect and consistent; it’s also easy to access on mobile or computer. If you’re moving the scooter in a van, or recovery truck you can update the monitoring service to avoid getting an alert. On the few times I’ve forgotten to let them know it’s being moved I’ve received a phone call to ask if I know the scooter is being moved within a few minutes of it being in a van, very reassuring.
VIDEO: Datatool TrakKING - how it works
SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER
As with everything, the cost of tracking varies depending on how much you are prepared to do yourself.
It’s all very well having a tracker fitted, but what are you going to do if your scooter does start moving when you aren’t there?
If you have other transport, and can raise some local muscle, then you can go to recover it yourselves, but consider carefully the implications of that action beforehand. Teenage thieves with power tools should not be underestimated if you decide to take recovery into your own hands.
With a monitored system the police will soon be notified that your scooter has been stolen. From the point that you report a loss, most monitored systems disable your access to the location information and it is left entirely to the boys in blue to make a recovery. This process does rely on police having resources to deal with your case, but live tracking information is often treated as valuable because it gives the Police a very good chance to catch the thieves rather than just going on a wild goose chase. In London Datatool TrakKING has lead to many recoveries of missing bikes and scooters, but don’t expect the same sort of police response in the countryside.
Another thing to consider is how and where you plan to hide your tracker so it both works with good signal and isn’t discovered immediately by the thieves.
In our opinion a tracker should not be relied upon as a main form of vehicle security unless you are planning some form of vigilante sting operation. Instead it should merely be regarded as another part of your anti-theft arsenal.
As ever, the best defence is simply to put so many big, chunky security devices on your scooter that the thieves move on to steal a different scooter. There are usually many that are left totally unsecured by anything other than the steering lock and those are easy pickings with less risk of being caught…
Text: By Sticky
Additional text and images from Iggy, Eden Bakewell & Dave Plummer of Datatool.
The read the second part, click this link
Where can I buy a tracking device?
- For the cheap TK102-based devices, you can search eBay. If you pay a little more (around £40) you can get a tracker that comes with a UK SIM card and is pre-configured.
- For a fully monitored system, you can use this link to find out more about Datatool’s TrakKING system.
- For an autonomous system you’ll have to hunt around. The UK distributors chose not to support this article.
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