Motorbike security

Motorcycle trackers review: BikeTrac vs Tracker Monitor

Motorcycle trackers are nothing new, but with the surge in bike theft in some areas of the country, Jock thought it was about time his bikes had better protection.

You don’t need to be loitering on social media to see that motorcycle theft has risen dramatically in recent years. Whether this is down to issues relating to police numbers falling, bike numbers on the rise, criminals turning their attention to what has always been a ‘soft target’, the facts remain, bikes are getting stolen and a large percentage are not being recovered.

This has led me to have my very own ‘if they want it, they’ll have it’ percentile system for my bikes being stolen. 100% being they’ll get them easily and I won’t ever see them again, 0% being they’ll never get them or see the light of day after they try.

My aim is to reduce it down to covering dry cleaning costs from the swaths of criminals I’ll be placing in the ground, Game of Thrones style. However, I’m a realistic man and I know I’ll never get it to 0%. Not least I don’t own a sword.

But if I can chip away at that 100% mark then it’ll at least make me a touch more comfortable when I go to sleep at night, or even simply when I go to pay for my fuel.

At home, I’m fortunate to have a garage and that makes it a little easier to chip away at that 100% mark. Ground anchors, CCTV, alarms, garage defenders, large chains have all found their way into that small concrete building attached to my house. Short of a motion activated gun turret, I think I’ve taken reasonable steps. At home I reckon I’ve chipped it down to a rough 50%. Plus I have a baseball bat and a barely stifled sense of rage that may assist there.

Away from home it’s not so easy. Decent chains are heavy and cumbersome on a bike, disc locks easier to carry, but both seem easily overcome with handheld grinders these days as many a YouTube or Facebook video will painfully display.

So what else can I do to chip at the 100%? Well a tracking device has been my next step. Yes there are lots of trackers on eBay and I’m sure they’re good for the money, but unless you’re competent to strip the bike down, locate a covert position and wire it up appropriately, which I’m not, invariably the cheap units are going under the seat or tucked in a bit of fairing, lending them easily found by the thief. If you can, however, do all the covert fitting bits, then they are to be considered because in truth the much bigger names with their 24hr coverage and fancy locator systems really are at the salty end of bike security pricing scale.

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However, as I could get separate deals on each system, I bought a BikeTrac device for one bike and then a Tracker Monitor for the other.

BikeTrac offered three months free subscription with a code I got at the NEC bike show last year. So I got the device, had it fitted and activated the free sub saving a few quid in the process.

The Tracker Monitor came about when I got invited recently to a training day run by Tony Garofalo of Tracker down at MotoWorks in Kent. At the time MotoWorks had a deal on the Tracker device, £369 fitted with two years subscription included, so again in true skinflint form I chased a deal and got to observe their training day along the way. In actual fact, Jock got an even better deal than that – see after the article.

Both require covert fitment and present the fitter a challenge when placing on a motorcycle. Each bike is different in size and shape and then each user may have extras added to their bike that make it more difficult to house the device. Both units are monitored 24hrs a day, give movement indication and are similar in price, give or take a few pounds. And if both are found by the thief and discarded, well that’s the end of their usefulness, pretty much.

Tracker will not tell you where your bike is, BikeTrac has the facility for you to view your bike but once they are informed that your bike is stolen this function is turned off for your safety, the criminals safety and to allow BikeTrac and the Police to do what they’re paid to do, recover your bike.

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In actual use, both have pros and cons

BikeTrac – £299 plus fitment, plus yearly subscription of £99, the more years you buy up front the better the deal.

Pros

GPS, GSM, RF, this is a pretty laden bit of kit. With a clear sky the unit can be seen by the GPS, without that then the RF (it is a VHF signal) can send out an approximate location of your bike. In more difficult areas such as underground car parks, garages, in the back of vehicles then there is a chance that a signal will reach the monitoring center. In use BikeTrac say they rely on the RF signal in roughly 1 in 10 thefts.

motorcycle trackers

Once fitted you have pretty much full control of the unit, being able to change all your details on their website, update to another bike, update your details, up to 3 other contact persons you nominate, monitor your bike in real time, plus recording journeys as well as switch on the various security options such as movement trigger, geofence trigger, service mode, no monitoring from BikeTrac at all if you so wish. It also records your speed to be viewed back later, or not if you prefer.

They also have an App for Apple and Android which allows access to the basics of the device and its services. Realistically it lets you see where your bike is.

A big bonus of the BikeTrac system is that it is transferable between bikes. Like the Tracker Monitor, it’s also Thatcham 7 approved.

Cons

Well, I get false alarms sometimes. Calls, emails or text messages when the bike is stationary or parked in my garage. Sometimes it’s just a low battery warning when the battery isn’t low (always on a trickle charger). Or I get nothing when I’m moving the bike around. In my van when transporting the bike I often forget to switch the unit over to service mode and only once had a call, 10miles after the journey started to ask if I was with my bike. My errors of course but does highlight a concern with a consistency of performance.

The App is good at telling you the basics, but really is a novelty until they actually provide the same facilities that the webpage allows. So, on a phone, trying to switch options, it can get to be a ball ache with fat fingers trying to update the device. And often it doesn’t update the device at all. It’s much easier to use a laptop, but of course that’s also a ball ache and how often do you carry a laptop around on the bike?

After a while the options of viewing where your bike is or reviewing journeys become redundant. If it’s not stolen then you won’t get updates and if you can’t remember where your bike is or where your last journey went, then you may need to be seeking to spend your money with BUPA, not BikeTrac.

If located the device can easily be unplugged as it is not strictly speaking hard wired into the bike. If power is cut to the device it has up to 30days internal battery support, which to be fair is much more than the Tracker units 6 hours.

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Tracker Monitor – £361 includes fitment, plus yearly subscription of £104, the more years you buy up front the better the deal.

Pros

Patented digital VHF signal, supported by a growing Mesh Network (locator devices placed in other vehicles, locations, that ping activated devices back to Tracker), as well as full UK Police support with Tracker locator equipment in vehicles and helicopters. In the UK approximately 1700 Police vehicles and 30 helicopters have their tracking equipment fitted, along with handheld devices being issued to each force. All Ports have locator equipment to alert of stolen vehicles as part of the Mesh Network. This VHF frequency is claimed to provide a more reliable signal than GPS & GSM as it is not easily blocked by easily purchased GPS/GSM blockers and should give more support to tracking devices in difficult to reach locations such as lock ups, vans and shipping containers with their expanding Mesh Network. Naturally, with all that on board, the Tracker Monitor is Thatcham 7 approved.

motorcycle trackers

Ease of use. It is pretty much a fit and forget device. Once installed there are no web pages, Apps or journeys to interact with. If your bike is moved, they’ll call you. You get around 20ft in practical terms before the motion of a switched off bike will activate a call to the number you provided. So, unlike the BikeTrac device you don’t need to remember to switch from Movement to Geofence or Service mode if you’re moving your bike around to wash it, for example. (I suspect BikeTrac are getting bored with all my false alarms due to me forgetting which mode it’s in. I have OCD with bike cleanliness).

Cons

The VHF signal only gives an approximate location, unlike GPS. But unlike GPS does not need a clear sky above to provide a location of any kind.

If your bike battery goes flat, for example during a winter layup, the unit will resort to its non-rechargeable internal battery which has only six hours lifetime. If this goes flat also, it is a £99 flat fee for Tracker to replace this, which at least covers them attending, stripping the bike to the location of the device on your bike, as recorded on their database and replacing the battery.

If the bike has the power stopped to the unit, by perhaps the battery being disconnected, then once that six hours has passed, the device will only work once power is reconnected.

You do not have an App – or monitoring system via text or email – to warn you of a low battery. You really need to keep on top of that bike battery, which is no bad thing really. But if the bike battery is flat, rest assured the Tracker device will have next to no internal battery power.

The system is not transferable between bikes though Tracker operates a loyalty scheme which provides reduced cost on further devices.

Currently, there’s only partial European coverage.

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Conclusion

Realistically these are expensive devices which have limitations (like it seems all things in biking) and are only as good as their negatives in real terms. They are not on their own the answer to bike theft. Both devices have very good and very similar recovery rates, no doubt. Neither promote marking your bike to dissuade would be thieves, why let them know you have a hidden device? It’ll only make the thief disconnect the battery and hunt for the device, should they have the time.

Which on the Tracker only needs to be 6hours, then they can spend all the time they like. With the BikeTrac, until found you have 30days. That can make a difference in some circumstances, though if they’re looking for a device, they’ll find them. There really are only so many places these devices can be hidden on a bike. But if they aren’t found and power remains supplied to the devices, then these help chip away at that certainty that your bike is gone and you’re claiming on your fully comprehensive insurance, should you have been able to afford that.

On paper, the BikeTrac device appears more developed with GPS, GSM and RF as their locator technology, even though it is much newer to the game of tracking vehicles. The Tracker Monitor device technology is well proven, Tracker has been at this game since the early 90’s and as such have built up a broad expanding Mesh Network coverage and along with the Police and Ports support arguably provides more chance of their signal being identified. However, the kit being in the Police cars highlights the point that if a Police car can’t get near the bike (around 200m), and a bike can go places that a car can’t, then the Police car equipment can be limited. Tracker has thought of this and as well as fitting them to the 30 helicopters they have also issued handheld equipment to Police to get around the problem.

But if the Police are busy then you’re limited by this stage with both devices. And whilst that is the case with BikeTrac, they are however beginning to let the customer know the location of their device/bike if it’s stolen and the Police can’t assist and let the customer make the choice of whether to seek out their bike, taking into account the risks associated with this course of action. This is a recent thing for BikeTrac and in response to the Police just unable to attend calls on occasions and highlights the impact of cuts on the Police.

Previously this was not something BikeTrac would consider, now, they feel they have to. This does differ from Force to Force. BikeTrac gives a recent example of Kent Police putting up a helicopter and a number of cars to locate a scooter. Good for them, good for the owner of the scooter too. It can take a period of time and careful management by BikeTrac to come to the decision of informing an owner of the device’s location, but at least it’s something they’re flexible enough to consider.

The BikeTrac App is still far from polished and feels partially developed, almost a ‘nice to have’ on your phone, but doesn’t really replace the web page. At least BikeTrac has an App though, however limited it may be. I think this is something Tracker need to step up with. They may be the big dog in the car and van/fleet world, but in the motorcycle world they feel like the new kid oddly holding proven technology, just not a fully developed setup. Their online presence is lacking around motorcycles and if they want to sell devices, get feedback on the performance to improve their overall package, well Apps and social media are the way to go in this day and age.

In use, the BikeTrac device gives good performance, but not flawless with ghost activations and the occasional lack of activations. Plus, with this user being a constantly distracted individual the bells and whistles have grown a little thin and rarely get used, the App hardly ever.

The Tracker device hasn’t provided any ghost activations and to date I’ve not put that bike into the back of my van for a drive around to see if I get an activation. In fact, I’m not even sure how I would stop a call if I were to move the bike with the ignition off. I guess in time I’ll find out, but it would be good if I had some easy way of preventing these activations should the situation arise. Once again a little less polished than BikeTrac.

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So would I recommend buying a tracking device, let alone one over the other? Yes, I would, but only after you’ve considered what I believe to be the basics. Locks, ground anchors, covers, safe locations etc.

I can put up with some of the flaws of my BikeTrac experience to date, in the main it works a treat, this user not so much. The App will get developed and however much of a ball ache it’s good to have control of the device, whether on the App or web page. Plus, the GPS is a good addition over the Tracker Monitor, which is BikeTrac’s mainstay in their bike recovery performance.

However, I hate fuss so the fit, forget, just get on with it provided by the Tracker Monitor makes it an easier experience for this forgetful tightwad. Knowing there is an expanding Mesh Network, that there is wide Police integration on the ground for the Tracker device with locator systems fitted to their cars, helicopters and at the Ports is reassuring. Tracker may be new to bikes but they’re the experienced hand at tracking and their device recovery figures are in the same ballpark as BikeTrac, so they do work.

So, to sit on the fence, I’d have either and be happy they’re reducing my insurance premiums, giving me a little bit more confidence when the bikes are at home and when they’re not. If I were putting one on a 3rd bike, now I have experience of these two, personally I would really chase whichever had the best deal at the time, such is the balance of the two. At the moment, for me the deal provided by MotoWorks was the decider on this occasion.

But I still carry an alarmed disc lock. I still try park my bike where I deem it a reduced risk, I still consider it always at risk of being stolen, home or away. But if it does get stolen, hopefully, I’ll have a better chance of getting it back without having to resort to buying a sword, Game of Thrones style.

How much !!!?

Jock managed to get an even better deal because he’s a member of the London Motorcycle Riders Club where MotoWorks will do the Tracker Monitor for just £310 fitted, with 2 yrs subscription. If you live in the South East, the club not only offers great rides, they have a number of discount deals for members too.

 

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The Author

Jock McJock

Jock McJock

Jock would describe himself as a world child, though a child with a greying beard and ever-receding hairline.

Gaining his bike licence over 30 years ago, from the roads of Perth, Scotland, to the dirt roads of Perth, Australia, he stopped counting the miles as the half million mark easily came and went, barely noticed. Emotive, sarcastic, direct, as happy to bimble and take in the view as he is to drag a kneeslider and ignore the view.

His biking CV is an eclectic mix, from racer to tourer, track instructor to ride leader, he has ridden all over the globe, describing the journey as ‘in progress’, never ready to sit back and settle for the biking memories he has. Rather than just going from A to B, Jock makes sure A to B has a story in it to tell.

Jock revels in the analytical side of riding and product testing. His passion spills out into helping everyone from newcomers to aspiring racers, providing guidance to those riders who may lack confidence on their bikes, through lectures and riding analysis.

So buy him a donut and a coffee and settle in for a roller coaster ride of biking emotions.