Smart bike locks: How cyclists and bike sharers are using tech to fight theft

Americans like to put their pedal to the metal quite literally with bicycles it seems.

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Cycling has shown steady growth in the last few years. In 2016, around 12.4 percent of Americans cycled on a regular basis according to analytics aggregator Statista – which was equivalent to about 40 million cyclists in the U.S. at the time. By 2017, that number grew from around 43 million to 47.5 million. Moreover, the national bicycle market is estimated to be around $6 billion annually, and like any other booming market, there’s a chance for thieves to cash in.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2018 Crime in the United States report puts bicycle robberies at 131,777 for the year. However, 529 Garage, one of the most popular bicycle registry that offers community reporting and recovery services says that number might be higher throughout all of North America. According to a study conducted by the company this summer, over 2 million bikes are stolen continent-wide. If this number is true, that’s a bicycle stolen every 30 seconds.

This issue plays a role in bike sharing programs across the nation as well. New York and New Jersey’s bike share system Citi Bike is the largest in the country and has faced its own sensationalized headlines throughout the years due to opportunistic thieves. On the program’s launch day in May 27, 2013, the 6,000-bike network was down one before it was even launched to the public.

In 2014, Citi Bike experienced 300 stolen vehicles from docking stations and eight months into 2015 there were 476 stolen, according to a report from the New York Post. Likewise a report from Gothamist said Citi Bikes are stolen so frequently that the company doesn’t have the means to recover them in a timely manner. Other more recent reports from DNAinfo has shown a stolen Citi Bike with a custom paint job while WABC-TV has shown another mysteriously covered in barnacles.

Some Citi Bikes have even found a new life in the Caribbean according to some social media users who have witnessed bikers riding or selling the recognizable, blue bicycles throughout the Dominican Republic.

A stolen Citi Bike is not a victimless crime and usually results in the last rider to incur a $1,200 fee plus tax if missing for more than 24 hours.

“Bicycle theft is typically seen as a low police priority, its impact and magnitude often overlooked because police often consider incidents on a case-by-case basis,” wrote the Community Oriented Policing Services U.S. Department of Justice.

For this reason, bike protection is up to each individual cyclist in order to prevent would-be thieves. Luckily, with the advancement of the internet, Bluetooth and app connectivity, technology is helping to combat theft with smart bike locks. The following five brands are pushing the industry to evolve while also keeping bikes safe in creative ways.

ABUS 770A SmartX

The ABUS 770A SmartX is designed to secure bikes without a key. All users need is a powered smartphone and the downloaded ABUS app. Though, a keycard is provided as a backup.

When users are in range of their bicycle, the lock automatically releases for swift boarding. For anyone trying to tamper with a bike that has the lock on will activate a deterring alarm that goes up to 100 decibels.

LINKA Smart Bike Lock

The LINKA Smart Bike Lock is another keyless design that utilizes varied sensors to keep a ride safe. It can detect movement or drastic temperature change in case of tampering. Moreover, the lock is made out of durable steel and has a built-in siren alarm that can reach 110 decibels and deliver smartphone alerts.

It attaches to a bike wheel and can be used with chains for added security. The LINKA app allows for controls, but the lock also has a physical button for access and can even accept a passcode. A distance-based auto-unlock feature is integrated for user convenience.

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Skunklock

Though it hasn’t hit mass market yet, the crowdfunded Skunklock that “fights back” has made waves on Indiegogo, earning over $50,000 by hundreds of backers who pitched in for the porotype.

As the name suggests, the Skunklock is meant to stop thieves in their tracks with the power of smell. The brand’s reasoning? According to its company website, “We realize that any lock on the market can be cut with an angle grinder in 30 seconds or less.”

It might not have all the high tech bells and whistles that some of the other locks are touting in the market, but the design is definitely smart in its own right.

SmartHalo Bike System

The SmartHalo Bike System does more than provide security, it transforms a regular bike into a smart bike with navigation and smartphone notification features, fitness tracking and auto-lighting. It fits onto a standard handlebar and has a built-in anti-theft locking mechanism.

There’s also an alarm system that goes off with sound and flashing lights if someone attempts to tamper with the lock.

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ULAC TRON-XD Fingerprint Shackle Lock

For users that prefer using biometrics as a security method, the ULAC TRON-XD Fingerprint Shackle Lock is a unique bike lock that uses this method. This aluminum and silicon u-lock has a built-in fingerprint sensor that can accept up to 20 fingerprints at a time in case bike sharing is necessary. Scanning is quick and takes up to half a second to unlock.

In case of low battery, two emergency abloy keys are provided so users can still access their bike when needed.