How do you choose a GPS motorcycle anti-theft device?

By Alexandre from SMT Performances | 12/07/2019

How do you choose a GPS motorcycle anti-theft device?

There are a lot of products for sale which describe themselves as “GPS motorcycle anti-theft devices”, but those that explain where they were made, how they work, and their benefits through drawing upon case studies, for example, are rare.

And yet, between a GPS anti-theft device made in China, sold for around £12.90 (15€), and well-known brands offering products made in France of between £86 and £258 (100€-300€), any consumer will suspect from the get-go that there must be a difference…

Through this article, we are going to go back to basics by answering the following three questions in very specific terms:

  • What is a GPS motorcycle anti-theft device used for?
  • What are the solutions being offered for sale?
  • And what are the requirements you should know about before buying one?

What is a GPS motorcycle ant-theft device really used for?

You perhaps don’t know, but there are two categories of motorcycle anti-theft device. The first is the one which everybody knows; these are “mechanical anti-theft devices”, the aim of which is to slow down/complicate the theft of a motorbike as much as possible. This could mean a metal chain together with its padlock, a ‘U’ anti-theft lock, a disc lock, etc.

This type of protection allows for two things; firstly, it dissuades less experienced thieves (cutting an SRA approved chain requires a certain technique and a suitable tool), and secondly it slows down experienced thieves. The example of an audible alarm is again slightly different, as it won’t slow down the theft, but may potentially make it more difficult (as the thief theoretically has less time before the police respond).

This type of anti-theft device is vital, as even if your motorcycle is not “the most beautiful in the neighbourhood”, without a mechanical anti-theft device it de facto becomes “the easiest to steal in the neighbourhood”…

Unfortunately, a mechanical protection is not always enough, as an experienced thief will always know how to find a way around them in more or less time. You only need to watch the video below to realise: if you come up against “professional thieves”, then all they need is a few minutes to take your motorcycle away, particularly when lifting the motorcycle up if it isn’t attached to a fixed point in the ground, or worse, during a robbery when under the direct threat of the offender.

The second type of protection against motorcycle theft includes GPS anti-theft devices, which are also sometimes called “GPS receivers”, “GPS trackers”, or even “GPS wires”. They generally come in the form of a memory stick or a very compact casing (Pégase is smaller than a credit card, for example), they are concealed within the motorcycle so that the thief is totally unaware of their presence during their theft attempt.

The way they work is simple: they alert the owner of the vehicle in the event of a theft attempt on the motorcycle (a feature known as “suspicious movement detection”), and in cases where the motorcycle has been stolen, they allow for it to be easily recovered by pinpointing it (a feature known as “real time positioning” or “tracking”).

As you will undoubtedly know, GPS anti-theft devices are absolutely not a replacement for mechanical anti-theft devices. While mechanical devices seek to deter/slow down a theft, GPS anti-theft devices allow you to be warned about a theft in progress (by notifying you immediately wherever possible), and track a stolen motorcycle (in order to then ask the law enforcement agencies to come and recover it).

So that’s the theory. Now let’s consider specifically how these GPS anti-theft devices work.

What are the requirements in order to choose a GPS motorcycle anti-theft device?

Put simply, a good GPS anti-theft device has to combine three attributes: be accurate, responsive, and self-sufficient. It is upon these three requirements that 95% of the product’s quality will be decided, and thus more often than not its price.

Precise means tracking in real time up until the last second

If all GPS anti-theft devices offer a vehicle tracking feature, those that clearly state their level of accuracy are very rare! But this level of accuracy depends on two features that are actually simple to explain.

The first is the precise nature of the location. Products offering “low power GPS” and other “positioning via WPS (Wi-Fi Positioning System)” will have less accuracy, and the point shown will not exactly match the vehicle’s location.

The second is even more important: this is how frequently positions are sent. Very few manufacturers mention this, and yet, when a theft occurs it becomes crucial!

Let us explain. The majority of the time, a stolen motorcycle is immediately brought to a place which is out of sight, quite often cut off from the GSM network. It could be a lock-up garage, a shed in the middle of a forest, and most often than not it tends to be an underground locked garage. As a result, in order to recover it, you have to get the last location before it “disappears”. If your GSM anti-theft device sends its data continuously, then the last point will in fact be located in front of the garage/lock-up’s door, which will limit the amount of searches! Conversely, if your GPS anti-theft device only sends its data every 5 or 10 minutes, there’s a very good chance that the last location provided represents a point in the middle of a street, and it then becomes impossible to know which garage/lock-up the motorcycle has been parked in! When this happens, the law enforcement agencies will not want to take action, explaining that they cannot search an entire neighbourhood for a vehicle!

In this regard, the GPS Pégase anti-theft device is quite simply the most effective on the market. As it was developed through the world of motorcycling competition (with Pégase also being used as a timekeeper and an analysis tool for circuit and road performances), it possesses maximum accuracy which can reach up to 4 tracking points sent every second! This very high level of performance allows the anti-theft feature to visualise the movement of the stolen motorcycle right up until the very last location where the GSM network was still available.

Responsive means being alerted quickly, but not needlessly

There are two types of possible response for a GPS anti-theft device:

  • It will either only detect “suspicious movements” which reflect the reality when a theft occurs (movements of the motorcycle, vibrations caused by the cutting of the mechanical anti-theft device, repeated and/or strong impacts, etc.) In this example, you will only be alerted when there is a risk of theft.
  • Alternatively it will detect all types of impact, and in this case you will immediately be alerted at the slightest impact, for example, if another motorcycle is parked next to yours and its tyre lightly touches the tyre of yours.

In both cases, your GPS anti-theft device has to be able to send you a warning in less than 2 minutes so that you can quickly take action, or inform the police if that becomes necessary. Certain devices offer an even shorter reaction time (less than 10s), but that greatly reduces the internal battery life of the anti-theft device, or that of the motorcycle if it is directly connected to it.

The GPS Pégase anti-theft device only uses detection of suspicious movements for the following reason: an impact detector quickly produces a “Peter and the Wolf” effect. Through receiving false alarms, you will become less and less worried about them… until the day when an actual theft is occurring! Conversely, a suspicious movement detector will only warn you when it is genuinely necessary to take action.

Self-sufficient means being powered by electricity without a risk to the motorcycle

Two solutions exist: either the anti-theft device is battery-powered and/or has an in-built battery, or it is powered directly from the motorcycle’s battery.

1) GPS anti-theft devices powered by an internal battery

GPS anti-theft devices powered by an internal battery need to be regularly recharged. In practice, that is quite restrictive, especially for the most absent-minded among us who will forget to recharge it and will therefore be riding… with a device that is switched off! The best will have a battery life of six months and the not so good ones will need a monthly recharge at a minimum.

Do take care, however, as in both cases, a GPS anti-theft device powered by an internal battery has 99% chance of operating on what is known as a “low power” network (LoRa, Sigfox, etc) instead of a GSM connection, which will make it less responsive and less accurate as a result. What a shame, as these are precisely two of the essential attributes for a quality GPS anti-theft device!

2) GPS anti-theft devices powered by the motorcycle battery

In this second example, the GPS anti-theft device is directly powered from the motorcycle’s battery. Some dealers then talk about “unlimited battery life”, which is both true and false at the same time!

That can be explained by the following reason. If you ride at least once per week, then you are automatically recharging your motorcycle’s battery. It will then “regain” the electricity that it has lost through the use of the GPS anti-theft device during the course of the week, and as a result, you will then indeed have a GPS anti-theft device “with unlimited battery life”.

But conversely, if you don’t ride for several weeks, then your GPS anti-theft device will drain all of the electricity available within your motorcycle’s battery, and when your GPS anti-theft device is no longer being charged, it will turn off and will only turn back on when you go out for a ride.

But take care (once again): 99% of GPS anti-theft devices powered by the motorcycle battery do not have an in-built circuit breaker which allows the motorcycle battery to be protected from an excessive discharge, and yet, such a discharge risks preventing you from starting the motorcycle, or worse, it can quite simply result in the battery dying, which will then only be good for the bin! This type of information almost never appears on dealers’ website, either because they don’t sell circuit-breakers, or because these are sold as an add-on, and it adds a non-negotiable additional charge at the time of purchase. Lastly, this circuit-breaker has to come in two models depending on whether you hold a “lead-acid battery” or a lithium battery, as the protection levels needed for these two types of battery are not the same!

As you will have understood, it is very difficult to bring everything together! Either you have a GPS anti-theft device powered by an internal battery that lasts for a rather long time (4 to 6 months) but is not so accurate because of its low-power network, or you have a Chinese GPS anti-theft device at £15.40 (18€) like this one, which recharges itself from the motorcycle battery but which doesn’t have a circuit-breaker (and therefore inevitably risks damaging your motorcycle battery), or you finally find a GPS anti-theft device that is powered by the motorcycle battery with a circuit-breaker offered as an add-on… but this isn’t compatible with lithium batteries!

To remedy all of this, the GPS Pégase anti-theft device is powered by the motorcycle battery (as well as having its own internal battery as a back-up) and comes with a built-in circuit-breaker which protects the motorcycle battery from any excessive discharge, whether it’s “lead” or “lithium”! That’s the benefit of a Made in France product; you can adapt your product as you like from its design phase, so that you don’t have anything to hide to the consumer further down the line 😉

In conclusion, if all GPS anti-theft devices promise more or less the same services, they don’t all work in the same way! Some will genuinely be useful in the event of a theft, and will enable your motorcycle to be recovered, whilst others will be used more as a way of reassuring you by checking where it was approximately located at a given time. Be sure to also take care with products that are made in China; if they connect to the motorcycle battery without asking you if you have a lead or lithium battery… that’s already a very bad sign!

Article published by Alexandre from SMT Performances on 12/07/2019