To Catch a Bike Thief, Locks Get Smart

To Catch a Bike Thief, Locks Get Smart
As the number of bikers increases, so does the means of securing their wheels (Photograph by Getty Images)
Photograph by Getty Images

It’s easy to steal a bike. People do it in broad daylight on crowded city streets without any interference from passersby. But this may soon change. A growing number of companies, and even some police forces, are developing and deploying high-tech gadgets to prevent thefts.

Velo Labs has created Skylock, a keyless smart lock built by former Boeing and Jawbone engineers. The solar-powered device, which looks like an ordinary U-lock, uses BluTooth and Wi-Fi to connect with a smartphone. This allows owners to unlock their bikes remotely and, more important, receive antitheft alerts whenever someone jostles or holds the lock or bike for a suspiciously long time. (Owners presumably need to be on the ready to run out and defend their property.)

Courtesy Lock8

Lock8 is another keyless smart lock, which features a GPS tracker, motion and temperature sensors (in case a thief tries freezing the lock), as well as a “painfully loud” alarm that goes off if someone cuts the lock cable or so much as moves the bike. In January, the startup announced that it will be partnering with global electronics maker Foxconn Technology to manufacture the device.

In San Francisco, where bike thefts account for $4.5 million in annual losses, police recently started using fancy GPS-connected bikes to bait thieves and catch them in the act. “Recently, for example, a thief took a $1,500 bicycle from outside a train stop and pedaled off into the sunset,” writes Matt Richtel in the New York Times. “But 30 minutes later, Officer Friedman and his team, having tracked the bike, converged on the rider at a park.”

Courtesy Skylock

San Francisco’s police post photos of suspects and convicted criminals on Twitter. They also use expensive bait bikes, which ensures that thieves are charged with a felony. The strategy is receiving widespread praise, but some say, “bait bikes unfairly seduce people into crime, namely the city’s poor,” according to SFGate.

The question is whether smart San Francisco bike thieves will now start stealing cheaper bikes, which presumably aren’t part of the cops’ bike bait program. Those owners may want to consider buying a souped-up lock.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE