There’s nothing worse for a biker than discovering your pride and joy has been stolen. No matter how many chains, disc locks, and alarms you invest in, a determined thief will always find a way. That’s where a motorcycle tracker comes in.
But, when I talk to bikers about trackers, I often hear the same few objections come up. Things like: ‘Why would I want my bike back from a thief?’ and ‘How effective are they really?’
They’re valid queries, after all buying a tracker on top of an expensive chain and disc lock is a hefty investment.
So, to answer those burning questions, we caught up with Bill Taylor from British company BikeTrac to discover how tracking technology is working to combat motorcycle theft.
Why should you fit a motorcycle tracker?
Adventure Bike Rider: First up, why would I want to fit a motorcycle tracker to my motorcycle?
Bill Taylor: Trackers are proven to make a difference in reuniting owners with their stolen bikes. For example, for motorcycles fitted with trackers, the recovery rate is now over 90% nationwide.
ABR: When you put it like that, it seems like a no-brainer. What should I look for when buying a tracker?
Bill: First of all, you want to look for something that’s Thatcham Accredited. That means it’s been approved by Thatcham Research, which works with manufacturers, insurers, and the law to protect vehicles in the UK.
Next up, look for a tracker that comes with a subscription service. You’ll get ongoing service and support, plus the back-up of a response centre, working 24/7 throughout the year, which will track your bike should the worst happen.
There are a lot of products on the market that can be fitted at home. But the police response to a bike with one of these fitted being stolen will not be the same as it will be with a Thatcham Accredited tracker. When we report it, police know it’s a verified theft and that they won’t be sent on a wild goose chase.
Tracking a Ducati to a second floor flat
ABR: That makes sense. What location technologies do trackers use and are there situations that the technology won’t work in?
Bill: The most common technologies are GPS, which offers real-time tracking, and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), which transmits a rough location to cell stations. BikeTrac also uses Radio Frequency tracking (RF), the most accurate technology around. GPS will locate a vehicle down to an area of about three to five metres, while RF can track it to within a metre.
Imagine a bike has been hidden in a row of garages or containers. GPS on its own will take you to that location but isn’t accurate enough to let the police get a search warrant, as they can’t confirm exactly where it is. RF can. In fact, as an example, a colleague of mine tracked down a Ducati 899 Panigale to a second floor flat.
ABR: Impressive. So, what’s to stop thieves removing motorcycle trackers or just disconnecting the battery to stop them from working?
Bill: Our unit requires professional installation to hook it up and hide it away, but it also has an internal battery with a lifespan of 30 days. It is connected to the main battery loom and gets topped up when the bike is running, but it runs off its internal juice when you park up.
So, if the seat is removed and the battery disconnected, it’ll still transmit. We also make an effort to keep images of our trackers off the internet. After all, we don’t want thieves to know what they’re looking for.
94% recovery rate with a motorcycle tracker fitted
ABR: Are the police ever unavailable or too busy to track down the bike?
Bill: That does happen from time to time, after all the police have very limited resources. That’s why BikeTrac has a partnership with Securitas, the fourth largest security company in the world.
We have a 400 strong theft-response team on standby in the UK who can respond on our behalf if the police are unavailable to help secure the bike and, if it’s in public, recover it. Ours is the only motorcycle tracker on the market to offer that.
ABR: That sounds great in the UK, but plenty of adventure bikers love to tour too. Do trackers still work overseas and can call centres liaise with the local authorities abroad as they do in the UK?
Bill: Absolutely, trackers still work overseas and we can reach out to the local police when there’s been a theft. The only thing we don’t do overseas is RF tracking, that’s just available on the UK mainland as we need to be there in person.
It really is quite a rare occurrence to see a bike stolen overseas though, the vast majority occur in the UK.
ABR: So, what recovery rates do you see for client bikes, and how often do the police need to search second floor flats to recover them?
Bill: On average, 94% of stolen bikes fitted with BikeTrac are recovered. In 2021 we saw just over 200 customer bikes stolen, and the majority of those were stolen and left in a public area. It’s the easiest option for the thief
If the bike’s still there when they get back, they’ve got away with it. And if it’s not, well they’ve still got away with it. That’s why most of our recoveries happen with an hour or two, tops.
There are exceptions. A bike was stolen off a forecourt on the Old Kent Road and ended up in Lithuania. We still managed to track and recover that one, although we had to work with Interpol to track it down to a chop shop.
Why would I want my bike back once it’s been stolen?
ABR: Recovering a motorcycle is all well and good, but an hour or two is a long time for a thief to have my pride and joy in their hands. What condition do returned bikes come back in?
Bill: Conditions can really vary. Typically, the steering lock will be snapped, but the majority come back in a rideable condition. They may need to go off to a dealership to have a few small repairs done, but it’s a lot better than not getting your bike back.
After all, if your motorcycle isn’t recovered your insurance company will have to pay back a huge amount of money, which will see your premium rise down the line.
ABR: Finally, aside from tracking my bike when it’s been stolen, can motorcycle trackers do anything else for me as a rider?
Bill: Trackers with a subscription service offer plenty of other features that go beyond tracking. You can download routes you’ve ridden in .gpx format, which you can share with friends or ride again at a later date.
If you have an accident some trackers, including BikeTrac, feature a crash-detection function which will alert your emergency contact to let them know you’re in trouble, with a Google link to show your exact location.
If the battery in your bike starts to die, your tracker can let you know. We’ve even set up a notification system for services, done on time or mileage, which will ping your phone when your due a trip to the garage.
We’re well aware security isn’t the most glamorous of products, so we like to pack BikeTrac full of useful features to use when your bike is safely in your company.
You can find out more about getting a tracker fitted to your motorcycle by visiting BikeTrac’s website today.