Antitheft device the BikeSpike finds funding through Kickstarter

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The BikeSpike
  • The BikeSpike
Arriving at the spot where you know you locked your bike and discovering it's not there anymore is one of the worst feelings in the world. It's happened to me twice in the past two years, and as evidenced by all the entries in the Chicago Stolen Bike Registry, to thousands of other Chicagoans as well. Most thefts aren't really preventable; angle grinders can get through even the best U-locks in just a few minutes (apparently even if you catch someone in the process of stealing your bike there may not be much you can do). And good luck getting your bike back: while browsing the stories of recovered bikes on the registry is heartwarming, that's only a small percentage of the total bikes stolen. I haunted the Ashland Swap-o-Rama for weeks after my first bike was stolen, with no luck at all.

Local entrepreneur and cyclist Clay Neigher has had five bikes stolen. One was when he was in college in Boston in 2002; he'd bought the bike recently and says it wasn't valuable but had a flashy paint job and a rubber-ducky horn that he'd added. It was locked to the porch of his apartment and one morning he woke up to find that the bike had disappeared, along with most of the porch. "My landlord and I shared a moment, both equally pissed for different reasons," he says.

Two years ago Neigher teamed up with developers and designers Bill Fienup, Josh Billions, and Harvey Moon to begin work on the BikeSpike, a tracking system that attaches to your bike and can tell you its location after it's been stolen. They built a prototype, then three more, and started to seek funding through Kickstarter. Last week the project met its goal of $150,000.

The BikeSpike is a little black box that contains a GPS unit, modem, and accelerometer; its software allows you to mark your bike as "parked," which means that you'll get a notification if it's moved or tampered with. Measurements from the accelerometer can detect if you're in a crash, determine how severe it is, and send out a notification with your location to a preselected list of contacts. If the bike is stolen you can share its location with others, including your friends and the police. And for everyday riding you can connect the GPS to social media like Facebook and Twitter to share your progress with your friends in real time (until they unfriend you, anyway).

This is far from the first GPS bike tracker on the market, but Fienup says that what sets their product apart is the open API (application programming interface), which allows other developers to write custom software for the device. "No other tracker has an open API," he says. "It can allow companies to customize their tracking needs."

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The device attaches to the bike with two nonstandard torque screws, which Neigher says makes it "easy to install and tough to remove." It'll come with a water-bottle rack that disguises it, but Neigher thinks that having it easily visible on the bike could help deter thieves and plans to use his device solo. "It's like a beehive—you don't really want to walk up to it," he says.

Part of the reason that the unit is external is to allow the GPS to function well, which it doesn't do without a clear view of the sky. Neigher says they've been in talks with bicycle manufacturers about building GPS into bike frames that are designed to include a transparent window—but that would be a ways off, and he can't name the companies.

At the moment, they're in the process of getting quotes from manufacturers and gearing up for production of the system, which they hope to start selling in October (they've already sold quite a few through the Kickstarter). Because negotiations are ongoing they don't know yet what the price will be, but Neigher estimates it'll retail around $115. There's also a monthly data plan (which is what allows it to provide location information); he says that'll range from about $5-$10 per month.

Below is their Kickstarter video, which explains more about the product.

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