- An anti-theft radio GPS that mounts to standard bottle cage bosses and can locate within 9 feet, it runs on the Verizon network and costs $5/mo in addition to the hardware
- Integrated vibration sensing alarm sends an automated text message alerting you anytime the bike has been "locked" using the companion smartphone application (Android or iOS)
- Clean professional design, plastic with rubber surround for protection and quiet, four LED indicators flash and activate to let you know the unit is active, locked, charged and tracking
- Fairly expensive and rather large, not every bike has bottle cage bosses but Boomerang does sell a rack adapter, star hex screws are easy to overcome, the alarm only goes off once then needs to be manually turned on again, there's a big reset button on top of the unit
For years I’ve had this simple dream about somehow attaching a GPS tracker to my bike… With it, I’d be able to work with local police for recovery if it ever got stolen. There have indeed been a few electric bikes and add-on products released with this sort of feature (the Stromer ST2 comes to mind) but they were usually pretty expensive and the user experience wasn’t clear. Honestly, I just never dug deep enough and wasn’t compelled enough to become an early adopter. Now that I’ve seen the CycloTrac Alarm GPS unit from Boomerang Bike, I realize I was thinking too small and maybe missing the point. Theft recovery is nice but theft prevention is best. The CycloTrac device delivers two things; it beeps and flashes if someone jostles your bike and it constantly tracks where the bike is so you can hunt it down if needed. The device isn’t small and hidden as I’d imagined, on the contrary, it’s large and blatant. The CycloTrac attaches with two star-pattern security screws to most pairs of bottle cage bosses. I say most because it measures a bit over ten inches in length, the size of a tall water bottle. It’s not super wide or thick so it won’t impede pedaling and in some cases, you’d be able to mount your bottle cage or other accessory directly on top of it. The screws they provide are long enough for an extra layer or two of metal. So there you are with a plastic stick screwed onto your bike… a little flashing indicator and a label that says “ANTI-THEFT • GPS • MOTION DETECTION”. The amateur thief might think “not sure what that is” and the professional thief might think “I don’t want to be chased”. The CycloTrac motion detection sensors are very sensitive and once they are set off, you receive a text message reading “Your bike is being stolen as you read this message (Device #####)” which really got my adrenaline pumping!
Now let’s imagine… there you are revving up to chase a would-be thief down or ideally arrive in time to stop them from wrecking your expensive lock! Then it hits you, you’re looking out the window and nobody is near the bike. It was the wind, the tree branch, the cat… or maybe there is someone out there, an elementary school student fumbling with their own bike and lock next to yours. So you’re trying to cool down now, opening your smart phone and re-arming the lock, transitioning back to school or work or whatever. I’ve experienced a similar flow of events with car alarm products, a heavy truck goes by and everyone on the block gets a wakeup call as sirens blare. There is so much to celebrate with the CycloTrac but I sincerely hope they consider a software upgrade with some different alert options. This upgrade might have the device beep once when rattled and then beep a bunch and send a text message if it’s moved X number of feet. I was told the device can be tracked within a 9-foot radius. That works for me… I think it would still deter thieves with the beep and visual presence but reduce the annoyance factor of false alarms. You can already approximate this behavior by not arming the device. It’s set to beep once anytime it’s moved. It automatically settles down again after a minute or so and will beep again if further motion occurs.
The CycloTrac comes in two colors, black and off-white (a light grayish color). It has a rubber top pad, bottom pad and side ring as well as a Micro USB plug cover. You charge it with the included Micro USB cable and this is fine except the female plug is oval shaped instead of indented which means you have to look close before jamming it in (doing so upside-down could damage it). Also, the cord that came with mine was only three feet long which seemed a bit short for a bicycle to reach a wall socket. You might need to start parking your bike in a different spot every day because of this cord or spend extra on Amazon to get a long one like this… and while you’re there, get a USB to 120 volt brick like this because Boomerang doesn’t give you one. Don’t get me wrong, I dislike cable waste and most people already have USB ports on their computers or leftover from phones and other portable electronics… it’s just that you’re spending $199 for this device, it’d be nice to get that as a part of the deal. In the future, I’d also like to see a magnetic charging port or even inductive! Note that you can actually setup the device TODAY with your own Micro USB magnetic adapter. They aren’t super expensive and they will keep the plug from wearing out with repeated use. Using one will block the rubber plug piece but my guess is it will act as a water and dust deterrent in its own way. One thing I did a lot with the CycloTrac was charge it because the battery only lasts 10 hours and you literally cannot turn the thing off (that’s good, neither can a thief). At first 10 hours seemed like a lot to me but then I realized charging takes 4 to 6 hours (make sure you plug it in right when you get home or overnight) and many times I ride for a couple hours, have lunch, ride to a friends house and maybe to a happy hour later, then dinner etc. which eats away at that 10 hours pretty fast. You may get the bike stolen at some point and only have an hour or two to recover it. Now think about what it would take to reach out to police, petition them for help and then chase a thief down… how fast will that realistically happen? If you do go at this vigilante style, please be careful and bring pepper spray ;)
Brute force would certainly overcome this device but at least you’d have a warning call first. At least your bike looks like it’s protected with the flashing light and that warning label. You’re pretty safe… unless of course the thief carefully presses the large reset button on the faceplate of the unit without setting it off. At this point, the GPS is still working (you literally can’t turn it off) but there’s no beeping and no text message warning being sent. I’m not trying to give away a big secret here, just hint strongly that the next model should probably have the reset button placed on the bottom of the unit… and if they don’t want to change the molds and physical design, maybe they can change the action of this button with software to do something like pause tracking so you don’t mess up your riding stats while driving the bike across town or taking the train part way to work. Note that rides are separated in the system by three minutes of inactivity, if you stop moving for that length of time it will start a new trip when you begin again.
One of the neatest parts of the CycloTrac is their free mobile app with Strava-like stats and the even more in-depth web app. You can dig into each ride for things like elevation and distance then chart a bunch of rides and see a heat map. This feature becomes really interesting for fleet owners and rental shops. There’s even an option to geofence an area and have an alert sent if the rider goes outside of it. Awesome! That in and of itself makes the device cool and useful… You’ll be paying $200 per unit plus that $5/mo charge but it might be worth it in some cases. I was told that El Paso, Oklahoma City and some other cities are already installing it on bike share bicycles and none have been stolen to date as an inferred result. For those who are interested in the web app, here are some quick hints: visit http://system.boomerangbike.com/ and login with your last name and phone number, for heat map go to Map on the left menu then click the Heat Map tab at the top of the page, for geo-fencing go to the Dashboard then click the Circle Icon at the top right corner of the map, next click the Shape Icon on the map (between the hand and x symbol). Note that you can also email Boomerang Bike to get the name of your bike changed if you’d like… Mine was just a random number by default.
I think the final area to discuss is actual GPS recovery. Battery constraints aside, what’s it like to actually hunt your bike down? Well, it’s not as technical as geocaching or Ham Radio operation but it’s not nearly as easy as it could be. There you are looking at your smartphone screen with the app launched, only half the real estate is used for the map and this space is showing little dots or “pings” where the CycloTrac was last seen. These go off every four seconds (according to the Boomerang rep) but it seems like sometimes it takes a bit longer. So these little dots are out there appearing one after another but there’s no dot or marker representing you… and there’s no “get directions” button or feature from what I could tell. You can’t even click and copy the points GPS coordinates or address. You basically need to know the area where the bike is at or interpret and transfer it onto a secondary app like Apple Maps, Google Maps or Waze. This isn’t much fun in practice and will definitely eat away at your pursuit time. This is an area that some software updates will hopefully address down the line.
In conclusion, I feel like the CycloTrac pursues a great idea but has a few rough edges to smooth out. There are so many little things that could be improved, and I get it! the unit size, plug position and wire length aren’t a big deal and maybe they keep the price down. The bigger opportunities appear to be with software and that big reset button. The software shouldn’t be an issue with the web app, mobile app or the hardware itself because it can receive over the air updates! I might still buy one of these things and it probably would decrease theft potential. I considered buying a cheap bike and locking it with a thin lock in a rough neighborhood just to see what would really happen… but I started to wonder if anything would happen? And would I really want to endanger myself trying to film it and recover the product? Not really, no. I avoid confrontation and usually park in safe places and store my bikes inside. I did spend a ton of time researching this device, asking the tough questions and even unscrewing and opening it up to peer inside (pictures above). I hope Boomerang Bike is successful as a company long term and am excited for their product and services to be refined. Note that I used the Verizon edition which offers great coverage but does not work in all locations (I took it into a city called Inyokern in the desert area of Southern California and it wouldn’t work). Right now the company is building up 100 AT&T GSM International models that run on 2G networks but that’s for very rare cases. There have also been some server resets and downtime in the week that I’ve had the unit but hopefully that’s not an ongoing thing. Also note that for those who simply don’t have bottle cage bosses to mount the cyclotrac, the company offers a $20 adapter plate that lets you sandwich the metal bars of a rear rack (shown in a picture above). Big thanks to Boomerang Bikes for partnering with me for this review and sending a test unit.
- Even though the initial price of $199 feels expensive, I was impressed with their monthly GPS service fee of just $4.99/mo and even more excited for the two-year package price of $275, keep in mind, $199 is roughly 10% of the total price that many electric bikes sell for
- The thing actually works, when you arm it with the app then walk away, it pings you with a text message if the bike gets bumped, even if you miss the message it will track the bikes location realtime
- The web application is very cool, login at http://system.boomerangbike.com/ and you can see your past trips, Carbon offset and even setup geo fencing (for fleets and rentals) it’s all very cool
- I love that they produced this thing in two different colors (black and light gray), it looked pretty good on the black bike we used for our tests and even worked with a recumbent electric trike
- You could use this device for more than just bicycles, toss it into your car under the seat or send it with your kid to make sure they don’t leave the geofence area you setup
- There are four LED lights that help you interpret what the device is doing, I like that gear is always flashing (like a car alarm would) to let you know that it’s a smart device… and I really like that the bulls eye target symbol lights up when you’re tracking it with the app, this would certainly stress me out as a would-be thief
- Even though it’s a bit long, the CycloTrac device isn’t much wider than a standard downtube or seat tube so it won’t get in the way of pedaling
- This is really the only device on the market that I’ve seen with these advanced features, it’s the only one like it that uses real accurate GPS
- The system is designed to update the features over the air (OTA), so new features and improvements to existing features will be pushed automatically in software updates just like a cell phone… it will get better over time
- The alarm goes off very easily which means you could end up with a bunch of false alerts, the chime only lasts for a few seconds then the unit has to be re-armed with your smart phone… perhaps future iterations will ask you if you want to re-arm or do it automatically so the beeping will continue with further jostling and movement
- Kind of big, on the one hand you want potential thiefs to see the tracking device and avoid stealing your bike but on the other you need it to actually fit, maybe future designs will be more compact
- The battery runs out faster than expected, considering you can’t really turn the CycloTrac unit off, it’s important to plug it in whenever you’re not using it and consider turning off auto track in the app (Settings menu drop down > Auto Start to Off)
- I realized that once this device is mounted to your bike it could be inconvenient to plug in and charge… the cable I received was only about 3 feet long but they say it’s supposed to have a 6 foot cable, even that presents a tripping hazard and means you always need to park near a plug when you’re at home
- The female plug interface on the Boomerang Bike CycloTrac device isn’t angled on the top edges like other Micro USB devices, this makes it easier to accidentally force it in the wrong direction, it also protrudes from the side so if you’ve got a USB charging port on your bike and plug it in for charging on the go you might bump the wire while pedaling… consider a 90° adapter cable like these
- I love that you can actually see where your bike is with the mobile and that it doesn’t rely on less reliable crowd-sourced Bluetooth to track… but I wish the map interface in the CycloTrac app helped you navigate more easily to actually find it with some sort of directions feature like Google Maps offers or Waze offers
- The device pings every four seconds but it seemed to take longer than that in my tests, this is just a little bit annoying to wait for (when locking or tracking), it doesn’t feel as immediate as normal apps but then again… it’s using GPS and if it pinged constantly that would probably drain the battery
- At first I was really bummed out by the reset button right there on top of the unit but eventually realized that the device still tracks so you’ve got a window to hunt it down… you just might not get that initial “bike is being stolen” message if the thief is sneaky and resets it without moving your bike first
- Note that it charges in 4 to 6 hours, this was longer than I expected and would probably be an overnight charge sort of situation, fast charging would be nice in case you forget and need to fill it up quickly in the morning before work or something
- The system website wasn’t loading consistently for me and I had to reset my device once as well because it wasn’t connecting to my phone, perhaps this was a fluke and due to the device just launching?