Genevieve Walker is a freelance writer based in New York City. She's contributed to Salon, Newsweek International, The New York Times Local, and Velojoy.com, among others.
Mobiloc says it's invented the first GPS-enabled bike lock.
Maybe we should skip the "what if" and head on to "then what" when we talk about bike theft in cities. That’s the gist of the MobiLoc, which claims to be the first frame-attaching, lightweight cable lock rigged with a hidden GPS tracker.
Mobiloc, set to launch in January, made an appearance last week at Interbike, the yearly bicycle trade show in Las Vegas. The MobiLoc on display was about the size of a grapefruit, though Interbike reps assured it will be sized down before it hits the market. The lock is made from 18 gauge powder-coated steel and comes in six colors. Alone it will run about $40, with the optional GPS tracking chip, $160. The chip has a three-year lifespan and syncs with a smartphone or computer app.
The two versions of the Mobiloc are outwardly indistinguishable, so “the criminal will be unable to tell whether you have purchased the GPS tracking option." Once the MobiLoc is bolted to the bike frame (yes, bolted, using breakaway bolts), the six-foot retractable braided steel cable can be looped through wheels, signpost, and maybe even a seat –– particularly useful for discouraging someone from stripping a bike for parts while you’re grabbing coffee.
In some ways, this little lock is a big step forward for bikers. Having something bolted to the frame sidesteps the annoyance factor. And the retractable cable makes securing the easily steal-able components a no-brainer. But there are a few glaring drawbacks, too.
The GPS tracker is activated when the bike moves from where you locked it up. But cut the cable to steal the wheels, no movement to trigger the GPS. And best case scenario: the bike is stolen, the GPS bleeps its way across town on a Google map delivered to your smartphone. As you watch your bike being Pied Pipered from you, the next step is...what?
Police have a dismal record when it comes to bike recovery, so getting backup to retrieve your property probably won't be forthcoming. As one Interbike attendee suggested by the pool, you can always pretend the bike thieves are armed. But, you didn’t read that here. This is the real problem that plagues Mobiloc, and other GPS systems that can be attached to a bicycle.
The hope of the MobiLoc company, however, is that something like an electric bark collar for dogs, the mere sight of the powder coated steel lock in any one of its iconic colors will deter thieves from even attempting to steal a bike –– that is, as soon as the MobiLoc becomes a household name.