About smart bike locks in a nutshell:
- Smart” bicycle locks can usually be opened and closed via Bluetooth or an app. Alternatively, you can open such a lock with a key, a code or a fingerprint. These are available as spoke locks, U-locks or cable locks. They are often equipped with an alarm.
- Smart locks like I LOCK IT have a GPS function and locate your bike at the same time. Practical in case of theft, but only as long as the lock remains on the bike.
- Smarter than smart locks for e-bikes are GPS trackers that are built into the e-bike, which you combine with a good bike lock.
- A GPS tracker like BikeTrax by PowUnity locates your e-bike in real time via an app, sends an alarm to your smartphone and is invisible to the thief.
Bulky steel structures that can only be locked and unlocked with a key: Conventional bike locks look like relics from another era. Smart bike locks, on the other hand, are very modern. Here, there is no need to search for and handle a key.
Instead, an app on your smartphone is used. Sometimes even that isn’t necessary because the lock can automatically unlock when you approach the bike. Locks like
I LOCK IT or LINKA bike lock even come with extras. This follows a trend we discussed in our overview article “How to find the best e-bike app for your needs”.
Sounds smart? Maybe. However, practical tests quickly show that smart bike locks often fail when it really matters.
How does a smart lock work?
The adjective “smart” in smart bike locks refers primarily to the (automatic) unlocking and locking of the lock. In this case, you no longer need a key for both, but only a smartphone with the right app.
However, not all smart locks are the same.
Depending on the model, you can either lock or unlock your bike automatically or in different ways. We will discuss the main differences below.
How do smart bike locks differ?
Smart locks can be distinguished according to various criteria
Like other bike locks, you can get a smart lock in different designs.
The following three variants are predominant:
- Spoke lock: With a spoke lock or frame lock, a steel ring or bracket slides between the spokes, and thus blocks the rear wheel.
- U-lock: A U-lock looks like a large padlock and is ideally made of a combination of hardened steel and plastic.
- Cable lock: Cable locks are made of braided steel cables.
Do you want to know more about the differences between different bike locks and their advantages and disadvantages? Then read our guide “Best bike lock with GPS – how to protect your e-bike”.
With or without alarm
Many smart bike locks have an alarm function. This means that a movement sensor integrated into the lock reacts to vibrations or movements of the bicycle with a loud alarm sound.
The idea behind this: The thief escapes or is prevented from stealing by attentive passers-by. If you also receive a notification on your smartphone, you can even react yourself if you are still nearby.
Unfortunately, an alarm function is much less effective in reality than in theory. This is because professional criminals are not deterred by an alarm and quickly stop it. In addition, passers-by in large cities are numbed by constant false alarms. Therefore, the risk is high that no one will react “when your lock calls for help”.
Important note: To prevent constant false alarms and resulting neighbourhood disputes, make sure you have an intelligent alarm function that distinguishes between accidental bumps and prolonged movement.
From an app to the fingerprint sensor – the operation
You can usually unlock and lock a smart bike lock (such as the LINKA smart bike lock) via an app on your smartphone. In addition, some locks react automatically when you approach or move away from the bike.
If you are the rare type of person who occasionally forgets their smartphone at home, it’s best to opt for a lock that can alternatively be opened with a key or a code (in the case of combination locks). Then you don’t have to worry about a flat smartphone battery. In exceptional cases, there is a fingerprint sensor.
Locks with GPS and tracking function
Smart bike locks like the I LOCK IT have a GPS function. It is used to locate your lock and thus your bike.
In theory, this has two advantages:
- You don’t forget where you left your bike (can happen!).
- You can locate your bike if someone has removed it without permission.
But there is also a big catch:
Tracking only works as long as the lock is on your bike – and is reasonably intact. If a thief is clever enough to remove or destroy it, tracking is no longer possible. For this reason, a smart bike lock with GPS is not comparable to a GPS tracker that is invisibly integrated into the motor of an e-bike.
Apart from that, GPS tracking via smart bike locks works moderately well in practice. Professional GPS trackers are also ahead in this respect.
The batteries of smart bike locks last for several months. If they recharge themselves using solar energy, you hardly have to worry about your lock running out of juice.
Special app features
Finally, the apps of many smart locks come with additional smart features. Especially worth mentioning is the possibility to share your bike with friends – without having to bring them a key. For this purpose, you can add users or guest users in the app. You might also benefit from the possibility to record and evaluate routes.
Is it worth buying? – Advantages and disadvantages of smart locks
Now you know how a smart bike lock works. But how do they perform in practice and is this type of theft protection worth it?
Our list of advantages and disadvantages should help you find the answer:
Advantages of smart locks
- Ease of use: The great advantage of a smart bike lock is its ease of use. You don’t have to carry an extra key around with you. This means you can’t forget or lose it. If you want to unlock or secure your lock, a finger movement on your smart phone is enough. Depending on the lock, all you have to do might be to approach your bike. For example, when you quickly jump off your bike to the supermarket, having a smart lock is very convenient.
- GPS tracking: A smart lock with GPS helps you find your bike when you are not sure where it is. However, unlike a GPS tracker such as BikeTrax by PowUnity, it is not suitable as theft protection.
- Smart additional functions: Functions such as lending or sharing your bike via the smartphone app are practical extras. They save you a lot of trouble when several people share a bike or e-bike. With an application that records routes, you may even save yourself an additional app.
- Poor theft protection: Regardless of the ease of use and smart gimmicks, a bicycle lock has one central function: it should prevent thieves from stealing your bike. In this respect, most smart bike locks fail completely.
Currently, there are only very few models with thick brackets like the 770A SmartX from ABUS. Most smart bike locks are thin cable locks or spoke locks that only elicit a weary smile from experienced thieves. The integrated GPS doesn’t help either. Because usually the thief is clever enough to remove the lock or destroy it.
- Expensive to buy: Smart bike locks are expensive. For the I LOCK IT with GPS function you currently (as of July 2022) pay 199.oo euros. A hefty price for greater ease of use. For comparison: You can get a high-quality conventional lock for less than half that price.
Recommendation: If smart, then with alarm
If you decide to buy a smart bike lock despite all the disadvantages, we recommend a model with an integrated alarm. The alarm function does increase security – but only to a limited extent.
If you have a spoke lock, you should also buy a conventional chain lock or U-lock so that you can lock your bike to a fixed object. Otherwise there is a risk that thieves will take it away. By the way, this also applies to the I LOCK IT.
The better theft protection for e-bikes – GPS tracker and mechanical lock
Before you reach for I LOCK IT, we recommend the following anti-theft protection for an expensive e-bike:
- High-quality mechanical bike lock: Experts recommend a high-quality U-lock, chain lock or folding lock. Spiral or cable locks are not a good choice as sole security and frame locks are only slightly better than no lock at all.
- GPS tracker BikeTrax: Even the best smart bike lock on the market provides limited protection for expensive bikes or e-bikes against professional thieves – which is sufficient only if you have equipped your e-bike with the GPS tracker BikeTrax from PowUnity.
Unlike GPS trackers for smart locks, BikeTrax is invisibly integrated into the motor of your e-bike. It immediately alerts you on your smartphone if your e-bike is moved without permission. The thief doesn’t hear the alarm, only you. If you are too late, you can track the location of your stolen e-bike in real time and report it to the police. So the chances that you will get your e-bike back are pretty high, even if professional thieves have already loaded it into a van and are on their way across the border. This is shown by the many testimonials from our customers.
Conclusion: Smart bike locks are more of a gimmick than theft protection
The headline says it all: Even the best bike locks that are advertised at great expense, such as the I LOCK IT, are only suitable for short trips to the nearest supermarket. As real theft protection, the products do not “cut a good figure”. But that is the most important function of a bike lock. If your lock is easy to pick, it doesn’t help that you can unlock it with an app.
There is nothing wrong with combining a smart bike lock with a conventional lock. However, you will then need a bicycle key again.
Of course, it cannot be ruled out that smart bicycle locks will become a real alternative to conventional locks in the future. The smart U-lock from ABUS is already showing the way. But even then, we recommend GPS tracking with a comprehensive app as a supplement. After all, a lock alone only provides limited security, regardless of the material and the alarm function.