Keep An Eye On Your Bike With This DIY GPS Tracker

Owning a bike and commuting on it regularly is a great way to end up with your bike getting stolen, unfortunately. It can be a frustrating experience, and it can be particularly difficult to track a bike down once it’s vanished. [Johan] didn’t want to be caught out, however, and thus built a compact GPS tracker to give himself a fighting chance to hang on to his ride.

It’s built around the Arduino MKR GSM, a special Arduino built specifically for Internet of Things project. Sporting a cellular modem onboard, it can communicate with GSM and 3G networks out of the box. It’s paired with the MKR GPS shield to determine the bike’s location, and a ADXL345 3-axis accelerometer to detect movement. When unauthorised movement is detected, the tracker can send out text messages via cellular connection in order to help the owner track down the missing bike.

The tracker goes for a stealth installation, giving up the deterrent factor in order to lessen the chance of a thief damaging or disabling the hardware. It’s a project that should give [Johan] some peace of mind, though of course knowing where the bike is, and getting it back, are two different things entirely. We’ve seen creative techniques to build trackers for cats, too. It used to be the case that such “tracking devices” were the preserve of movies alone, but no longer. If you’ve got your own build, be sure to let us know on the tipline!



31 thoughts on “Keep An Eye On Your Bike With This DIY GPS Tracker

  1. >The tracker goes for a stealth installation, giving up the deterrent factor in order to lessen the chance of a thief damaging or disabling the hardware.

    That’s no solace. Bikes get stolen because of:

    #1 drunk people and druggies twist the locks open using the kick-stand they just broke by stomping on it. The steal the bike to get from A to B and then ditch it. Your GPS won’t prevent this, and the last location update will be somewhere near a river or a pond. Your bike will be in the river or pond, or twisted and broken around a street light, thrown down an underpass… etc.

    #2 criminals go around in a van picking up nice looking bikes. They use bolt cutters to sever the lock, pick it up in a matter of seconds, and stop somewhere on the way. If there’s any electronics on the bike that might be a GPS tracker, it will be broken and stripped off. They put a drill through the device, and your bike is now on its way to Latvia. They don’t care if you manage to track them some of the way, because they’ll be out of the country within 24 hours.

    It would be more of a deterrent for #1 if there was a visible “GPS tracked” sticker on the bike, because at least some would believe they might get caught (they won’t, it’s too little too late). It won’t hold back the professional criminals because they know to look for the devices anyways.

    The best anti-theft deterrent I’ve found has been a bike that is just ratty enough that #2 don’t bother stealing it, and never leaving it outside overnight in the city.

    1. #1 is especially bothersome because they rarely think two seconds ahead anyways. They often just break the bike in the attempt to steal it, and then just leave it mangled up like that.

    2. Also forgot #3: kids who unscrew your wheels, seat, handlebars, etc. for parts for their own bike.

      By the time you receive the SMS that someone is messing with your bike, they’re already gone.

      1. Yeah, I had that happen more than once. One time the thieves tried to sell me my own stuff. If they hadn’t been about 12 years old I’d have beaten them to death but I did scare the bejesus outta them by following them home afterward.

        1. One deterrent is to use hub gears in a touring bike. Confuses the heck out of them, difficult to dismantle, and it’s useless to steal because the hub, cable, and hand lever come as a unit.

          Also, since hub gears are considered “inferior”, because you don’t have 20 million ratios to flip through, the thieves leave the bike alone anyways.

    3. this more or less tracks my experience. i don’t lock my bike, but i basically just leave it in front of the store for 5-10 minutes. otherwise it’s probably in my garage.

      i did have one thieving event that didn’t fit the model. i was mugged, apparently at gun point, and they took everything on me including the bike. i found it a week later at the closest pawn shop to my house. couldn’t believe i got it back. the person who pawned it said they found it in a ditch, which might even be true. in that case, i think GPS would’ve gotten it back to me a little more easily.

      that was a couple years after i eschewed using the bike lock and i figured if that’s how a bike is actually gonna be stolen from me, there truly was no point locking it up. four years after that, that same bike was stolen unlocked at the grocery store. i’ve been riding the less shiny replacement bike for 2 years unlocked. it has the nice feature of a cable lock wrapped around the top tube that, for all you can tell from a distance, might be locked. not sure if that matters.


      1. That was how my last bike was stolen, 5 minutes in a shop with full front windows to grab carry out, poof. I had been using a simple 3/8″ish cable and combination pad lock for running into the grocery but the Greek place just left it leaning against the glass. :’ (

  2. I avoid the problem of bike theft by using a Brompton bicycle, just fold it up and take it with me. Half folded it can be wheeled around shops as a shopping trolly, fully folded can be carried into office, restaurants, hotels etc.

  3. Thank you for this. A colleague recently had his bike stolen from outside his college and it would be good if I could come up with something he could use in case this kind of thing happens again. Also, I’ve been wanting to come up with something I could add to my classic car that’s within my control (to tinker with); even if it’s not as reliable as a commercially available tracker, it’s good to have a backup.

  4. Pointless: one can find GPS Trackers already made for like 5USD, and those suffer the same problem as this one: limited to 3G, which is getting dark in many places / countries.

    1. These already exist, such as down the cap of the steerer/stem.

      The problem is that as soon as they’re inside, they’re hidden.
      And data subscriptions are expensive compared to bike costs.
      And if it’s visible externally, they’ll be removed instantly.

      Plenty of bikes just get van-packed and stripped for parts/rebuilt with a mish-mash of parts.

      1. Not to mention the problem that now the criminals have a SIM card in your name and a device which has its PIN stored somewhere in memory, or at worst you have to disable the PIN form the card for it to work.

        We ran into this problem with cellular enabled weather stations a while back. The public dashboard by the company that made them shows the station’s location, so anyone can just walk there and steal the weather station, which is furnished with a regular data enabled SIM card.

        1. Finally, someone with a decent retribution/retaliation comment, hahaha. I’ve made the general conclusion that the defeatist outlooks prevalent online towards proactively bold diy anti-theft (as well as countless other topics) are mostly symptoms of either/both a lack of creativity and/or a successful de-fang/claw/spine-ing via any number of possible external influences (i.e. upbringing, govt., etc) which stifle otherwise very capable minds into becoming timid supplicants. **Yawn** Since there’s lotza folks who want to take your shit against your wishes & apparently there’s nothing you can do about it, you can sure af at least make them earn it via countless creative & vicious means…

      2. “And data subscriptions are expensive compared to bike costs” Umm I disagree, good carbon or Ti bikes are up there beyond $6000 so no data subscription is about $10 per 1-2Gig on 3/4G networks in AU. So super cheap and you can get a 1 year contract with not much data for like $150 or even less. And recovering your bike is super worthwhile if you’ve spent time lining up good parts and dialling it to your riding. Heaps more money for custom racks, bars, pedals, mech etc. A Rohloff hub can be $2000 alone! so yeah no I would like my bike back thanks and paying $100 a year is good insurance and the other thing is the more do it the better the community does for it’s self. One gang busted and it will likely result in quite a few bikes recovered and many more thefts prevented. If a whole chain of thefts is busted then likely 40-60 bikes could be recovered. No definitely do what you can to track and recover.

  5. I wish these would have existed back in 1990. In the matter of 3 weeks I had FOUR bikes stolen. One of them I had actually retrieved and then within a week it was gone again.I suspect we had “travelers” of some sort in the area. A couple years later I eventually got the first bike back that was stolen because the thief(or the person who bought it from them) was dumb enough to put the bike in their front yard and it is INCREDIBLY easy to spot since it was a customized Fuji that was MUCH taller than any bike in the whole city. I’ve never seen a bike that tall since.

    I think I probably would use the APRS version of this because it’s much cheaper but still a good build.

  6. These days I run and ride on a Garmin Forerunner 945. I still own an old Garmin Forerunner 235. I wish there was some kind of an app able to turn my 235 into a GPS Tracker. I could take the wrist band off my 235 and scotch tape it to the underside of my bicycle seat. Comments? Suggestions?

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