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Product Intro

Introducing SNIK - A GPS Tracker for your Bike

Words Cam McRae
Date Jun 1, 2021
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Earlier this year I wrote about Jono Lo's incredible tale of bike theft and recovery. Acting on an educated hunch, Jono went looking around in Vancouver's poorest and most desperate neighbourhood, the downtown east side. After striking out the first time he returned later and happened to catch a glimpse of his two wheels being carried by someone who wasn't him. Obviously he was unbelievably lucky. He just happened to be in the right place at the perfect moment, when someone in possession of his property stepped outside for a few seconds. Otherwise his bike would be long gone.

AJ explored the viability of Apple's AirTags in a recent article, but there are some challenges with that system for bikes. It's more useful for locating small things like your keys or wallet, and it's possible that the device could be deactivated if your bike was stolen. It also relies only on Bluetooth rather than GPS and instead of tracking the actual device, the location you receive would indicate the position of the last Apple device near your bike.

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As you can see, Fraser Vaage, the founder of Snik, is an above average mountain biker. In fact, when Bikemag used to do video awards, Fraser was nominated for best line for his collaboration with Geoff Gulevich in Back in the Saddle Again, competing with Steve Peat for Earthed, and Darren Berrecloth for his work in The Collective. Photo - Dave Smith

Like most of us Fraser Vaage has had bikes stolen, but it was the theft of his friend Thomas Vanderham's truck that lit a fire: "His brand new 4runner got stolen right off his driveway and I'm like, how are cars being stolen and not connected? How aren't they smart? If your car was stolen right now, I bet you wouldn't know. Maybe if you have a Tesla, you might, but otherwise you wouldn't, which is crazy to me. How are there no GPS chips in things like cars let alone bikes."

For most of us, our vehicle is the second most expensive purchase we'll make,* and it doesn't seem like it would be difficult to have at least an optional GPS tracker. As it turns out, very recently GPS tracking built into vehicles has become more common and there are predictions that virtually all new vehicles will have this capability in a few years, so Fraser was clearly ahead of his time.

*This rule may no longer to apply to mountain bikers, considering the current price of bikes

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Snik has gone through many prototypes but the current iteration seems refined and aesthetically it appears consumer-ready. Developing a tech product from nothing during a global pandemic has had its challenges, but Fraser and his team seem optmistic about their progress.

Cars of course have lots of room for electronics and telecommunications equipment and weight is a relatively minor concern, All of that goes out the window, as Fraser discovered, when the vehicle you hope to track is a bicycle. A bicycle-mounted GPS device needs to be protected from the elements, tiny, light, placed with an unobstructed view of the heavens* in order to send and receive microwave signals to the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) network, but that's not all. On top of bouncing signals to and from the heavens, in order to be useful as a tracking device your GPS will need a SIM card for connectivity – otherwise your bike will know where it is but you'll have no idea.

*Microwave signals from a GPS device can pass through plastic but not metal

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Fraser enjoying some riding in the Southern Hemisphere.

Fraser has the advantage of being an avid mountain biker, in fact he's among the top riders on the North Shore. With this knowledge, Fraser thought the best place for his tracker would be at the bottom of the steerer, where it would be out of the way and protected. Another factor was the knowledge that many riders use the place where their stem cap used to reside to carry a multi-tool. But this was problematic as Fraser discovered, "one of the bigger issues, which I didn't realize before testing, is the signal pointing downwards is much worse than a signal facing upward. Another factor is the different sizes. Obviously mountain bikes steerer tubes are tapered and commuter bikes aren't, whereas the top location is pretty standardized right across all bikes." I'd rather not sacrifice the OneUp Lite tool in my steerer but I'd be willing to do it for the ability to track my bike if it gets stolen.

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An important element to the device will be how it is keyed. At this point Fraser is considering 'keys' with 4 distinct pattens, but this seems to be a work in progress. Both this image and the one above are earlier prototypes.

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"Fail fast" has become a product development maxim, under-lining the importance of quickly determining the value of an idea, and pivoting to cut losses once a trial concept has been rejected.

There are other advantages to this alignment as well. "There are two big issues we're facing; signal strength and battery life. Ideally we just put this thing in the bike completely. But as soon as you're enclosed in aluminum, you're not getting a GPS signal, so that's a huge factor, more so than I realized first starting this project." The space, power, and telecommunications challenges are just the beginning however. What happens when your bike gets stolen with a Snik device installed? Fraser doesn't want to encourage vigilante justice but getting the police involved isn't simple either. How, for example, will they verify that the person on the phone is actually the owner of the bike being tracked? Fraser's conversations with the VPD encouraged him that these hurdles can be overcome with registration credentials and a PIN number that would serve as legitimate intel.

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The core slides into the housing, the way a tool from Specialized, Trek, or OneUp does.

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Snik installed and locked in place.

The original goal was to attempt to conceal the device completely but this was another opportunity for the Vancouver Police to steer Fraser's strategy, telling him, "I think you might consider doing the opposite, to make it a deterrent. To have your bike scream, 'don't touch me!'" So your Snik device could act like a security sticker on the window of your house, discouraging the prospective thief. With the deterrent factor and the added protection in the event your bike gets jacked, Fraser has been in conversation with insurance companies about offering preferential rates for bikes equipped with Snik devices.

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The app mockups are very impressive.

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The plan is to make the device rechargeable but battery use will be kept to a minimum until needed; when your bike moves unexpectedly while your lock function has been activated with the app on your phone.* Down the road it's possible more battery life could be added so your Snik could double as the device that records your ride, allowing you to leave your phone at home.

*an onboard accelerometer will be able to tell if you bike moves or if someone is attempting to remove the Snik device.

If you are wondering how Snik compares to the Apple AirTag, aside from the obvious advantage of GPS for an accurate location reading, Snik will also have Bluetooth connectivity to take advantage of the mass of humanity using Apple devices via the Find My app. This is possible because the API* the AirTag uses, in an uncharacteristically Apple move, is open source.

*Application Programming Interface

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The most recent prototype looks polished and ready for service, but Fraser isn't yet ready to commit to a release date. Pictured is the inner core removed and attached to a charge cable with the housing (left) that would remain permanently inside your steerer tube, while also being responsible for tensioning our star nut.

The price of a Snik device is TBD but it may be in the $200 range, which is a reasonable investment to protect a bike that the costs even $2500 to replace. There will also be a yearly subscription required for the SIM card,* which Fraser thinks could be in the $40 per year range, which is much less than a data connection for, as an example, an Apple Watch which is generally 15 CAD/month or 10 USD.

*it appears the first year will be included in the price of the device

If you would like to know when you might get your hands on Snik, Fraser is careful not to over promise; "What I can say is we’re getting close, and we are working towards a soft launch, pre-selling devices online as a way to generate some early momentum." There will likely be a crowd-funding component to Snik for early adopters, but the sales structure remains a work in progress.

For now you can find more info and add your name to the mailing list at snik.bike and you can follow the substantially above average riding of Fraser and his crew on Snik's Instagram.

Tags: snik bike, GPS, Bike Theft, AirTag
Posted in: Gear, Features

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Comments

chrischris
+1 Greg Bly
chrischris  - June 1, 2021, 4:04 a.m.

Hi ,

I searched for a long time for a similar solution and finally ended up buying a Pet GPS tracker from Aliexpress.
These things are quite standard and if you investigate a little you can find they are actually all variations of car fleet GPS trackers. In case anyone tries it , be careful with the apps and portals from China though, you can never trust them 100% (I once received a mail that my passord is exposed after usig one of their portals). Just use a password that you can afford being discovered and maybe also some backup e-mail address. I think now you can also find similar trackers with portals located in EU.

I installed the tracker under the frame and masked it with a downtube protector. I had to remove the PCB from the original case of course so that it's thin enough and wrapped it in plastic to make it  whaterproof. Power cables run thru the frame where the bigger capacity battery is located (2600mAh lasts about 3-4 weeks). I have a metal frame , otherwise I would have mounted the tracker in the frame too.

Base costs: 40EUR tracker, 20EUR battery, 20EUR battery charger, 3EUR/month SIM fees.  I spent quite some time and money  finding the right tracker though (about 100EUR) and I already had the needed tools to make the stuff around it. One can discuss a whole day about the advantages and disadvantages of GPS trackers but the basic rules are always valid: store your bike in a safe place and never leave it unlocked in public places.

Related to SINK GPS tracker the idea is not new, I've seen similar stuff already available. 

I find the 40/year plan good as long as it'works in (almost) all countries. The App has the chance to be good and I would trust it more if it works with servers located in NA or EU. 200$ is a little steep but as you say it's justifiable if you have an expensive bike.

Just the location on the bike I don't find that good, many of the stolen bikes get disassambled and that thing will be discovered quite fast. I think an option of a separate kit of GPS and battery that you can install wherever you want (ideally in the frame) would be better, like that from PowUnity.

Reply

snik-bike
0
snik-bike  - June 1, 2021, 12:30 p.m.

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snik-bike
+2 thaaad Greg Bly
snik-bike  - June 1, 2021, 1:46 p.m.

Thanks Chris.

That’s where we started (years ago) as well, ordering a handful of pet trackers from AliExpress. Boy were we let down - countless shortcomings around size, connectivity, signal strength, and battery consumption. We quickly realized we needed to design from the ground up.

In regards to location, we explored every potential spot and landed on the steerer for two key reasons: compatibility and usability. 

“That thing will be discovered quite fast”. That may be the case (although not necessarily as it’s quite stealth in black) but removing/destroying it will be very difficult, and by that time, the cops are at your door.

Reply

chrischris
0
chrischris  - June 2, 2021, 4:38 a.m.

This comment has been removed.

chrischris
0
chrischris  - June 2, 2021, 4:41 a.m.

Seems you are not another rebranded chinese import, congratulation for that.

Maybe you can help me answer some questions .

Is a carbon frame also shielding electro-magnetic waves? My assumption was it's like plastic.

Would it be a real hurdle to detach the GSM and GPS antenas from the PCB? I guess for GSM it's easy as remember trying it myself and it worked. But with GPS I had no success, that is not an ordinary piece of ellectronic. I am still thinking of the possibility to place just the antenas outside the frame and mask them somehow.

And are you using 3G or higher transfer standard?

Reply

chrischris
0
chrischris  - June 2, 2021, 4:39 a.m.

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Sethimus
+2 Cr4w snik-bike
Sethimus  - June 1, 2021, 5:49 a.m.

this needs apple find my integration

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
+2 Mark Forbes snik-bike
Cam McRae  - June 1, 2021, 8:22 a.m.

That is an excellent idea Sethimus! :)

“Snik will also have Bluetooth connectivity to take advantage of the mass of humanity using Apple devices via the Find My app.”

Reply

monsieurgage
+5 Sanesh Iyer snik-bike AJ Barlas DMVancouver cedrico
Gage Wright  - June 1, 2021, 12:36 p.m.

How about a oneup collab?

Reply

Shoreloamer
+1 snik-bike
Greg Bly  - June 1, 2021, 7:21 a.m.

Small investment for some serious security. Yes your bike will be stripped down but as soon as you discover your bike stolen you start tracking exactly where it is. 

I would mount it inside the BB . Would an antenna reaching up the seat post receive a good signal?

Reply

craw
+1 snik-bike
Cr4w  - June 1, 2021, 8:13 a.m.

Then the device would have to accommodate an unlimited number of tube configurations and access variations within the frame. Every bike has an identical steerer tube. 

But I agree it would be nice if the device could be in the main frame to ensure the tracker stays with the frame for as long as possible even if the fork is removed.

Reply

snik-bike
+1 Greg Bly
snik-bike  - June 1, 2021, 12:46 p.m.

Thanks Greg - Appreciate your interest! Stripping snik out of the bike will be a lot harder than it may seem. Without the (unique) key, you would have to smash the device - we are currently testing different materials for strength and have had some positive initial results. Dense, Injection molded plastics are damn strong!

We explored the BB and ran in to many different hurdles around compatibility and connectivity.

Reply

sanesh-iyer
+4 Cam McRae snik-bike AJ Barlas Morgan Heater
Sanesh Iyer  - June 1, 2021, 7:38 a.m.

I would buy one per bike for sure.

Reply

snik-bike
+1 thaaad
snik-bike  - June 1, 2021, 12:47 p.m.

BOOM! Appreciate you Sanesh

Reply

extraspecialandbitter
+1 ElBrendo
ExtraSpecialandBitter  - June 1, 2021, 2:33 p.m.

Does it come in a 5 pack for that reason?
Or at least a 2 pack and 5 of the housings to make it easy to switch.

Reply

IslandLife
0
IslandLife  - June 1, 2021, 3:55 p.m.

That would be a great idea… they will hopefully at least sell housings separately for cheap?

Reply

mrt
0
Mr.T  - June 2, 2021, 9:55 a.m.

Word.  Me too.  

Chilcotin, Spur, Arcturian and Stumpy.

Reply

craw
+4 Cam McRae khai snik-bike cedrico
Cr4w  - June 1, 2021, 8:13 a.m.

Please keep us posted when the crowdfunding campaign is up!

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
+2 Mark Forbes snik-bike
Cam McRae  - June 1, 2021, 8:23 a.m.

Will do for sure!

Reply

monsieurgage
+1 snik-bike
Gage Wright  - June 1, 2021, 12:34 p.m.

What about sticking it in hollow tech cranks?  I really don't want to give up my oneup tool but this is such a promising device I would consider it.

Reply

snik-bike
+1 thaaad
snik-bike  - June 1, 2021, 12:51 p.m.

Thanks a lot Gage! We feel the same way - the biggest concern about the top of steerer was Oneup's presence. We'd be STOKED to collaborate with Oneup in any way, shape, or form.

Reply

sanesh-iyer
+2 FudgeDredd ElBrendo
Sanesh Iyer  - June 1, 2021, 2:37 p.m.

More thoughts:
1) A One-Up combo would be awesome.
2) I'm always some what wary of tech from new brands. I don't usually buy it (this is for my MTB security so it's a different spending category, in the home insurance group more than the gadget group) One thing that would really help my "faith" in the product is ensuring that the back-end map is hostable by a 3rd party. So, for example, if you (god forbid) shut down shop or deprecated the device I can host your service on my local machine to track my bikes.

Reply

FudgeDredd
0
FudgeDredd  - June 1, 2021, 3:01 p.m.

Perhaps it could screw onto the bottom of the OneUp tool (in place of that small storage canister that screws on) given there's room for it.

I agree, it'd be prudent to ensure that service/tracking could be maintained in the event of an early exit by the brand. Not that I wish that upon any business, just voicing potential.

I am a tad skeptical about the tracking device being so obvious, but perhaps it's not a big deal. It may either deter theft, or just be a PITA for the thief to remove.

I'm not sure I'd dump my OneUp tool, I could just as easily put it in my Druid's storage compartment near the BB.

Reply

snik-bike
+2 Sanesh Iyer thaaad
snik-bike  - June 1, 2021, 3:51 p.m.

To address your skepticism, it will likely do both: deter thief and be a PITA to remove - in the absence of the Key, good luck removing the device!

Reply

snik-bike
0
snik-bike  - June 1, 2021, 3:46 p.m.

This comment has been removed.

snik-bike
+2 Sanesh Iyer thaaad
snik-bike  - June 1, 2021, 3:51 p.m.

Totally agree on the OneUp combo. Regarding your second point, it runs on AWS (cloud based) so no need to install anything at all. I appreciate your insight around 3rd party local hosting - hopefully we can build your faith in the product and address this over time.

Reply

sanesh-iyer
0
Sanesh Iyer  - June 1, 2021, 3:53 p.m.

I'd also love an SOS button. Something I can affix to my bag and press in an emergency. I know that's a different purpose since you're already sending GPS data over a cell network...

Reply

Boomshakalaka
+2 snik-bike cedrico
Boomshakalaka  - June 2, 2021, 7:59 p.m.

SNIK in the steerer, OneUp pump w/tools attached to water bottle cage. Job DONE. I will be buying one of these on the day they become available. Hell yeah SNIK!

Reply

snik-bike
+1 cedrico
snik-bike  - June 4, 2021, 2:30 p.m.

My best response to this comment is also your username.... BOOMshakalaka!

Reply

just6979
0
Justin White  - June 3, 2021, 11:07 a.m.

I have to wonder if the special keys are overkill. Just make it look like a normal stem cap and it'll be virtually invisible. If it's got a fancy looking "security" key/bit system, it kind of makes it obvious there is something important in there. In which case, a slightly savvy thief would just pound something sharp into the plastic to either twist it out, or just kill it, pretty quickly.

Reply

snik-bike
+1 cedrico
snik-bike  - June 4, 2021, 2:51 p.m.

That was our original thinking. The challenge is being able to insert/remove the GPS core while keeping in mind the antenna is in the middle of the top portion -  preventing the potential of a centralized bolt (similar to stem cap bolt). Also, pound as you may, this thing will take a BEATING before coming out or dying... Testing optimal production material now, follow along on our IG to see results.

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