The Powunity Biketrax GPS Tracker is a silent witness to your e-bike's whereabouts. Controlled via a useful app, it could help you get your bike back quickly – or resolve an insurance claim if needed.
Austrian company PowUnity were born out of a desire to prevent theft of skis and snowboards – but then pivoted to e-bikes as their popularity and value rose. Having a big battery and a bike frame to hide a tracker makes life easier for a product designer.
PowUnity sells versions of the BikeTrax with power connectors for Bosch, Shimano, Brose and some Yamaha motors, as well as a Universal one that comes with bare wires to bodge yourself. The Universal tracker module requires a power input between 9 and 100 volts DC. Your bike motor needs to have any auxiliary power port activated, which might require a dealer.
The price, delivered in the UK, is currently £167.80, making the BikeTrax nearly seventy quid more expensive than the just-announced Bosch GPS tracker module, which has similar functionality (more on the differences later). The new Bosch-made tracker module won't work with non-Smart System bikes – i.e. only the new 2022 ones – so if like me you have an older non-Smart System bike, the BikeTrax is your only option.
The tracker module comes wrapped in protective heat shrink, but the module is not certified as waterproof. So just like your e-bike motor and battery, splashes are fine but don't be immersing it. The tracker is pretty small – 6 x 2 x 0.8cm - and the external battery is 4 x 3 x 0.8cm. The battery is there to power the tracker when the bike is turned off or the bike battery is removed/flat. Fully charged, it lasts about a month of reporting. You can add a second battery to double that. With the one battery, the system weighs just 49g – utterly negligible on a 20kg+ e-bike.
The installation process was pretty easy. The overall concept is that the tracker gets plugged into your motor's auxiliary port, and that's it – all it wants is a teensy amount of power. There's no connection to your bike's control system, therefore no voiding of your bike's warranty. Then you just need to work out where to stash the tracker and battery so that it's safe and invisible.
There's enough cable slack to play around with positioning, but clearly it's staying around where the motor is. On my eMTB there was just enough clearance under the plastic Bosch Gen4 CX motor cover to position the tracker, logo and GPS antenna underneath, facing outwards to maximise signal. The process took about 30 minutes all-up, with a Torx bit and a crank extractor the only tools needed.
You need to take care that the logo on the tracker faces outwards and isn't obscured by metal or carbon, so some creativity and thinking might need to go into it. There's just enough space under the Bosch CX motor to hide things away nicely. There's a section of double-sided 3M tape provided, but I found this isn't really sticky or large enough to hold the tracker in place.
Depending on the motor design, you may need to take the crank off to make a tidy job of removing the cover. If your crank needs to come off, as a security measure PowUnity sell the £30 Hexlox keyed insert. This pops into the 8mm crank bolt to prevent removal of the non-driveside crank, stopping (or slowing down) a thief from getting to your tracker.
If you don't own one, PowUnity will also sell you a crank puller, to make the job of installation easier.
How does it work?
Once everything is plugged in and tidied away, the activation process is pretty straightforward. You need to have the bike outside and within view of a GPS signal obviously. There's a registration code that links the tracker to you, and once activated it's yours. You can reassign the tracker to another owner if you sell the bike on.
The tracker detects its position using GPS and reports it back to the PowUnity server using 2G mobile data every 10 seconds when moving, or when moved if parked. Using a 2G network with europe-wide roaming included, the tracking service is included in the purchase price for the first year, and €39.50 per year thereafter. Coverage for Europe is via Swedish mobile network Tele2, so if you take your bike further afield than their European roaming agreements it won't work.
PowUnity says 2G is pretty much guaranteed to work across Europe until at least 2025. They are working on a 5G version that will use the LTE-M standard that the new Bosch GPS tracker uses, and at some stage it will become the dominant network/option. The lower frequency of 2G has benefits in terms of coverage and in-building penetration (context: I was a mobile network engineer in a past life). As mobile operators have left their 2G networks on to serve the millions of 2G Machine-To-Machine sensors out there, chances are the PowUnity hardware will continue to deliver value for quite a few years from now.
Once you've confirmed all hardware is installed and working, the attention shifts to the PowUnity app, which will be your controller and window into the world of e-bike GPS tracking. The app is pretty well-done, intuitive and fast to use. You can use the app or PowUnity's web-based interface to review bike locations, edit settings and view rides – sorted by month, with statistics. You can share ride maps as an image to social media or download as GPX to add to Strava, if you forgot to record. Because there's a web portal, if you lose your bike and your phone too, or your phone is flat, you could log in using anyone's phone via its web browser.
You can't edit the ride tracks – so if you travel to a location and then ride, that 'trip' will include the car/train/whatever mileage. This limits the functionality of the app as a way to track distance- or time-based service intervals, like chain wear or suspension servicing. Hopefully editing of tracks will be forthcoming soon.
The reason for having a GPS tracker is to receive an alert on your phone that someone's messing with your bike – and the BikeTrax does this quickly and loudly. Once you've clicked the padlock icon on the map screen, the alarm is enabled. If the bike is then moved, either physically or by shifting outside of your pre-defined geofence, you get an alert within about 20 seconds. You might choose to geofence your bike so you can move it around your property, for example between shed/garage and lawn for a wash without having to mute the alerts every time it's moved. I found geofencing to be a bit hit-and-miss as occasionally the bike would think it was up to 300 yards away from my garage, triggering the alarm in the middle of the night. My wife was not impressed. So if you do use geofencing, set the radius to at least 500 yards. This will of course lengthen the time until receiving a warning that your bike's been nicked.
The alert is LOUD and comes through with the app open or closed. If you set the permissions correctly, the alarm goes off for about 5-6 seconds with the phone locked – even on mute, set to silent etc. As mentioned, more than enough to wake you up. I found that the alarm never took longer than 30 seconds to alert my phone – from the tracker waking up, connecting to the 2G network, sending the alert and Powunity then contacting my phone's app.
Whether 30 seconds is enough time for you to leg it outside to wherever your bike was locked is a moot point – whether you feel confident enough to tackle a thief is up to you. Probably more likely you'll be turning on lights, taking photos, shouting or throwing spiked objects, angry cats etc.
Once your bike's been nicked, you're into the tracking mode. Your app will show you in real-time the bike's location, which you can then relay to police. PowUnity's website is awash with customer success stories of customers and police forces tracking stolen bikes to vans, flats, workshops etc. The app lets you activate a mode called – literally – Theft Report, where you can enter in all the details needed by police. In the bike's 'passport' you can pre-record all the info a police force or insurer might need like frame number, price and purchase date, photo, etc.
Unlike the forthcoming Bosch product, PowUnity allow you to register multiple bikes with multiple people, so a family could all have the app under a shared login, with all their bikes on the app. That way you could unlock and use whatever bike you needed at the time – handy for families like ours, with three bikes in use by four people. Likewise for hire bike operators, it would be handy for staff to track your fleet.
This also means that your family (or bike hire shop) can see your location when out on a ride (assuming you're in 2G coverage) – safety functionality usually charged at a premium by the likes of Strava et al.
There's an option called 'autoguard' that locks the bike after a time stationary. I turned this off as it seemed too short a duration. I wish there was a reminder the app could send you to say – maybe after not moving for a predetermined time – 'do you want to lock your bike?' As this is all app-based, additional functionality like this can easily be added.
Adding to the sharing functionality, you might – eventually – be able to get a discount on your bike insurance by having a tracker fitted. This is possible in Germany, but UK insurers have yet to make this benefit available to e-bike owners. If you have a smart home system you can create a webhook in the app or webpage that performs an action when the alarm is triggered. E.g. it might flash the lights in your house, turn on security lights, trigger an external alarm, release the hounds, that sort of thing.
Back to the comparison with the forthcoming Bosch Smart System tracker. Fundamental to the Bosch function is that the tracker actually disables the motor as well as sounding an audible alarm/flashing the bike's lights (if fitted). These may well be enough to scare off a thief in a public place, or even if alone perhaps make them think twice, as the bike is smart. If you own an earlier-generation Bosch bike like me, you can get the motor disable function by buying the £8 option in the Bosch Flow app, that turns your bike's display into a 'key', without which the bike is useless. So you're not without options to make your bike less desirable. The new Bosch tracker works on 5G so is future-proof, if not reliant on denser coverage to penetrate buildings or a vehicle the bike may be being transported in.
The GPS-bike-tracker market is pretty active, with many aftermarket options ranging from quickly-removable lights to deeply-embedded systems like BikeTrax. BikeFinder is a handlebar-mounted device that costs £149 plus a subscription of between £5 and £30 a month with a 1 or 2-year contract. The Trackap RUN.E looks very similar to the PowUnity BikeTrax. It's €125 delivered, plus an annual €36 subscription after Year 1 – but it doesn't work with the Bosch Smart System (yet). Critically, the website says their battery only lasts a week, as opposed to Powunity's month of backup. And it's all in French.
Having lived with the PowUnitly BikeTrax GPS tracker for three months, I'm sold. Now it's in and working, the peace of mind afforded when out on rides for spousal location awareness or when the bike's locked up is worth the initial cost then £40 a year upkeep. It would be great if my insurance company got on the bus and recognised that they're less likely to have to pay out for a theft with the tracker fitted than not. Ah well, give it time.