Thursday, November 19, 2015

Where's Waldo? Who Cares?

I know bike theft is a serious problem, but it's a problem that really requires no more than a very simple low-tech solution. And yet for some reason, every smart phone addict, tinkerer, and tech junkie believes they have the perfect fix.

Back in May, I highlighted the Noke U-Lock, which promises to eliminate "the hassle and frustration of lost keys and forgotten combinations." It connects with Bluetooth smartphones and allows a user to unlock their bike with the use of an app. It also boasts a "shrieking" alarm, allows easy sharing of the bike with friends, and even utilizes GPS tracking in case the user forgets where they parked their bike.

I suggested that people who can't remember where they parked their bike probably couldn't find their way home, either.

Well, just to show that there's apparently no shortage of people out there who can't remember keys, combinations, or even where they parked their bikes, there are a couple of new "Smart" locks for Dumb people just now hitting the market.

Where's Waldo?

(photo from Waldo)
The aptly named Waldo isn't so much a lock as it is a "Lo-Jack" type of device designed to "give you peace of mind." With the smartphone app, "you can check your bicycle's status and its position anytime. You'll get notified only when your bike is in danger."

Waldo attaches to the bike using a couple of silicone straps and a steel band. Of course, if someone tries to cut the steel band, or move the bike without de-activating the device, it is supposed to deliver a "loud sound alarm" to "deter any potential thief." You know - because car alarms are so effective in urban settings, and people always take them seriously. And nobody finds randomly shrieking alarms annoying. It also sends the owner a text alert to let them know their bike is being stolen.

Waldo is meant to be seen -- to act as a "deterrent" to
potential thieves. I should think riding a POS brakeless fixie
conversion should be deterrent enough. (photo from Waldo)
What if somebody just bumps, or moves the bike? Supposedly the "sensor has brains - it can differentiate between a theft attempt and a random movement of your bike. Thanks to this, you won't get notified if a fellow cyclists (sic) accidently moves your bike."

Oddly, if the battery gets too low, the device "unlocks" itself so the user can remove it for recharging. Great for the user, but also great for the thieves. So much for security and peace of mind.

As I mentioned, the Waldo is not a lock. If someone's really serious about security, even the makers of Waldo say, "though it is not compulsory, we do recommend using a trustworthy chain or U-lock." "Not compulsory"? Using a lock is never "compulsory." But it kind of begs the question: if one is going to use a good solid lock, then do they really need Waldo?

And because there must be a perceived rash of cyclists too dumb (or inebriated?) to remember where their bikes are, "Waldo automatically stores your bicycle's last location and displays it on a map." Their website proclaims, "Forgot where you parked? No problem, just let Waldo guide you to your bike."

As a final note for those whose memory incompetence comes from inebriation, it might be safe to point out that anybody who is too drunk to remember where their bike is parked is probably also too drunk to ride it. So maybe the makers of Waldo should team up with the makers of the Alcoho-Lock and offer a package deal discount.

There is a basic Bluetooth version, and a GSM version with more GPS capability and real-time tracking. Expected retail price of Waldo is posted as $124 - $170 (based on current exchange rates) depending on which version one opts for.

Grasp Biometric Lock

Another high-tech lock that does away with keys and combinations is the Grasp Biometric Lock; a battery-powered quick-release bike lock that opens with fingerprint recognition.

Supposedly the Grasp will change your life. It is billed as the "first bike lock that actually improves your cycling experience."
I hope this dude's wheel's aren't important to him. But then
securing the wheels means more time, effort, and extra cables,
chains, or locks. "Why does security need to be so unpleasant?"
(photo from grasplock)

Try to say that with a straight face. Go on. Try.

"Every cyclist knows the pain of locking up and unlocking their bike," says the company's Kickstarter ad. "Why does security need to be so unpleasant?"

Why? Because having your bike, or wheels, or components stolen sucks a lot worse than taking the time to secure them properly -- and if your bike is truly important to you, then you know that no cell phone technology shortcuts can take the place of that extra time it takes to do it right. That's the retro-grouchy answer.

For some reason, the tech-happy makers of all these "smart" locking products are convinced that every bike user wants to become their own private bike-share system. Grasp is no exception. "Sharing your bike has never been easier. Give access to family and friends using the Grasp App." One can add up to 20 additional fingerprints to the lock. Is it because I'm such a self-proclaimed grouch that I can't even conceive of having 20 friends I'd want to be sharing my bike with?

OK - some questions. What if the fingerprint recognition isn't working? "Unlikely" says the manufacturer, but apparently if that happens, one can unlock using the Bluetooth connection and the phone app.

What if the batteries go dead while the bike is locked up? Grasp stays locked tight, even if the AAA batteries are removed, claims the company. They also say the batteries should last over a year. If one needs to, they can replace the batteries while the bike is locked, at which point it should return to normal operation. How the lock stores all those fingerprints in its own memory if the batteries go dead is a mystery to me - but I don't really care enough to find out the answer. But is the trouble of dead batteries really better than just having a key?

Planned retail price on the Grasp fingerprint-recognition lock is posted at $159.

Considering that I don't believe this can really save much time or trouble compared to a normal high-quality U-lock, I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a reason to spend an extra $100 over the price of a good Kryptonite and some chains or cables. But then again, I don't have 20 friends clamoring to share my bike.

And I'm fine with that.


  1. A lock that "improves" your cycling experience? Did a committee of lawyers--or Winston from George Orwell's "1984"--come up with that one? Hmm...Maybe it's a mis-translation of something.

  2. Supposedly the Grasp will change your life. It is billed as the "first bike lock that actually improves your cycling experience."

    Try to say that with a straight face. Go on. Try.

    — I choked on my morning tea after reading this. GOLDEN! :D

  3. I agree with Tumbleweed. Funny stuff.


  4. The only time I ever have an issue with my u-lock is when I forget to move it from backpack to pannier when I switch bikes and don't realize till I'm at the grocery store.