AlterLock Is a Bike Security Service

It's elaborate and expensive and probably necessary.

Alterlock on bike


It is a mantra on this site that if we are going to truly have an e-bike revolution, we need good affordable bikes, safe places to ride, and secure places to park. Unfortunately, it often seems like we have none of the above, so I use three big locks every time I park my expensive e-bike and I still worry about it if I can't see it; even the best lock can't resist a thief with an angle grinder.

Alterlock under the bottle holder
Alterlock under the bottle holder. Alterlock

That's why the AlterLock is so interesting. Of course, I liked the name; alas, it's not named after me, marketing manager Toru Tosa tells Treehugger that it comes from "Alternative."

More importantly, the AlterLock has a vibrator and alarm that it says deters thieves and tampering, and notifies your phone if it detects vibration.

The serious action starts when a bike is stolen. Like many systems, the AlterLock connects to your phone via Bluetooth, which has a short range. However it also connects to low-power wide-area (LPWA), a system developed to connect devices for the Internet of Things, and is available in many parts of the world, including Japan and Europe.

Kiyotake Teruyama, AlterLock's system architect and product manager, explains:

"The year 2017, when we started designing the device, was just the year when IoT communication technology started to appear in the world. The advent of LPWA, which provides low power and inexpensive IoT communications, is one of the reasons why AlterLock was made possible."
system architecture

LPWA, often called Sigfox, makes it possible to communicate with low power consumption and low cost. Much of the world, including North America, is covered by the service. The company notes: "By being one of the first to adopt this communication standard, AlterLock has created a small, lightweight device that can operate for a long period of time at low cost."

And it really means a seriously long time — up to 1.5 months on a single charge. That's because the system only turns on if there is vibration and then only pings once a minute.

AlterLock explains on its website:

"In the unlikely event that your bike is stolen, AlterLock tracks it once a minute to determine its final location. If it is moved indoors where there is no GPS signal, the device uses WiFi signals to determine its approximate location. What sets AlterLock apart from many other tracking devices is its ability to track your location independently. By employing a highly accurate GPS module and Sigfox communication, the device transmits location information even from hundreds of kilometers away, unlike Bluetooth, which has a maximum range of about 100 meters."

The AlterLock was designed for expensive road bikes — the CEO rides a Pinarello — and is fitted onto the standard bottle holder mounts found on the down tube found on most of them. A lot of work was put into minimizing its aerodynamic drag, which they claim amounts to less than 0.01 seconds per hour.

Seatpost mount
Seatpost Mount. AlterLock

However, a lot of expensive electric bikes don't have these mounts. We asked about this and Tosa sent us a photo, explaining: "Yes, there is a chance to install if a bike has a bottle cage mount. And there are some ways even if a bike doesn't have a mount [as in the photo above]."

I am not sure that is the best place to put it, given a thief could just throw away the seat and keep the bike, but it proves the point that it can go in different places.

The biggest problem with the AlterLock, like so much else in the bike world, is the cost. They are marketing it in the United Kingdom now for $137 (£114.99) which isn't out of line with a fancy lock these days. But it also requires a connection to the Sigfox service at $4.78 per month, which adds up.

Alterlock on bike rack

Unfortunately, when there is so little secure parking, this may be the price one has to pay. It's why I will end with their mission statement, which doesn't even talk about the AlterLock but paints a bigger picture:

"We want to create a world where you can come out of a café and not find your bike,
or wake up in the morning and find it gone from the garage. Our goal is to create a world where this kind of thing never happens."