Last updated on June 20th, 2018
Most experienced riders know that motorcycle theft and motorcycle accidents have one thing in common – It’s just a matter of time before it happens. Far too many riders out there learn the hard way why it’s important to use motorcycle alarm systems. Most of the time it’s just cheap insurance against theft to use a security system. But if it ever is stolen, a motorcycle tracker is well worth the small cost.
Here I’m going to go over which alarm systems are available, and what their strong a weak points are. Even if you’re looking for a car alarm instead, 90% of this still applies. Keep reading if you want to know which is the best alarm.
Which types of alarm systems are there?
After making the best compact motorcycle helmet lock, I thought I’d take a stab at the subject of security systems. Basically, what types of alarms are there, which functions do they have and what does it take to install them. Of course, which is the best, too.
Let’s face it. In practice just about every anti-theft method has pros and cons. Anything designed to make unauthorized use harder simultaneously makes it more difficult for authorized users. It just isn’t practical to make anything theft-proof. Thankfully, the typical age-old adage applies:
There is an old joke about two hunters who angered a mama bear in the woods and she started chasing after them. As the two men ran for their lives, one said, “It’s hopeless, we can’t outrun the bear!” And the other replied, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you!”
As long as you’re more protected than the motorcycles around you, your odds aren’t bad. And thank God! If you’ve ever tried carrying around a 16lb Kryptonite New York Legend Lock, you know what I mean. That isn’t for the faint of heart.
Rather than going all-out, it’s best to tailor security to one’s needs and environment. Here are the different “levels” of motorcycle alarm systems commonly available.
Level 1 – Brake Disk Lock + Alarm
- Protection – 2/5
- Installation Difficulty – 0/5
- Cost – 60-100$
This is the easiest option since it does not require installation. It’s simply a clamp-on brake disc lock with an integrated alarm siren.
I wouldn’t really consider it a true motorcycle alarm, though it perfectly functions as such. But it is an excellent security upgrade for any motorcycle. With or without integrated alarm systems like those seen later on.
The main advantage is that it keeps the wheel from rotating. Not even LoJack can do that. Considering how many motorcycles get stolen simply pushing them away little by little, it is a real concern. It’ll also keep a thief from just riding away. Basically, it packs much of the benefits of a chain lock without the hassle of weight or space.
One added gain this has over traditional wheel locks is it won’t let you forget to remove it. You wouldn’t believe how many people have damaged their front forks or brakes by trying to ride off with a disc lock. The alarm feature makes sure you don’t just try to take off with it still installed.
All of that sums up why there are uses for one of these even if you already have a standalone alarm. I always keep a disk lock alarm under the seat of my bike.
Xena tends the be among the better disc lock alarms
There are a few popular models to consider. Xena are definitely among the most recommended units, and their customer service is great. I’ve had a few and I’ve always been happy with them. They work on just about any bike with a disc brake.
One key security benefit of disc lock alarms is that they are a PITA for a thief to remove. It’s hard to attack them directly with bolt cutters (as long as they are well designed), so in a way they’re definitely better than budget chain locks. The main downside is that it doesn’t anchor down the bike like a chain would. Like most things, convenience and security come in conflict.
If you are interested, depending on which front or rear brakes you have, there are a few options to choose from. The summary is to measure the diameter of the holes in your brake disc, and get the model with the biggest pin that will fit. The number after the XX is the size of the pin in millimeters. Also keep in mind that the holes and the spacing may vary between the front and rear on the same bike.
- XX6-SS Stainless Steel Disc-Lock Alarm
- XX10-SS Stainless Steel Disc-Lock Alarm ⇐ This is the one I use
- XX14-SS Stainless Steel Disc-Lock Alarm
- XX15-SS Stainless Steel Disc-Lock Alarm
Level 2 – Simple Alarm
- Protection: 1.5/5
- Installation Difficulty: 2.5/5
- Cost: 10-30$
The second option is to go with a “simple” motorcycle alarm system.
These are the alarms that require only two wires to install. You can even wire it directly to the battery terminals if you like, making messing with the motorcycle’s wiring unnecessary. In some case there may be a third wire (ACC) that you can install. Its only function is to let the alarm system know that the bike is turned on. You can skip it if you really want to.
Similarly, you can simply do a basic install of a good alarm. Just buy a “higher quality” alarm with more functions (and hence wires), but don’t hook up the extra wires. The alarm should work fine anyway. Ironically enough, many people go down this route by mistake when they buy a full-fledged alarm system but then don’t know how to install it. On the bright side, you can always use the rest of the features later on. But this should really only be reserved for cheap scooters at most.
Basic Alarm Options
To see an example of such alarms, take a look at this simple model or these search results for basic motorcycle alarms on Ebay. I’m talking about the units for sale between 7-15$ which include a remote or two, and are hardwired to the bike. They should all work decently and pretty reliably. Thankfully there isn’t much complexity to an alarm unit.
Nonetheless, a better option is the BlueFire Motorbike Security System. At least you can expect better quality control from it. You can just cut off the extra wires that you won’t be using. Or even better. Leave them so you can complete the installation later.
Level 3 – GPS Tracker Alarm
- Protection: 3.5/5
- Installation Difficulty: 4/5
- Cost: 30-50$ + 5$ Monthly for Cell Service
This is currently my favorite alarm system for motorcycles. They are designed and made by Coban, but are ubiquitously rebranded. In other words pay attention to the model number, not the brand. Just about all of them have the exact same internals.
Though Coban has a few models, my favorite is the GPS303G. It’s also known as TK303G, so don’t worry if you ever see “TK” instead of “GPS”. The same goes for the rest of their model numbers, by the way. You can get them for around 30-50$, and have all the features you could ever want. That’s what really makes them an incredible value.
It blows the mind that they can include so many features in such a cheap and compact package. There are many types of GPS Trackers out there, most ranging from 20$ to 900$. It’s surprising that this unit can do as much or more than the 900$ models. In some cases, I actually suspect that the internals may very well be the same.
The benefits of this alarm unit in particular
The big advantage of this model in particular is that it allows for “sleep mode”. It allows the unit to fall into a low battery consumption mode when the vehicle is parked and not moving. GPS Trackers have a notoriously high battery drain (relatively), so this is a must for motorcycle GPS trackers.
The other advantage is that it is also waterproof, something not all units can boast.
As far as why the GPS tracker feature is awesome, there are plenty of things to point out. Some of the biggest benefits of a GPS Tracker are:
- Receiving alerts on your phone if the vehicle is disturbed or touched
- The capacity to track the motorcycle remotely
- Checking on the state of the bike from anywhere, via an app
- Using your phone as a remote
Among others, of course. It all depends on how you install it and decide to use it.
It does cost 3-5$ a month, as the tracker requires a working, prepaid SIM card. I use a SpeedTalk Mobile SIM card in mine. But I think it’s worth it considering how cheap the GPS tracker is and what it costs. It even has a microphone that allows you to listen to whoever is near your bike!
Regarding installation, it’s relatively simple compared to other alarms. Nonetheless the difficulty will vary depending on how you want to install it. On the simple side, it just requires power, ground and ACC. It doesn’t have connections for the turn signal lights, so you save yourself having to install those two extra wires.
On the complicated side, you can even do a full-featured install that can remote disconnect the engine, as discussed below.
Level 4 – GPS Tracker Alarm + Remote Engine Stop + Decoy Alarm
- Protection: 4/5
- Installation Difficulty: 4/5
- Cost: 40$ + 5$ Monthly for Cell Service
This is simply the maximum exponent of properly installing a GPS Tracker alarm like in the previous section. It’s a decoy-equipped GPS tracker alarm install capable of remote engine disconnect. It’s not as complex as it sounds but it’s definitely reserved only for avid DIYers. Here’s a detailed Moto Decoy Alarm DIY.
As to why, personally I prefer a GPS Tracker and Alarm in a single unit. The value is that there’s only one unit that can break, and only one unit draining the battery. Especially the battery drain part when you’re talking about motorcycle alarm systems.
However, there’s a problem if you install a single unit that doubles as both GPS tracker and alarm. If an alarm siren sounds on your bike, the thief is going to know there is an alarm, and rip it out just because he can. Don’t expect them to just leave it there going off! Even if they don’t know the vehicle has a GPS Tracker, trying to remove the alarm they will find and destroy it.
That’s where the decoy comes in, to remedy that inconvenience. If you don’t install a dummy alarm, you are relying on a thief to not bother looking for the alarm/GPS tracker. Which on a tiny motorcycle requires the bare minimum of effort. Like they say, hope is not a strategy.
The highest level of security also entails a remote engine kill switch. That way someone can’t simply ride the bike away, even if they steal the key off you. You can just kill the engine once they’ve gone down the block.
If you’re interested, I’ve got a detailed DIY on how to install a GPS Tracker alarm, that also includes tacking the kill switch.
What about chain locks?
This article is about motorcycle security systems, not chain locks. I really wouldn’t dare say which is more important – like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, they are different but complementary. Both are an important part of your motorcycle security system. The chain will help keep your bike from getting stolen, whereas a GPS tracker will help you get it back.
Just for the sake of being thorough, I’ll touch on it briefly. There isn’t a single chain that is best for everything, regrettably. The light chains are useless and the secure chains are massively heavy. And none of them do any good if you don’t anchor them correctly – That’s why you should always install secure anchor if your park your motorcycle outside. Even if it’s in your own backyard. Or better said, especially if it is, given how many motorcycle thefts happen there.
As far as chains go, I’ve tried quite a few. Not to mention cut or broken though my fair share – Legitimately, of course. Personally, the best compromise between weight and security I’ve found is the Kryptonite Evolution Series Lock. It’s light enough to carry while touring, and secure enough to sleep at night.
At the end of the day, most locks will deter most thieves. And all chains will be defeated by a battery-powered angle grinder in less than a minute. What matters most is how consistently you use it. So an alarm and a decent chain lock anchored to a fixed object is about as good as it gets if you use it daily.
Ramblings on a few motorcycle GPS tracker alarm issues
Here are just a few issues worth mentioning if you’re trying to decide between different motorcycle alarm systems and functions.
My take on solely installing a GPS Tracker
A tempting option is to have installed a LoJack unit (not DIY installable) or get a standalone GPS Tracker. Personally, I’m not a fan.
Having a GPS tracker by no means guarantees getting your bike back. With many vehicle GPS trackers you have only a few hours to track your bike once the battery is removed. And sure, having a GPS tracker may help you get your bike back if stolen. But it does nothing to keep your bike from getting stolen in the first place – that’s a benefit reserved to alarms.
Also, some can only be tracked by the police with a special antenna. Even worse is the fact that it’s only available to the departments of large cities. If they don’t give your bike priority in the first few hours, your bike is gone anyway.
GPS Trackers are like concealed carry – Everyone benefits
The reality is that when the general population installs GPS trackers, the ones who benefit are the ones who don’t have them. At least pound for pound, considering they didn’t have to do anything. As GPS trackers have become commonplace, the result seen is less brazen thieves. This is because vehicles with GPS Trackers don’t tend to advertise this, so when a thief goes “shopping”, they are essentially playing Russian roulette.
I mainly say that because LoJack and similar units are very expensive. After all, spending 900$ on a GPS tracker for a 8000$ bike that never gets stolen means you simply wasted 900$.
A better choice is a GPS Tracker and an alarm on the same bike – but that’s double the battery drain. It’s a compromise. The best option, in my opinion, is a GPS Tracker Alarm with a decoy, as shown above.
What about 2-way Paging System Alarms?
I’ve had a few 2-way paging alarm systems. The latest one was a SPY 5000m 2 Way Motorcycle Alarm System. And sure, the alarm works fine and the concept is great. But in practice they are virtually no better than a “normal” one-way motorcycle alarm system. The 2-way function just doesn’t work.
I’ll explain just in case someone doesn’t know what I’m talking about. The whole point of this type of alarm is that the unit “messages” you back. Like with any other alarm, you have the ability to turn on/off the alarm with a remote. The difference here is that the motorcycle alarm can make the alarm remote beep and vibrate whenever the alarm is triggered. This is the paging feature.
It sounds great, of course. But in practice, the range and reliability is horrible. You cannot count on the remote alerting you unless you have direct line of sight with the vehicle. And if you do, the paging system is unnecessary.
In essence, you end up with an over-complicated alarm with a bulky remote. It does no more than a regular alarm remote can do, but it leaves you with a false sense of security.
It’s not a bad idea. It’s just that GPS Tracker Alarms work so much better in practice, and are much more reliable. The GPS303G above will still text you even if you’re hundreds of miles away from your bike. That’s why it’s my go-to alarm right now.
My take on remote start
When looking at the installation diagram for your alarm, you’re likely to see the “Remote Start” wire and wonder with a grin, “should I?“.
Most alarm systems these days allow that function. Even though today’s modern electronics make installing all but impossible for the layman. Nonetheless, the question still is whether or not it is a worthwhile function. It certainly sounds sexy.
I’ve installed quite a few alarms on quite a few vehicles. I was tempted each time. After much thinking on the matter during each different install, my conclusion is no. It’s not worth it. Even if you are a mod-addict, or you can get it installed for free, it just isn’t worth it.
For one, most modern motorcycles come with some sort of anti-theft protection. It’s whole purpose is to keep the motorcycle’s ignition from being by-passed, as the remote start would require.
That system might be as simple as shielding the ignition wires physically. Or as complex as requiring a specific resistance on the igition wiring, opposed to a short-circuit or 0 Ohms. Not to mention using a key with an immobilizer chip. Of course, you’d have to defeat all of them, reducing the security of your bike. You can do that if needed, it’s just that it isn’t worth it.
Other factors to consider
That said, the security point is almost moot. But it doesn’t change anything. If all bikes out there the same model as yours have an immobilizer, the thief is going to treat your bike as if it has an immobiliser. Even if you’ve deactivated it. As such, you benefit from the vast majority who don’t disable it. It’s a bit like the whole GPS tracker issue.
That isn’t the end of the issues, however. Most of the time you have to hold in the clutch to start the engine. That isn’t a feature you want to disable. It is something you want working properly just to avoid silly accidents.
And if you indeed do pull it off, the remote start would certainly void all warranties. There just isn’t any way to conceal it. Depending on how you implemented it, it is a possible failure point when having any sort of running issues. I would hate to have to argue at the dealership that my unnecessary, gimmicky upgrade isn’t causing the bike to have a rough idle – even if it is totally unrelated.
The conclusion on remote-start
When it’s all said and done, my take is that remote start is a function that:
- has no practical use
- implies a ton of work and electronic knowledge to do correctly
- reduces the security of the bike
- and that you will never use in a useful manner
If you have a practical, real-world usage scenario, please let me know below. I really can’t think of any convincing one. Not one where you can remote-start the bike and leave it unattended.
At most, maybe warming the engine in a real cold environment in a closed patio is a potencial opportunity. But still, with today’s multi-viscosity oil that isn’t as important anymore. Perhaps for cars it is more useful thanks to locked doors and air conditioning. In any case, as far as I am concerned, it’s just another cable in the wiring diagram you can completely forget about.
How about remote engine cut-off?
Previously I mentioned how useless I thought the Remote Start function was. And besides useless, how its complicated installation can cause a whole host of other problems. On the other hand, a remote kill switch, while also potentially problematic, can be extremely useful and easy enough to implement. When done right, of course.
What is a remote engine cut-off, you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked.
It’s blatantly obvious how vulnerable motorcycles are to theft. Both the ‘pick up and toss in a van‘ type of theft, as well as the ‘jacked at a red light‘ variety. When you’re at the business-end of any type of threat or weapon, it’s good to have options.
A GPS Tracker alarm can also switch off the engine remotely
One such option is knowing you can count on a bike with remote engine disconnect. Let the hoodlum take the bike, and kill the engine before they’ve made it more than a few thousand feet away. Then have the cops take care of it from there.
Among the benefits of a GPS tracker is being able to send (as well as receive) text messages to your alarm. And by extension, your motorcycle. Normally that will simply be a request to check the status of the bike, or to arm/disarm the alarm if you’ve forgotten the remote. But you can also request the alarm to cut off the ignition to the engine, turning your bike into an expensive paperweight.
On a car this typically requires cutting the fuel pump wire, or messing with complicated electronics. Thankfully on a motorcycle it is much easier, if done smartly.
The conclusion is that if you want a remote disconnect, it’s a feature low-risk and low-cost enough to be worth doing.
Whichever alarm you choose, don’t forget the charger
One thing many people don’t think about after it’s too late is that any alarm is a battery drain. Specially on a motorcycle with a tiny battery.
On the lean side, the more energy-efficient alarms consume in the 4-10mA range. On the energy-hungry size, it isn’t odd to see 60-100mA for certain GPS tracker alarms. Thankfully, the GPS303G above has sleep-mode, which drops quiescent current to about 10mA.
In any case, the takeaway is that motorcycles have small batteries, and all motorcycle alarms will abuse it. Whatever motorcycle alarm you choose, make sure to keep a battery charger close by. The one I use and love is the Noco Genius G3500. You should also assume that the bike’s battery will drain down if you go two weeks or so without riding. Simply make a habit out of plugging the motorcycle into a battery tender. Which is good practice anyway, so there’s little to complain about.
Hopefully this has helped clear up the whirlwind of motorcycle alarm systems available. If you’ve decided to go with the most comprehensive solution, check out my GPS tracker alarm install tutorial. There I explain how to install a GPS tracker on a 2015 Kawasaki Ninja 300. Including how to wire the dummy alarm and the remote engine disconnect.