Cloud-Connected E-Bikes Could Smooth Your Ride

But experts warn of security risks

  • Harley Davidson offshoot Serial 1 says that its latest e-bikes will be among the first to integrate Google’s cloud software. 
  • The e-bikes will use the cloud for security features, navigation, and ride data. 
  • Security experts say internet connectivity could leave your bike’s data vulnerable and open to hackers.
Lower section focus of a person riding a bike in a rural setting with windmills in the background.

Robert Niedring / Getty Images

A growing number of e-bikes are harnessing data connections to improve your ride, but experts warn that they could be vulnerable to hackers and privacy leaks.  

Serial 1 says that its latest bikes will be among the first to integrate Google's cloud software. The e-bikes will use the cloud for security features, navigation, and ride data. However, with the software enhancements, the new tech could leave your bike's data vulnerable. 

"If Facebook can't figure out who is using their data and how despite immense regulatory pressure, you can be sure there is no real privacy in this data," John Bambenek, a cybersecurity expert at Netenrich, a digital IT and security operations company,  told Lifewire in an email interview. "Many consumers will likely think superficially about that ('who cares about how hard I ride my bike'), but the real question is what data is being collected and generated that the consumers are unaware of."

Connected Rides

Serial 1, an offshoot of legendary motorcycle manufacturer Harley Davidson, said its bikes will have a host of high-tech features. With Serial 1's Pinpoint Mode enabled, users will have the ability to precisely track, monitor, and digitally lock their Serial 1 eBike no matter where it is relative to them. 

The bikes integrate Google Maps for turn-by-turn data so you can find bicycle-specific routes—including local bike lanes, bike paths, and bike trails. The cloud data is also used to show speed, efficiency, distance, and battery range. 

The Serial 1 Speed bicycle.

Serial 1

"It's exciting to see how Serial 1 is enhancing transportation experiences with data and analytics," Matthias Breunig, the director of global automotive solutions at Google Cloud, said in a news release. "We're pleased to bring Google Cloud's Intelligent Product Essentials solution to Serial 1 riders and help provide eBike experiences that are safe and personalized to each interaction."

Cloud connections allow e-bike makers to send software fixes over the internet, pointed out Sridhar Santhanam, the CEO of Nanoheal, a device management platform, in an email. 

"What most people don't realize is that software and firmware updates aren't exclusive to our laptops but now affect our smart televisions, our phones, our FitBits, and yes, even our ebikes," Santhanam said. 

Marshall Cheek, the director of traffic engineering and solutions at Cubic Transportation Systems, predicted that in the future, cloud connections could give bicycles the ability to automatically announce their presence at intersections. 

"This has the benefit of calling the appropriate phase movements, timing the signal appropriately for the bicyclist, and alerting motorized vehicles that a bicyclist is in the vicinity," Cheek added. "I also think you will start seeing bicyclist traffic impacting traffic signal timing more—and becoming more of a consideration in adaptive signal control systems."

Someone standing with a bicycle on a street.

Halfdark / Getty Images

If your bike doesn't have a cloud connection, you can even add one to an older model. See.Sense has designed a cellular bike security tracker called See.Sense Knowhere that uses both GPS and cellular networking technology. The device lets users automatically locate and track their bikes from a smartphone for up to three months on a  battery charge.

The See.Sense unit is about half the size of a deck of playing cards and is designed to fit securely under any bike's seat or bottle cage. "We're totally fed up with bike vandalism and theft," See.Sense CEO Philip McAleese said in a news release. "Knowhere was developed after listening to what our cycling community wanted. If the bike is moved or tampered with, Knowhere will sound an alarm and immediately text message the rider; we call this 'Fight Mode.'"

Open to Attack?

While cloud-connected e-bikes may offer convenience, they could also leave your ride open to software vulnerabilities. Anything, including bikes, connected to the Internet can be hacked, Casey Ellis, the founder and CTO of the cybersecurity firm Bugcrowd,  told Lifewire in an email interview. 

"There's definitely a need for proper security controls as well as continuous assessment to make sure the bikes themselves, the data they generate, and the cloud where the data is stored stays secure," Ellis added. 

Cybersecurity consultant Joseph Steinberg said that thieves could use cloud connections to track down and steal bikes. "In an absolutely worst case, someone taking control of the bicycle while it is being ridden and causing a crash," he added.

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