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Who do you think you are son, the invisible man?

Published: 11 August 2000

I’M currently riding at 62mph. Nothing exceptional about that, except I’m in a 50mph zone. Some would argue there’s nothing exceptional about that, either, apart from the copper up ahead pointing a hand-held radar in my direction.

It’s at this point that most riders would shut the throttle, sit upright and ensure the speedo needle was hovering around 49mph as they passed. But not me. No, I’m not going to back off. I’m not going to smile inanely at the old bill. I’m going to maintain my speed in a suicidal bid to get caught. Well, sort of.

You see, for this morning only, I have a licence to speed – for a few hundred yards at least. It’s all very controlled. We’re on a quiet stretch of road and there’s no danger of pedestrians getting in the way.

We’re here to test the various products which claim to enable riders to evade detection by anything from Gatsos to hand-held radars. You’ve no doubt seen the adverts, and we’ve all heard the urban myths about people getting away with 300mph because they can’t get caught, but very few of these devices have ever been independently tested. Until now.

We have enlisted the help of the police, and a Triumph Sprint ST, to put five of these gizmos up against the best speed detection equipment Her Majesty’s finest can supply.

We have a reflective numberplate, a laser and radar detector, a Gatso detection device, a laser detector and jammer, and a combined laser/radar detector and laser jammer. The police have a hand-held radar, laser and a Gatso. Can we get away with it? Let’s find out...

SURE SIGNS CAMERA SHY NUMBERPLATE

HOW IT WORKS: It looks and feels just like a normal numberplate, except this one is designed to reflect the glare from a camera’s flash back at the lens, causing over-exposure and making the image unreadable. Sure Signs claims it has tested the £20 plate with a digital camera both in daylight and darkness and that in both cases the image is totally blank, even from a few feet away. That means it should foil speed traps which use digital cameras. But the firm has never tested it with a conventional camera, like the ones most often found on our roads, so that’s down to us...

HOW IT PERFORMS: The police weren’t keen on me riding along a public road with a false numberplate, so we tested it by attaching it to one of their bikes. As you can see from the picture taken by the Gatso (left) it is slightly blurred, but the registration is still easily recognisable. And unlike some Gatso photos, this one didn’t need any treatment to make the image clearer. If you really want more details call: 01384-400705.

BELTRONICS 945IM LASER/RADAR DETECTOR

HOW IT WORKS: This device uses sensors to detect the presence of both radar and laser signals and alerts the rider by bleeping in his ear.

The £199 gadget is powered by two AA batteries and is small enough to fit into a pocket, with an earpiece which can be inserted into a helmet. It’s a sealed, waterproof unit and there’s a series of lights on the case to give users a visual warning, too. A detachable lens on top is used to sense the presence of a laser signal. In order for it to work, the lens must be facing in the direction of the signal, which means it must be attached to the bike or worn with the lens protruding from a pocket.

Using it to detect radar is less complicated. It can detect the presence of a signal whatever its position on the bike or rider, so it would still be effective stuffed inside your jacket.

Its sensitivity has been set to prevent false alarms in town, where lots of devices other than speed traps emit radar. There’s also a switch to turn off the lights and another to adjust the volume.

HOW IT PERFORMS: If this device has one advantage over the others, it’s that it is easier to install. Trouble is, that’s about its only advantage.

It fits into your pocket as easily as a mobile phone, and though the earpiece looks a bit bulky, it fits inside a helmet comfortably and doesn’t need to be positioned right over your ear, thanks to the level of noise it makes at the lowest volume setting. In fact, the volume adjuster is as good as useless, because it’s impossible to change without stopping and removing your gloves. It’s the same button which turns it on and off, except to turn it up or down you have to hold it down, whereas to turn it on and off you just press it once. This means I’m constantly turning it off by accident. It’s so loud that you wouldn’t want it right next to your ear anyway, especially as it’s always going off. Despite the maker’s claims, it constantly reacts to radar signals, be they from traffic lights, automatic sliding doors, car alarms...

The simple fact is that this unit can’t tell the difference between them and a speed trap, even when its sensitivity has been adjusted for city use. It’s not much better out of town, where it launches into a series of bleeps every few hundred yards. It may give you enough notice to slow down before running into the path of either a speed camera or a hand-held radar, but it’s difficult to know because if you responded every time it bleeped you’d never get above 30 anyway. The odd occasion when it falls silent is a welcome reprieve from the nauseating racket.

Though quieter, the laser detector is not much better, as I soon found out by riding towards a police officer with a hand-operated laser at more than 40mph.

Long after I’ve spotted him and every instinct is telling me to slam the brakes on, it finally realises what is patently obvious and starts chirping in my ear. I scrub as much speed as I can as quickly as I can, but I’m little more than 100 yards from him by now and he’s had the gun focused on me for what seems like an eternity.

I climb off to find his reading indicates I was travelling at 42mph. If this wasn’t a test I’d probably be left with points, a fine and a powerful urge to jump up and down on this

so-called detector. Details: 01942-851800.

MORPHEOUS GEODESY GPS SPEED CAMERA DETECTOR

HOW IT WORKS: It looks like the innards of a mobile phone, and that’s not too far removed from what it is. It uses satellite Global Positioning technology to monitor the bike’s exact location and warns the rider whenever he’s approaching a speed camera. Unlike this prototype version, the final system will be sealed inside a plastic case the size of a cigarette packet when it’s launched in June. It will also be programmed with all the known speed camera sites in the UK, whereas this unit has to be manually set to go off at particular locations.

The £380 device is designed specifically for motorcycles and can be powered by a bike’s battery. It alerts you through a row of red lights and an alarm.

The makers claim it will be possible to choose the range at which it warns you of a Gatso and set the brightness of the lights and volume of the alarm to any of 250 settings. They reckon the maximum volume will be 130dB.

It will even be possible to update the system’s map to include new Gatso sites or add other no-speeding zones, such as schools.

The device will be adjusted using a separate programming unit which it will slot into, but owners won’t be able to do it themselves. They’ll have to contact the makers, let them know what changes need doing and they will then carry out the appropriate adjustments via a telephone link to the programming unit.

HOW IT PERFORMS: There’s something about a couple of circuit boards stuck together which says high-tech. As the makers are attaching the device to my fairing with sticky pads, it almost seems a shame that they intend to hide all those micro electronics away in a plastic box. Because it’s a prototype we have to park it next to a Gatso and push a button to tell it there’s a camera close by before testing it. The makers claim the final version will have all this info pre-programmed.

The system takes a minute or so to register a satellite signal, during which time a red light indicates it is not yet operational. Once it has finally found its bearings the red light goes off, a blue one comes on and it begins to emit a series of piercing high-pitched bleeps, warning me I’m right next to a Gatso.

It’s just as well it is legal because the police would probably hear it from the other side of town. A row of 10 red lights are flashing in time with the bleeps just in case I haven’t noticed. They’re not very bright, but they’d still be hard to miss, even in daylight, and the makers reckon they’re only on setting five out of 250. They also say it can be programmed to switch either the bleeps or warning lights off. The bleeps get quieter and a few of the lights stop flashing once I’ve ridden about 200 yards from the camera. Then the bleeps stop and the red lights turn green as it works out that I’m no longer anywhere near the danger zone. I ride for a few miles with no hint of a false alarm from the gadget. It’s not until I return to the same spot and get within about 250 yards of the Gatso that it starts again. The final version should give you even more notice.

The only problem is that you can’t programme it yourself. It would be a massive advantage if you could set the distance at which you wanted an alert for different cameras. For instance, 250 yards is not enough for Gatsos on a motorway or dual-carriageway, but if you set it for a greater distance, it could be constantly going off around towns where there are several cameras in a small area. The makers reckon they can solve this problem by making its range sensitive to the speed limits of different roads. That way, using a memory chip which knows the speed limit of every road in the country, it could be programmed to adjust its range when you hit a 30mph limit. They say

it could also be programmed to only go off if you’re actually breaking the limit.

While the prototype performed well in this limited test, it remains to be seen how good the fully developed system will be at spotting Gatsos. Then there’s the problem of mobile cameras and hand-held radar guns, which it cannot detect. Details: 0870-2401701.

BLINDER M10 TWIN LASER JAMMER AND DETECTOR

HOW IT WORKS: These two boxes are designed to send a signal back at a hand-held laser speed gun.

Because hand-held lasers are triggered by bouncing pulses off a vehicle and measuring the time it takes for them to return, a similar signal emitted from the target should confuse the gun and result in it failing to register the speed. Or at least that’s

the theory.

The device costs £299.95 and features two units containing a set of infra-red lights which are used to emit the laser signals. This means it’s possible to mount both at the front of the bike or one at the front and one at the back for protection from both directions.

The units can be fitted inside a bike’s headlight, parking light or rear light and alert the user with a high-pitched bleep whenever they detect a laser signal.

HOW IT PERFORMS: This system is fine if you’re prepared to take a bit of a gamble with your licence.

It gets off to a promising start when, in its first run towards the hand-operated laser, the officer isn’t able to get a speed reading at all. I’m impressed. But the second run proves disappointing.

This time the copper directs the beam at a different part of the bike and gets a reading straight away.

We decide to give it a third run and this time the laser gets an intermittent reading.

It fails to register the speed initially, but manages a few seconds later. With good brakes and quick reactions, this might just be enough time to save you getting nicked, but I wouldn’t risk it myself.

And since it’s only designed to jam lasers, you’d certainly run out of luck as soon as you came across a radar detector or Gatso.

At almost £300, it’s a lot to splash out on something which may work – or may not.

Details: 01244-321300.

VECTOR 966 LASER AND RADAR DETECTOR AND TARGET LASER ECHO 850 LASER JAMMER

HOW IT WORKS: On paper this is an all-singing all-dancing model. It has a radar detector to tell you when you’re near a Gatso or hand-held radar, a laser detector to warn you about hand-operated lasers and a laser jammer just in case the warning’s not enough.

It’s actually two separate products, one from Beltronics and one from Target, which can be used together or separately. The Vector 966 laser and radar detector costs £549 and the Target Laser Echo 850 laser jammer another £299. The latter fits inside the bike’s headlight or parking light and emits a laser signal whenever it detects one directed at

the bike.

The laser and radar detector features an audio and a visual alarm and a control unit which slots into a bracket mounted on the fairing. This is used to switch the detector on and off, adjust the volume of the alarm or switch it off altogether. The visual alarm consists of a large red light mounted near the clocks on a flexible stalk.

HOW IT PERFORMS: It may be the most expensive of all the equipment tested, but it’s also the most likely to save your licence. The makers reckon the radar has a two-mile range and it certainly gives me enough time to slow down in time to avoid a Gatso or a radar.

Riding towards either, I know they’re there long before I’ve seen them, thanks to a high-pitched bleep and a red light which is so big it’s impossible to miss.

Despite its size, the flexible stalk means that it’s possible to position so that it doesn’t obscure the clocks. This wide range could result in the system going off almost constantly in towns with lots of Gatsos, but the problem could easily be solved by turning off the audio alarm and turning the red light towards the screen.

It also suffered from far fewer false alarms than the Beltronics 945IM, though it was still activated by traffic lights.

The makers reckon this is because Gatsos and traffic lights use a different type of radar to things like sliding doors and pelican crossings, and the unit can tell the difference.

It was just as effective when faced with a hand-operated laser. During the first run, I waited until the light came on before I started to brake. This didn’t happen until after I could see the officer pointing the laser at me, so I expected a reading well over the speed limit.

But I climbed off to find he hadn’t been able to get a reading at all until I was just a few yards away, at which point I was only doing about 20mph.

The makers of the laser jammer claim its superior performance is owed to the fact that it uses a laser diode, rather than infra-red LED lights. They say this allows it to only emit a laser of exactly the same frequency as that used by the laser gun, whereas other systems emit a wide range of frequencies, most of which will have no effect on the gun.

They also claim it’s only activated when it actually detects a laser, unlike other models which emit a signal constantly.

Only the two police officers present are unimpressed by the system’s performance. They reckon that although it’s not currently illegal, both the distributor and the user could arguably be accused of perverting the course of justice. Details: 01942-851800.

SO there you go. If you have the cash to spare you can buy speed trap detecting equipment to save your licence. But if you’re not sceptical of manufacturers’ claims you could also find yourself wasting money.

Whether it’s worth the risk depends on the risks you take on the road. At the end of the day there’s no better substitute for good old-fashioned commonsense and alertness – and they don’t cost a penny.

YOU can spend thousands on the latest speed trap detection kit, but it does not mean you are never going to get caught again.

Our tests prove only a couple of products live up to the manufacturers’ claims, and even those can’t guard against mobile Gatsos or persistent police in unmarked Volvos.

But even if you do get nicked, it’s not impossible to get away with it. Asking questions like these, either when the case goes to court or when you receive a fixed penalty notice, can mean the difference between points and a fine and getting off:

n Check when the hand-held radar or speed trap (but not Gatsos) was calibrated. Most should be checked at least once a week and you can ask to see a copy of the calibration certificates which live in the same box as the devices. VASCAR detectors on police cars or bikes are required to be recalibrated every day. Police will have a record of this and the unit has to be within plus or minus 2mph to be " reliable " .

n Ask whether the kit is Home Office Type Approved. If it’s not, like many devices the police have on trial all the time, it can’t legally be used to convict you, unless it’s a time measuring device like VASCAR which are exempt. The latest batch of laser cameras have only just been type-approved, but the police have been using them for more than a year on trial.

Obviously if you try this tactic by the side of the road you’ll come across like a snotty-nosed law student and, if the cops can answer everything with a " yes " , they’ll throw the book at you.

Your best plan of action when you get pulled over is to take your lid off, be pleasant and courteous and eat a big slice of humble pie. Only when they’re driving off down the road should you start shouting abuse and planning your excuses.

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