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Cops on Bikes

Two wheels can be better than four, but bike patrol takes lots of practice ... and training.

December 01, 2001  |  by Ralph Mroz

Proper Equipment

"A proper police patrol bicycle isn't just a recreational or competition bicycle with 'police' decals," says Dave Simard, Director of Public Safety Products at Smith & Wesson. "The average police bicyclist is heavier than the average competitive cyclist by tens of pounds, especially with all the equipment they wear and carry, and a bike cop may be on a bike 40 hours a week rather than just a couple hours at a time. All this adds up to a different bike than you can buy 'off the rack.'"

To meet the unique needs of law enforcement bicycle units, Smith & Wesson has its own frames built to custom specifications, and each bike is outfitted with a set of components optimized for police work. In addition, since S&W bicycles are built to order, a department can get components on their particular bicycles that may meet an unusual need that they have.


Riding down stairs is a critical skill for police bicycle officers. It’s not as hard as it seems, but the first time is an act of faith!

For 2001, S&W offers three product lines, each with many options in terms of components and accessories. The Patrol Bike is the entry level model built on an aluminum frame with SRAM 24 speed shifters and derailleur (a device for shifting gears on a bicycle by moving the chain between sprocket wheels of different sizes).

The Tactical Bike is the middle model with an aluminum frame, Shimano 27 speed Deore drivetrain, XT rear derailleur and Rock Shox Judy TT adjustable front suspension. The Custom bike is the top-of-the-line model, with an aluminum or Cromoly frame, Avid front Disk brake, Shimano XT, LX drivetrain, Rock Shox Judy XC front suspension and Shimano LX silent hub (for stealthy approach). Just introduced for 2002 is a full suspension version of the Custom Bike with air suspension from Rockshox Psylo front and a Fox RC rear with lockout.

All bikes come with (among many other things) a Topeak rack. Because these bicycles are designed specifically for cops, they have LE-friendly features, like the Topeak bag on the Custom Bike I borrowed for the course that had snap-on/off capability, unlike the usual cumbersome Velcro® attachment setup. There are also a host of LE-specific accessories available -l ights, bags, tools, etc.- even electric motor assists. Because S&W is the manufacturer, their bicycles cost considerably less than a comparably equipped bicycle bought elsewhere. If that is still too rich for your department, S&W has a leasing program available. Finally, any LE agency that buys a S&W bike gets access to a free multi-day maintenance training course!

Conclusion

Having now seen first-hand the benefits that cops atop bicycles can bring to law enforcement in their communities, I am struck by the question: Why did it take so long for this great idea to catch on?

Outfitting Yourself

Helmet You must wear a helmet when bicycling. On courses that I didn't consider difficult, I have fallen and smashed my (fortunately, helmet-protected) head hard onto rocks (big rocks). About 900 people a year die from bicycling accidents, 90% of those involving head injury. (See helmets.org, phma.org and safekids.org for more information.) Helmets should meet ANSI/SNELL/ASTM standards, and like body armor, be comfortable if they are to be actually worn. Bell/Giro, two well-known brands, have the largest test facility around and go so far as to perform cadaver tests on a test sled - a piece of equipment that no one else owns. Bell/Giro even shares test information freely with competitors, so committed are they to safety. I used both a Bell and Giro unit during this course and found them very comfortable.

Glasses  Just like on the range, eye protection is a must. Glasses protect against UV, wind, and projectiles. In fact, a good pair of wrap-around shooting glasses make great bicycling glasses. I used the Wiley-X PT-1 for this course, and loved them. Their 8-base wrap-around design kept out wind and UV very effectively, and their fit was superb. Their multiple-colored interchangeable 2.3mm thick polycarbonate lenses exceed ANSI Z87.1 and military fragmentation standards.

Clothing Chamois-lined bicycle shorts and specific bicycle patrol shoes should be worn if an officer will be on a bike for an extended period of time. For intermittent or short-term bicycling, however, I found that the Blauer Street Gear shorts are just fine. I also found my Danner Radical 45 mid-height boots and my Original S.W.A.T. 6-inch duty boots to be comfortable for the same purpose.

The good news is that an officer can jump onto a bicycle for a particular call, or for a brief period of time, and be comfortable and function with their ordinary uniforms. Finally, while many units simply go with cotton jerseys as bicycle uniform shirts, Blauer makes a synthetic/cotton Street Gear shirt specifically for bike units with all the pockets and extras you expect on a true uniform shirt. The layered blend wicks moisture away from your skin, and the fluorescent yellow upper and sleeves provide daytime visibility while the reflective strips provide nighttime visibility.

Gloves  Gloves are also necessary to prevent road rash during falls, nerve damage to the hands and carpal tunnel syndrome. For these reasons, choose gloves that provide protection during falls as well as support for your wrists.

For More Information

Manufacturers
1 Bellsports / Giro USA
2 Blauer Manufacturing
3 Danner, Inc.
4 Original SWAT Boots
5 Smith & Wesson Mountain Bike Division
6 Wiley-X

Training Organizations
7 International Police Mountain Bicycle Association
8 Law Enforcement Bicycle Association
9 COBWEB

Ralph Mroz is a police officer in Western Massachusetts. He is the author of a book and a video critiquing training methods, both of which are available from Paladin Press.

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Tags: Vehicle Training, Patrol Resources, Reality-Based Training, Tips for Success, Foot Pursuits, Patrol Morale, Alternative Patrol Vehicles, Driver Training

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