By Simon Crittle May 21, 2018, EMS World
It doesn’t get more rugged: custom-made mountain bikes, manufactured in a brewery, used by paramedics for the first time at a major league baseball game.
That’s how they roll at Denver Health, a major public health network that provides paramedic services for the city and county of Denver, Colo. Denver Health recently took possession of a fleet of the new bikes, made by the boutique bike company Proudfoot Cycles, which has a small assembly line in the back of a craft beer brewery at the foot of the Rocky Mountains.
The bikes were specially designed by the company to provide their riders with the best possible tool to do their job. Denver Health paramedics use the bikes at big public events, such as Rockies and Broncos games, park concerts, and the Mile High 420, Denver’s annual cannabis festival, where conventional ambulances can’t get close enough to patients.
Painted white and bearing Denver Health’s distinctive blue-and-orange logo, the bikes have a shorter frame than regular mountain bikes, meaning the paramedics sit higher, giving them a more comfortable riding position. Moreover, the center of balance is set so the rider, along with their heavy saddlebags of equipment, can move through large crowds at low speeds.
“They give us better visibility, it’s a lot safer riding position in a crowd, and it allows us to identify patients that much sooner,” says Kyle Roodberg, assistant chief of operations for Denver Health.
The new bikes were road-tested by Denver Health paramedics on a cold day in April at the Colorado Rockies’ home opener at Coors Field in downtown Denver.
Denver’s paramedics have had a bike team since 1989. Says Roodberg, “We were the first official EMS bike team in the country.”
Back then Denver’s paramedics had just a handful of bikes and riders. These days Denver Health certifies about 20 paramedics—about 10% of those on staff—to ride the bikes every year.
Over the years the team has worn out a number of fleets. The previous bikes were standard workhorses and after 10 years of use had been ridden thousands of times on long, sometimes grueling shifts. So when it came to replacing them, Lt. Jesse Trudel, who was in charge of sourcing new bikes, decided Denver Health needed something custom made.
“We decided we were going to look locally,” says Trudel, “because we knew there were a bunch of bike builders around here.”
One of his fellow paramedics knew of Proudfoot, which had a reputation for producing one-off bikes for discerning customers. A meeting was arranged, and a deal was eventually struck to make 22 bikes.
Jon Acuff, owner of Proudfoot Cycles, works out of the New Terrain Brewery in Golden, Colo., which happens to be owned by a family member. The wide-open warehouse space gives him plenty of room to spread out his equipment.
A mechanical engineer by trade, Acuff is a direct descendant of the Wright brothers. “You could say I’m hardwired to make things,” he says. “Engineering and manufacturing run through my veins.” He designs all his customs bikes on a computer and makes the frames from scratch using American-made steel tubing.
Acuff says the brief he was given was to create a bike that would allow the riders to have a good sense of their surroundings.
“I adapted the geometry to be more upright,” he says. “That provides good visibility for slow-speed handling and a tight turning radius. We use very strong steel in the tubes—it’s a little sturdier than a standard mountain bike in case you knock it against something. And the rack mounts are welded on, which is something we don’t usually do.”
The frame tubes are cut using precision equipment, then welded together by hand. Instead of regular paint, they are powder-coated and baked.
The bikes cost around $2,000 each—relatively inexpensive for a high-end bike—and were paid for by the Denver Health Foundation with proceeds raised from an annual gala.
In their saddlebags the bikes carry much of the advanced life support equipment found on an ambulance, including an AED; oxygen; intubation, intravenous, and splinting equipment; and narcotics. “We’re able to treat anything from a nosebleed to cardiac arrest,” says Trudel.
The bike paramedics also take part in regular training sessions that include classroom work, drills, and group riding on the street. “Obviously, most people know how to ride a bike,” Trudel says. “But it’s slow-speed riding, and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever done. You’re constantly on alert. You’re riding in a balanced position, and you’re doing it with 40 pounds of gear. It’s tricky.”
Trudel adds that paramedics are sometimes overwhelmed at the responses they get from passersby: “Paramedics aren’t used to getting any sort of gratitude from people, because they’re in the ambulance most of the time, and there’s not a lot of interaction unless they’re on a 9-1-1 call.
“The great thing is, we kind of double as a as a community relations unit, as we’re focused on providing quality customer service and interacting with people in a positive way.”
Simon Crittle is the communications director for Denver Health. He’s spent 25 years working in print journalism, government, and international development. He was press secretary to the Australian health minister; a correspondent for Time Magazine in New York; and a spokesman for the United Nations World Food Program in Sudan. He is also the author of a bestselling biography on a mafia boss, The Last Godfather.