Posted on March 7, 2017 by Jeff Barber, Singletracks
Photo: CBP, Border Patrol agents from the Laredo Bike Patrol unit on patrol in South Texas. Photo: Donna Burton, US Government Work
Border security has been a controversial topic in the US recently, specifically regarding building a wall along our southern border with Mexico. While it’s unclear how effective such a wall might be, it turns out the US Border Patrol is already using something way more awesome than a wall to enforce our borders: mountain bikes.
The US Customs and Border Protection website says, “In some areas, the Border Patrol even employs horses, all-terrain motorcycles, bicycles, and snowmobiles.” A little research shows one area where mountain bikes are being used is at the Imperial Beach Station in San Diego, just north of Tijuana, Mexico.
“Agents [at the Imperial Beach Station] use mountain bikes, rigid inflatable boats, all terrain vehicles (ATVs), horses, 4×4 off-road vehicles, and infra-red night scopes to maintain a vigilant presence on the border. Our agents are involved in anti-smuggling operations, intelligence gathering, prosecution of criminal aliens, and criminal alien removal programs that take illegal aliens, convicted of felonies, out of city, county, and state jails and send them back to their birth country.”
Most would agree that mountain biking by itself is exhilarating, but add night scopes and anti-smuggling operations, and that certainly takes things up a notch. Again, from the US Border Patrol and Customs website:
The use of the bikes [at Imperial Beach] had the immediate impact of increasing agent morale and arrests. Agents were able to get into environmentally sensitive areas, alleys, and congested city streets. Agents ride Trek bikes, outfitted with Rock shocks [sic] for additional suspension, and lights for night travel. Agents learn bike handling and maintenance on the job, and unlike some city police departments bike units, agents ride over treacherous, uneven terrain, jumping muddy single tracks and dodging heavy deciduous brush. A popular biking magazine reporter once remarked, after spending a long day riding with them, “I was impressed.” (Giles Mingason, Bicycle Guide, Biking the Border, February 1993.)
If working as a mountain biking, border patrol agent sounds like a fun and exciting job, you may be in luck. A recent Trump directive to ramp up hiring for the US Border Patrol has led the Department of Homeland Security to suggest hiring up to 5,000 new agents, though it’s unclear how many of them might be on MTB duty.
Leon Baker, an agent with the El Paso Border Patrol unit, shared an excellent account of his experiences as a mountain bike patroller in the International Police Mountain Bike Association (IPMBA) newsletter, which we just republished here with permission from the IPMBA.
Most of us have probably seen police offers on bike patrol, and generally the mountain bikes they ride are pretty basic and not very sexy. However, it seems some border patrol units are working to secure legit bikes to perhaps traverse difficult terrain at high speeds.
In 2013, the US Border Patrol in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, purchased 12 Specialized Camber 29 Comp full suspension, trail bikes for their agents. Sure, these aren’t high-end, carbon-fiber builds but they’re also not exactly entry-level either.
The Rio Grande unit is also said to use dirt bikes in their efforts to enforce the Texas border, though presumably the mountain bikes are better suited to stealthy operations. Perhaps one day we’ll even see border patrol units embracing eMTBs alongside or in place of traditional mountain bikes and dirt bikes.
The Northern Border
The US Immigration debate rarely focuses on our northern border with Canada, even though the US-Canada border is more than twice as long as the US-Mexico border, much of it between Alaska and the Yukon territory. It doesn’t appear US Border Patrol agents are using mountain bikes to patrol the northern border; instead, aircraft are often used to cover the border, much of it wilderness.
One mountain biker did learn that crossing the border outside of approved entry points on a fat bike is not a good idea. Last year Craig Medred shared the story of Jeff Oatley’s experience crossing from Alaska into Canada on a fat bike where he was nearly arrested for doing so.
The Other Side
A couple weeks ago an interesting book was published called The Coyote’s Bicycle, and it discusses how human smugglers use bicycles to ferry illegal immigrants across the border near Tijuana. I haven’t come across any stories of high speed, off-road bicycle chases between border patrol agents and suspected criminal aliens, but it seems like this is something that could certainly happen.
Mountain bikers already know how versatile mountain bikes are–after all, they’re also known as all-terrain bikes–so it should come as no surprise mountain bikes are being used to patrol the rugged, generally-inaccessible terrain along US borders. As the nation debates how to best continue to secure and enforce our borders, mountain bikers can rest assured that our bikes are up to the task.