In-Service Training - With a Twist!

by Lt. Tom Woods, PCI #010T/EMSCI #117
Denton Police Department (TX)

While reviewing and performing the basic skills is always necessary in a good training session, cone drills and other routine work can sap enthusiasm if over-done or if they’re all you ever do as your in-service workout.  There are many on-bike activities that can bridge the gap between boredom and flat out training fun.

The first option that comes to mind is an off-road training ride.  The saying goes, “you learn more in one mile off-road than in ten miles on the road” and it is true.  I don’t mean your local multi-use path that is flat and fairly smooth, where your biggest challenge is dodging in-line skaters.  I’m talking about trails specifically designed for mountain bikes.

The number of braking, shifting, body position, and mental planning decisions you make riding a mountain bike trail is far greater when compared to riding the same distance on the road.  The skills necessary to negotiate even a beginner level MTB trail can only enhance the abilities you already possess as a road rider.  The more advanced the trail, the more skills and ability you’ll need: it’s called rider development.

Can’t find a good off-road trail nearby?  Try an urban assault ride!  We do it follow-the-leader style, with everyone taking a turn at the front.  The idea is to seek out and negotiate obstacles you might find riding the streets and alleys where you patrol. There are a lot of common obstacles to be found in almost any urban/suburban environment, like curbs, parking lot blocks, paved drainage creeks, stairs, narrow alleys, and hills. 

Start out riding only a few blocks, then lengthen the ride. Ride slowly at first; then pick up the pace. Consider designing a time trial course that includes various obstacles. The urban assault ride can be a “relaxed” way to practice the obstacles in your patrol area, or you can ratchet it up to be quite a workout.

Still too mundane?  How about a friendly game of bike soccer? You won’t need much in the way of specialized equipment, just a soccer ball with a little of the air let out.  Choose up sides, make up your own rules (or not) and let the games begin! It’s definitely not as easy as it sounds. I recommend a grass playing field, but it’s not absolutely necessary.

What’s the learning objective here? Balance, braking, sprinting, gear selection, and aerobic conditioning, for starters. You’ll get a great workout sprinting and braking hard to work the ball across the field.

One in-service day during a rain delay, we played it with a golf ball in the covered sally port of the PD.  Helmets were mandatory!

Here are some suggestions for bike handling maneuvers you can practice to develop skills beyond the basics.

  • Ride toward a wall or stationary object with enough speed to cause the bike to bounce backward after making contact. The drill is to control speed, maintain balance, and pedal off after the contact. The harder you hit, the more rebound you get.
  • Push an empty, fifty-gallon drum across a parking lot using this technique of hitting and pushing, bouncing back, then hitting it again. Is there a practical application for this technique? Maybe not, but it fine-tunes balance and bike control – and it’s not cone drills.

These are just a few “outside-the-box” techniques that we’ve tried at my agency, and I’m confident there are many more ideas out there waiting to be added to a basic training regimen to spice things up.

I can hear the risk managers screaming from here, so here come the disclaimers. Use common sense and adhere to your agency’s safety guidelines in designing and implementing any bike-training curriculum.  And always use qualified instructors for specialized topics. 

Finally, don’t engage your students in any activities that are beyond their skill levels. Always work up to skill levels beyond the basics.

Now, get out there and have some fun!

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