More Miles Doesn’t Mean Better Training

by Kirby Beck, PCI #002T
Coon Rapids (MN) Police Department (retired)

Instructor candidates have to wonder why we talk about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in the IPMBA Instructor course. Some of you may remember it from your college psychology or sociology classes.  Quite simply, Maslow’s principles apply to IPMBA Cycling classes.  IPMBA trains adult learners who are civilian police officers, medics and security personnel.  We do not train Marines or Army Rangers. Expectations are different and so is the training philosophy. Using a torture ride as a “right of passage” or a “bonding drill” should be saved for an in-service exercise if you really think it’s necessary; riding fast and far as a way to impress students with how good you are is tasteless, tacky and unprofessional. 

The most basic level of Maslow’s Hierarchy looks at physiological needs like food, water, and shelter.  If students aren’t sufficiently hydrated, lack adequate nutritional stores, or have improper clothing for the weather, their ability to learn is going to suffer. They may not be able to perform the skills, and likely will not even assimilate information into their knowledge base.

The next level in the Hierarchy dictates that students need to feel both comfortable and safe. Most of the students coming into my basic IPMBA Cyclist classes have not been serious cyclists.  Many do not have the conditioning to ride a bicycle for miles and hours on end.  Some haven’t even ridden a bicycle for more than a few blocks since they got their driver’s license!  Some individual departments have established fitness requirements to even get into the training course. That is to be commended and emulated. But even then, putting in miles instead of developing and honing public safety and traffic skills, may not be the best use of limited training time.

How does this all relate to Maslow?  We occasionally hear about IPMBA Instructors who take basic students on long rides that last an entire afternoon and cover 20 to 30 miles – or more.  What does it accomplish?  For many of the students, this distance is just too far. Their butts hurt, their legs and feet hurt, and their backs and necks feel stiff and painful, too.  This pain may even affect them throughout the remainder of the class.

The important lesson from Maslow is that once the students’ comfort or feeling of safety is gone, the learning process essentially stops.  If the idea is to let them know their fitness level needs improvement, the point can be made in a much shorter distance.  In my classes, students have complained about going too far after only a 12-15 mile ride that was mostly flat and not very fast!  If the reason for the ride is to expose them to riding in traffic, you can accomplish that by riding in concentrated areas where traffic is complicated and requires proper riding and lane use techniques.

If students come into your class with sub-par fitness, I can guarantee you that you won’t get them in shape in a single week.  Not if you are trying to teach them how to function as a public safety cyclist.  Once they possess the basic skills, and have realized that they need to get in better shape, students can improve their conditioning on their own time.

Let’s look at some facts. Most experienced urban bike officers, who are expected to do police work, don’t ride 30 miles in an entire shift, let alone ride in one stretch. The majority of their riding is done slowly so they can better police their area. Realistically, what is the farthest a bike officer will ride to an emergency or call in progress?  A mile or two is the farthest most will ride to a hot call.  Any farther than that and it won’t be hot anymore, or, there will be car-bound officers on scene already.

So, how far is too far when it comes to a group ride for class? IPMBA Instructors teaching a basic course should keep their group rides to less than 6-10 miles at a time. Instructors who are serious “roadies” may want to read that – and the above paragraph – again. To you, 6-10 miles may seem like merely a good start, but we are not training roadies! The pace should be set by the slowest rider in the group.  Painfully slow is better than just plain painful! If a student is too unfit to be there and is holding back the rest of the students, address it privately after class, and negotiate with them about dropping out of the training.

If your area is particularly hilly, you may wish to make the route shorter and offer more rest breaks. It is always a good idea to give riders a break somewhere in the middle to make sure they hydrate, rest their infrequently used muscles, use a rest room and to get the blood flow back into their buttocks. If you go much farther, or forget to give them a break, the students’ learning process will suffer too.

If you are one of those Instructors who believe that riding great distances is important, you may wish to view it from a different perspective.   Students who hurt aren’t having fun, nor are they learning anything. They may in fact become distracted, and as a result, become more dangerous.  Pain and discomfort trumps learning.  All that may be accomplished is to make students think badly of you, your class and IPMBA.

Kirby is a founding member of IPMBA, one of the authors of the Complete Guide to Police Cycling, and a former member of the Board of Directors.  Since retiring, he has begun a bicycling consulting business, offering his service as an expert witness and educator.  

(c) 2005 IPMBA. This article appeared in the Fall 2005 issue of IPMBA News. 

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