By Mark Remillard, the State Press, October 30, 2013 at 4:00 pm
Instead of the occasional BMX rider jumping stairways around the Tempe campus, students may have seen some men and women in uniform performing similar stunts during the past week.
Eighteen public safety officials from around the country came to ASU for a police bike-training course that wrapped up Friday.
The class of 14 police officers, two emergency medical workers and two security officers came to ASU to become teachers of police bike training courses that teach officers safety techniques and other necessary skills while working in the line of duty on a bike, said Larry Fuchtman, support services sergeant for ASU police.
“This is an instructors course,” he said. “Everybody who successfully completes every proficiency task as part of the course graduates as an instructor.”
Two ASU bike officers were in the course, as well as one officer from Tempe Police, Fuchtman said.
The 40-hour instructor course is spread out over a week and came to the Valley for the first time since 2003, while the basic bike course is taught at ASU on average twice a year, he said.
Al Simpson, one of the instructors, said the instructional course is taught by a nonprofit organization called the International Police Mountain Bike Association.
Simpson travels all over the country to train public safety workers and said students learn many different techniques, such as how to ride up or down stairs, agility exercises, group riding formations and even braking exercises.
“We teach a thing called maximum braking,” he said. “In order to stop as quick as we can, we’ve got to level out our pedals (and) put our weight to the back to keep some traction on the back tire.”
This technique is designed to get the most out of the front brake, the most effective for stopping, without having the rider fall over the front handlebars, Simpson said.
The training is tailored to fit different duties depending on the officer’s job, Simpson said.
“The (emergency medical services), they carry their bikes up the stairs because they’ve got about 30 or more pound of weight with all their gear and bags on the back,” he said. “With EMS, if you get to a scene where you’ve got to help somebody, it’s no good if you’ve lost one of bags or broken something.”
Those bags contain emergency medical supplies not carried by police or security officers, Simpson said.
Simpson said bikes offer unique advantages to police work that motor vehicles don’t, particularly in busy areas such as college campuses.
“Traffic snarls don’t affect them,” he said. “A college campus is one of the perfect places to have some people on bicycles, because if you’re in a car over there, and you need to get over here — a bicycle will beat the car every time.”
Officers use mountain bikes because they can be used in many different types of terrain and durability, but Fuchtman said police mountain bikes have modifications to make them even stronger.
“They typically have more spokes,” he said. “A lot of your standard bicycles have 28 or 32 spokes, police bike’s standard is 36.”
The increase in spokes helps make the wheel stronger and avoid bending when mounting stairs or carrying excess weight, Fuchtman said.
He said the ASU bikes retail between $1,100 and $1,200 depending on what extra features are added, such as lights, reflectors or shocks.
Typically departments have bulk or fleet agreements as well as maintenance deals with manufacturers, so ASU got its most recent bikes for about $900, Fuchtman said.
“We ended up paying right at $900,” he said. “Our five newest ones, we actually got five of them about a year and a half or two years ago on a grant from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.”
Fuchtman said a well-maintained bike can last decades, and the department has some that are more than 20 years old.
Mitch Trujillo, another instructor with IPMBA, said there are many dangers while riding a bike on duty, particularly in traffic. The training courses are meant to make sure officers have the ability to stay safe and do their job.
“We train them so that they’re confident and they’re capable of negotiating hazardous situations when they’re within traffic,” he said. “They’ve got to be able to demonstrate that they can act as a vehicle … and obey all the traffic laws.”