Being a bike cop can have it's sore spots — literally if you have the wrong parts or accessories on your bike.
by Pamela Senn, for Law Enforcement Technology
Reprinted with permission from the June 2005 Issue
While bike patrols offer advantages over other patrols, being a bike cop can have it's sore spots - literally if you have the wrong parts or accessories on your bike. To maximize officer safety, performance and comfort, look closely at some of the individual items that can make a difference in those areas. Notice the differences among saddles, lights, sirens, methods of pedal retention, rear racks and bags, hydration, and other parts or accessories.
Certified police cyclist instructor Jere Clark with the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department notes one of the most important considerations for health and comfort is the saddle. "We've found that when the bike saddle is too soft and cushy, it doesn't provide enough support, and your back starts hurting."
Saddle pressure on the groin area also has lead to reports of infertility and impotence among males and numbness in the groin area and down the legs among females, says Kirby Beck, a retired officer who spent 28 years on the Coon Rapids, Minnesota, police force and past president of the International Police Mountain Bike Association (IPMBA). (A nonprofit organization, based in Baltimore, that promotes the use of bikes for public safety, IPMBA provides resources and networking opportunities for public safety cyclists.)
Problems can best be avoided by an anatomical saddle that is harder and narrower, and has a groove or cutout down the center to relieve pressure. These saddles are so significantly more comfortable than standard saddles that Clark and other officers in his unit have purchased their own.
When Officer Donna Tuk with the Los Angeles Police Department, became a member of the department's Bicycle Coordination Unit seven years ago, she says she was dissatisfied with the lighting systems the bikes used at the time. "A multi-use lighting system is probably one of the most critical accessories an officer can have on his/her bicycle," says Tuk, who worked with a manufacturer to develop a light she felt would better meet officer needs.
The lights Tuk ended up with are so bright that if an officer sets a bike down on the ground and faces the lights up to the sky, the police helicopter can locate him. "This has been a tremendous help when it comes to officers requesting assistance in the field from other units and the helicopter," Tuk says.
When selecting a lighting system, several decisions must be made, says Mark Eumurian, president of Patrol Bike Systems, a St. Paul, Minnesota-based company that supplies law enforcement with biking equipment, tools, accessories and clothing, primarily via the Internet. The first is whether you want to go with consumer lighting or law enforcement lighting, says Eumurian, who adds that in some jurisdictions, no leeway is given.
Compared to consumers, generally law enforcement lighting offers far more options, such as wig-wag lighting, different colored flip-down lenses and different intensities, he explains. "You would use consumer lighting if you wanted to spend less money and all you needed to do was light your way on patrol," he says.
Eumurian continues, if you want to be recognized as law enforcement, and in many areas this is written into the code, you need law enforcement lighting. Some lighting systems allow for the addition of accessories, such as a modular 115-decible siren that bolts onto the light and has its own battery. It's also possible to add a taillight powered by the light system battery. The best taillight is an LED-type light that can flash or hold steady, says Beck.
When picking out a lighting system, among other considerations Eumurian suggests looking at the different intensities available, how long the batteries hold their charge (or whether or not you want rechargeable batteries), and how long it takes them to recharge.
While bike patrols with the Metropolitan Nashville PD don't have sirens, Clark maintains sirens are essential because they attract more attention to officers and alert people to get out of the way when a pursuit is taking place.
"Also," he continues, "until we get sirens, we're not considered an emergency vehicle. If someone runs from an emergency vehicle, it's considered felony evading. But for us, since we don't have sirens, it's just considered a misdemeanor. We can't charge them with a felony as our brothers in the patrol cars can," explains Clark.
LAPD bikes have sirens that meet the qualifications set in the California Penal Code for emergency vehicles, says Tuk.
On the other hand, Beck says in his many years of riding, he can't recall a time when he needed, or would ever have used, a siren.
The need for this accessory depends upon state requirements and the environment in which the bike cops operate.
Every police bike should have some form of pedal retention, says Beck, who lists three different types: standard toe clips, straps and clipless.
Neither he nor Clark are big fans of clipless pedals, which effectively lock a rider onto the bike more firmly than the other two systems do and require more training and practice to unhook the foot from the pedal.
Clipless pedals work in conjunction with a special shoe that incorporates a little piece of metal mounted in the sole of the shoe, explains Beck. This piece of metal attaches to the pedal. "It's the same concept as a ski boot and ski," he says. "Clipless pedals have a learning curve; some people have trouble detaching from the pedal, and as the sole of the shoe wears down, the hardware becomes exposed and traction becomes a problem, Beck says.
Clark asserts police cyclists should not use clipless pedals. "I've seen it tried and I've seen it fail," he says. "From a safety standpoint, you are locked into your bike. That's bad for a number of reasons. Also, once leaving your bike, you usually have the metal cleats making contact with the ground, which makes noise, and then you have no traction for running, walking or even defending yourself. Clips, or clips and straps are the way to go."
The most roadworthy tires are semi-slicks, smooth in the center, knobby on the outside, say both Beck and Clark. The knobby tires found on most mountain bikes aren't good on paved surfaces, they explain, and the contact isn't what it should be. Also look for tires that offer high puncture resistance, adds Clark.
Along with a lighting system, Eumurian says rear racks and bags are among the most important accessories. When it comes to rear racks, you need something that is strong enough to withstand the bike being thrown to the ground. Strength is measured by the rod stock used to make up the rack, he says. These come in various diameters, but essentially, the thicker the rod stock, the stronger the rack.
For bags, the first and foremost consideration is to determine the size and volume you'll require, says Eumurian. You need to think about what will be carried in the bag and look for something with dense enough sides that they won't flop around when loaded with stuff.
You may want to look for bags that have a quick-release mechanism, says Beck. These systems will allow you to easily remove the bag when taking a break, but they're still secure enough to deter theft.
Staying hydrated is a primary concern for bike cops. The challenge is approached in essentially two ways: via cages, usually placed inside the triangle portion of the bike, that hold water bottles, or by the use of a CamelBak, or similar transportable hydration system. There are advantages and disadvantages to both methods. CamelBaks, which are carried on the back, free up bike space, and don't necessitate reaching down (water is obtained by sipping through an attached tube) but require the rider to bear the water's weight. Using cages means the water will not have to be lugged around, but hydration packs can contribute to an already crowded bicycle and some cage designs are less ergonomic than others are. In some cases it may boil down to personal preference (unless using a CamelBak obstructs law enforcement insignia).
Here is a checklist for other accessories that would be good to have.
Front shocks or front-end suspensions. "These are essential to reduce carpal tunnel," says Tuk. "They make the ride more comfortable when negotiating stairs and off-road riding conditions."
These should actually be considered a piece of safety equipment that is able to absorb blows, road ruts and hitting curbs, while enabling the officer to maintain control of the bike, says Beck, who adds that for most departments, having a front shock only is probably sufficient.
"I'm not sure that full suspension is necessary for every officer," he says. "It depends on what's required of them. But full suspension can add anywhere from $500 to $1,000 to the cost of the bike. The urban environments most cops ride in don't require this."
A rear mount kickstand. The correct kickstand will save wear and tear on the bike, since it won't make contact so frequently with ground and walls, and at the same time will allow riders to pedal, even with the kickstand down, says Beck.
Bar extenders. Adding to the ends of the handlebars not only gives the rider more room (bar extenders can provide about 6 1/2 more inches of space, allowing you to add accessories such as a siren, trip computer or light, says Eumurian) they offer other benefits as well, says Beck.
"You can grab the bar ends, and stand up easier and higher, and they also enable you to have additional hand positions, reducing strain," he says. "They can actually protect your hands (acting as a barrier to keep your hands from being hit or bumped, says Clark) and keep them from sliding off the handlebars."
Tire repair kits. It's also handy to have equipment for tire repair, such as a patch kit, spare tube and mini-pump, says Beck, who adds some mini-pumps can actually fit inside the bag. According to Beck, this is a better option than those that attach to the frame since these often cannot hold up to the abuse the bikes receive and can be stolen.
Adjustable stems. You want to avoid a racing-type stem (the part that holds the handlebars), which extends the rider forward and fairly low and crouched over, says Beck. Instead, go for an adjustable stem that will allow you to adjust the handlebars into a more upright (sitting) position, essential for both comfort and observation.
Cycle/trip computers. A cycle/trip computer can be handy for documenting how many miles you've ridden, and how fast, says Clark. Most will store this information until you delete it. Some higher-end computers will even store pedal revolutions and can marry speed to time, enabling you to show for example, that at 10:30 p.m. you were going X number of miles per hour.
"The concern with bikes is that we can be seen if we want to be, and not seen if we don't want to be," Clark explains. "If a bike officer wants to hide, he can, so if he wanted to slack off, he could. The computer would pick this up, and this fact helps us document for our supervisors that we are actually doing our jobs."
Whatever accessories you select, keep quality and functionality in mind. The latter is particularly important, says Tuk.
"The No. 1 consideration [is whether it's] really something we need and will it weigh the bicycle down more," she says. "You really don't need to carry anymore than you have to out there. The more you carry, the heavier you make the bike and the less mobility you have."
Pamela Mills-Senn is a freelance writer based in Long Beach, California.
This article appeared in the June 2005 Issue of Law Enforcement Technology.