More likely to ride, less likely to hide
by Kirby Beck, PCI #002T/EMSCI #017
Coon Rapids PD (MN)
IPMBA Past President
"Dressing for success" is a phrase often associated with job hunting. But no one should take "dressing for success" more seriously than bike patrol officers. Exposure to the elements under a wide range of weather conditions - sometimes in the same day - make proper clothing essential for the officers' comfort and well-being. The materials, the fit, and even the colors all play an important role in a bike patrol officer's safety and performance.
Proper warm weather clothing can keep an officer on the street and less susceptible to heat-related illnesses like heat stroke or exhaustion. Suitable cold or wet weather clothing will resist the wind and precipitation, while keeping the officer warm and dry. It must also wick away perspiration. Wet clothing, whether generated by the officer or the elements, will cause chills. To increase comfort and prevent hypothermia, clothing must be designed to "hold back" the elements and retain body heat, while at the same time wicking moisture away from the body. An officer who is wet and cold, or hot and uncomfortable, will be less likely to ride, and more likely to hide. Money spent on quality bike patrol uniforms directly translates into more healthy, effective, and productive officers.
There are more than a half dozen uniform companies that make specialized uniform parts for bicycle patrol use. Several companies specialize in bike patrol uniforms almost exclusively. Other large uniform companies have added bike patrol uniform components to their existing uniform lines. These include and Blauer, Alitta® by Fechheimer/Flying Cross and the Pro-Tuff line by Werner Works.
Three companies have distinguished themselves as the largest stakeholders in the bike patrol uniform market. This author's observations show that these "big three" companies dress the highest percentage of serious bike patrol officers in the United States and Canada. These three, alphabetically, are Bratwear, Mocean, and Olympic.
Blauer, located in Boston, Mass, has been making public safety uniforms for 68 years. They have been an innovator in creating quality, often copied uniform styles from quality and functional fabrics. Blauer has been making custom bike uniforms, but have not featured them in their catalog. Recently they have added a two-tone colorblock pullover knit polo and stretch cotton shorts to their StreetGear uniform line. To enhance visibility their short sleeve polo shirt has a fluorescent yellow upper body and sleeves with a navy blue bottom and epaulets. It also features reflective stripes around the chest and arms for nighttime visibility and recognition. Marketing Director Tom Ames explains the shirt is made of a material Blauer calls B.Cool™. B.Cool™ is a breathable polyester knit outer, with an absorbent cotton lining. The shirts have extended tails to stay tucked in and feature a zippered breast pocket. Blauer's Model 8841 stretch cotton shorts are available in four colors. There are two styles, with one offering stretch Lycra® panels in the inner thigh for "athletic builds." The shorts are suitable for regular patrol duties as well. While the shorts are not designed specifically for bike duty, and don't come with features like liners or built-in chamois, they are certainly suitable for officers doing dual duties which may include bike patrol. Blauer offers a large variety of police jackets, though none are specially designed or marketed for bike patrol duty. Blauer can be found on the web at www.blauer.com.
Bratwear, located in Tacoma, WA. was in the business of creating active wear for aerobic use when the owner was approached about creating functional bike patrol uniforms. Bratwear, whose name is derived from an acronym for Bicycling Regulators and Tacticians, has long prided itself on using a range of incredibly comfortable fabrics that are both durable and fashionable. Their comfort stretch shorts have provided a standard in comfort that others have tried to meet. In rainy Tacoma, high-tech, waterproof fabrics are a necessity, and Bratwear sources the best fabrics from around the world to create their uniforms. Sally Swanson, President and owner of Bratwear, says that her company is known as the "Fashion Police." She is quick to point out that while Bratwear's prices appear to be higher than those of her competitors, their products are custom-made to a high standard of quality and last nearly a lifetime. That means they cost less over the life of the product.
While they can provide "off-the-shelf" sizing, Bratwear is truly a "custom" operation whose customer service has garnered a long list of devotees. Most garments are made to order based upon the unique measurements each individual officer. Sally says that "comfort in the uniform means comfort on the bike. Look good, feel good, and perform better." Since garments are made to order, Bratwear is usually able to add special pockets, keeper loops, or belt type to match the customer's preference. They also offer lettering, embroidery, silk-screening, reflectorized piping or tape, custom pockets, belt loops, and most bike uniform accessories. Bratwear can be found on the web at www.bratwear.com.
Fechheimer of Cincinnati, OH has been selling the Alitta® line bike patrol uniforms since the early 90's. Fechheimer also owns the Flying Cross™ label of police uniforms. Alitta®, started in the late 80's in Santa Monica, CA, was one of the first specialized bike uniform makers. Originally available in any color you want, as long as it is black, they have since added navy blue to the short and pants lines. They offer four colors of PowerDry™ polo shirts, in addition to two-tone blue jackets. One of the more unique products sold under the Alitta® name is their Supplex™ bike short. They are available with a sewn-in nylon/Lycra® tricot liner featured a padded SuperSuede chamois. Gripper elastic at the bottom of the liner holds it securely in place. Fechheimer Advertising Manager, Steve Brown, said that Alitta® is sold through approximately 600 dealers and 21 retail stores through the United States. While Fechheimer can offer some lettering and custom services, local dealers perform most of the embroidery, lettering and patch sewing. Fechheimer can be found on the web at www.fechheimer.com.
Mocean, of Costa Mesa, Ca., has been an innovator ever since it entered the bike patrol uniform market. Mocean's designs were derived from their experience with providing clothing for other vigorous outdoor activities, like mountain climbing and skiing. They design and manufacture high-performance uniforms with the attitude that function dictates form. From the beginning, features such as pit zippers, zip-in liners, and high-tech linings have been built into their performance jackets. All of their products use double needle topstitching over most seams to assure quality construction. They use only the best materials and if those materials do not exist, they create them.
As a result, while Mocean uses fabrics like Supplex™ nylon, and Coolmax™, they also have some unique fabrics found only at Mocean. One of the most unique fabrics is called P3-Vapor™. This ultra-wicking material is the only fiber to earn its inventors a Nobel Prize. A soft and shiny material, it is great to wear under shirts and body armor. Mocean took P3-Vapor™ and laminated it to a woven pique material they now call Vapor Pique™. This is used in their uniform shirts to wick moisture away from the body.
Two other unique fabrics used by Mocean are X-FACTOR™ and Stretch Factor™, which are used in certain lines of pants and shorts. X-FACTOR™ is an ultra-stretchy material that is used in the back of some shorts and pants. It is as flexible and conforming as any Lycra short, yet it is incredibly durable. Mocean President Bill Levitt frequently demonstrates the strength of this material by repeatedly scraping a pin across the surface. The pin does not snag or even leave a mark. Bill was also quick to point out that Mocean always uses factory seam-tapes for water resistance, gusseted crotches for comfort, and cuff zippers for practicality. Levitt says that Mocean "is dedicated to the timely delivery of our quality products to you, our customer; for you are the way to our future and Mocean is your ride." They also offer lettering, embroidery, silk-screening, reflectorized piping or tape, custom pockets, belt loops, and most bike uniform accessories. Mocean can be found on the web at www.mocean.net.
Olympic Uniforms, J. Marcel Enterprises, of Seattle, WA., was the first company to make bike patrol specific uniforms. After Seattle P.D.'s successful experiment with bike patrol, Olympic was asked to create more suitable shorts, pants and jackets than those found in outdoor stores and bike touring catalogs. More than just a local company, Olympic's experience in making outdoor clothing for retailers such as Eddie Bauer had given them the ability to meet the demands of a physically active bike officer. Olympic prides itself on customer service and its willingness to customize products to meet the unique needs of its patrons. It offers a wide range of uniform styles and materials. Their shorts are available in a range of inseam lengths, and they are equipped to do custom colors, piping, reflectorized piping, tape and lettering.
Julie Cruise, the Sales Manager for Olympic and the wife of a Seattle Homicide Detective - and former bike officer - says that Olympic is proud of the quality and durability of its products. She said that every garment features either double-stitching, bar tacks, or both. Olympic seals the seams of their waterproof outerwear, such as jackets and pants, with factory-applied seam tape, a process she stresses is important. She claims that Olympic jackets have the largest arm openings "in the business." And although Olympic has been innovative in expanding its line, long-time customers can still get any styles they have purchased in the past. Like the rest of the "big three" companies, Olympic is able to provide lettering, embroidery, silk-screening, and custom work such as nametags, pockets and keepers. Olympic offers various accessories such as undershirts, turtlenecks, helmet covers, and jacket liners. They offer sizes for both men and women, ranging from XS to 5XL. They can be found on the web at www.olyuniforms.com.
Pro-Tuff by Werner Works of Roseburg, Oregon, has made bike patrol uniforms for about 9 years. It has sold many of its uniforms through suppliers such as Gall's and other retailers, in addition to its own catalog sales. Within the last couple of years they have redesigned their products. They have eliminated their line jackets with featured very large reflectorized patches on the front and back. They have also made the leg opening larger on their pants and shorts. This improvement eliminated problems with their earlier models that had smaller legs and a low crotch. It made walking and mounting bicycles somewhat uncomfortable. Company owner KC Werner said these changes have eliminated some of the problems he acknowledged had previously existed. Pro-Tuff provides a more affordable uniform alternative by offering few styles and color choices. Using treated Supplex in shorts, pants and jackets, and avoiding higher priced high tech fabric, keeps the price within easier reach of many bike units. Pro-Tuff has added a new unlined, untreated windshirt to its product line. It offers a lightweight wind resistant that can be folded into built-in 8 by 11-inch pocket. It can be easily packed into a bike pack. They still offer patch sewing, nametags and reflectorization options on jackets and shirts. For those doing EMS duty on bikes they also offer an optional glove pocket for shorts and pants. They can be found on the web at www.pro-tuff.com.
The Layered Look
Bike patrol officers must know how to dress in layers. The number of layers obviously increases as the temperatures drop.
Clothing next to the skin must remain dry if an officer is to feel comfortable in both hot and cold weather. Much like the way an oil lamp fuels itself, the material must wick perspiration away from the body. Many companies sell undershirts and bike patrol uniform shirts made of Coolmax™ or similar fabrics. These are synthetic materials, which, like plastic, will not absorb water. Therefore, perspiration vapor penetrates the material so it is quickly dried by the air, or absorbed by another layer on top.
Popular moisture-transporting fabrics for inner layers are Coolmax™, P3 Vapor™, PowerDry™, Aquaway™, and Vapor Pique™. Some, like Coolmax™, PowerDry™, and P3 Vapor™ are usually used alone. Aquaway™ and Vapor Pique™ are actually laminated onto or applied to other fabrics. Cotton undershirts or polos may be acceptable in low humidity, desert-like climes, since perspiration will evaporate quickly, but it should be avoided when the temperatures drop or humidity rises.
Middle layers are usually made of warm, but non-moisture absorbing materials like Polartec® Polar Fleece, Microfleece or good, old-fashioned wool. These retain body heat while staying dry and allowing perspiration to pass through. In milder weather, the middle layer may be a standard or specialized uniform shirt.
Outerwear, such as jackets and pants, must provide protection from the weather. High-tech fabrics are used to shelter the wearer from the wind and rain while remaining breathable to expel excess moisture. Some of the most common outer fabrics are Dupont® Hytrel® (used in Mocean's Avalanche™), Travis Textiles Travtech®, Burlington's Xalt® and Ultrex®, and BHA Technologies eVENT™. These fabrics use either coatings or waterproof membranes laminated onto or applied to materials such as Supplex™ nylon or nylon taffeta. Among the most high tech - and expensive - is Dryskin Extreme™. It is a combination of nylon, Lycra™, and Cordura™ Plus. This durable, woven material is stretchable, yet waterproof and windproof. It is currently used by Bratwear and Olympic, for their top-of-the-line pants. It is incredibly efficient at transporting moisture to the outside, while remaining dry and warm inside. Extreme™ is made in Switzerland by the Schoeller® company.
Jackets and Shirts
Designing clothing is much like building computers or cars. It is much more complicated than it appears. Bike clothing must be designed to the specific needs and body position of the cyclist. Shirts and jackets need broader shoulders, longer sleeves, and extended tails or back. The waist must accommodate access to equipment, while at the same time keeping out the cold air and rain. Collars must fit comfortably with a helmet, while providing protection to the neck and face. Since officers can generate an extra 10-15 degrees while riding, clothing must have the means to vent away excess heat, such as "pit zips" or cape back vents. Gusseted zippers have a flap of material between the wearer and the zipper. This improves both comfort and weather resistance. Pockets are important for bike patrol officers; many believe that one can never have too many. Pockets for pens, notebooks, and other small items are always useful, whether inside or outside the jacket. Most companies line jacket pockets with fleece to help warm cold hands. Many jackets have adjustable cuffs to keep out the cold and rain, but allow for easy on-and-off. Alitta, Mocean, Bratwear, and Olympic offer models with zip-in fleece liners for very cold weather.
In recent years, British police have adopted fluorescent green "high vis" jackets with numerous reflective strips. These make them highly visible on patrol, and therefore both more accessible and safe while in or near traffic. American police officers seem resistant to wearing this type of jacket despite the enhanced officer safety, but they do frequently wear two-tone jackets. While not as obvious as a traffic vest or high visibility jacket, the two-tone jacket serves much the same function. The most common colors are royal blue over navy blue and yellow over navy. Other combinations are available for sheriffs, security and EMS personnel. Bratwear, Mocean and Olympic all offer a wide range of standard colors and can do custom colors. Since the color scheme used by bike officers often differs from standard uniforms, most departments apply additional POLICE or SHERIFF lettering, badges, and department emblems, to clearly identify the wearer as a law enforcement official.
Shirts are available in different styles, from the pullover polo style to the traditional "Class A" look. They are available in both long and short-sleeved versions. Many departments like the less formal and more approachable look that polo-style shirts provide. Others prefer the traditional look, complete with pockets, epaulets, sewn-in creases and full buttons. The comfort of these shirts is often enhanced by the use of zippered fronts under facade buttons. While a polo style is perceived as more comfortable, the wearing of body armor eliminates any distinct comfort advantage, and polos may not have pockets. Most shirt styles are available in breathable, wickable materials liked Coolmax™ or PowerDry™. Mocean offers theirs in the unique Vapor Pique™ material, while Blauer offers their colorblock polo in B.Cool™. Blauer and Pro-Tuff feature reflective stripes on the chest, arms or both to enhance nighttime visibility.
Bike officers should consider wearing non-cotton turtlenecks and fleece liners or pullovers when the temperatures drop. They can also don wickable synthetic underclothing. Administrators should amend their uniform guidelines to permit these important layering components. If an officer isn't warm and comfortable, he or she will not be outside doing the work.
Pants and Shorts
The seams of pants and shorts for cycling are positioned and sized to reduce pressure and hot spots where they contact the bike saddle. Some are equipped with a chamois, which is a built-in pad that is placed between the saddle and the rider. While a chamois can provide some padding, that is not its main purpose. Its main purpose is to absorb moisture that can lead to chafing and saddle sores. Originally the pad in bike shorts was real chamois, but today it is a synthetic pad covered in artificial ultra-suede. It looks and feels like real chamois, but is easier to launder. Three of the companies offer shorts and pants with a sewn-in chamois, and all of them offer shorts without chamois. Bratwear, Mocean and Olympic all sell "liners," or underwear, to be worn under non-lined shorts and pants. These are made of non-cotton materials and have high-quality, ultra-suede pads and are popular among some bike officers. Alitta offers a sewn in nylon/Lycra® tricot liner with a SuperSuede chamois. Other bike officers choose to wear separate padded Lycra™ cycling shorts underneath their uniform shorts. Cotton underwear should not be worn together with a chamois as the cotton holds the moisture next to the skin instead of wicking it away. Coolmax™ or silk underwear should be worn instead.
Pants knees are designed for comfortable, easy movement. Several models use a non-stretch material like Supplex™ to make an articulated or gusseted knee. Olympic and Mocean both add a Lycra backing to the knees to give additional flex. Pants are available in summer and winter weight, and in waterproof and water resistant. The most expensive pants are made with the stretch fabric Extreme™, or one of the laminate fabrics like Avalanche™, Travtech®, Xalt® or similar. Seams on waterproof pants should be factory seam taped for maximum weather resistance. Some models are lined with a wickable material that transports sweat away from the skin. Less expensive pants are usually made of treated Supplex™ and are not fully waterproof.
Quality pants have a gusseted fly, which aids in comfort and weather resistance. Bike patrol pants are made with the lower leg and cuff narrowed to reduce the likelihood of catching a pant leg in the chain. Most bike pants have cuff zippers to make them easier to put on and remove, especially over shoes. In recent years, pants with zip-off legs have become increasing popular. The removable legs can be left on for a cool morning and then removed and easily stowed in the afternoon heat. It is an economical way to equip a bike officer with both shorts and pants. The zip-off pants are not intended to be worn in harsh weather.
Shorts are manufactured with Supplex™ alone, or with one of various stretch fabrics. Mocean incorporates Stretch Factor™ and X-FACTOR™ in combination with Supplex for some of its shorts. Bratwear uses Coolmax Poly, stretch nylon and Supplex for their most popular comfort stretch shorts. Olympic has traditionally manufactured its shorts from Supplex™, but has recently added stretch shorts of Coolmax Poly and Spandura. Blauer's multi-use 8841 short is constructed of a washable cotton blend with 10% stretch and offer a model with Lycra™ stretch panels in the thigh.
Both pants and shorts can be purchased with either belt loops or Velcro™ keeper loops. Some officers like to wear an inner belt with belt loops. Others like to use keeper loops alone to secure their gun belts or web gear. Pants are available with or without stirrups, depending on personal preference. Abrasion patches are often applied to woven fabrics to reduce wear and pilling from holsters and equipment on shorts and pants.
Pockets are important to bike officers. It is hard to have too many. They should be installed on the sides of the legs instead of at the top of the thigh to prevent the items from bouncing while riding. Pockets can be secured with either zippers or Velcro equipped flaps. Flaps are usually preferred in waterproof pants as they are more watertight than zippers. Pen pockets have become a popular option on pants, shorts, and jackets.
Dressing for success means equipping specialized units with high-quality, specialized uniforms. Motor officers wear clothing that's unlike the traditional police uniform, and they wear it for valid safety reasons. Similar reasons exist for bicycle officers as well. When the police on bikes movement began, many administrations have been reluctant to allow bike officers to wear what they considered to be "unprofessional" attire. Today, most agencies have recognized that weather-appropriate attire designed for athletic activity is essential to officer safety and health. As the "park and ride" concept of combining motorized and bike patrol grows in popularity, the challenge will be finding a way to discourage officers from hanging bikes on their cars simply so they can wear shorts. Mandating basic and in-service training, and requiring that a minimum number of on-bike hours be logged, may discourage such behavior. It may also result in a more effective and well-trained force, and that should be every agency's goal.
Kirby can be reached at email@example.com.
The full text of this article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Law & Order magazine. Reprinted with permission.