IPMBA Product Review

eMTBs:  To Use or Not to Use in Public Safety

by Clint Sandusky, former PCI #849/EMSCI #159 Riverside (CA) Community College District Police Department (Ret.)

Bikes (electric pedal-assisted bikes) are becoming more and more prevalent.  They’re being ridden by the recreational and transportation cyclists, at MTB races, and even by public safety agencies across the US and beyond.  So, the question is, “To use, or not to use?” eMTBs at your agency.

My hope in writing this article is that it will fuel the on-going conversation for public safety agencies considering whether to start or continue using eMTBs or not.

Disclaimers

  • I’m “old school”, but not old!  I personally believe if I can’t pedal there on my own, I shouldn’t be riding a bike.
  • I may be “old school”, but I’m always willing to explore new technologies, ideas and training.
  • My best friend and fellow California POST Bike Instructor is an Authorized Trek Dealer.  He owns a Trek Powerfly 8 FS eMTB and loves it!
  • I purposely sought input from various Bike Patrol Instructors, both from IPMBA and here in California when writing this article.
  • I’ve ridden eMTBs at Interbike and other trade shows, at home and at a SoCal Bike Patrol Class.  All the bikes have been equipped with Bosch motors.
  • I’ve read countless positive articles on IPMBA’s blogs and beyond on eMTB use in Public Safety.
  • I attended three eBike presentations at Interbike 2017, presented by Bosch, PeopleForBikes, and IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association).
  • I, along with representatives of LAPD, presented on the topic of eBikes and public safety cycling at the Electric Bike Expo held in Costa Mesa, California, on December 1, 2017. 

Listed below are a few of the points to thoughtfully consider before purchasing and/or using eMTBs for public safety cycling:

Is it Practicable for Public Safety Use?

As with anything, I see advantages and disadvantages to using eMTBs.  As I’ve read and seen, there is no mistaking the fact that eMTBs enable public safety cyclists to respond to calls more quickly and efficiently. 

However, I personally found certain skills more awkward and/or challenging, like slow-speed maneuvering, “lofting” the front tire, and dismounts.

I also found manipulating the different modes of pedal-assist (Eco, Tour, Sport/eMTB, Turbo or OFF) to be distracting, but then again, I don’t ride eBikes all the time.  Bosch’s new “Sport/eMTB” mode does automatically switch between “Tour” and “Turbo” modes, which could reduce some of the distraction.  As stated on the Bosch website: “Depending on the pedal pressure, the progressive motor support adjusts automatically to the individual way of riding.”

Battery range is also an important factor.  The new model 2018 Trek “Police Electric” bike uses a beefier Bosch PowerPack 500 battery.  Bosch states on its website that an eBiker can travel “from less than 12 miles to well over 62 miles on a full charge.  Many different factors affect the range.  They include the assistance level, cycling behavior, air resistance, the cyclist’s weight, tire pressure and, of course, the terrain.”

Add public safety use to the mix and you tell me.  Visit https://www.bosch-ebike.com/us-en/news/11-questions-about-the-ebike-battery/ for the answers to “11 questions about the eBike battery”.  eBikes also make more noise when the electric motor is engaged.  That could be a possible officer safety concern.

Price Point

This will probably be your department’s “bottom line” on whether to purchase eMTBs or not.  You can easily spend over twice as much for a quality eBike than for a traditional (human-powered only) bike.

For example, Trek’s traditional Police Bike lists for $1,359.99, while its Police Electric bike lists for $3,499.99.  If you add on all the “bells and whistles”, the price tag will possibly be over $4,000.00!

Weight

Public safety bikes are already heavier than comparable civilian bikes.  eBikes weigh even more.  As an example, Trek’s traditional Police Bike is listed at 35 pounds (just the bike), while its Police Electric bike weighs 50+ lbs.  That’s a BIG difference!  Now add on all the “bells and whistles”, and you have one HEAVY bike!

Weight is a definite concern, for instance, if a rider must carry their eMTB up a long flight of stairs or hump it back to the station because the battery went dead or due to some other technology or maintenance issue.

Weight also affects transporting the bike.  An eMTB may exceed a bike rack’s maximum weight capacity.  As an example, my personal Thule T2 Classic bike rack has a 60-pound limit (per each bike mount).  Bosch recommends removing the battery and computer before transport.  I would also recommend removing all cargo bags as well.

Safety & Legality

The adage of “speed kills” is a legitimate concern when using eMTBs.  Trek’s Police Electric is a Class 3 eMTB with a Bosch motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 28 mph.  28 mph!!! 

The CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) was the first to define eBikes.  Initially California, then other states, defined and regulated eBikes into three classes:

  • Class 1:  Max pedal assist of 20 mph
  • Class 2:  Max throttle assist of 20 mph
  • Class 3:  Max pedal assist of 28 mph

Conversion kits are also available, enabling a traditional bicycle to be converted into an eBike.  Public safety agencies should be very leery about adding this technology to their existing bicycles.

An article in the Netherlands’ NL Times (“More Elderly People Die in eBike Accidents”, by Janene Pieters, September 21, 2017) stated, “The number of fatal traffic accidents involving eBikes is increasing, especially among older people.”  Is this because the eBike has been embraced more in Europe than in the US, or because older people may tend to be less fit and/or skilled for higher-speed cycling?

Public safety cyclists need to know federal, state and local laws pertaining to the use of all types of eBike use, especially if you’re riding a Class 3 eMTB.  You might have to get your local jurisdiction to amend ordnances to include an exemption for public safety cyclists in certain restricted-use areas.

Tactical Aspect and Versatility

I foresee that the increased overall weight of a public safety eMTB (bike, accessories & cargo) vs. a traditional bike will alter certain tactics and versatilities.

As an example, the technique of lifting the rear of the bike to defensively push/strike back an assailant (if in your policy, of course) could be more challenging.

The ability to lift my patrol bike over a short wall or fence would definitely present a greater challenge for me with an eMTB.

Qualifications & Standards

Should qualifications and standards be the same for eMTBs as they are for traditional bikes?

Training & Skill Level

I’ve had conversations with two IPMBA PCIs and three California POST Bike Instructors, and we all agree there should be additional training and/or evaluation for those riders who plan to use an eMTB.  I believe this needs to come prior to the start of a class (not on the first day) to ensure the rider understands how to safely operate the eMTB and is skilled enough to use it.

As with any bike, an inspection should also be performed to ensure it is safe and adequate to use during the class.  Both the above will ensure time and attention isn’t taken away from the majority of your students.

Maintenance & Repair

To be determined. eBikes are equipped with sophisticated electronics and computers that require specialized skills and knowledge to maintain and repair.  This may mean your in-house or shop mechanic may not be able to handle them.  For instance, Bosch recommends taking Bosch-equipped eBikes to qualified Bosch eBike dealer for servicing and repairs.

Fitness & Health

Does riding an eMTB encourage a person to be fit and healthy?  Only you can answer that.

Purpose of eMTBs for Public Safety

Are you going to use eMTBs in a traditional bike unit role (targeted areas, etc.) or in an expanded patrol beat (like automobiles or motorcycles)?  If the latter, then eMTBs may be the way to go.

As Kirby Beck (PCI #002T/EMSCI #017T) remarked, “when you start thinking of bike patrol as you would a motorized patrol, except you go slower – and cover a smaller area – you may be overextending your capabilities.  Warning lights and sirens are much less effective, and your “vehicle” (bicycle) offers you ZERO protection in a crash.  An eBike may go faster, but that only means you can overextend your capabilities and get into trouble faster, too.”

In some of the articles I’ve read about eMTB use in public safety, the bike itself has become an additional “talking point” between public safety personnel and the members of their community.

Maximum Total Weight Restrictions

Trek’s 2018 Police Electric bike has a maximum total weight (combined weight of bicycle, rider & cargo) of 300 pounds or 136 kg.  (You can do the math).  One would assume that, at least, it serves as a warranty disclaimer.  Do you want to take a chance though?

The Bottom Line

Technology can be a wonderful thing and riding an eBike is certainly fun!  There are both advantages and disadvantages to deploying them for public safety use; therefore, it is up to each department and rider to determine whether or not to add eMTBs to the fleet. 

I hope this article serves as an informative resource for agencies and/or riders assessing whether to use eMTBs.

All the entries I read on the IPMBA blog focused on law enforcement’s use of eBikes.  I’m curious as to whether any EMS personnel out there are using eMTBs.  Weight would REALLY be a big consideration and concern!  And what about Security, some of which enjoy larger, private sector budgets, as well as federal agencies, such as the military, Border Patrol, and VA facilities?

It would be interesting to learn if any agencies that have used eMTBs in the recent past have stopped, including the reasons why.

Please send IPMBA and/or me your comments and experiences involving eMTBs and public safety cyclists. 

Resources

As always, be safe out there, everyone!

Clint’s 24-year career in law enforcement included both with Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and Riverside Community College District Police Department (RCCD PD), where he served as Bike Team Coordinator. He has been an IPMBA member since 1994 and has attended 11 conferences. Since 1994, Clint’s been a CA POST certified Bike Patrol Instructor and has taught Bike Patrol Courses for Riverside County Sheriff’s Department for over 18 years. He actively competes in USA Cycling amateur cross-country mountain bike races and since 1999 has competed in what is now known as the United States Police & Fire Championships.  He can be reached at clint.sandusky@gmail.com.

(c) 2017 IPMBA.  This article appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of IPMBA News.

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