Hit the Pavement

Where the past meets the future in police bike patrols

Here's what Becker has to say about key pieces of equipment and uniforms for law enforcement bicycle patrol:

Mountain bikes: This is one area where agencies shouldn't skimp. Good, high-quality mountain bikes from reputable manufacturers fit the bill. Why a mountain bike? Because they're designed for rugged use on all terrain. "Some departments think it's OK to go to the big-box store and get their officers a bike," Becker says. She compares it to putting patrol officers in Yugos and expecting them to do the job. "Spending $900 on a bike isn't extravagant; it's a need."

The bicycle is, of course, the most important piece of the equipment puzzle for bicycle units. A bike must be lightweight, but still capable of carrying all the equipment an officer needs, plus the officer himself. The bike will be ridden in difficult circumstances, often dropped on the ground or pavement, and operated over rough terrain.

"Most of the bikes designed for public safety use have heavier components and silent hubs, which eliminate the clicking noises of typical bikes and allows for stealth," Becker says. She adds that rear-mount kickstands, which can be operated without dismounting, also are an important feature on these special bicycles.

Eye protection: Projectiles from passing cars, thick brush, trees and other landscaping can damage the eye. Goggles not only keep eyes safe, but prevent the sun's glare from interfering with line of vision. A well-fitting pair should fit snugly, but not uncomfortably. Wear goggles all the time, day or night, no exceptions.

Helmets: Anyone who's ever worked traffic knows what smacking a skull on pavement can do. That's why biking helmets rank high as a must-have. The good news for law enforcement agencies is that more expensive helmets aren't necessarily any better than cheaper ones. That's because helmets face approval by the Consumer Products Commission. Any approved helmet works, but the key to effectiveness is to buy one that fits well and is worn properly.

"The best source of information for helmets is the Helmet Safety Institute (www.bhsi.org)," says Becker, who adds that some helmet manufacturers are going to a ring fit system. The ring, located inside the helmet, allows for fit adjustment - which comes in handy when the cold requires a head covering underneath the helmet. Becker also says to look at a helmet's venting system. Helmets must have enough vents to release the heat, but not an excessive number. "If the rider is bald, he may need to use sunscreen on his head," Becker adds.

Pedal retention: IPMBA has mandatory guidelines for this safety equipment. Although Becker admits most riders approach the idea of being connected to the pedal with apprehension, they "ultimately discover it's very utilitarian."

Pedal retention devices help officers when traveling over obstacles, down staircases, etc., and prevents injuries sustained when an officer's foot comes off a pedal, which sometimes causes the pedal to snap back and hit the shin. "If your foot slips off while on stairs, you can come forward off the saddle and land on the top tube of the bike (the one between your legs)," she says. "That's something to be avoided." Not too many will disagree with Becker's understated conclusion.

Several types of pedal retention exist:

  • Toe cages (made from plastic and available either with or without straps),
  • Straps that go across the foot, and
  • Clipless pedals, where a cleat on the pedal is paired with special cycling shoes designed to clip into the pedal.

"Some departments, when they consider clipless pedals, think about the old style with large cleats on the bottom that force the foot to stick up," Becker says. Walking with a cleat sticking out of the bottom of a shoe was not only uncomfortable, but downright dangerous. Among other things, the cleat caused a foot to slide when hitting highly waxed surfaces.

Newer designs allow the cleat to retract into the shoe for normal walking or running, and re-emerge when remounting the bicycle. Look for a clipless pedal and shoe designed with a firm sole to prevent it from bending over the pedal.

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