By Claudia Wasko
Police officers on bicycles are nothing new; officers adopted bicycle patrols as part of their standard functions as early as the 19th century, and there’s been a revival in the practice since the late 1980s – for good reason.
Bikes give officers access to areas that would be difficult to get around quickly in a squad car, especially in cities congested with traffic, and allow police to pursue suspects in crowded areas or through tight spaces, and even over terrain a squad car can’t tackle.
Traditional bicycles have their downsides, though.
They require a lot of energy to pedal, and can’t go as fast as officers sometimes need to move.
Police officers also have to carry a lot of equipment with them, which makes a bicycle heavier and harder to ride uphill or for long distances.
There’s a way to get all the positives of a police bicycle program and eliminate the negatives, however – with an eBike, or electric bicycle, which uses a pedal-activated electric motor and battery that gives riders an extra tailwind to pedal faster uphill and over longer distances.
Improved Policing on eBikes
Electric bikes have been around almost as long as traditional bicycles, but advances in motor and battery technologies in recent years have been driving consumer growth in places like Europe and China – and now police departments in the United States are taking notice of an eBike’s advantages.
With a boost from an electric motor, officers can ride further and longer than they can on a standard bicycle, allowing them to expand their patrol area and cover more ground.
Officers are still able to get into tight places and crowds, but now they can get there even faster.
When a call comes in, an officer can easily adjust the assist level into Turbo and quickly pedal up to 28 mph – that’s comparable with top Tour de France pro rider speeds on flat terrain, and 9 to 10 mph faster than an average rider.
Officers not only get to a scene faster – they also arrive stronger.
(The Green Bay Police Department have added a new tool to enhance their Bike Patrol. Courtesy of NBC 26 and YouTube. Posted on Oct 17, 2017)
The boost from the motor means an officer arrives at a scene less fatigued than he or she would be after powering a traditional bike at high speeds using just their legs, so they can use more energy for police work and less for pedaling.
eBikes also provide the opportunity to get more officers involved in bike patrol.
Officers who aren’t sold on the physical demands of traditional bicycling now can get out, patrol and engage with the community because of the assistance the eBike’s motor provides.
Even bike patrol officers who crave the physical challenge of riding can appreciate an eBike, because the beauty is that the rider can always choose how much assistance to get from it.
When an officer is cruising the town on standard patrol, he or she can have the motor assist on Eco (boosting their leg power by 50 percent), making the experience very similar to traditional bike riding, and increasing the eBike’s range to as high as 100 miles.
But when they need to get somewhere fast, they have the option to kick up the assistance level to Turbo – a 300 percent boost.
A less tangible – but no less important – effect of a police officer on an eBike is the approachability the bike affords.
Both kids and adults who might never approach an officer in a squad car will greet an officer on a bike, and the eBike’s motorized feature gives it an extra “cool factor” that serves as a conversation starter, helping the officers engage the community and get some face time with local citizens.
Tech-savvy police departments across the country are exploring the implementation of an eBikes program to gain some of these benefits, and it’s crucial to know what to consider before purchasing.
Finding the Right eBike Dealer
Start by going to a reputable dealer who has experience with eBikes – not every bike dealer does, and it’s critical for a police department to find a trained, certified dealer who knows the ins and outs of the technology.
Ideally, the dealer has completed eBike certification clinics for the specific manufacturers the department is considering.
Departments can also ask manufacturers to connect them with a dealer.
(If you want to achieve something great, you need a special drive! The Bosch eBike Systems Product Division is the European market leader for eBike systems. Components ePowered by Bosch supply the “tailwind” that helps propel more than 50 leading bike brands. Courtesy of Bosch eBike Systems and YouTube)
Many eBike and eBike component manufacturers keep directories of reliable dealers who have the tools and software to sell and service eBikes appropriately.
Once you find a good bike dealer, ask if they have any agreements with manufacturers that will provide the department with trial eBikes.
There’s no better way to figure out if you like something than to try it out yourself.
Shopping for a Police eBike
eBikes are available with every type of regular bicycle function.
A police department can start by looking at the traditional bicycles with which the department has had the most success – the style and features that officers like best.
Most officers prefer a mountain bike-style eBike with front suspension, but police departments in coastal climates that patrol beaches may require fat tire eBikes, and departments that patrol trails in nature preserves or parks may need dual suspension to accommodate rougher terrain.
And it goes without saying that a police department should opt for the models with the fastest maximum speed (typically 28 mph) to achieve the fastest response time.
Additionally, some eBike manufacturers now make police-specific eBikes.
The frame is often a standard mountain eBike, but with added speed capabilities, and a more robust brake system because of the higher potential speeds combined with added weight from police equipment.
These styles may also have mounting points for equipment racks or integrated light systems that allow police departments to add their own flashing red and blue lights or sirens.
Some bike dealers sell conversion kits that allow riders to mount a hub motor on a back wheel and add a battery pack to the frame.
These kits are less expensive than purchasing an eBike, but are strongly discouraged.
An eBike’s frame is engineered to hold the extra weight of the motor and battery, unlike normal bikes, and mounting these to a normal bike can create load-balance issues.
Additionally, eBike braking systems are designed to allow the bike to brake quickly even when traveling at high speeds, and traditional bicycles with a clip-on motor can’t accommodate that type of braking, creating a safety hazard.
Case in Point: Green Bay Police Department
The Green Bay Police Department (GBPD), located in Green Bay, Wisconsin, is divided into four policing districts designed around factors like major geographical boundaries and call volume.
Each district has an assigned captain and lieutenants as well as community policing officers.
When GBPD implemented its community police program in 1995, the department assigned each community police officer a mountain bike to use when patrolling.
“They have the option of taking out a squad car, but we tell them they should be walking neighborhoods, biking and engaging the community,” said Captain John Laux, captain of GBPD’s District C.
Traditional bicycles worked just fine when officers were patrolling smaller neighborhoods, but when GBPD moved to district policing in January 2012, community police officers had to patrol larger areas spread over several square miles, and it could be challenging on a standard mountain bike, Laux said.
“When our policing areas were small, it made sense to patrol on a bike or on foot, but getting from one end of the district to another quickly was problematic and not realistic,” he said.
“Then I started hearing about eBikes.”
Over the summer of 2016, Laux began to do some research on eBikes, browsing the Internet and asking other departments about their experiences.
He found Pete’s Garage, a local outdoor sports shop, and tapped store manager Derek Hughes for advice.
Hughes, a veteran mountain and snow biker, had experience with eBikes, and steered Laux toward Cannondale eBikes, powered by the Bosch eBike system.
“We brought in a couple of Cannondale demo eBikes, and the officers absolutely loved these,” Laux said.
“Derek spoke highly of the Bosch battery life and motor, and the dual suspension was huge.”
GBPD purchased three Cannondale Moterras with Bosch Performance CX motors and one Cannondale Contro-E Speed with a Bosch Performance Speed motor.
“eBikes give our officers the ability to respond quickly from a longer distance, and when they get there, they aren’t exhausted – and an exhausted officer is a vulnerable officer,” Laux said.
“The eBikes with the electrical assist takes exhaustion out of the equation, so officers can be as effective as they would be coming out of a squad car.”
Although police-grade eBikes have a higher price tag than a standard police mountain bike, Laux believes the benefits of an eBike outweigh the additional cost, and was able to finance his district’s eBikes through a combination of community fundraising and grants from organizations like the Wisconsin Public Service Foundation and Community Crime Prevention Grant Program.
“Most of our budget goes to wages and benefits, and that will be the case with many departments, but it comes down to how badly you want them and what you need to do to get them,” Laux said.
“It’s a big commitment, but if other departments are serious about having a mountain bike program, there are grants out there, as well as generous community members and stakeholders who want to contribute to a way to enhance a police force.”
Laux’s vision is to staff all 14 community police officers with eBikes.
“I don’t think there are limitations for this program,” he said.
“All it took for our department to get these eBikes was some enthusiasm and time. If you want it, there are no limitations, not even budget.”
Claudia Wasko is General Manager of Bosch eBikes Systems Americas.
Claudia can be reached at Claudia.Wasko3@us.bosch.com