How to buy patrol bicycles

Police bike units allow officers to respond more effectively in the community and at special events; here's what to consider when purchasing police bicycles

This article was updated on July 15, 2017.

The past few years have demonstrated the effectiveness of bicycles for patrol and emergency medical response. Officers on bike patrol are more approachable, more mobile and provide the community with a reassuring visible presence. No one can dispute the tremendous success of bicycle patrol units nationwide.

Police bike units have been successfully deployed to congested areas like street fairs and events and open spaces like parks and residential areas.

Officers and emergency medical responders are able to respond more quickly than other vehicles in crowded areas or during events where vehicle traffic is at a standstill. Bicycle patrol is efficient, economical, stealthy and community-oriented.

The ideal patrol bike is a sturdy hardtail (no rear suspension) all-terrain bike fitted with duty-specific components like heavy duty brakes, rims, urban tires and cargo racks. Current patrol bicycles resemble mountain bikes, but they are actually set up as durable urban bikes.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when buying patrol bicycles:

1. Bicycles are user specific

Bicycles are inexpensive enough to have one adjusted to a single rider. Each rider will have a certain adjustment, saddle preference, handlebar angle and pedal preference. If officers share cycles, it is imperative the frame is correctly sized for both riders. It’s not a good idea to fleet purchase bicycles. Let the individual rider spend a few days with the bike before purchase, if possible. Always try the bike out with the shoes, clothing and equipment one normally wears.

If a patrol bike goes from operator to operator, each user must have their own helmet, shoes and saddle to ensure a correct and familiar fit.

2. LBS first, bicycle later

Establishing a relationship with a local bike shop (LBS) is almost as important as the bike purchase itself. Like any vehicle, there are consumables, which should also be a budget consideration. Bike shops that are comfortable with officers coming in for a “what’s new” chat receive the best “word of mouth” advertising in the business. Officers who come by to chat report fewer maintenance issues and always get their questions answered.

No one can fit a bike to an officer better than a trained professional. And be advised that a new patrol bike is only good for about a week’s worth of riding before it has to be re-tuned after the cables and chain stretch. After that, routine check-ups are worth the investment. Pick the LBS first.

3. Design is more important than lightweight products

The weight of a mountain bike is critical to a competitive rider. It is a factor for a police bike, but design is considerably more important. When it comes to frame materials, there is only a couple of pounds difference between a steel (Chromaloy) and a lightweight aluminum one. Although aluminum is the most commonly used product (because of its superior strength to weight ratio), steel has a natural flex that may be desirable for some riders.

Scandium is great for racing because it barely weighs anything but it has a definite fatigue limit. Carbon fiber is also great for serious biking, but is unforgiving and not wear-resistant. Do not consider either material.

A patrol bike should have a compact frame design, which means that the horizontal tube is a little shorter and the officer sits higher on the bike. The chain stays – the horizontal part of the frame that connects the crank to the back wheel – are often square or a little beefier to account for the heavy duty use and constant frame torque.

Quick-release seat clamps and wheel skewers are desirable. Officers often have to change missions and throw a bike into the back of a patrol car without the use of tools. After all, the CRT officer is a great candidate for bike patrol.

4. Component groups are important

The front suspension should be adjustable for the conditions and rider. It is desirable – but not mandatory – to have a lockout, which automatically stiffens the fork.

V brakes, which pinch the rims to slow the bike, used to be the norm, but disk brakes tend toward smoother heavy-duty stopping power. It is not a coincidence that patrol bikes generally have disc brakes.

Mountain bikers pick components that allow for economy in motion. The less one has to move the hands around during a technical maneuver, the better. Several products combine the shift levers with the brake levers. Riders only use two fingers to get powerful leverage on the brakes, while shifting using the trigger finger and thumb. This is an excellent way to go.

Mountain bikes are generally built in component groups. That is, the derailleur is matched to the shifter and brake levers are matched to the brakes so they have the same pull ratios and operation. The better the component group, the better the package.

Test a new bike by shifting it through all of the gears under load. Pedal hard, fully equipped, and ensure the bike can smoothly select its entire repertoire. Find a good hill, get the bike up to speed and slowly bring it to a stop. Anything less than smooth braking is unacceptable.

Puncture-resistant tires are a must. Tubless folding tires are fine for back trails, the tubed ones with puncture protection are best for patrol.

5. Questions to Ask when buying police patrol bikes 

  • What is the standover height (the height of the horizontal top tube to the ground)? Given the patrol mission, officers generally need a little more room from their inseam to the top of the tube.
  • How is the bike geared? It would go beyond the scope of this buyer’s guide to talk about the science of gear ratios on a bike. Generally, mountain bikes use a 44/34/22 (or similar) front chainring set coupled with an 11/32 (or similar) rear sprocket. The purpose is to have appropriate gears for a variety of situations.
  • Where are the officers going to patrol? Generally, bike patrol officers work in specific areas. However, a search and rescue crew needs more aggressive tires and lower gears. Consider how readily available the vehicle support will be for these units.

Do you have any other suggestions for officers purchasing bicycles? Please leave a comment below or email with your feedback.

Police1 Special Contributor Lindsey Bertomen, a retired police officer (and bicycle enthusiast), contributed to this report.

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