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This may be a dumb question but why would police bikes have suspension?

They mostly all seem to have suspension on the front forks.

They're not going to be jumping off rocks or anything, are they, so what's the point? Doesn't suspension just make them slower, heavier, more expensive, less enjoyable, and higher maintenance?

I say that as someone who has never experienced riding a bike with suspension.

Doesn't Why top touring bikes have no suspension forks? suggest they're valueless? But that's implausible because they're designed and bought professionally; so why?

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    BTW I don't think this is too opinion-based: there's presumably some actual reason why police bikes are so, i.e. why those are purchased as police bikes (even if you can only guess at what that reason is). – ChrisW Jan 21 '17 at 23:55
  • Addressing the implicit assumption - Bike Cops are there for two main reasons... Approachability by the Public, and Physical Access to restricted spaces (this is similar to mounted police) While speedy pursuit might be a component, its not going to be an every-day event. – Criggie Jan 22 '17 at 5:19
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    Why suspension? Roadside curbs and stairways. – railsdog Jan 23 '17 at 12:20
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The main reason I've seen is that police bikes are generic mid-price mountain bikes, and those almost always come with suspension. Even when they're decorated and packaged as "police bikes", they still seem to start out as mid-price generic MTBs.

This comes from the requirement that they be reasonably rugged, able to have police kit bolted on, be reliable, and affordable. Most velocops don't have the budget to start with a $5000 bike and then modify it to work as a police bike. And it's very hard to find a $5000 bike that would be a suitable starting point. But it's also moderately hard to find a $1000 MTB without front suspension.

In Sydney (Australia) at times the velocops get to buy their own bikes, with the requirement that they be able to have all the doodads the police like attached. So we have seen some variation, from cops who put their own money in (or repurpose other budget) to get decent bikes, through to a bunch of "police auction" specials which were ok, but it was amusing to see cops with official bikes that had had the serial numbers filed off. Still, most of those were mid-price mountain bikes with front suspension, because they want the heavy frame to get a bit more ruggedness.

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    Well, why a "mountain-bike" then? My suspension-less aluminium hybrid (which all y'all recommended I get for in-city commuting), with decent gears and hydraulic brakes, was only about $700 retail. – ChrisW Jan 22 '17 at 0:01
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    I suspect it fails "rugged". Some cops are not regular cyclists so will be hard on the bike for that reason, the rest will be hard on the bike because they do things like riding down stairs or jumping off the bike onto a fugitive, leaving the bike to crash unattended. Slightly smaller but significantly stronger wheels etc make a big difference there. – Móż Jan 22 '17 at 0:17
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    A nice steel touring bike would easily be rugged enough and easily come in under budget. – Kibbee Jan 22 '17 at 1:41
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    I get the front suspension, because its the most economic solution. However, I didn't get why they had off-road tires instead of wide slicks in my last city. I don't think they planned on chasing thieves on muddy trails through public parks. Riding with such tires would drive me half crazy, due to the noise, vibrations, and the drag. – gschenk Jan 22 '17 at 15:01
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    @gschenk that seems weird to me too. The velocops where I live all run slicks, except the very low end "velocop for a day" types at fairs and events, where mostly they're riding BSOs anyway . – Móż Jan 22 '17 at 20:48
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Suspension is a well-established concept nowdays, and is not bleeding edge. Police bikes will be serviced routinely, and all the preventative maintenance will keep them ready to ride and perform as expected.

I agree that additional weight will slow them down a bit, but a cop on a bike isn't going to be chasing down cars. At best they will be operating in a pedestrian area, or a cluttered urban street where outright speed is not the sole purpose.

Enforcement transport has to function even if something goes wrong. So Police cars are specified with steel rims rather than alloy rims, on the basis that a steel rim might bend but still be usable, but an alloy rim would have cracked or shattered rendering the vehicle inoperable for a time.

So a suspension fork will help prevent a minor whoopsie like a surprise pothole or sudden kerb from damaging the bike, rendering it inoperable.

In addition about half of the normal listed bikes state "suspension lockout" as a feature. (excluding the folding ones)

A police bike has to survive higher levels of abuse than your average MTB-on-the-road. I imagine an officer may need to

  • dismount in a hurry and ends up dropping the bike on its side, with the impact taken by the handlebars, pedal/crank, seat, or any gear racks,
  • ride in the rain all day,
  • carry more gear on their person or on their frame than a normal bike rider
  • pick up the bike and use it as a physical barrier between themselves and a belligerent attacker,

Further links:

Curiously, I learned that some cycling police are permitted to choose their own bikes, either from a curated list or simply given a spending limit. Other bike cops may pick something from the "recovered bikes" impound lot once the 6 month claim period has expired, rather than sending the bikes to auction or to a recycler.

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    I want to add something for the list of abuse that those bikes might suffer. I have once witnessed a training of bike police in the Netherlands where they were practicing biking down stairs down into an overground metro station. Down regular stairs and double steps which served as benches: (i.stack.imgur.com/Piwln.jpg) I also have heard that these bikes are not spared when in persuit, following people down stairs and over obstacles. – JAD Jan 22 '17 at 20:59
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There is one more reason to add.

They will be on the bike all day, every day, 4 days a week (or more). Around here, bike cops are used quite a bit "down town" and at almost all events in the area. These cops have to ride their bikes for hours at a time.

A normal shift (around here) is 4 9 hour days, then 3 days off. By comparison the Tour de France's longest day is around 6 hours, and bike cops aren't professional athletes.

Now they will spend a lot of time off the bike. But in addition to riding from point A to B, they will frequently have to jump curbs, ride down stairs, go on brick roads, cross tracks, ride though construction areas, and frequently take roads or paths that I would personally avoid. In these cases it's easy to see how their primary goal in choosing a bike may contain shocks where I would not.

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    Sorry,was tired when posted. I though I read somewhere that the 2012 stage 16 average was around 12 hours, but I misread. As to the "nothing like riding...." that is exactly my point. Instead of a "route" from point a to b they have to spend nearly "the same time" going all over the place, handling obsticalse, and terrain that most riders would avoid. – coteyr Jan 22 '17 at 13:30
  • Maybe you confused the early Tours de France with more modern ones. In the early days, the stages were insanely long. – David Richerby Jan 22 '17 at 15:17
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    Frequently jump curbs and ride down stairs ? Really? – Antzi Jan 22 '17 at 16:46
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    @Antzi compared to most cyclists, yes. I commute about 1.5 hours a day and the last time I rode down stairs was about 10 years ago. I go off a curb maybe once a week. In my limited discussions with velocops they probably do stairs once a month and curbs every day (the fit, cyclist-type velocops anyway) – Móż Jan 22 '17 at 20:51
  • @Antzi Yes, see my comment on Criggie's answer. – JAD Jan 22 '17 at 21:02
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In Toronto, at least, they train for stairs. For example, On patrol with Toronto’s bike police,

Our bikes lay on the ground outside the garage door where we had dropped them before running in. To get to the garage, we had ridden our bikes up some steps and then down a few others. We had gone down a narrow alley etc.

Details about the bike:

The police officer’s bike is quite a rugged machine. It has a steel frame, 26″ wheels with heavy 2″-wide tires. There’s a rack on the back, on which an officer usually puts a bag holding a ticket book, lunch and maybe a jacket. The front fork has suspension, but it’s not dialled. A siren, kickstand and fenders are also in the mix. Officers aren’t assigned their own bikes; they choose their wheels at the start of their shifts. The bikes have to withstand a pounding because that’s what they get.

A mention of speed:

All but a few of the 44 officers in Hogan’s community response unit patrol on bike. They work 10-hour shifts. Usually eight of those 10 hours are spent out of the headquarters on two wheels in the cold of winter or heat of summer. When I met with Hogan this past December, it was -10 C with the wind chill getting to -20 C. I was going to ride with him and Sgt. Lisa Ferris. Ferris claimed to have10 layers on. One of those layers was a heavy, Kevlar-lined vest. With the utility belt with pistol and radio, she was carrying roughly 30 extra pounds. She wasn’t sure my six layers, the ones I would wear on a road ride at those temperatures, would keep me warm enough. Police usually move at “patrol speed,” not the “response speed” I experienced in that obstacle course. Patrol speed is fairly slow so officers can look around and see what’s going on. It also allows the cold to seep through performance cycling apparel.

More about their training:

The students started their days at 7 a.m. in a classroom at the Police Vehicle and Operations facility. I attended the last two of the four days of instruction. On each of those days, Training Constable Arshad Khawaja started the day with a few clips of mountain bikers shredding trails projected onto a whiteboard. He drew students’ attention to how the riders positioned themselves on their bikes and how they kept their balance. In the back lot of the facility, the students practised cyclocross dismounts and carries, popping up and over obstacles as high as two steps and riding on gnarly surfaces. Their work required skills that most of us only use in our leisure time – on weekend trail rides or ‘cross races. These techniques would allow them to do their jobs properly and make them safer on the roads.

When Khawaja and his fellow instructor Training Constable Jon Urban came to Police Vehicle and Operations about five years ago, bike training for police officers was mostly centred on Can-Bike instruction. The two avid mountain bikers – Urban does weekly races just southwest of the city; the two have participated in 24- and eight-hour relays – then began to re-vamp the program. Khawaja attended courses by the Law Enforcement Bicycle Association (LEBA), a U.S.-based training organization formed in 1987. The pair also went to conferences by the International Police Mountain Bike Association (IPMBA)to learn new practices and techniques. At the 2013 IPMBA conference, they took in some new instruction techniques on bike control and balance from master mountain biker Shaums March (“His riding skills are ridiculous,” Khawaja said.) that they’ll incorporate into this year’s courses.

Khawaja and Urban’s work is paying off. Each year, an average of 75 bicycle officers are injured, five of those injuries get classified as critical. In 2013, injuries were down 40 per cent. There were no critical injuries.

And a comment from the parallel Toronto Paramedic Services Bicycle Unit:

The primary objective of the Toronto Paramedic Services Mountain Bike Program is to provide rapid response through congested areas, allowing paramedics to arrive at the patient’s side faster than a traditional ambulance might. As well, the program promotes safe bicycle riding and injury prevention to the public.

Toronto EMS currently owns 16 mountain bikes and has two CAN-BIKE instructors on staff.

Our mountain bikes have aluminum frames and suspension forks for negotiating stairs and curbs. The bikes are equipped with heavy duty lighting for night operations. The medical equipment carried on the mountain bike consists of an airway kit, oxygen, suction, glucometry, a symptom relief kit with five medications, first aid kit, and a semi-automatic external defibrillator. Specially designed rear rack and panniers enable the bike to hold all this equipment.

The Toronto EMS Mountain Bike Program is affiliated with Toronto City Cycling/CAN-BIKE for training and education, the Ontario Cycling Association for licensing, and the Toronto Police Bicycle Unit for program development.

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1

Another point to consider - shocks reduce the stress that riding has on the officer's body. As others have mentioned, bike cops will be on the cycle for much of the day. I'm not familiar with any studies, but I suspect that the shocks will have at least a reasonable reduction in stress. That means that they'll be able to ride harder/longer than they might otherwise.

Additionally, as others have mentioned, bike cops are much more likely to be going of/on curbs, staircases, or other obstacles than your every day rider. Sure it's possible to do such things on a road bike, but it's a lot more comfortable with suspension.

My final point - it's more of a mountain vs. street comparison - is the benefits of posture. With a mountain bike you're usually sitting higher up. This can reduce stress on the back, but more importantly it can help officers be more aware of their surroundings (as well as be more visible).

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I would like to think that a front suspension on a police bike is only there to cushion the jelly belly roll of our doughnut eating aficionados on bicycles while going off curbs. But on a less or more serious note, depending on your perspective I see here in our city that it is less functional than it is political.

In Our City

In our city in the USA (politics may work differently in your country or city) our 'mounted' police that ride police bikes do not do so on a daily basis. They are NOT bike police. They are regular cops that drive cruisers and during downtown special events, a couple of them get out the bikes to facilitate more approach-ability and ease of movement through crowds from one end of downtown to the other. Of course our city had just purchased a couple police Segways. So they normally get the Segways out as they use less energy and burn fewer doughnuts. But I have seen the police bikes at time strapped to a police SUV bike rack and being taken somewhere. Maybe it was to the repair shop who knows as they rarely use them to chase perpetrators through wooded areas and trails as they have dogs for that purpose.

In our city we have few stairs and I couldn't imagine our officers taking them down stairs as they are no where near proficient or capable of navigating a bicycle around technical terrain as they only use them sparingly during special events. Our city police force of 130-200 (depending on year and budgetary constraints and layoffs) has a peddle pool of only about 10 units.

How it normally works and why they are the bike they are

In our city here, the city council approves a budget for every city expenditure. I have sat in many city council meetings and watched these approvals. They may approve $15,000usd for 10 bikes putting them in the $1,500 range. They approve the expenditure amount for purchasing new bikes usually to replace or purchase them all at the same time so that they are all the same type, year and model. They have an open bid time period where they may except open bids from local bike shops to other shops not local and online bike suppliers that may or may not have have specific 'Police bikes' for the purchase contract. They provide a very basic requirement list which usually has less to do with the way they may be used and more to do with equipment that needs to be mounted.

The bike suppliers providing bids to this contract and rarely if ever provide any recommendations as to use or bike specifics and features. If a bike in the $1,500 range comes with a suspension fork, removing it and replacing it in terms of adding an additional fork (ie -$300 fork removed, +150 for non suspension fork, labor $50 = net savings $100 per bike) and labor would almost be a wash and not worth the time for them to consider. They accept a bid and contract is fulfilled and closed.

Our city officials or police officers that use the bikes are not technically literate or knowledgeable enough to know what they want or need (though some cities in the world may have very capable and knowledgeable cyclist among their ranks) and unless they are directed by the contract bidders to an alternative, they will get a typical run of the mill police bicycle that is good and versatile for ALL terrain, obstacles and functions for all and every city. And that is the way it works.

We normal or avid cyclist

Now we, more normal, avid, every day cyclist may see a police bike as not specific enough to their needs and thus these bicycles, in many cities and in many terms, are not as specific as they could or maybe should be. Maybe a cross-bike with straight bars and a cross tire tread would be better suited for police work via bicycle. We, the ones that ride hundreds of miles a week on various types of bicycles are more averse at being able to determine bicycle use requirements in terms of bicycle type. But then we are not (in most cases) normally involved in budget approval, contract bidding and fulfillment.

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  • While your answer may technically answer the question as stated, it also includes a lot of stuff that detracts from your (otherwise good) answer. Case in point, your first three paragraphs mostly seem to be about insulting doughnut-eating police officers. For this reason, I down-voted it. – user23374 Feb 11 '17 at 18:35

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