IPMBA mandates four pieces of safety equipment and strongly recommends two others, all of which must be used by students during IPMBA training courses and should be used while on-duty. Each rider should have a high-quality mountain bike, in good mechanical condition, that fits him or her properly.
In addition, all riders must be equipped with: (1) a properly fitted bicycle helmet, approved (in the United States) by Snell, ASTM, or CPSC; (2) shatter-resistant protective eyewear, for day and night; and (3) a pedal retention system (discussed in Chapter 4). Recommended equipment includes padded cycling gloves and a ballistic vest. For the purpose of this chapter, personal protective equipment (PPE) is defined as those items worn on the body of the cyclist.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the League of American Bicyclists, 80% of all fatal bicycle crashes are the result of injuries to the cranial area. Therefore, the protection of the head is of utmost importance. While normal patrol speeds might only be 8 to 12 mph, an endo—a crash that sends the rider over the handlebars—coupled with the weight of the rider can result in significant blunt force trauma to the head, resulting in severe injuries or death. Dr. Garry Peterson, an avid cyclist and Medical Examiner of Hennepin County (Minneapolis) MN, explained that a person who falls to the ground from a standing position and strikes his head without catching himself can suffer more than enough force for a fatal head injury. The G-force in most bicycle falls is several times more severe than that.
IPMBA requires an approved bicycle helmet be worn during all training sessions and while in the course of the performance of a public safety cyclist’s job. The helmet should be level, should cover the forehead, and should be worn with the side straps and front/chin strap tight.
What should public safety cyclists look for in a quality bicycle helmet? Not the cost—a helmet should be regarded as an investment in the rider’s safety, not an expense. In the United States, the helmet should meet the most current impact resistance standards, which, at publication date, are: American Society of Testing Materials (ASTM) F-1447 (of 1999), SNELL Foundation B-95, or the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) standards. Other countries have established their own standards. All helmets manufactured for the United States market after 1999 must by law meet the CPSC standard. Details about specific products are usually available from the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI), which tests helmets and maintains current information on helmet safety, product recalls, and crash research.
Aside from crash resistance, comfort is the most important factor in selecting a helmet. Coolness, ventilation, fit, and sweat control are the most critical comfort needs. Airflow over the head determines coolness, and larger front vents provide better airflow. Most current helmets have adequate cooling for most riders. A snug fit with no pressure points ensures comfort and correct position.
Most helmets are made from polystyrene or polyurethane foam (EPS) covered by a thin PVC shell. The shell helps the helmet skid easily on rough pavement to avoid jerking the neck. The shell also holds the EPS together after the first impact. Some excellent helmets are made by molding EPS in the shell rather than adding the shell later, and some use an in-mold micro-shell coupled with carbon fiber ribs.
Some helmets come in sizes, while others use plastic helmet-fit systems, known as ring fit, designed to enable a helmet to fit a wider range of head sizes. Some riders find that these one-size helmets require pulling the ring so tight for stability that the helmet causes irritation, while loosening it gives a sloppy fit. Some cyclists like the one-size option because they are quick-fitting, can accommodate unusual head shapes and sizes, and allows for wearing a sweatband or cap underneath the helmet.
Another consideration when choosing a helmet is the number of air vents provided. Vents help dissipate the body heat generated by the bicyclist. With ballistic protection, the equipment worn and carried, weather extremes, exertion level, and other factors, core body temperatures can increase significantly. The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute recommends against selecting a helmet with numerous vents, as more vents reduce the protection the helmet offers. The number and spacing of vents might also contribute to sunburn if precautions are not taken to protect the scalp.
A visor may help channel air through the inside of the helmet and reduce heat build-up. It can also help keep raindrops off of the eyewear. Helmet visors must be shatter-resistant and should break off easily in the event of impact. Although helmet visors can provide shade from the sun, they also block upward vision. When the head is tilted forward in a typical riding position, the visor can make the rider more vulnerable to an attack from above and put the rider at risk of hitting his or her head on low-hanging branches, signs, wires, or overhead beams. Such impacts, even through the helmet, can injure the rider’s neck. Finally, the visor can have negative tactical considerations; for instance, it may protrude while a police cyclist is peering around a corner, revealing his or her position.
The color of the helmet is primarily a matter of departmental preference. Most police departments select dark helmets because they are less likely to be seen at night, when a police officer might need to conceal his or her location. Contrary to popular belief, the color of the helmet has little effect on heat absorption.
Most helmets have quick-release buckles on the front/chin strap and adjustment mechanisms for the side straps so that the helmet can be fitted properly for the individual rider’s head size or to accommodate balaclava style hoods or other head wraps. Helmets should accept markings, such as decals, for identification purposes. A connection mount for a headlamp system might also be a consideration. Manufacturers continue to create innovative cycling helmets; for example, some integrate lights and/or reflective materials into the helmet itself.
Almost all parts of any helmet can and should be washed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Helmet pads and straps become repeatedly soaked from sweat and skin oils. Regular rinsing with clean water or mild soap and water will keep the helmet clean and odor-free and increase its longevity.
The cyclist should replace his or her helmet after a crash. Although the damage may not be visible, the impact crushes some of the foam,. Helmets work so well that the rider may need to examine them for marks or dents to know whether his or head hit the ground or another object. A good test to check for helmet damage is to hold the helmet on both sides, then push and pull while looking at the polystyrene or polyurethane foam for cracks. Then grip the helmet at the front and rear and perform the same test. If any cracks are found, replace the helmet. Most manufacturers recommend replacement after five years, but the BHSI notes that depending on usage, and assuming reasonable care, most helmets will last much longer.
There are many factors to consider when evaluating eyewear, but the most important is that the glasses meet current standards for high velocity impact resistance and optical clarity, ANSI Z-87.1 or standard or military specifications STD-662 at the publication of this edition. Some insects can fly at average speeds of 20 to 30 mph, with a dragonfly reaching speeds of 50 mph. Coupled with the speed of a cyclist riding 8 to 12 mph, this can create a significant closing speed upon contact, resulting in serious injury to the unprotected eye.
In 2003, while on a road ride in Charleston, WV, a group of IPMBA Instructor candidates witnessed an example of the importance of eye protection. A passing car struck the edge of a small stone, sending it into a nearby fence and causing a half-inch deep indentation in the wood. The officers thought for an instant that a bullet had struck the fence and realized the damage that would have occurred if the stone had struck someone’s eye. This illustrates the importance of wearing protective eyewear at all times while cycling, not just while the sun is shining.
UVA, UVB, UVC Rays
Riders should consider eyewear that filters UVA, UVB, UVC rays and IR and blue light when purchasing glasses. Bike personnel are exposed to a significant amount of sunlight and glare, and the eye needs protection from damage from short- and long-term exposure. Many glasses have extended or wraparound designs to protect as much of the eye as possible from these harmful rays and light sources.
Interchangeable lenses are beneficial to public safety cyclists who work in diverse lighting and weather conditions. A frame with interchangeable lens reduces the overall cost and is more convenient than having numerous pairs of glasses. Lenses should be easy to change quickly without damaging the frames. Many manufacturers provide carrying cases to protect the spare lenses when not in use. Some manufacturers offer sport sunglasses with interchangeable lenses that can have a set of prescription lenses mounted behind the tinted front lens.
Although these glasses may be slightly heavier, they offer prescription eyeglass wearers the option of relatively inexpensive wraparound sport sunglasses with interchangeable lenses, at a greatly reduced cost over several pairs of prescription sunglasses. As with all prescription glasses, sudden changes in lighting can be problematic. Prescription eyeglass wearers may want to keep their regular glasses readily available for building searches or other inside work.
Non-slip nosepieces and fixed or hinged ear stems are other features to be considered. Some public safety cyclists prefer a frame that has hinged ear stems, so that when they are removed, they can be easily folded and one arm stuck in a shirt pocket for temporary storage. Many cyclists use devices that allow the glasses to hang around the neck when they are not being worn.
Riders should wear gloves at all times. Cycling gloves reduce road shock and vibration transmitted through the frame and help prevent fatigue, hand numbness and conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis. Gloves can also provide protection from abrasions in the event of a crash.
Gloves worn by public safety cyclists should be designed specifically for cycling, as they contain padding that protects the carpal, median, and ulna nerves that branch off though the palm of the hand. This padding typically consists of foam, silicon gel, or a similar substance, and can range in thickness from 2 mm to 6 mm.
Depending on preference and riding conditions, public safety cyclists may use short-fingered or long-fingered gloves. Material used in the construction of the gloves can consist of Lycra, terry cloth, neoprene or other fabrics in combination. The material might be woven with a fabric like Windstopper™ or Thinsulate™ for protection from the cold, Kevlar™ for cut resistance, or SpectaShield™ for bloodborne pathogens.
The padding and the thickness of the glove will have an operational impact on manual dexterity. Police and security officers may find that gloves affect their ability to access handcuffs, grip an impact weapon or chemical spray canister, or operate a handgun’s magazine release, de-cocking lever, slide, or cylinder release mechanism. EMS cyclists may find that long-fingered gloves are impractical for handling some medical equipment and drug packaging. Those who do not intend to remove their cycling gloves prior to providing patient care should select short-fingered gloves and pack larger-sized latex gloves to wear over them.
For these reasons, public safety cyclists must engage in training exercises and drills that enable them to overcome the effects of the gloves.
To avoid frequent replacement, select a glove with double, closely spaced stitching around stress points such as the thumb crotch, base of the fingers, and the hook and loop closure. This will resist unraveling more than a glove with single, widely spaced stitching. However, bike gloves are more likely to be discarded due to accumulated road grime, dried sweat, and skin oils. To achieve longevity, bike gloves should be cleaned regularly according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Clean gloves last a lot longer than dirty ones.
An experienced public safety cyclist may use different gloves for different situations. Regardless of the glove, it is essential that he or she become familiar with the feel that the glove provides, not only while engaged with the handlebars of the bike but while operating various pieces of equipment as well. This familiarization should be practiced in both non-stress and stress/fatigue-related relevant training exercises with the goal of becoming proficient while using the gloves.
In addition to its obvious purpose, ballistic protection can provide some crash protection for the public safety cyclist, especially to the thoracic area and skeletal structure of the ribs and spine. Public safety cyclists should refer to their departmental standard operating procedures and directives governing the use of ballistic protection. Many departments have “must wear” ballistic protection policies in place—including for their public safety cyclists. Some cyclists may be tempted not to wear it, especially during hot weather, but it should not be optional.
When deciding on ballistic protection for the public safety cyclist, consider the various fabrics that are available from the numerous manufacturers, the overall weight of the garment, and its flexibility to accommodate the extra movement of the rider. An extended back flap is a nice additional feature to protect the low back area while in the cycling position. This can be sized when the officer’s measurements are taken for the ballistic vest. The body armor selected should offer the appropriate level of protection (threat level) as dictated by agency policy.
Some body armor producers provide anti-microbial covers and breathable fabric carriers to dissipate moisture. This is important for public safety cyclists because of the sweat generated by exertion. The ballistic vest can be coupled with breathable fabric undergarments. Female riders might want to avoid wearing a traditional bra under ballistic protection, as excessive movement can cause chafing. Sports bras that are seamless and have rolled edges and off-center stitching are good choices.
Bike officers in the United Kingdom pioneered the use of the vest carrier system, which has been adopted by some agencies in the United States. Similar in appearance to tactical vests, these are designed and cut to be comfortable while cycling. The United Kingdom version virtually eliminates the need for a duty belt, because all of the equipment is carried in secure pockets on the vest. In addition, the vest holds the officer’s ballistic panels, eliminating the need to wear body armor under the clothing and greatly improving ventilation. Cycling generates more heat and perspiration than most types of police activity.
Even if an officer is wearing a lightweight, breathable uniform shirt, wearing body armor between the breathable layer and the skin minimizes the breathability of the material. These external vests allow the wickable material to actually breathe better due to increased air circulation around the arms, waist, and chest.
As public safety cycling has become more prevalent, equipment and uniform manufacturers have responded by developing products engineered to meet the unique needs of the public safety cyclist. A public safety cyclist who is outfitted with high-quality, cycling-specific uniform and shoes is more likely to perform at a high level, because he or she will be comfortable. Likewise, a public safety cyclist equipped with a high-quality mountain bike, a helmet, shatter-resistant eyewear, pedal retention, cycling gloves, and ballistic protection is more likely to operate safely.
Beck, Kirby (2002). “Bike uniforms: We’ve come a long way, baby.” Law and Order Magazine, May, pgs 76-82.
Beck, Kirby (2003). “Dressing for success.” Law and Order Magazine, May, pgs 77-84.
Beck, Kirby (2005). “Trends in bike patrol.” Law and Order Magazine, April, pgs 88-93.