Multimodal and Alternative Transit Adoption


How E-Bikes Add Value to the Columbus Police Department

November 3rd, 2021

Post by Donna Marbury, Smart Columbus Storyteller

The Columbus Division of Police has one of the largest police bicycle patrol fleets in the country, with 180 bikes and more than 130 full-time, dedicated bike officers. Through the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation grant, Smart Columbus was able to fund the police department’s Bike Patrol pilot of six electric bikes as a way to help officers travel quicker with less physical effort while proving out applications for electric mobility options.

In August 2018, the Bike Patrol began using six Trek Powerfly e-bikes with pedal assist that can travel up to 28 miles per hour, allowing officers to conserve their energy when arriving at calls. However, before officers began using the e-bikes, the department evaluated its current usage of bikes and was strategic about what officers needed to make the e-bike an asset to the department.

Police bike usage

Police Bike Usage

At the Columbus Division of Police, officers use bicycles in several instances including neighborhood patrolling, crowd management at special events and festivals and to answer distress calls from other officers. The bikes are not just useful for transportation—officers can use them to create barriers during protests and as protection in the event of a hostile situation. Bike patrol officers usually ride in temperatures as low as 20 degrees, in all weather conditions except excessive rain, snow or ice. With that in mind, officers are looking to use bikes that are light to ride yet weighted enough to serve as protection, if needed.

Columbus Division of Police Sergeant Eric Houser, maintenance supervisor of the bicycle coordination unit, says there are many advantages of using bikes in these situations, ultimately helping officers engage with residents better and move quickly in spaces where a vehicle would be more cumbersome or dangerous.

“People love having us come through the neighborhood and it's really a good way for us to have that face-to-face relationship with the people we serve that makes us approachable,” Houser says. “During festivals and events, it’s almost impossible to get through with a cruiser, and almost as impossible on foot. The bicycle is the way that people make way for officers in a crowd. You're also positioned higher up and can just maneuver through the crowd better.”

Pilot and rollout

Pilot and Rollout

Initially, patrol units tested two e-bikes provided by Bosch, the technology company that developed the electric pedal-assist technology for e-bikes. Officers were able to give feedback over a three-month period on how the e-bikes worked in multiple settings. Cathy Collins, assistant director of the City of Columbus Department of Public Safety, says that officers were given surveys to rate their experience with the e-bikes and offer suggestions and changes. 

At the end of the three-month pilot, Collins  met with Bosch and Trek Bicycle Columbus Dublin, a local bike company that fitted its e-bikes for the police pilot. Survey results from the pilot were shared with Trek to make accommodations for the six e-bikes that the company would outfit for the police division. Police lights, radios and heavy-duty brakes were added to the e-bikes to serve the needs of the officers. 

Based on the successful pilot, Bosch worked with the Division of Public Safety, Division of Police and Smart Columbus to organize a longer-term evaluation of the e-bikes as part of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation grant.  In December of 2017, Smart Columbus agreed to procure four e-bikes and Bosch agreed to donate two e-bikes from Trek Bicycle Columbus Dublin.  

“Perfectly suited for police work, electric bikes will help Columbus police officers cover longer distances in a shorter amount of time while allowing them to conserve the energy their job requires,” says Eric Bjorling, brand manager for Trek.

Houser says a patrol mountain bike is about 30 pounds, fully loaded, which includes an equipment bag, and can go about 20 miles per hour. The e-bike that was selected has four different settings that can deploy the pedal assistance in varying levels. 

The e-bike takes up to three hours to charge but can last an entire shift, Houser says.

“Most of the time it's more than a shift because officers are not peddling the entire shift,” Houser says. “There's a lot of pedaling, stopping and taking care of business. Normally, it's two or three shifts before the e-bike has to be charged. The computer that's mounted on the handlebar tells you specifically what the level of the battery is, so the officers know when to charge them.”

Initially, five e-bikes were deployed in the downtown area, and one was being used on the West Side of Columbus. However, Houser says that he has been allowing several officers on the Bike Patrol across the city to use the e-bikes to give them exposure to the technology.

“There are community liaison officers that take them to events. I thought it would be a good way for them to showcase a bike that is electric powered,” Houser says. “I've been moving the e-bikes around the city so all of the precincts get some exposure and experience with them.”

Lessons learned
Houser says that police departments have unique considerations when investing in e-bikes:

Cost and maintenance
An e-bike can be double the cost of a fully-outfitted mountain bike, depending on the model.
The electric motor, heavier chains and the other technology that are parts of an e-bike can mean added maintenance costs. It is important to consider whether you will purchase the e-bikes with a maintenance contract from the bike or technology manufacturer, or if you will be maintaining bikes in-house.

Houser says the electric batteries are guaranteed through 1,000 charges and cost about $500 to replace.

“I would say you would probably get four to six years out of a battery before it started to lose its ability to hold a charge and you'd have to replace it,” Houser says. “But just like any other bicycle, there are maintenance costs, whether it's a regular bike or an e-bike.”

Special training
The Columbus Police Bike Patrol held a 30-minute orientation class to train officers on the special features of the e-bikes, including the computer screen that is mounted to the handle bar and how to select the level of desired pedal assistance.

“It operates almost exactly like a regular mountain bike with the exception of the electric motor,” Houser says. “Once you realize how the computer makes the bicycle operate, it's easy.”

Use outside of the metropolitan area
Though e-bikes are great for festivals and events in the city, Houser says there is a benefit to e-bikes being used in outlying precincts that are larger than inner city precincts.

“E-bikes would be most effective for officers on bicycles in our larger precincts because they could get from one side of the precinct to the other quicker than if they were on a regular bicycle,” Houser says

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