By Adam Drapcho, The Laconia Daily Sun
LACONIA — The city’s police department has used mountain bike patrols for many years, and found them an effective way to get to parts of the city hard to access with a cruiser. There are some drawbacks to pedal-powered patrols, especially the fact the officer has to provide all of the propulsion.
Much of that drawback has now been erased, though, thanks to the arrival of five ebikes, which have an onboard battery pack and electric motor that help officers get up the hills and down the roads faster and more easily.
The bikes are from the Indiana-based company Recon Power Bikes, which makes military-grade frames and bikes that can handle a variety of challenging terrain.
Bikes with boost
Last year, Roy Cuddahy, owner of Winnipesaukee E-bikes, which sells electric-assist bicycles in Laconia, was riding home from Planet Fitness in Belmont when he said he saw some unsavory activity along the WOW Trail. Cuddahy, who volunteers with the organization that maintains the recreational trail, said he had a chance meeting later that day with Bryan Moynihan, a police officer trained to patrol on a mountain bike, and offered to assist the department in moving into the e-bike era.
Moynihan brought the idea to Chief Matt Canfield, and soon, with Cuddahy’s advice, they were observing a demonstration of Recon bikes at the station.
The bikes have a stout frame, and are significantly tougher than a conventional mountain bike. They use wide tires — the kind seen on so-called “fat bikes” — and can find purchase on a variety of terrain, including loose sand. Those tires, combined with a front suspension, allow the bikes to go up and over urban obstacles, such as a curb, at speed, “as if the curb wasn’t even there,” said Moynihan.
They’re useful in off-road environments, too, getting over and through rutted and rocky trails, at Ahern State Park, as well as its steep inclines, and across fields of deep grass, which would trip up a standard mountain bike.
In short, anything a mountain bike can do, the ebikes can do better.
From Canfield’s perspective, their best attributes are speed and power. Bicycle patrols are used in the downtown area, along the WOW Trail, in Lakeport and at Weirs Beach. If the officers in one of those areas need to respond to another part of town, getting there in a hurry on a conventional bike usually means the officer is tired when they arrive. But with electric assist, they can show up quickly and ready to help.
“The officer is not going to be winded when they get there,” Canfield said.
During Motorcycle Week last year, Moynihan said he responded to a call that would been much easier to handle if he had been on an ebike. He and another officer were on Lakeside Avenue, on mountain bikes, when there was a request to stabilize a situation until medical responders could get there. The residence was a side street near Tower Hill, and Moynihan and his partner were in position to get there first — but they had a steep hill to climb.
“Once we got to the top, we had to physically restrain the guy,” Moynihan said, which would have been easier, and safer, if they weren’t winded.
The Recons can maintain a top speed of 28 miles per hour with the maximum amount of electronic assistance, and have a range of around 50 miles on a full charge.
The ebikes also have the added advantage of sparking curiosity among the public. The bikes’ debut was during Pumpkinfest this year, and Moynihan said the Recons proved to be stable at slow speeds, easy to maneuver through crowds, and gave officers a good vantage point, as they could easily see above those around them. And several times, people would stop to ask about the bikes, then engage in a more general conversation.
“We just got to talking,” Moyihan said. “It brought that engagement with the community.”
There are currently six officers in the department who have gone through both the training for mountain biking patrol and to handle ebikes. Since the Recons were delivered about a month ago, several more officers have expressed interest.
“We’re hopeful that these ebikes will help LPD be more efficient and accessible in their policing of the WOW Trail and throughout the downtown and Lakeport areas,” Beetle said.