NYC “Scorcher Squad” Americas First Police Bike Squad

Created by Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt in 1895 to apprehend speeding horse-drawn carriages, the 29-member bike squad, known as the “Scorcher Squad,” made 1,366 arrests in its first year.

These fast riding cyclists were “scorchers” for the way they blazed down roads, the racers were called “cracks.”

Impromptu sprint races between riders meeting on the street were called “drags.” This stylized cover girl is wearing the new “bloomers” which shocked many women who decried women’s cycling

Two years earlier, Mayor Strong wanted to be a reform mayor and appointed Theodore Roosevelt as one of his police commissioners.

Roosevelt had served the previous 6 yrs on the Civil Service Commission which was all about wiping out favoritism and nepotism in in in federal appointments , so Strong knew exactly who he was choosing.

Roosevelt accepted this position while he was in a transition period, thinking about higher office right things had turned though he’d served in the New York State Legislature, he had expected to stay six years in Washington it was a great opportunity to mount a new stage and New York was America’s leading city.

If Roosevelt could clean up New York, it would add much needed political clout. He knew he had little time to stand out and the best way was to implement reforms and make innovations.
Roosevelt became president of the board of commissioners and radically reformed the police force.
Roosevelt implemented regular inspections of firearms and annual physical exams, appointed recruits based on their physical and mental qualifications rather than political affiliation, established Meritorious Service Medals, and closed corrupt police hostelries.
He hired the first female cop (this is significant, because it would be over 20 yrs until women began campaigning for their right to vote) and when, and when the Municipal Lodging House was established by the Board of Charities, and Roosevelt required officers to register with the Board; he also had telephones installed in station houses.
During his two-year tenure as Police Commissioner in New York city, his right-hand man was Avery Andrews, an obsessed bicyclist, suggested to put policemen on bicycles to save them from the fatigue one foot patrols and decrease response time. In the ever expanding city, police worked about 100 hrs a week, and slept in their stations on shifts.

In 1863 the ‘Draft Riots.’” became the worst, bloodiest, most destructive and brutal riot of in the US until the LA Riots in 1992.

Roosevelt teased Andrews often about the idea, but the board finally relented and agreed to begin a small trial period with a total of 4 bicycle cops, all were bicycling champs and led by Charles “Mile a Minute” Murphy.


Their uniforms were eye catching yellow leggings, nautical caps and a long heavy coat  because they were debuting in winter.

Their duties to reel in speeding bicyclists , chase down drunk drivers , guide traffic to the right of the road, and protect female cyclists ( even the ones in bloomers ) from insults and cat calls.

the New York Times notes that while Police Commissioner, Andrews organized the city’s first bicycle squad, which he staffed initially with four athletic men who were stationed in locations where runaway horses were frequent. At times, criminals did try and detour the policemen by dropping a hand full of tacks behind them to pop the cop’s tires.

Bicycles, in this era cost about $85 , which was extremely expensive. Sometimes, the depts would ask businesses to help with the costs of supplies.

It was a success. The squad stopped so many runaways that in less than a month it was increased form four to 100.

In his Autobiography, written in 1913, Theodore Roosevelt described the New York Police Bicycle Squad:

‘In the spring of 1895 I was appointed by Mayor Strong as NYC Police Commissioner, and I served as President of the Police Commission of New York for the two following years. …The members of the bicycle squad, which was established shortly after we took office, soon grew to show not only extraordinary proficiency on the wheel, but extraordinary daring.

They frequently stopped runaways, wheeling alongside of them, and grasping the horses while going at full speed; and, what was even more remarkable, they managed not only to overtake but to jump into the vehicle and capture, on two or three different occasions, men who were guilty of reckless driving, and who fought violently in resisting arrest.

They were picked men, being young and active, and any feat of daring which could be accomplished on the wheel they were certain to accomplish.

Three of the best riders of the bicycle squad, whose names and records happen to occur to me, were men of the three ethnic strains most strongly represented in the New York police force, being respectively of native American, German, and Irish parentage.

The German was a man of enormous power, and he was able to stop each of the many runaways he tackled without losing his wheel.

Choosing his time, he would get alongside the horse and seize the bit in his left hand, keeping his right on the crossbar of the wheel. By degrees he then got the animal under control. He never failed to stop it, and he never lost his wheel.

He also never failed to overtake any “scorcher,” although many of these were professional riders who deliberately violated the law to see if they could not get away from him; for the wheel men soon get to know the officers whose beats they cross.

Below is a photo showing the first presidential motorcade (first open-top one, to boot). The car is a Columbia Electric Victoria Phaeton. Roosevelt is on the left. On the right is Colonel Jacob Greene, chairman of Hartford citizen’s committee.


Note the chauffeurs at the back: one of them is steering with a tiller. The car is flanked by policemen on bicycles. Columbia bicycles. Notice anything missing?

Chains. The bicycles are shaft-drive models.