For bike patrol officers, work isn’t a ride in the park

FORT WORTH — Let’s say you’ve just ridden two miles at top speed, lugged your 30-pound bike up a set of stairs and swerved around a turning city bus a split second before disaster.

You would be forgiven if, when you reached your destination, you flopped to the ground, muscles quivering, and tried not to lose your lunch.

Unless you’re a Fort Worth bike patrol officer, in which case you’d better try to calm your ragged breathing, gather your wits and get ready to deal with whatever threat sent you into such hot pursuit.

“We could get a hot call that could be two miles, three miles, let’s say five miles away,” said Ross Williamson, a Fort Worth neighborhood patrol officer and bike instructor. “We don’t have the luxury of jumping in a police car and getting to that call.

“In a high-traffic situation, bikes can actually get to a call quicker downtown than a car can. So they ride to the scene as quickly as they can and as effectively as they can so they can take care of the situation.”

Last week, 25 sworn officers, including two Fort Worth captains, plus four XTO security guards gathered at the Fort Worth Police and Fire Training Academy for an intense 40-hour bike patrol certification school. The class included officers from the Benbrook Police Department, which is starting a bike patrol program around Lake Benbrook.

The officers learned the rules of the road and headed outside to ride: up stairs and hills, around traffic cones and over curbs. They practiced standing perfectly still atop the pedals, a balancing maneuver known as a trackstand. 

And, after starting at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday for the required “night ride,” they made it back inside just before the massive storm system that rolled in after lunch.

On Friday, the final day, they partnered up, donned their bulletproof vests and gun belts, jumped on their bikes and raced through a timed obstacle course to answer a simulated “officer-down” call. Officer Carlos Duque, who runs the school with officer Jason Young, called it a live-fire stress test.

After a quick dismount at the firing range, they sprinted through the final obstacles and fired two sets of six shots at targets three yards away.

Full disclosure: One participant did lose his breakfast, but only after completing the course.

The exercise was a stark reminder that patrolling Fort Worth on a bike is far from a recreational stroll.

The winners of the live-fire stress test were a pair of neighborhood police officers: Mario Cabello of the West Division and Eric Vance of the South Division.

“They had clean runs and smoked the others,” said Duque, who works with the downtown bike unit.

The training program was created by the Law Enforcement Bicycle Association, a national certification organization created in 1987 “with the birth of modern-day police cycling.”

Fort Worth’s downtown bike patrol unit, which was formed in 1991, is made up of 18 officers and two sergeants assigned to the department’s Central Division. They work four 10-hour shifts atop their bikes every week, come rain, shine, heat or bitter cold. Some neighborhood officers also patrol on bicycles.

Central Division Capt. Daniel Humphries, who participated in the class, is an avid cyclist, but on a sleek road bike. The low-speed mountain bike drills were a particular challenge, he said.

The skills tests also challenged West Division Capt. Linda Stuart, a runner who had no problem with the cardio work.

Stuart said she enrolled to “be able to interact with the community, go out riding with them [her officers], meet citizens.”

“This is all about getting to know your community,” she said. “It’s hard to do that in a car.”

Fort Worth mayor hosts rolling town hall meeting

Riding into Gateway Park under ominous clouds.

Consider this fair warning: If Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price invites you to go riding, bring your A game.

On Wednesday, about 30 cyclists joined the mayor for the first Tour de Fort Worth of 2012, a 14-mile hop around the Trinity Trails, starting at the recently opened Trinity Bicycles, 343 Throckmorton St.

The weekly series will continue through Oct. 24 at various sites around the city.

Mayor’s fourth Wednesday ride heads to Farmers Branch Creek

Price, 62, likes to use cycling as a way to promote a healthy city and give residents a chance to talk with her about issues in a relaxed atmosphere.

“It’s really interesting what people will tell you on a bike,” said Price, who rides five days a week and logs as many as 150 miles a week during the summer.

“They get warmed up and they get loose, and you feel friendly and accessible. That’s what we want. This is all about being real open and free with the citizens.”

Wednesday’s ride started a little after 5:30 p.m. under cloudy skies and 60-degree temperatures. The cyclists were escorted down to the trail by two Fort Worth bicycle officers, who hung at the end of the group all evening to keep an eye on everyone.

The machines ranged from mountain bikes, like the police issue Trek hard-tails ridden by Fort Worth bike patrol officer Sean Blaydes, to the mayor’s red and black Kuota road bike.

The crowd was diverse, too. Several people said they had run across the ride on the mayor’s Facebook page and decided to join the group because, well, a ride’s a ride.

Diane Laughlin, 59, of Saginaw, a train dispatcher for BNSF Railroad, found out about the weekly rides from the Fort Worth Bicycling Association. She said that she’s gotten a little out of shape over the winter and that Wednesday’s ride was a good workout.

Mike Emery, 42, of Fort Worth said he enjoyed the chance to ride.

“I saw it on Facebook and decided that any opportunity to ride is a good opportunity,” said Emery, a manager at National Tire and Battery.

Janet Patterson, 49, of Fort Worth, who owns a women’s consignment shop, said she just enjoys riding.

“I’m about to turn 50,” she said. “So, biking’s for all ages.”

About 20 minutes into the ride, as the group headed toward Gateway Park, a brief rain shower made things a little more interesting. But 10 minutes later, a sun broke through and the rest of the evening was pleasant.

Price yo-yo’d back and forth in the group as it stretched out along the trail, chatting with riders. She said the weekly rides, which began last year, give residents a chance to discuss everything from street lights to potholes to water rates to taxes.

“We haven’t had anybody in the last year who was really angry,” she said. “You know, we have some who say, ‘Why can’t we get our streets fixed?’ And I understand that. It’s frustrating.”

Heavy rains earlier in the week flooded several low-water crossings, forcing several impromptu route changes and even a little cyclocross along the route from downtown to Gateway Park.

The pace was steady, and a 8-10 mph wind that changed direction from southwest to west to northwest during the ride made it just tough enough for a good workout.

Price, who said she has been cycling seriously for about 25 years, said she enjoys the outings with residents.

“I love people, and I love hearing what they’re interested in,” she said, “even if they’re not talking about the city, if they’re just telling me about their families or their pets or their children, I love that kind of stuff.”

The weekly Wednesday rides are from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Next week’s ride starts at the Tarrant County College-Trinity Trails Trailhead. You can get the latest information about the rides at Mayor Price’s Facebook page.

Looking back: A fun time at the L.A. Triathlon

Since I turned 40 (almost 8 years ago), I’ve made several fun trips for triathlons, bike rallies and rides, and even a bike race or two. I thought it might be fun to revisit each one in my blog.  Consider this the first in an occasional series.

It would be impossible to forget my race at the Los Angeles Triathlon, since it occurred on Sept. 9, 2001. Two days later, I was in a van full of journalists driving 24 hours to New York City. But let’s not get into that. This is supposed to be about fun!

My number and finisher's pin from the L.A. Triathlon

My number and finisher's pin from the L.A. Triathlon

Anyway, I flew in the day before and was VERY nervous about the swim in the Pacific Ocean. Swimming has never been my thing; it was just something to endure to get to the bike and run legs. And I certainly had never done almost a mile in the ocean. (It’s an Olympic distance tri.)

The swim start and finish was at Venice Beach. The good news is that we got to wear wetsuits, which helped me overcome my biggest swimming problem — buoyancy. The bad news is that my goggles broke right before the start and I had to beg the guys in the closed transition area to grab my spare pair for me. Once I hit the water, I thought I’d never make it through the surf. It took me at least five tries — dive in, get tossed back. Repeat.

Once I did, though, the swim was pretty uneventful. (No sharks!)

The 40k bike leg was awful. I felt absolutely horrible out of the water. The ride was relatively flat and passed through much of downtown Los Angeles, on roads closed to traffic. But I never got a good rhythm and was really bummed about that leg. (I was definitely not yet a cyclist in 2001.) I averaged a puny 18.1 mph.

The 10k run was magic. In those days, before my knees finally gave out, running was my sport, and I was pretty darn good at it. The run took us past Dodger Stadium, and I felt great the entire time.  (I have very fond memories of Los Angeles, in general, and for some reason the run to the stadium reminded me of the fun I had visiting Southern California in high school.) I broke 53 minutes (about an 8:32 pace), which I was OK with considering the hills and the way I felt on the first two legs. I had the 984th fastest run leg among the 2,000 or so female competitors.

My overall time was just over three hours. (Damn it.)

I had planned to go back and do the race again. But after the terror attacks, I ended up working in the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau for four months and just didn’t really have time to train over the next year. And then the knees started going.

But it was an awesome memory.

Reinventing journalism, practically speaking

I’m wrestling with the huge obstacle of helping our print journalists transition into multimedia journalists, even as staff cuts mean everyone has to do more work just to cover the news.

I’m wondering if I should create “10-minute tutorials” on all kinds of topics. I could post them and people could check them out as they get time.

I wonder if this is a start. It all seems so daunting otherwise; teaching dozens and dozens of people how to do things differently. While still trying to do my part to run the online news operations.

Day 6: We did it

Today’s ride was pretty anticlimactic. We slept in a little later but still hit the road before 9. The ride was all on the Rio Grande Bicycle Trail from Aspen down to Glenwood Springs.

We stopped at both aid stations — Basalt and Carbondale — and basically took our time. On the trail, I rode alone for the first 20 miles or so and then rode the rest of the way in with my buddy Kevin, who wasn’t in the mood to go slow and enjoy the last day.

Finish in Glenwood Springs.

Finish in Glenwood Springs.

It took us about two hours, including rest stops, and then we headed home. All in all, it was good to get back to showers and beds and no lines, but I almost immediately began to miss the great outdoors.

One fun note: Earlier today, according to his Twitter feed, Levi Leipheimer climbed Independence Pass (from the harder side, out of Aspen) with Astana teammate Chris Horner. It was cool that they stood at the same summit we had.

6 days, 380 miles. Everything feels good. Now, I can say I’m a real cyclist.