Covered in head-to-toe body armor, riot cops at this week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland look pretty intimidating, right? The thing is, they could just as easily be at your local terrain park or ripping singletrack. That’s because their “riot gear” is actually mountain bike equipment. Let’s take a look at what they’re wearing and how it performs.
For this week’s RNC, Cleveland is putting around 3,000 police officers on its streets. That’s 500 of its own and an additional 2,500 brought in from around the country. A $50-million security budget provided by the federal government is making that possible, and some of that has been spent on bicycles. A force of around 300 bicycle-mounted officers will be patrolling the city center, providing crowd management, preventing crime, and responding rapidly where needed. How are they being geared up?
Bicycle: Safariland/Kona Patrol Bike
Safariland is a Florida-based supplier of police gear like holsters, body armor, riot gear, and more. They also sell dedicated police patrol bikes like this one. It may look like a dorky “hybrid” commuter bike, but this design allows officers to sit upright in order to maximize vision, while providing all-day comfort, even while wearing bulky belts fitted with pistols, hand cuffs, radios, and other necessities. The Kona features an overbuilt 7005 aluminum frame that should help it carry heavy loads while resisting damage from urban riding and police duty abuse. Its 29-inch wheels are large enough to easily roll over curbs, its rigid rear makes it both less expensive and more efficient to pedal, and 100 millimeters of front suspension soaks up bumps.
ABC News reports that the bikes were acquired by the city of Cleveland as part of a $386,000 deal that included 300 patrol bikes and helmets. It’s unclear if the other gear listed here was part of that deal or acquired separately.
Despite its fairly cheap $1,600 list price, the bike receives positive reviews from police departments nationwide. They rate its comfort and ruggedness highly, but complain about the cheap tubes fitted as stock. “All of our tubes popped within months,” writes one officer. Let’s hope Cleveland saw fit to replace those before tasking the bikes to RNC duty.
Helmet: Bell Super 2
An Outside favorite, this helmet is light, extremely well ventilated, and, with the aid of a detachable chin bar, offers total impact protection for the head and face. It also includes a dedicated mounting point on top for an action camera or bike light.
On a bike, the Super 2 is comfortable and allows for a large field of vision, despite the comprehensive protection. I’ve never experienced a big impact in this helmet, but it feels extremely reassuring. You can clip off the chin bar for climbs or casual riding, but it doesn’t really get in the way of ventilation, so I just end up leaving it in-place all the time. All those attributes should benefit the riot police equally well—this thing is just a great helmet.
Light: NiteRider Lumina 800
Helmet-mounted lights are hands-free and illuminate what you're looking at. That works great on a bike, allowing you to see through corners at night, and even glance behind you to keep an eye on your riding buddies. It should be a good option for riot police too, allowing them to seamlessly transfer illumination from on-bike to off, and keeping their hands free to subdue a suspect or provide first aid. Producing up to 800 Lumens and lasting up to 18 hours, the Lumina 800 is a solid, dependable option.
Body Armor: Fox Racing Titan Sport Jacket
Plastic plates backed by foam provide excellent impact protection across the wearer’s upper body and are held together by a high-strength mesh chassis that facilitates excellent ventilation. Some of Cleveland’s riot police have been photographed wearing a similar jacket made by rival firm EVS.
I’ve crashed in similar armor many times, and can report that it offers excellent protection from penetration (think sharp branches and rocks), while reducing the forces of large impacts to manageable levels. Crashes that should break bones can be shrugged off if you’re wearing one of these. Designed for high-speed sports like downhill mountain biking or motocross, the jacket’s protection is concentrated around the shoulders, elbows, and back—particularly vulnerable areas in a crash—while the chest guard is much more lightly padded, and is mostly there to protect against penetration. That could work against wearers in a riot situation, where potential threats may be focused on the wearer’s rib cage and exposed stomach.
Gloves: Fox Racing Bomber
Mountain bike and motocross gloves typically focus on providing good grip, with a modicum of abrasion resistance, but these Bomber’s go one-step further by adding carbon fiber reinforcements across the knuckles.
I’ve ridden and crashed in a few pairs of these and can report that the Clarino (synthetic suede) palms do a good job of providing a reassuring grip even when soaked in sweat, and that they offer enough protection for a reasonably big crash in the dirt, but shred virtually instantly when in contact with pavement. Through my extensive experience falling off stuff, I’ve learned that knuckle protectors are largely just there to look cool; it’s palm sliders that prevent hand, wrist, and arm injuries. But I also have extensive experience punching stuff, and man, pointy, strong carbon fiber knuckle guards are really good at that. There, the contoured shape concentrates the forces thrown in a punch, while protecting your remarkably fragile hands from damage. These gloves are like wearing brass knuckles.
Leg Protection: Fox Racing Titan Pro Knee Guard
These are Fox’s top-tier leg protectors, shielding the lower thigh, knee, and shin from impacts. Featuring a dual-hinge design that allows a patella guard to move independently of the thigh and shin plates, the Titan Pro’s allow a full range of movement without compromising protection. These provide excellent protection against impacts, but don’t control the knee’s movement at all, so the officers will still be at risk of ligament damage from twisting and hyperextension. It’s strong hamstrings and the supporting muscles around the knee that can prevent those kinds of injuries; let’s hope Cleveland’s bike officers haven’t been skipping leg day.
Why Mountain Bike Gear?
The common theme throughout these products is that they’re light, affordable, and effective at preventing injuries in high-speed crashes. Downhill mountain bikes typically reach speeds of 40 miles per hour or higher, and a crash at those speeds can produce forces that break bones and damage organs, and that could even be fatal. Mountain bike gear protects against that while facilitating a full range of movement and keeping the wearer cool. With temperatures in Cleveland this week expected to be in the 80s and 90s, we’re guessing the officers wearing traditional body armor are looking at their bicycle-mounted colleagues in envy.