Baltimore County police Officer Ron Patton, 47, popped the front tire to jump the curb, dodged the orange cone obstacles, then screeched to a halt by his partner.
He's fully equipped to fight crime -- police radio strapped to his side, 9-mm pistol holstered. But this crime fighter isn't behind a steering wheel. He's on a bike.
Officer Patton was one of 18 police officers yesterday who graduated from the state's first cyclist training program. Fifteen Baltimore County officers, two from Bel Air and one from the Anne Arundel County Police Department took their final exams -- a 50-word written exam, a road test and an obstacle course on the University of Maryland Baltimore County campus -- to end the four-day program.
They glided through "The Serpentine" obstacle course, their sturdy-framed mountain bikes weaving around hockey pucks and orange traffic cones.
"This hurts," Officer Patton said, as he rode over a post, his small frame bouncing on the seat. "I haven't ridden a bike in over 25 years. . . . It took some getting used to, balancing it through tight areas, but bike patrolling is important to me so I won't quit."
Baltimore County's bike patrol began last summer as a four-man, six-month pilot program. The bike-patrol concept gained momentum when police sought to increase their presence through foot patrols but found they couldn't cover a lot of ground.
Although none of the county precincts has a full-time bike patrol unit, many officers ride in the communities when there are enough officers in patrol cars.
The department recently used $44,000 in seized drug assets to buy 26 mountain bikes, biking equipment and uniforms. Each precinct will get two new bikes within the next few weeks.
The 21-gear bicycles can handle any terrain, the officers said. Of course, even a rugged mountain bike can't catch a speeding car. But that's not the purpose, they said.
"We act just like cars," said Cpl. Andrew MacLellan of the Bel Air precinct. "We may get there slower with hills, but we can go through small side streets, alleys and yards."
There are three biking basics -- be seen, be predictable and always stay to the right.
"The bikes are more approachable than cars," Corporal MacLellan said. "You can see, hear and smell things that you can't in a metal car with the windows up, the air conditioner on, going 40 mph through neighborhoods."
The police bikers believe riding bikes will improve their communication with residents.
"I have found in my years on the police force guys who isolate themselves from the public," Officer Patton said.
"The public deserves more," he said. "There is a lack of communication between the two and we need more face-to-face contact, and biking through communities will help."