EMS Bikes

Our last post was dedicated to bicycle police, and the utility of using the bicycle as a vehicle for patrol and law enforcement. Next up in our now 4-part series dedicated to emergency and patrol cycling services are EMS (emergency medical service) bicycles. Originally, I had identified three categories of emergency and patrol cycling services – police, EMS, and search and rescue – but I am adding a 4th for fire. Header photo credit to Design for Development.

History of EMS Bikes

The history of EMS bikes is a bit more hazy than the history of police bikes. According to A Brief History of EMS Cycling by Maureen Becker, which is available at the IPMBA website, medics who used bicycles may have done so initially as an alternative to walking when they were working at large special events. Nonetheless, much like police bicycle use, medic bicycle use was intermittent throughout the United States for many years. One of the earliest units to purchase bicycles for department use was the Indianapolis Fire Department in approximately 1984, and they had established an official bike team by 1989. However, in the 1990’s, more and more official EMS cycling units began to appear around the United States and in Canada.

For the most part, EMS and medic bike units are used for special events. Bicycles can be more effective in large, crowded spaces, as they are naturally much faster than walking and can also haul a lot of special gear and equipment. Nonetheless, there are a number of more permanent medical bike units around the U.S., most notably a EMS bike team founded in 1995 in Florida to patrol bike trails and the International Drive corridor, and a weekend EMS bike team in Nashville, TN, founded in 1997 in response to a 25 minute ambulance delay to reach a heart attack victim due to large crowds. EMS bike units were also formed to patrol airports, again due to long distances and large crowds. The first airport EMS bike units were founded in 1998 in Eau Claire Airport, Wisconsin, and Vancouver International Airport (British Columbia). The IPMBA (International Police Mountain Bike Association) founded the IPMBA EMS Cyclist Program in 1997 and helps to train EMS cyclists to ride with heavy loads in large crowds, among other things.

EMS Cycling Procedures

Today, EMS Cycling is relatively common, especially for special events, in tourist areas, college campuses, airports, train stations, amusement parks, and other crowded areas that take up a significant geographical area, but which may not be accessible by motorized vehicle in many circumstances. In many cases, when an ambulance cannot reach a patient due to access through crowds or barriers and a person on foot might be too slow, a bicycle medic is the best solution, as the bicycle can haul a significant amount of weight. Additionally, people are more likely to move out of the way of a bicycle, rather than a person, but it is sometimes difficult to get large crowds to make way for a large vehicle like an ambulance.

ipmba-ems2-course-400Photo credit – IMPBA

EMS bikes are usually deployed to an event or location in addition to an ambulance. For example, at a large event, an ambulance will be located somewhere on the premises, in order to transport a victim to a hospital, if necessary. The main purpose of the bicycle unit is to get to a patient as quickly as possible and provide care until the patient can be taken to the ambulance or the ambulance is able to reach the patient.

EMS/ Medic Bicycles

EMS bikes, much like police bikes, are often of the mountain bike variety. EMS bikes are usually equipped with bike racks and bike bags to carry the necessary gear such as ALS (advanced life support), BLS (basic life support), oxygen, communication equipment, warning devices, and more. Some EMS bikes are of the electric bicycle variety, which makes a great deal of sense, as time is usually of the essence in the EMS world, and electric bicycles provide a little bit of assist for medics carrying a lot of gear and covering long distances.

NewOrleansEMSBikePhoto credit – City of New Orleans

Ambulance Bicycles

In many developing countries, there are not many ambulances or EMS units to start with. In many cases, emergency medical care and transportation is provided by the local community. Much like in the U.S., however, the bicycle can often mean the difference between life and death, and in many places, ambulances bicycles that actually transport patients are becoming more and more common.

One of the most famous bicycle ambulance projects is the Bambulance, which was created by the charity Design for Development Society. The Bambulance is a sustainable vehicle made from locally grown bamboo in Kenya and other African countries. This video shows the process involved in creating the Bambulance.

I will dedicate a full post to the Bambulance and other bicycle ambulances sometime in the future. Next up in our series, fire fighting bikes!

Emergency and Patrol Bike Service Series

Sign up for our Adventure-Packed Newsletter

Get our latest touring, commuting and family cycling posts and sales delivered to your inbox!
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

0 thoughts on “EMS Bikes”

  1. SoCalFIREEMS says:

    IPMBA Bike Medic Operations Course – Level 1
    April 20th – 23rd, 2010
    Santa Clarita, CA
    Instructor, Robert Dunivin, LAFD Bike Medic Team
    (Registration cut off date is April 9th. 2010)

    Southern California FIRE & EMS is the only provider of the IPMBA Bike Medic course offered in the entire State of California. The course will be taught in beautiful Santa Clarita, CA. adjacent to Six Flags Magic Mountain. All lodging information will be provided after registration is received.

    DESCRIPTION: Safety, job performance, and efficiency are at the root of this training program. EMS personnel on bikes can frequently respond more quickly than those in motor vehicles, especially in congested urban areas and in crowds. They are also effective in search-and-rescue operations, such as those resulting from natural disasters. Students learn basic and emergency bike-handling skills, riding single and in pairs under various traffic conditions, ways to effectively and safely pack equipment, techniques designed to safely handle EMS scenes, and personal safety techniques. This course is a must for EMS and SAR personnel seeking to develop and improve their riding skills and their use of the bike on the job.

    PREREQUISITE: Applicants must be EMS or SAR personnel currently assigned to bike patrol, officers applying to become members of a bike unit, or members of a department considering use of the bicycle.

    COURSE LENGTH: This is a 32 hour course that will be conducted in Santa Clarita, CA. This course will be instructed by LAFD Firefighter Robert Dunivin, instructor/coordinator for the LAFD Bike Medic Team. Robert has joined Southern California FIRE & EMS as a training officer and operations officer.

    TESTING PROCEDURE: Written & on bike
    Certification: IPMBA Certification is available to qualified personnel who successfully complete the practical test, earn a score of 76% or better on the written test, become members of IPMBA, and submit applications for certification accompanied by the appropriate fee.

    TUITION: $375.00 (includes 1 year membership into IPMBA and the Guidebook to Public Safety Cycling)
    $325.00 for current IPMBA members (Please email us prior to pre-registering)

    REQUIRED EQUIPMENT: (www.socalfireems.com)

    DATES: April 20th – 23rd, 2010

    TIME: 8:00am – 5:00pm

    LOCATION: Santa Clarita, CA

    To be placed on the bike medic certification course mailing list, email us at training@socalfireems.com

    1. Hi SoCalFIREEMS,

      Thanks for all the information on the EMS bike course. Looks like emergency and patrol services by bike are doing well there!

  2. loui says:

    video for ems bike. hellenic red cross http://vimeo.com/39767093

  3. Rob Johns says:


    Great article! Thank you!

    You may be curious to follow what we are doing here in Victoria, BC.


    We ran an event last summer to proof out he concept – the Tour de Disaster. There are some news stories and video online if you are curious.

    I am keen to hear if others are incorporating people with bicycles into their community emergency preparedness efforts.


Leave a comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


40% Off Croozer Trailers while supplies last Buy Now

Scroll to Top