OK, I admit it. In the years I’ve been writing “Cruiser Corner,” I’ve omitted talking about one of the most versatile and effective law enforcement transportation options, especially for traffic duties: the police motorcycle.
It’s not that I don’t like them. When you compare motorcycles to their four-wheeled counterparts, the advantages of concealment and versatility in tight traffic or urban environments make them an excellent addition to the patrol fleet, and the choice for traffic enforcement. There are a lot of options out there today, and it’s time I give props to our motorcycle officers by looking at current and emerging models in the police bike marketplace.
In recent years, the two main fighters in the police motorcycle ring have been the all-American
Harley-Davidson Electra Glide and Road King models, and the BMW R1200 RTP. Dynamically, the BMW had the performance advantage, not surprising from a manufacturer that produces some of the best-performing vehicles in the world. True, the Harley is bigger, roomier and makes a visual statement. But the BMW’s nearly 200-lb. weight advantage and shorter wheelbase (by about 5 inches) go far in delivering quick acceleration and excellent handling.
Weighing in at approximately 650 lbs., the R1200 RTP’s 1,170-cc engine is rated at 110 hp and 85 foot-lbs.of torque. According to the most recent Michigan State Police (MSP) vehicle evaluation tests, that allows the R1200 RTP to hit 60 mph in a scant 4.7 seconds and 100 mph in 11.46 seconds. This is one fast bike, and combined with its BMW-engineered front Telelever and rear Paralever suspension design, the R1200 RTP beat out all competitors on the road course in Michigan.
But just because it’s lightweight doesn’t mean its short on amenities. For 2011, the R1200 RTP comes standard with a locking integrated radio box with wiring ports and ground plate, police-specific saddlebags with optional work bag liner, a thermostatically-controlled oil-cooler radiator with computer-controlled fan, a special low first gear and 1:2.75 rear drive ratio for optimal patrol gearing, corrosion-resistant stainless-steel front and rear protection bar system, and linked auxiliary battery with eight separately fused police circuits.
It also offers the highest electrical output among police bikes with a 720-watt alternator producing 27 amps at idle, four-way emergency flashers as well as two-way rear flashers, blue license plate ID lights, ABS, a special LED emergency lighting controller, and CHP-approved run-flat tires. There’s even a new tactical rifle mount and LED takedown light that can be retrofitted to earlier models.
This is only a partial list of standard features. Bottom line: Although BMW’s R1200 RTP has been out for a few years, it still has plenty of life in it. Those that ride them swear by them.
Harley-Davidson has been supplying police motorcycles to U.S. police agencies since 1908. Today, more than 3,400 agencies rely on Harley-Davidson’s Road King and Electra Glide police models for their daily enforcement duties.
Harleys are a little different take on the police bike concept than the smaller, lighter BMW and Kawasaki. By comparison, the Harley’s 1,690-cc twin-cam engine is massive, producing 102 ft. lbs. of torque. Since the Harley is heavier than the BMW and Kawasaki, acceleration suffers, but the Harley is more about presence than outright performance. It’s a big bike made for big cops, and the fact that both models get trounced by the R1200 RTP and Concours 14 in performance comparisons doesn’t seem to affect purchases.
But perhaps it’s not meant to take on those two directly. Harleys carry a mystique that the BMW and Kawasaki can’t hope to match. It’s Roll Royce vs. Ferrari. Both are magnificent machines that fulfill the same job requirement in vastly different ways. In Harley’s case, the Road King and Electra both come with a long list of standard options, such as an air-adjustable solo saddle, ABS, a breakaway Lexan windshield and run-flat Dunlop tires.
The Electra Glide is wider, taller and slightly heavier than the Road King, with the largest difference in the choice of fairing and windshield design. Mechanically, they are the same, so performance is very close. The Electra Glide is faster than the Road King on the MSP road course (6:07.98 vs. 6:08.65), but the Road King wins out on the 0–60 mph acceleration test (5.76 vs. 5.97 seconds).
Harley-Davidson also offers a lighter, smaller version called the Sportster XL 883L Police, which features an 883-cc engine and a smaller frame and fuel tank and weighs about 300 lbs. less. All told, its lineup offers some solid models with multiple options. But no matter which way you go, there’s no mistaking what kind of bike an officer is riding when they pull up on a Harley. Just ask the LAPD and the Milwaukee Police Department, two of thousands of police agencies that like their Harleys just fine.
Honda has always been known for its reliability and its police bike is chock full of features and options. Its newest bike, the ST1300P, uses a 1,261-cc DOHC 90° V-4 that produces 125 bhp at 8,000 rpm and 85 ft. lbs. of torque at 6,000 rpm. A high-output, 660-watt air-cooled alternator is also included, but there are way too many features to enumerate them all here. Suffice it to say, the Honda has a lot going on.
For the officer, there’s a motor-driven adjustable windscreen that offers 7.4 inches and 13 degrees of adjustability, a new special patrol speedometer graduated in 2-mph increments above 10 mph, and lockable and detachable saddlebags that hold 35 liters each. As with other manufacturers, Honda offers a slew of options for the ST1300P, and although it wasn’t included in the MSP testing for 2011, one can imagine that 125 hp for a 743-lb. bike will make for some crisp performance, and the advanced suspension will offer great handling.
There was a time when Kawasaki police bikes were probably the most well-known around, and that was due in large part to the success of a little television show called “CHiPs.” The company’s Kz900 and Kz1000 bikes were prominently showcased in this wildly popular show, and for good reason. The Kz1000 was considered one of the fastest bikes produced at the time. Over the years, however, this brand waned as other companies began to make significant inroads into the marketplace.
In 2011, Kawasaki hopes to reclaim some of its lost glory with an all-new bike aimed squarely at the law enforcement market: the Concours 14 ABS Police Bike. Kawasaki says it will “lead the segment in safety, acceleration, handling and braking.” The Concours 14 Police will be delivered with a separate battery dedicated to the add-on electronics, a tighter turning radius than competitors, and custom law enforcement equipment, including an adjustable speedometer and a second wiring harness with 12 fused circuits.
At the most recent MSP, where the Concours 14 had the fastest 0–60 time (4.5 seconds), the fastest 0–100 time (9.7 seconds) and the best ergonomic score. To be fair, the BMW R1200 was faster on the road course, but the Kawasaki posted some impressive numbers there too. With its 1,352-cc displacement, the engine churns out a respectable 102 foot-lbs.of torque at 6,200 rpm to propel the approximately 688-lb. bike.
The Concours 14 comes available with traction control, ABS, a heavy-duty 41.5-amp alternator, a 441-lb. payload capacity, removable saddle bags and a three-year unlimited mileage factory warranty. The Mesa, Ariz., and the Woodburn, Ore., police departments recently integrated the Concours 14 into their fleets.
Victory Police Motorcycles
Victory is a newer name in the police bike business, but it comes from a company that’s been around for a while, making exceptionally good snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles: Polaris. This American-owned company manufacturers its products here in the U.S., and while the Victory motorcycle has been around since 1998, the company has just introduced police-specific models under the Commander and Enforcer names.
This new series is the result of four years of research and development and testing that involved police motorcycle officers who had spent years riding other bikes. According to Victory, the officers saw the opportunity to create a new bike that combined the advantages of each bike they had ridden while setting some new standards along the way.
The Enforcer model is entry-level; but the Commander Series showcases the company’s innovations. It comes in two models: The Commander I is a fairing bike, and the Commander II is a windshield bike. Both models feature the same engine/transmission configuration—a 106-cubic-inch V-twin that produces a class-leading 97 hp and best-in-industry 119 foot-lbs.of torque at a low (for motorcycles) 3,200 rpm. The Commander features an all-aluminum frame that uses the engine as a stressed member of the chassis, which allows for responsive handling and acceleration and nearly 600 lbs. of payload capacity. The saddlebags on the Commander series have a combined 21-gallon capacity and the suspension is adjustable for riders from 5'2" to 6'8" without having to alter the bike.
All Victory bikes come equipped with fully adjustable foot controls and full chassis skid plates, which makes them unique in the police bike marketplace. The Victory wasn’t part of the MSP testing this past year, but the company claims the Enforcer I and II will reach 60 mph in approximately 4.5 seconds, and with its many unique features, made-in-America construction and great styling, it definitely warrants a look.
In the “now for something completely different” category, Zero Motorcycles has just started offering a police version of its all-electric dirt bike. The Santa Cruz, Calif.-based company has been producing all-electric dirt bikes for some time, but only recently entered the law enforcement market.
Based on their DS (Dual Sport) series, the dirt/street bike for police agencies offers zero emissions and the inherent advantage of maximum torque at low rpm, thanks to the electric motor onboard. Weighing a scant 300 lbs., the ZERO DS can accelerate from 0–30 in approximately two seconds, and has a range of approximately 58 miles on a single charge with a top speed of 67 mph. That may not seem like much on both counts, but if your agency is a college campus or small town, the fact that you can have a dual-purpose, maneuverable, zero-emission enforcement tool—and one that looks pretty cool too—might make the ZERO DS what you are looking for. The fact that the bike will only cost you about 50 cents to fully recharge adds to its advantage.
So far, the only agency using a ZERO DS in the field is the Scotts Valley (Calif.) Police Department, but expect more agencies to follow suit as word gets out and battery ranges increase.
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