Police Motorcycles - What's Available and What's Coming

DEC 03, 2015 - Bikers should be pleased to learn one of the more difficult departments in Law Enforcement to join is the motorcycle unit. Generally speaking, this division usually has a waiting list for officers wanting to transfer into the unique area of two-wheeled policing.

According to Wikipedia, motorcycle units are known as "motor units" and motorcycle officers are known as motor officers.

Anyone who’s had the pleasure of watching a demonstration by a police drill team can appreciate the high level of training the officers receive, giving officers the skill sets for precise and incredible control over their bikes.

But what of the motorcycles themselves? As with any other vehicles used by police departments, manufacturers consider it a badge of honor to have their motorcycles used in the role of law enforcement. The very inclusion indicates high standards of performance and reliability.

Considering motorcycles aren’t sold to police departments individually but as a fleet, this translates to not only an immediate financial success but an ongoing benefit to the local dealership in regards to servicing this fleet of performance machines.

With all this in mind, what motorcycles are being considered by Law Enforcement agencies around the United States?

This question, and more importantly the topic of police motorcycles were brought to Clutch and Chrome’s attention when a press release crossed our desk from CSC Motorcycles announcing the introduction of their RX3-P police motorcycle to the US market.

With the history of motorcycles used by law enforcement a long and interesting one, this article will focus on what bikes police departments are currently considering. In many ways, the choices police departments face are similar to those of the everyday rider when making their own decisions on which new motorcycle to buy.

Cost is the first factor, having and running a division of motor officers isn’t cheap. Aside from the additional training mentioned earlier, law enforcement agencies face cost considerations when it comes to insurance, a heightened level of risk, maintaining the fleet and of course the limitations two wheels face when compared to a four wheeled vehicle.

This was most obviously seen during the last economic downturn when cash-strapped agencies reduced and in some cases, eliminated its motorcycle divisions. But the advantages of having police officers on motorcycles are many and consequently, so is the need of having them.

The maneuverability of the motorcycle on crowded streets offer advantages not provided by larger, more traditional police vehicles. The motorcycle's relatively small size allows it to get to accident scenes more quickly when incidents such as traffic collisions slow down access by four-wheel vehicles. Police motorcycles are also used in police funerals, VIP motorcades, and other special events.

Besides, motorcycle cops simply look cool!

A manufacturer that has been used by law enforcement agencies from the first official moment an officer sat in a saddle, Harley-Davidson is credited with selling motorcycles to police forces in Detroit Michigan as early as 1908.

Currently, Harley offer its Electra Glide, Road King and XL 883L to law enforcement agencies. The last model mentioned is promoted for community policing use. The Electra Glide and Road King both enjoy Harley’s air-cooled, High Output Twin Cam 103 with integrated oil cooler engine with the difference being faring or no fairing.

When a google search for police motorcycles is completed, the results are dominated by pictures and links to Harley-Davidson models which surely reflects their popularity with law enforcement agencies.

Harley-Davidson NYPD Style

However, when associating motorcycle brands with law enforcement, older riders may think of Kawasaki first and foremost. While the Japanese motorcycle manufacturer rode into the law enforcement segment in the late seventies, they could lay claim to being the police cruiser of choice in the eighties. Commonly known as the KZP, Kawasaki’s KZ1000P Police motorcycle model enjoyed the highest profile, thanks in no small part to its starring role in the extremely popular television series CHiP’s which followed the lives of two motorcycle police officers of the California Highway Patrol. The series ran for 139 episodes over six seasons, plus one reunion TV movie from October 27, 1998.

Just to show how popular this model was, from 1976 to 2005, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) fleet of motorcycles consisted almost entirely of motorcycles manufactured by Kawasaki. To give an idea of numbers, the fleet stood at 427 motorcycles as of 2008.

Kawasaki produced Police Specials for the North American market in a plant in Lincoln, Nebraska, with the last one built in September, 2005. However, as of 2009 Kawasaki was back in the police agency game with dealers converting the Concours 14 for police use, calling the versions Concours 14P and the Police 1400 Enforcer. This offers not only a sleek look for a police motorcycle but also a 4-stroke, 4-cylinder, DOHC, 4-valve, liquid-cooled 1,352cc engine.

This return was obviously welcomed by some larger agencies who switched back to the Kawasaki brand when they had the chance.

Kawasaki's are still loved by many Law Enforcement agencies

But Kawasaki isn’t the only foreign motorcycle brand used by law enforcement agencies.

Honda offers its ST1300PA Police Motorcycle for consideration which boasts a 1261cc DOHC 90° V-4 engine and promises to be ‘exceptionally quiet and smooth’. Many agencies agree with Honda and have adopted the model for their use ranging from Washington State Troopers to others in California. The reasons given in the video below may sound very familiar to anyone who has shopped for a new motorcycle.

A motorcycle manufacturer that has enjoyed a good relationship with Law enforcement agencies is BMW Motorrad who currently offer their R1200RT and 1150RT.  

An indication of what agencies look for can be seen in comments in a recent purchase of BMW motorcycles, ‘The new low maintenance engine utilizes a single spark plug per cylinder, combined engine gearbox lubrication, keeping operational costs to a minimum. New e­gas electronic throttle control provides precise throttle management, reduced throttle twist rotation to 70 degrees with no wear or adjustment needed due to electronic throttle actuator system The 2015 R 1200 RT­P provides the most modern, integrated lighting system available on a police motor.’

As in the world of consumer motorcycles, what could be called traditional manufacturers may need to look over their shoulders at a different form of competition. Just as everyday riders have the opportunity of going electric with their next ride, so do law enforcement agencies.

This was the case when the Scotts Valley Police Department became the first law enforcement agency in the world to add a Zero DS electric motorcycle to its fleet in 2011. This trend has continued with the LAPD looking at the option of Zero Motorcycles to fill a unique need in its fleet.

“Most importantly, our officers have an added tactical advantage while on patrol,” says Officer Steve Carbajal of the L.A.P.D. Off-Road Unit. For now, Zero says that the LAPD “purchased one MMX as a pilot program,” for use on and off-road. If it goes well, they will order more.

And these are not unique instances. In May 2015 Zero Motorcycles announced the number of police departments in the USA using the company's 100% electric motorcycles had surpassed 50.

"This is a milestone for us, as more agencies embrace the benefits of Zero Motorcycles," said Kevin Hartman, North American fleet sales director for Zero at the time of the announcmenet. "When compared to traditional police motorcycles, our patrol bikes have a lower total cost of ownership, are easier to maintain and — with minimal noise and no exhaust — are a vehicle for good community relations."

Another alternative to the traditional two-wheeled motorcycle police officer comes from BRP with its Can-Am Spyder F3-P. Reportedly, BRP consulted with police motorcycle experts to design and equip its police unit as well as to ensure the Spyder F3-P exceeded the current industry offering. The goal was to provide the best vehicle so law enforcement officers can do their job more safely, effectively and comfortably.

The Can-Am Spyder F3-P is based on the F3 model, which features a cruising riding position and a lower center of gravity, supposedly making it the most nimble Spyder yet. Along with its unique Y-frame configuration and array of sophisticated safety and security systems, the Spyder F3-P adds a layer of convenience with its police accessories such as a siren, LED emergency lights and increased cargo capacity, wired with 12V and USB connectors.

Could this be bridge between cost, convenience and maneuverability agencies are looking for?

Can-Am Spyder F3-P

While this is discussed in the governmental halls around the United States, room needs to be made for one more entry in the market of police motorcycles. Clutch and Chrome started this article mentioned the press release from CSC Motorcycles.

They are offering the CSC RX3-P police motorcycle, a 250cc fuel injected motorcycle with a 6-speed transmission, liquid cooling, electric start, skid plate, windshield, engine guards, all required police equipment, and numerous other standard features.

Reportedly, the civilian version of this motorcycle is selling well in North America.

In the writing of this article, Clutch and Chrome have viewed numerous videos showing police drill teams compete, testing new motorcycles and even training with said bikes. Some motorcycles appear to be built to maneuver around the coned thin lanes while we watched in disbelief as larger bikes were as easily thrown around the same tight corners.

Watching these videos as well as the police officers out on the streets it reminds us it’s not the quality of the tools but the skills of the craftsman, which make the difference.

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