Thursday, February 05, 2009

A new American police bike.

There have been a few tried and true brands being used as police bikes. Once in a while a different manufacturer enters the fray. Such is the case with Buell. They're now offering a bike based on the Ulysses. More on that later. First, I thought I'd share a few things you might find interesting as a lead in.

As you've read, here, I've been privileged to participate in training motor officers. That's an interesting world. It's fun and deadly serious at the same time. Police training is like working with civilian experienced riders but taken to a much higher level. Both in the skills we teach and in the extremely competitive nature of the officers. Things can get pretty intense. I've seen a few crashes when a cop pushed it a little too far. The officers are used to a chain of command so they give the instructors some respect. However, they're great at sniffing out weakness so instructors can't live on the hierarchy very long. Respect has to be earned. Like I say, this is serious business.

Taking it to a bigger track for high speed training gets even more intense. Some of the officers are probably better riders than I'll ever hope to be. And that's saying something. Take this officer. You can see Sophie in the background. I snapped the picture while getting ready to unleash him. In a "chase the rabbit" exercise, he's waiting for two other motors to pursue him. This officer could run anybody down, anywhere. Funny, too, because off the bike he looks like somebody's genial grandfather. Just don't mess with him!

This is all just training, as serious as it may be. In the real world, much is demanded of the officer and the bikes they ride.

Various bikes have been used. This isn't an attempt to list them all. Japanese police have used Honda VFR800's and British police have used Norton and Manx bikes, to name a few other examples. I'm going to stick to a few American highlights.

One of the first bikes to be used were the Indians and Harley Davidsons. Pretty natural choice to use American made bikes. I still see Harleys being used by a lot of departments. Sorry to say I've never seen an Indian bike still in use.

This photo is from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol's archives. Their motorcycle patrol division still uses the Harleys. The reason I used this photo is because they also use a totally different kind of bike as a supplement to the Harleys. More on that in a bit.

If you're interested in a short history of the use of Harley Davidsons as police bikes, Harley's website has a page devoted to that. Click here if you'd care to check it out.

Weirdly enough, it's the early police bikes that helped start the old "lay it down" thing. Effective brakes were non-existent. If an emergency stop were required while riding at higher speeds, the only real way to stop the bike was to lay it down and make it an anchor. That's what officers were taught. Thank goodness that brake technology caught up to the speeds bikes are now capable of. I just wish the old wive's tale would go away!

Another bike that came along is the venerable Kawasaki KZ1000P. This bike was featured in the old TV series "Chips".

This photo is from Wikipedia and shows some "P" model bikes in downtown L.A. Just a couple of trivia things from the TV series. The bikes used by Ponch and Jon were actually the "C" models. These bikes had an oval windshield instead of the full fiberglass fairing of the "P" model shown here. On Wikipedia it claims that Eric Estrada had never ridden a motorcycle before. He took eight weeks of training to be able to ride for the series. Apparently, he didn't actually have a valid motorcycle endorsement the whole time he was involved in the series. He finally got it after three tries while trying out for a later reality show. Interesting irony, isn't it?

Anyway, the KZ1000 motor is practically bulletproof. The one big complaint is the flex in the frame. At any speed over about 80 mph, the frame flexes like a jelly spined snake. Enter the BMW.

Here's the ad used to promote the RT series police bikes.

The BMW is widely used by agencies these days. The bikes were first offered as the RT1150 version. Now most are the RT1200. I loved the look of the front end of the 1150 because it had such flowing, sweet lines. The 1200 looks like parts were just stacked on top of each other.

I took this photo of the two side by side. The 1200 is on the left and the 1150 on the right. Everyone has their own preferences so your opinion might vary.

What all the officers do agree on, though, is that the 1200 is a significant improvement in power. Both bikes have great cornering abilities and stable suspensions as I can attest to by riding and chasing them on the tracks.

One not so bright spot is the maintenance issues surfacing recently. Final drives are one thing that's been problematic. A motor officer from Southern Oregon told me that the letters BMW are starting to stand for "Buy More Warranty". I hope these things get straightened out eventually. These are awesome motorcycles. I've seen some GS dual sport versions being used by agencies in the Southern Oregon Coastal Dunes.

Another player is Honda. They've been offering the ST1300 as a police model for a while. Here's a picture of one belonging to the Oregon State Police.

Of course, you know I've been a staunch fan of the Honda sport tourers. Following these bikes on the track, it seems they scrape earlier than the BMWs. Earlier, even, than Sophie. Still, they're reliable and quite a number of agencies are using them. The one concern is instability at triple digit speeds. There have been a few officers involved in high speed crashes blamed on this problem. However, for every bike that was deemed unstable, there's a much larger number that have shown no issues at all while being ridden that fast. It's like some sort of random steering head bearing thing.

What the BMW and the Honda have going for them is outstanding ABS. The systems cycle quickly and smoothly. In fact, it was standing next to these bikes as I coached 70 mph quick stops that made me go buy a new bike with ABS. Harley Davidson is offering ABS on the police bikes, too. To the best of my knowledge, though, their system cycles more slowly than the Honda and BMW. Kawasaki hasn't offered a police bike since 2005, I believe, although many are still in use.

Speaking of the Harley, there was an officer from Milwaukie on an older Harley. In the maximum braking exercises, he was getting some outstandingly short stops. With no ABS! He didn't act at all nervous as the front wheel chirped. That's one of the bravest men I've ever known!

I mentioned the Oklahoma Highway Patrol earlier. They are still using the Harley Davidson but a new bike has been added.

Using drug money, a division has been added that uses the Suzuki Hayabusa. These bikes are used for actual patrols and other police work. The main intent, though, was to better interact with the local sport bike riders. Their motto is "No Squids".

Not all the bikes are so obviously marked. I'm sure there's more than a few sport bike riders who were totally shocked to be pulled over by one of the Kings of Sportbikes!

There's a blog that is updated very infrequently by this division. The archives are kind of fun to check out, either way. You can find it here.

It's been kind of a long journey but we finally come back to the Buell. Here's a picture of their offering in the police bike category.

This is the Buell Ulysses XB12XP bike, based on the standard Ulysses Adventure. I don't know much about these bikes. Dean W is actually the one who made me aware of it. Some magazine articles have given the standard bike positive reviews. Some people have told me the seat amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

I can see some situations where it would be advantageous to have a more so-called dual sport bike. What's really interesting to me is that the website touts the passenger capability as a selling feature. It makes me wonder how well they really know cops! The bag configuration is sure to be changed, I think.

Just in case you're interested, you can check out the specs here.

I hope this works out well for Buell / Harley Davidson. Since there's been some good, but not "perfect" bikes out there, it would seem there's room for new players. I always like to see American companies do well, too. I hope an agency around here decides to try one or two. Maybe I can get my hands on one to check it out personally!

Miles and smiles,



fasthair said...

Mr. IronDad: Some years back Harley Davidson had a traveling police officers rider training semi they would make the rounds with. I have no idea if they still do but anyway. While out on a Sunday ride I came across this big rig set up in a parking lot here. After seeing it there for a few days I stopped in to talk to the gentleman who was relaxing in his lawn chair. It was clear that is was some sort of riders course because of the orange cones placed all over the place. I asked the fellow what was the deal and he told me about the HD thing and how when a police department bought a fleet HD would bring this rig around to train the officers. Our local boys used the bikes for about two years and now no longer use them and I’m not sure why. It’s been over ten years since I’ve seen them out on them. As far as I know they still have them just collecting dust in the garage.

When I asked him if he would mind if I ran the course he said sorry but it’s against the rules. Kind of bummed me out but that’s the way it goes. Looking at the course I wasn’t sure I could do it without tapping a foot down a time or two. The instructor told me some stories of how these officers would crash these bikes pretty hard. One even doing several endos before coming to a rest. To his amazement the guy got right back on and finished the course. He was pretty amazed at the beatings these bikes took during the course of a year. All had scares of the punishment they gone through. These were Baggers (FLH in HD speak) models that they used.


Charlie6 said...

great report on police bikes and the many marques involved....for the record, I like the looks on the 1150RT Beemers over the 1200s....

I've seen one Blue Knight competition where local motor officers competed at slow speed maneuvering....the skills they displayed were awesome!

fasthair said...

Oh yah forgot this part. I would about *&%# my pants if I seen a 'Busa come up behind me flashing the red and blues at me!!! Could you imagine that one?

Allen Madding said...

I'm still laughing at buy-more-warranty. After all the hubaloo that people talk about BMW superiority, I have noted they seem to have just as many problems as an American brand that sports riders like to throw rocks at :)

I can't get over those 'busa State Trooper bikes. That is just freaking awesome.


Stacy said...

Terrific post. I wonder if they're going to issue the officers some heat-resistant pants to use while riding those Buells.

Heinz N Frenchie said...

Great article and photos. The police in our area all use Harleys. Last April we went to see a Police Motorcycle Rodeo and took a lot of photos. There was some really good riders and beautiful machines. We were amazed at how they could handle those monster Harleys. And Harley Davidson was there with a big trailer of bikes and an exposition.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear IronDad:

Great post! Lots of history and intersting facts. I can tell you that no one is more critical of BMW rear ends than BMW riders. Yet the reported figures show there have been 167 rear end claims fled against the warranty since 2000. It has also been reported that BMW is quietly extendng rear end warranties and replacing any failures "no questions asked." There do not appear to have been any cases reported in the media of a replacement rear failing.

It should be noted, however, that BMWs tend to be high-mileage bikes. In my club, a machine with 80,000 miles on it is generally regarded as "new."

I enjoy your blog a lot.

Fondest regards,
Twisted Roads

Anonymous said...

Awesome article!!

In Johannesbug they use beemers, i think the 1150's, although they can't ride AT ALL.

It's so bad you can actually ride with them and tease them with no numberplate, they'll never catch you.

The other problem they have is equipment, somehow our metro police don't see the point in giving anymore than helmes. Not gloves, not protected jackets, nothing.

Through "Think Bike" we're working on befriending and educating these officers, but they certainly don't get the admiration your cops get.

The Pretoria metro police bikers also use beemers, and they get our respect. Well trained, disciplined and friendly, they are the standard that should be upheld.

Curiously, the pretoria guys WILL NOT under any circumstance cross into the neighbouring johannesburg's jursdiction. While they technically could, the rivalry is so bitter as to be counterproductive.

There are other metros that use bikes, i saw a vstrom 1000 the other day, it looked quite good! That was in a rural area, i've also seen yamaha tw200's in use.

PS ... beemers quality is over rated ;-)
They're very popular in sa, and the owners have as many problems, if not more as the jap bikes. They're also markedly more expensive than the jap selection.


Joe said...

Great article that I linked to with positive comment.

Dean W said...

I thought everyone knew BMW meant "Bring More Wampum"...

So, how could you do an entire blog entry on police bikes, and manage not to mention this beauty?

fasthair said...

Yah Dean you got to wonder how IronDad missed that one :)


Young Dai said...

Hullo from UK. On our-side of the pond things are a little different still. It was the death of one of our Motorcycle Officers on the Merseyside force that resulted in the withdrawal of Honda ST1300s from UK police forces a couple of years ago. Although the European magazines had been reporting that the ST1300 suffered from a high speed 'weave' almost from its introduction, it was following a cononer's report that dammed the bikes the Big H bought all the UK police spec ST1300's back, quietly converted them back to civilian mode and punted them back out on Flea-bay. Some rider forums have suggested that the stiffer rear spring unit fitted to the Pol-Spec bikes because of the additional weights carried, together with an interaction between the off center location of the beacon pole and the rear light bar all came together with a poor road surface to cause the crashes.

But for whatever reason at the time Honda did not seek to appeal the provision findings of the court or to alter the design, they just took it off the road. Suprisingly however the Uk Paramedic services have continued to be supplied with new bikes. While they are generally loaded to greater weights than police bikes I suppose they have less chance to get up to warp speed in-town so the risk is seen as less.

Therefore those forces that have retained a 'bike' section are now almost exclusively BMW based, although Yamaha has been offering the FJ1300 with limited success.

It is really only within Greater London (The Metropolitan Police),where the garages retain a full range of motorcycle duties including fast pursuit and their own training section. In other forces the training costs, and the perceived inflexibility and vulnerablity of the resource means that operational units are being reduced and are mainly used simply for road safety or general patrol work.
Because of its catchment area the Met has a lot of close escort work handled by the Special Escort Group. This is a link to a film of a training run from London Heathrow Airport to the Team's HQ just past the Houses of Parliament at the height of the evening rush-hour. In this case it is not highspeed but slow speed control that is a joy

I apologise in advance for the music choice

Young Dai said...

The link didn't work, got to Live Leak and search under Special Escort Group.

Bryce said...

I suspect no one machine is perfect for a myriad of applications.
Buell does not have a sterling reputation as a brand name; but then neither does H-D.
However because there is a police service model of machine available police departments continue to use the product.
Have seen the effects of high speed accidents with the ST-1300 (it's not pretty) and also am aware some jurisdictions use BMWs.
My own gut feeling is use that which serves the purpose best. Where I live motorcycles are simply not used in the winter; too many problems with ice, snow and salt.
So machines here get used maybe from the first week of April through the end of October.

Having found I can't fit on any h-D product would think a Buell would be less suitable. It all depends upon the purpose for which the machine is bought.

Is a H-D police bike capable of sustained operation at speeds exceeding 100mph; or will the machine even attain that speed? Maybe the Hayabusa time has come; then again the rider has to be slim and small to fit on the machine I would guess.

Dean W said...

Young Dai- Lots of departments on this side of the Atlantic are getting out of their ST1300s, too, for the same reason. The local departments that stay in town are OK with them, but most of the road patrol groups are going back to BMWs.

Not every ST1300 seems to have the issue, but there's no apparent telling which ones will. I know one department had a bike that was so scary they broke it up for scrap rather than sell it to the public...

FJRs never made it as police bikes here; even though most of the emergency lights are LEDs now, the FJR's alternator is believed to be a bit weak for law enforcement use.

Anonymous said...

Just to add, Cape Town recently purchased a fleet of ST1300s. Media here picked up the history, but honda and CT metro claim that those reports are rubbish (?)

The loaded weight and high speeds were the apparent cause of the wobble, which they claim has been resolved.

David said...

I remember seeing pics of a VStrom police version, and a few years ago they were on TV (The Kawasaki version sold in Europe during the Suzuki/Kawasaki cooperation phase) doing escort duty on the Tour de France. As a 'Strom rider, I think it would make a great police bike, as long as you replace the factory seat.

Dave T

irondad said...

I believe Harley still has that program. There's a police training course that's open to civilians. If you ever get to the Seattle area, of course. Even the good riders crash several times a day for a while!

Thanks for agreeing with me on the 1150! That's one of my mottos. First you get good, then you get fast. Slow speed skills do count for a lot.

I'd almost be tempted to go back if I could ride a Hayabusa!

Those and extra pads for other areas, I suspect.

Take care,


irondad said...

Heinz & Frenchie,
It really is amazing how much low speed control is available with the proper technique. Thanks for the kind words about the post.

Thank you, too, for the favorable comments. I think that was a part of the frustration. A lot of folks have expressed that they didn't think BMW owned up to problems. Sounds like that is quietly happening, now.

Good point about the high mileage.

I've seen some officers that I really worry about as far as riding skills, or lack thereof, goes. A TW200 as a police bike? That would be interesting!

I responded over on your blog. Thanks for stopping by.

I seriously didn't know of any FJR's here in the US. Thanks for the reminder. See the next post.

Take care,


irondad said...

Young Dai,
Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing. I agree that it seems to be the weight distribution and speeds that plague the ST1300. One of the advantages to the medical responders is that they can get there a little ahead of the regular vehicles. That makes a big difference in things like heart attacks. Like you say, the speeds aren't usually there as they are urban crawlers.

Over here, retired Kawasaki police bikes are a big choice for things like funeral escorts, etc.

I agree that there isn't a perfect bike out there. Most police bike chases are more like drag races than high speed sustained things.

I really don't know about the HD top speeds. Have to check it out.

Dave T,
Why not a 'Strom? It sort of looks like a bulldog with wide shoulders and a narrow rear. Perfect for authority, right?

Take care,


Young Dai said...

I may have missed out on your humour (so apologise if i now appearto be an arse), but having seen the London Parmedic bikes on a regular basis (we have their main control centre a mile up the road from my office), the last thing I would class them as is Urban Crawlers.

Their riders are all trained at the Met school at Hendon in North London (Unofficial motto : Golf Lima Foxtrot.........Go Like Fff.)

You can punt a Pan along pretty quickly in 2nd and 3rd gears, when you have mind to it and it is the firm's bike and those guys don't tend to let their coffee's get cold.