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.
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".
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,