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Motor Patrol: Working on Two Wheels

Motorcycle officers have definite opinions about what makes a good police patrol bike and what can be done to make them better.

February 01, 2004  |  by Mark Kariya

For overall comfort, the Simi officers give the nod to the BMW. The German machine places the rider in a more forward cant with the feet farther back, almost underneath the hips so jolts don't get transferred straight up the spine. "It is a very easy shift on a BMW," Coulter says. And Hampson adds enthusiastically, "Riding a BMW is more comfortable than sitting in a car."

Harley's FLHPI Road King also gets high praise for comfort from Officer Bob Cronin who's been on motors for 13 years at the Andover (Mass.) Police Department. The bike's comfort features include an air-assist saddle that allows the rider to easily adjust riding height and peddle reach.

Unfortunately for Cronin, riding a bike year-round in Massachusetts involves more comfort issues than just seat adjustment. When winter comes, he wishes his Harley had the heated grips that are standard on BMWs. Also at 6-foot, 2-inches, Cronin runs the air-assist solo saddle virtually at zero pressure so as not to place his head above the windshield. As a result, staying warm on duty deprives him of some of the benefits of the air adjustability in the seating system.

Speed and Power

Most motorcycle enthusiasts want more power, and that's also true of motor officers, but that's not a complaint that they have about any of the popular police bikes currently in use at their agencies.

And interestingly enough, most motor officers love engine power not just because it translates into more speed for pursuit. Bill Fullmer, a former California Highway Patrol motor officer who spent two years on Kawasakis, explains: "We do protective service and stuff where if the president comes in, you escort [the motorcade] and you have to be able to go real fast. We have to accelerate fast so we can get around what the Secret Service calls 'the package,' the presidential package, and stop lanes [farther up the road] again; you go up to [the next] intersection for him-kind of leap-frog. It's the closest thing to racing that I ever got to do in the Highway Patrol."

Slowing Down

On the other end of the spectrum, when it comes time to decelerate, the BMW's more modern calipers and floating rotors coupled with its partially integrated ABS represent the state of the art for police use. In a partially integrated system, applying the front brake fully activates both front calipers and partially activates the rear; applying the rear brake activates only the rear, giving experienced riders great maneuverability.

On the other hand, long-time Harley-mounted officers and experienced riders like Cronin don't see ABS as an absolute must-have, though even he admits, "It'd be nice to have in an emergency situation when you've got to clamp down [on the brakes] and don't want the wheels to skid. It's one less thing to worry about."

Due to its shaft drive and engine layout (opposed twin), the BMW does exhibit noticeable "torquing" or rocking when you get on the throttle, whether at a stop light or when exiting a turn. Kawasakis-as well as Harleys-don't have this trait, thus behaving "normally." Harley's belt drive has proven to be a decent compromise, combining the low maintenance and quiet running of a shaft with the strength and simplicity of a chain.

Getting It in Gear

None of the motor officers interviewed for this article expressed a desire for their agencies to field bikes with automatic transmissions, either of the continuously variable ratio type or automotive style. That may be due to the fact that there are currently no widely popular consumer models with an auto.

However, automatic transmissions may be the wave of the future for police motorcycles and consumer bikes. Autos are being developed in more and more of the popular ATVs, and auto transmission-equipped Honda 650 Rincons finished first and third in the ATV class at the 2002 Baja 1000.

Industry experts say manufacturers will soon be ready to produce a police motorcycle where the rider doesn't have to worry about gear selection with a transmission that is rugged enough for duty use.

Though not an all-encompassing, rigidly scientific tally of the entire population of motor officers across the country, what we discovered while researching this story was that, for the most part, officers are satisfied with their bikes. This indicates that the manufacturers have provided good police bikes.

Yet, as in most things in the vehicle world, there are a number of things that could be done to these basic models to "dial them in" and make them even better platforms, custom-tailored to their officers, the locations where they serve, and the expected rigors of their duty.

Motor officers should let the industry know what adjustments and accessories they want for their bikes. If demand is high enough, there's always a chance that these features could become readily available through the manufacturers or through aftermarket vendors.

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