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Motor Patrol 2007

A review of the Big Four Law Enforcement motorcycle manufacturers.

May 01, 2007  |  by André M. Dall’au

For almost 100 years American law enforcement officers have been riding motorcycles in the line of duty. Even before Chief August Vollmer, who is credited with organizing the first official Police Motorcycle Patrol in the United States with the Berkeley (Calif.) Police Department in 1911, law enforcement recognized the value of motorcycles. The motorcycles were initially chosen for their ability to navigate the relatively poor, mostly rural roads of the time as well as their inherent maneuverability.

As the number of cars on the road soared and speeds increased, the use of motorcycles for traffic control became common. Motors have the ability to get through congestion more easily, using less gas with faster response than any other form of transportation.  

Currently in the United States, motor units are equipped with purpose-built motorcycles marketed by Harley-Davidson, Kawasaki, Honda, or BMW.


Bavarian Motor Works (BMW) started as a producer of warplanes for the Imperial German Army during WWI, a legacy that is represented today with the stylized spinning propeller on a blue sky in the center of the BMW logo. After WWII BMW became a world leader in automotive and motorcycle production. In 2000, BMW became the largest international seller of motorcycles for police, municipal, and governmental use. That year alone more than 70,000 BMW motorcycles were in the motor patrol fleets of over 130 countries on five continents, including close to 100 U.S. law enforcement agencies.

An increasing number of U.S. motor patrol officers are riding the BMW R1100RT-P, R1150RT-P, or R1200RT-P models. One of more than 400 U.S. police agencies that have converted to BMW motorcycles, Florida’s Monroe County Sheriff’s Office last year replaced its Harleys with BMW R1200 RT-Police motorcycles. Monroe County is the southern most county in the continental United States comprising the entire Florida Keys from Key Largo to Key West, with no point in the Keys more than four miles from the water. The motor officers, although some proud owners of civilian Harleys, quickly became sold on the lighter and cooler-running BMWs on the hot, mostly two-lane roads they patrol.

Sgt. Kevin Mimosa also attributes the BMW ABS to avoiding a spill and injury when a truck jackknifed in front of him. The ability of his BMW to traverse pavement/gravel/grass while making an emergency stop was thoroughly appreciated. Using the front brake only, the BMW ABS delivered 70 percent to the front wheel and 30 percent to the rear wheel and kept Mimosa upright and unhurt.

BMW R1200 RT-P

• 110 bhp 2-cylinder 4-valve head twin 1170 cc engine

• Air/oil cooling

• Electronic intake pipe injection/digital engine management BMS-K with dual ignition and overrun fuel cut-off

• Constant mesh 6-speed transmission

• 7.1 gal (with one gal reserve) fuel tank

• Steering head angle 63.4 degrees.

• IABS partial-integral brake system with independent rear wheel brake control—dual front rotor/single rear rotor

• 3-phase 720W with 1.8:1 drive ratio producing 27 amps at idle

• 19 amp/hour maintenance-free linked gel batteries

• 87.8 inches overall length

• Approximately 36-inch width

• 56.3-inch height

• Approximately 650-pound service weight with fuel

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Harley-Davidson police motorcycles have seen more than nine decades of public service and military use. It started in 1908 when Harley-Davidson delivered its first police motorcycle to the Detroit Police Department. As a result of the longterm pairing, the icon of a cop on a Harley behind a roadside billboard has undoubtedly kept Americans slower and safer.

Harleys have seen government service since before WWI when they helped Gen. "Blackjack" Pershing chase Pancho Villa across the border as well as supplying more than 88,000 motorcycles to GIs in WWII. In the last five years alone, Harley-Davidson police sales have more than doubled. Today, more than 3,300 U.S.police departments and agencies in 45 other countries use Harley-Davidson motorcycles for law enforcement. The Miami-Dade Police Department, one of the largest agencies in South Florida, decided to use the Harley-Davidson Road King as the department’s duty motor after operational trials with various motorcycles.

The deciding factors for Harley-Davidson were lower cost and ease of support. The department liked the yearly lease for an overall monthly price of about $350 per bike that includes all maintenance. A veteran Miami-Dade PD motor officer says that he likes his Harley for its power and slow speed performance due to a lower center of gravity. One local department when faced with a change to another manufacturer had a motor officer refuse to give up his Harley! This resulted in a department with one Harley and the rest new BMWs.

Both the FLHP Road King (favored in South Florida) and the FLHTP Electra Glide Police motorcycle (with a full fairing for use in more climatically challenging conditions,) now can be equipped with standard ABS. The Electra Glide and Road King are the reason why "there is something undeniably right about a cop on a Harley."

Harley-Davidson FLHTP Electra Glide Police

• Air-cooled twin cam 103-cubic-inch engine

• Electronic sequential port fuel injection (ESPFI)

• 5 gallon (with one gallon reserve) fuel capacity

• 6-speed transmission

• 1.2 kw electric start with solenoid shift starter motor engagement

• Mild steel, square-section backbone with twin downtube steel frame

• Sealed maintenance-free 12-volt, 28 amp/hour battery

• 41.3 mm telescopic fork front suspension

• Mild steel, rectangular tube sections, stamped junctions, MIG welded swing arm

• Chrome, cross-over dual exhaust

• 93.7-inch overall length

• 39-inch width

• 61-inch height

• 5.1-inch ground clearance

• 63.5-inch wheel base

• 789-pound service weight with fuel

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CONTINUED: Motor Patrol 2007 «   Page 1 of 2   »

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Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

doc384 @ 8/13/2009 12:03 PM

So if Detroit started their motorcycle program in 1908 how is it Berkley is credited for starting the first one in 1911? A little research needed here?

webedpaul @ 8/14/2009 2:56 PM

Hello Doc. Yes, Berkeley's was the first organized unit, but several other departments (including Detroit) had purchased motorcycles prior to that for patrol functions. They just didn't formally organize a motorcycle unit. Hope that helps to clarify.

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