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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Honda Motor Co., a Japanese engine manufacturer and engineering corporation, has been selling motorcycles in the U.S. since 1959. Honda is the largest manufacturer of motorcycles in the world, a distinction that it has had since the 1970s.

Honda realizes that law enforcement wants very similar performance to what civilian motorcycles already have. With the Honda ST1300PA, motor officers can now experience Honda's legendary quality and reliability. The ST1300PA features a wide range of improved braking and steering control features including a life-saving ABS for crisis stops.

Honda ST1300PA Police Motorcycle

• 1261 cc liquid-cooled longitudinally mounted 90-degree DOHC, four valves per cylinder V-4 engine producing 125 bhp at 8,000 rpm

• PGM-FI carburetion with automatic enricher circuit for a smooth and linear throttle response

• Five-speed transmission

• 679 pounds dry weight

• Front brakes: Dual full-floating 310mm disc with LBS three-piston calipers

• Rear brakes: Single 316mm disc with LBS three-piston caliper with ABS

• Dual-section fuel tank places 5.5 gallons of fuel in the conventional tank location with an additional 2.2 gallons located in a sub-tank positioned low in the chassis

• 45mm HMAS cartridge fork with 4.6 inches travel front suspension

• HMAS gas-charged single shock with five-position spring preload adjustability with 4.8 inches travel rear suspension

• Adjustable 3-position dual-density solo seat with a height of 31.1 inches

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Many people were exposed to Kawaski police motorcycles every week for years when Ponch and John showed California traffic enforcement Hollywood style. Their Kawasaki 1000s used in the old TV show "ChiPs" motivated an entire generation of future motor officers. The California Highway Patrol, like many other departments and agencies, has since transitioned to new BMWs for their motor patrol since Kawasaki stopped producing KZP Police Specials for the North American law Enforcement market in September 2005. However, Kawasakis are still in use with many major law enforcement agencies and many private companies providing motor-escort services.

The KZP Police Specials are stable and responsive with the typical Kawasaki fast pick-up and comfortable ride. Since the KZP is heavy (600 pounds) and a very powerful motorcycle, additional training by police instructors familiar with the characteristics of the KZP is recommended.

Kawasaki KZ1000

• 80 horsepower 4-stroke transverse in-line four cylinder 998 cc engine DOHC with 2 valves per cylinder

• Air/Oil cooling

• Mikuni Bs34 x 4 carb with Transistor Controlled Breakerless Ignition (TCBI)

• 5-speed transmission

• 4-gallon fuel tank

• Double cradle, heavy-duty steel frame

• Rake/trail 27.0 degrees/4.5 inches

• 38 mm telescopic hydraulic fork front suspension

• Swing arm with twin adjustable shocks rear suspension

• Dual hydraulic discs / Single disc for front and rear braking

• 90.2-inch overall length

• 35.2-inch width

• 61.4-inch height

• 6.3-inch ground clearance

• 30.7-inch seat height

• 596-pound curb weight with fuel

André M. Dall'au, a former U.S. Air Force pilot, currently holds a position in corporate nuclear assurance. He is a freelance writer and photographer and a video camera operator who has assisted in producing dozens of programs, including "The Complete History of the U.S. Navy SEALs," which aired on The History Channel.