Police Motorcycles

By: On: July 26th, 20080 Comments »Updated: November 30, 2012

Harley Police MotorcyclesSome of the nicest police motorcycles that I have spotted lately were at the Kyle Petty Charity Ride during it’s stop in Charlotte, NC.

There were BMW police motorcycles from the NC State Troopers, and a bunch of very classic looking Harley Davidson police motorcycles fully equipped for escorting the Charity Ride through the city traffic.

Harley-Davidson Police MotorcycleThe leading police motorcycle in the US has been Harley-Davidson since the early 1900’s.  According to Harley-Davidson, they delivered their first police motorcycle in 1908 to the Detroit Police Department. Not bikes were used in serious police business though. The comedy movie “Me, Myself and Irene”, starring Jim Carrey and Renee Zellweger, was about a Rhode Island State Trooper that rode a Harley-Davidson police motorcycle.  I loved the scene with the bugs on his face and glasses!

Old Police MotorcycleIndian motorcycles were used by several US police agencies in the early part of the century also.  Time will tell if the latest incarnation of Indian brand motorcycles, being manufactured in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, will make it far enough to be able venture into the police motorcycle business.

Harley-Davidson is still going very strong with their police specials in the US.  They state that sales of their police motorcycle have more than doubled in the last 5 years. Even so, tough competition from other brands is giving Harley-Davidson a run for their money.

BMW is one of the most popular police motorcycles to challenge the big Harley in the US.  The Honda police motorcycle, made in Ohio, sells for a few thousand dollars less, but has not caught on as well as BMW.  Because the funding typically comes from tax payers, price can be a very important factor.  The maintenance cost is also an important factor since tax payers also pay for that.

According to a March 2008 report from WFTV in Lake Mary, Florida, the maintenance cost for the Honda Police Motorcycles they recently purchased is about $2000 less per year per motorcycle, versus their Harley-Davidsons.  Unfortunately, WFTV left out a very important piece of information – it failed to mention how old those Harley’s were.  It’s pretty unfair to compare maintenance cost of an old motorcycle with loads of miles on it versus a new motorcycle, if that was the case. That same news report also mentioned that the Orlando, Florida police and the Florida State Highway Patrol in the Orlando area believe that the Harley-Davidson police motorcycles are safer.

Moto Guzzi Police Motorcycles Starsky and Hutch

As the number of people riding motorcycles continues to grow, so do the number of law enforcement agencies that are getting new police motorcycles or adding to their fleet.

In New York State for example, it has been reported that the NY state police are now increasing the size of their police motorcycle fleet to help increase motorcycle safety awareness by creating more of a presence on the roads. Hopefully, the more police motorcycles there are out there, the more drivers will get in the habit of looking out for them.  Maybe this will help decrease the number of motorcyle accidents.  It’s certainly worth a try, and we applaud them for their approach.

Getting back to some history of police motorcycles in the US, while Harley-Davidson was the dominating brand, other brands set their sites on the market for police motorcycles.  Eventually, brands from outside the US started to become more popular with police.  This really started to hit around the late 1960’s to early 1970’s.  It happened also to be a time when the US was experiencing a lot of social and political turmoil.

Moto-Guzzi Police MotorcycleMoto-Guzzi, the popular Italian motorcycle manufacturer, saw an opportunity to break into the US market via police motorcycles at that time. California was their biggest success.  With the fame of the California Highway Patrol and their long use of motorcycles, this was a perfect target for their marketing folks to go after.

A Moto-Guzzi police motorcycle was even featured on the 1970’s hit TV police show “Starsky and Hutch” during a stunt scene.

You can sometimes find these old Moto-Guzzi police motorcycles on ebay and other places for sale in fully restored or nearly ready-to-ride condition.

CHiPs Police MotorcycleKawasaki set it’s sights on the US police motorcycle market and began manufacturing a lower cost police motorcycle in Nebraska.  They swiftly took a bite out of Harley-Davidson’s and Moto-Guzzi’s market share for police motorcycle sales from that point forward.

The late-70’s popular TV series “CHiPs”, a fictional show based on the the California Highway Patrol, helped boost the image of the big Kawasaki police motorcycle.  This further helped Kawasaki police motorcycle sales spread throughout the US.

BMW Medic MotorcycleThe California Highway Patrol used Kawasaki police motorcycles for about 20 years there after.  So did a lot of other police agencies throughout the US. Finally, Kawasaki stopped production at their Nebraska plant in 2005.

One of the most dominant brands in the world today for police motorcycles is BMW.  This German manufacturer has a long history of well-made motorcycles.  They have done quite a job in selling their police motorcycles throughout the world, and yes, the California State Highway Patrol now uses these too.

A special while and blue BMW medic motorcycle was there on the Kyle Petty Charity Ride, just in case.

Vectrix Electric Motorcycle for Police

Other modern Police motorcycles on the streets today now include electric motorcycles, mainly for city or small event types of assignments.

Vectrix had been the leader in the electric motorcycle market (or electric scooter depending on your definition), has started to win over some police agencies with their model.  It has a substantial size and comfort, and is capable of carrying some of the extras that go on police motorcycles, but won’t be catching speeders on the highway anytime soon.

If you are interested in the Vectrix or other electric motorcycles, or even hybrid motorcycles, you can learn more about these in two previous articles in Motorcycle Information.



About John Clay

John Clay is the author of MotorcycleInfo.Org. He and his family reside in North Carolina in the United States. A graduate of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Experienced Rider Course, he enjoys riding his Moto Guzzi in charity rides and serves as a volunteer motorcycle marshal for an annual bicycle charity event in the Carolinas.

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