If you ever watched ‘CHiPs’, either on television or as a tongue-in-cheek film, you have certainly had some kind of education on motorcycle cops (though it may be somewhat sugar-coated and glamorized). Maybe you live in a state that utilized motorcycles to control traffic, or even escort the important people who come through your area, like the California Highway Patrol, for lack of a better example. The truth is that while the life of a motorcycle cop seems glamorous, the bikes they ride are simply tools to help these men and women enforce the law…and it doesn’t hurt that they look cool doing it, right?
But what kind of motorcycles to police officers ride, anyway? Is it one specific make all across the board, or are different bikes used by different forces? When did they start using motorcycles in law enforcement, anyway? These are all great curiosity-based questions that answers only personally satisfy, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with sitting around pondering the little things, now is there?
This is a great place to answer this question and many others associated with it: What kind of motorcycles do police officers ride? We figured we could take this opportunity to give you that answer, albeit brief, but we will also provide you with a quick history of cops and motorcycles…just to really satisfy the curious cat inside you with trivial knowledge. So, sit back, relax…oh, and don’t forget a snack. Take your mind off everything and put it on absolutely nothing; you may just discover you enjoy it.
Cops & Bikes: A Quick Rundown
As you may or may not know, motorcycles can go places cars can’t. For instance, if you’re on a bike in the middle of a serious traffic jam you can easily disentangle yourself from the mess and go on your merry way, or if there is an emergency situation that is in the middle of the commuter chaos it can be reached much faster by a bike. They are also much better on gas than conventional sedans and other cars, and they cost less to maintain overall. So, when it comes to the use of motorcycles on the police force (and by other law enforcement agencies) their use is really a no-brainer. In fact, if the police didn’t use motorcycles when appropriate and economical, it would make absolutely no practical sense at all.
Cops have actually ridden bikes while carrying out their duties pretty much since the beginning of bikes, meaning the early 20th century. The very first motorcycle patrol is the US was organized by Berkeley police chief August Vollmer way back in 1911, but that wasn’t the start of it, by any means; many police departments across the country have been able to verify using bikes on duty before that. A police officer in Portland, Oregon was known for riding his personal bike to patrol in 1909, and the Evanston, Illinois department bought their first motorcycle cop a belt-driven unit a year before that. By the 1930s the use of motorcycles by police grew quite a bit, as did their use with the armed forces. This pretty much solidified their use by law enforcement, thus creating a steady demand for specialized units, which required much customization to meet the needs of the officers that were assigned to ride them.
So, what motorcycle makers benefit from these demands? In other words, what kind of bikes do cops ride? Read on to find out…
Police Motorcycles: The Makes Typically Used
According to many sources, the main motorcycle brands used by police are BMW (Motorrad), Kawasaki, and Harley-Davidson. To give you a clearer idea of who rides what, we thought we’d cover the major law enforcement agencies around the world. This way you’ll know what’s being ridden in your neck of the woods. Before we proceed, however, we should mention the fact that Kawasaki police motorcycles were built exclusively for use by the force in Lincoln, Nebraska; this ended in 2005. Kawasaki is redesigning the Concours 14 model for use by some police as needed.
The most common police motorcycles in the UK are BMW made, specifically R1200RT-P model, but also the Yamaha FJR1300. They used to use Honda bikes, but that ceased when an officer was killed while riding, and the bike got the blame. Some vicinities in the UK use scooters rather than full-sized bikes. Triumph is also a brand that has been used a bit.
Germany uses the BMW Motorrad model mostly…almost exclusively. We expect this is out of a sense of loyalty to the German bike maker. It is also likely they have something of a long-standing relationship.
And finally, as you may already know, Harley-Davidson has been making task-specific motorcycles for police and other law enforcement agencies for decades. These bulky models are easily identified and are likely what you are used to seeing police on when they ride. However, the bulkiness has been a source of complaint over the years and many police forces are trying out bikes with smaller frames and less weight, including Zero Motorcycles, which are used by the Los Angeles Police Department. It is said that the newer model provides a level of stealth that police have never had before when assigned to ride.
In A Nutshell
There you have it: We’ve given you the most common motorcycle makes used by law enforcement the world over. Don’t get stuck on these, though. Many different models are used here and there, and as time passes cops are becoming more openminded about ‘riding outside of the box’, so to speak…in other words, don’t be surprised if you see an official riding one we haven’t mentioned. They’re trying new things every day and are focused on using the best equipment when patrolling or doing any other aspect of the job that requires it. With this being said, however, you can certainly count on seeing one of those above if you’re paying attention, because they are the most commonly used. Hope that satisfied your motorcycle cop curiosity; keep digging, and be safe out there.
Written by Benjamin Smith
Read more posts by Benjamin Smith