When Jon and Ponch jumped on their Kawasaki C-Series motorcycles and chased criminals around the Los Angeles area in the TV show CHiPs, one thing was clear: The motorcycles made their pursuits faster and easier, especially in traffic-prone LA.

Motorcycles have been used in police work since the early 1900s. Purpose-built police motorcycles used primarily for traffic enforcement and escort duties have a long history.  Many departments around the country have laid claim to being the first to use motorcycles as patrol vehicles. Harley-Davidson credits Detroit, Michigan, with being the first purchaser of police motorcycles in 1908. The Evanston, Illinois, Police Department says it purchased a belt-driven motorcycle for its first motor unit in 1908, and the Portland, Oregon, Police Bureau had a police officer who used his personal motorcycle to patrol the city as early as 1909. According to the Berkeley, California, Police Department, Chief August Vollmer is credited with organizing the first official police motorcycle patrol in the United States in 1911.

Due to their dependability, some consistent makes have been used throughout the history of police motorcycles. These include well-known names like Harley-Davidson, Kawasaki and BMW as well as Honda and Victory.


Since 1908, Harley-Davidson has dominated the police market, and in that time the company has offered several models as police motorcycles. For 2016, Harley-Davidson is offering the Electra Glide, Road King and XL 883L in police configurations.

According to Harley-Davidson, all of the company’s 2016 police motorcycles provide maximum value for agencies, with some of the lowest initial purchase costs for police motorcycles along with the lowest ongoing maintenance costs in the industry.  The 2016 Electra Glide Police is powered by a 1,690cc High Output Twin Cam 103 engine, which adds a 6 percent increase in horsepower and a 4 percent increase in torque over previous model years.  Additionally, the 2016 motorcycles feature a 29-degree steering head angle and a changeover to a lighter open-concept wheel. Harley also continued with its Reflex Linked Brake System with ABS, which electronically links the front and rear brakes when traveling over 25 mph for better stopping, and unlinking them at slower speeds to allow for more control and refined maneuvering.

The redesigned hand control system features speed capture, cruise control and push-to-talk functions—all with one-touch buttons. The emergency lights can all be controlled independently. “Stealth mode” even allows all exterior lights (except instruments and brakes) to be turned off in order to preserve the element of surprise.  The Road King offers dual halogen lamps with a 1,570-lumen high beam, and the Electra Glide has patented Daymaker LED headlights, with a viewing area that is extra wide to illuminate any surrounding areas.

BMW’s Bikes

The BMW line of motorcycles for police use includes the new R 1200 RT-P, which uses a new boxer air/water-cooled engine producing 125 horsepower and 92 foot-pounds of torque. The engine four-stroke twin engine features a double overhead camshaft and wet sump lubrication.  The electronic throttle control provides precise throttle management and reduces the throttle twist rotation to 70 degrees, with no wear or adjustment needed due to the electronic throttle actuator system.

The R 1200 RT-P also has a new emergency lighting system that provides four times the forward intensity of the prior model, enclosed takedown lights and alley lights that provide exceptional illumination, plus an alternating wig-wag function to maximize visibility. In short, all of the R 1200 RT-P’s innovations have made it quite in demand in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world.

Victory On Patrol

One of the newest American motorcycle manufacturers is Victory, which is based out of Tucson, Arizona. Victory offers its police motorcycles in its Commander series.  The drive train of both Commander models come standard with 106-cubic-inch V-Twin engines offering 97 horsepower and 119 foot-pounds of torque.  The engines come with six-speed, true-overdrive, constant-mesh transmissions with carbon-fiber-reinforced drive belts.  The frame has a patented, air-adjustable, rear mono-shock design; inverted front forks; and the lowest seat height on the market. All of this combines for a nimble, lightweight, responsive and fast-handling machine.  Several lighting options are available, with rearward-, front- and side-facing lights.

Electric Motorcycles

With today’s technological advances and environmental concerns, electric motorcycle companies have begun starting up and offering police models, including the Victory’s Empulse TT electric motorcycle as well as the Zero SP,  the Zero DSP and the Zero FXP.

Generally, these electric motorcycles are lower in cost that traditional gasoline-powered models and have less ongoing maintenance needs, though they have less range. Typically they have a range of less than 189 city and highway miles and take about seven hours to gain a full charge through a typical wall outlet. Of course, specialized equipment will bring the charge time down by several hours, and newer models are going farther than ever before. These electric motorcycles are currently being tested for law enforcement use and offer an option for departments in search of new bikes.

Cruisers and SUVs may be the most visible police vehicles, but motorcycles continue to patrol and enforce traffic laws with superior handling and speed. With advances in technology, these steadfast workhorses are only getting better and better for law enforcement use.

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