Harley-Davidson has seen a lot of competition for the police bike market over the last few years, most notably from BMW, starting with the R1100RT-P to R1200RT-P. Honda has been making inroads on Harley’s market share, too.
Yakima, Washington is now is the latest police agency to dump the Harley bikes they’ve been riding, to switch to the Honda ST1300-P.
The California Highway Patrol’s dismissal of the HD bikes in favor of the R1100RT-P back in 1997 was the first major blow to harley’s dominance of this market in the US–although Kawasaki had made some inroads with the CHP with the Kawasaki 1000 Police Bike. And once the CHP made the switch, most other agencies went along with it too, either wholly or in part. And, since California tends to be a trendsetter in police operations, as in popular culture, that gave BMW a big and continuing boost with agencies all across the country.
It’s difficult to see how the MoCo reverses this trend with their current lineup of bikes. Police bikes generally have to do things that civilian bikes usually don’t. As Yakima PD spokesman Sgt. Gary Jones puts it:
“We have to be able to go over the curb, sidewalk ditches and [the] low ground clearance on Harley got hung up on breaking the stand kicks,” said Sgt. Jones.
Apparently, reliability was an issue to, as the (poorly written) story notes:
Riding more than 50,000 miles [per year], officers say, the Harley Davidson’s only lasted a few years and maintenance was costly. Agility is a top priority for the way police use motorcycles.
The trouble with Harley’s touring bikes, which are the generally used models for police purposes, is that they reflect design trends of 60 years ago. Now that’s something about which HD is proud, and it’s also a key selling point for their rider community. But that very design makes them, in the modern world, less suitable for police use when more up-to-date bikes are available, with their shorter wheelbases, higher ground clearance, lighter weight (not that the ST1300 is a lightweight bike by any means), and significantly better handling and performance.
The Buell division does make the Ulysess available in a police model, and that seems like a fine choice, especially for rural agencies, where dual-sport capability might be a positive point. But it’s not particularly well suited for a daily urban environment, sine the bike’s tall height is somewhat inconvenient for constant stop and go riding.
What HD does have going for it the tendency among some government agencies to buy American, but that’s solely a political, not technical decision. Having been a Harley owner, and having ridden the Sportster, Road King, and ElectraGlide, I’d take the R1200RT over those bikes any day if performance and handling ability are a major criterion.
It’s hard to see how the MoCo stays competitive in this market over the long term–except, of course, for the politics of “Buy American”.