Yakima PD Dumps Harley

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”.

Author: Dale Franks

Dale Franks is the former host of The Business Day, ”a daily, four-hour business and financial news program on KMNY Radio in Los Angeles. From 2002-2004, he was a contributor on military and international affairs for TechCentralStation.com. Currently, he a publisher and editor of the monthly political journal The New Libertarian, as well as an editor of the popular web log, Q and O. Dale served as a military police officer in the United States Air Force from 1984 to 1993, in variety of assignments both in the United States and Europe, where he also was assigned to the staff of the Headquarters of Allied Forces Central Europe. In addition to broadcasting, writing, and speaking on various topics, Dale has also been a long-time technical training instructor on a variety of computer software and technology subjects. Dale has also long been involved with information technology as an accomplished web designer, programmer, and technologist, serving as the corporate knowledge specialist for Microsoft Outlook at SAIC, the nation's largest employee-owned corporation. Additionally, he is the author of a number of software user guides used for classroom training by one of Southern California’'s premier computer training and consulting firms. His book, SLACKERNOMICS: Basic Economics for People Who Find Economics Boring, is available from Barnes & Noble.

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