This guy knows how to ride a motorcycle.
That’s a flawless performance from Officer Donnie Williams at the Grand Prairie Police Motorcycle Rodeo, earlier this year.
ATK, the Utah-based dirt-bike manufacturer has been in the news a fair bit recently, with the deal to assemble and badge Hyosung motorcycles at their Utah manufacturing facility, and sell them in select Harley-Davidson dealerships. The idea is to create entry-level motorcycles for new riders that the Harley dealers can, in the fullness of time, convert to HD customers. We’ve written about it a fair amount here, and the most recent national coverage of that deal is at Motorcycle USA.
Unveiled today is an all new plan, previously closely held by the company, the create an electric motorcycle for police use.
After building gas bikes for 25 years, Salt Lake City based ATK USA plans to enter the electric motorcycle market with the ATK-Le (Law Enforcement). ATK has built an electric supermoto and dualsport based on their successful ATK 450, which they plan to sell to police and authority customer agencies, or departments. ATK had previously supplied a rolling chassis to build the Electric Moto prototype I covered last December. I loved it for its traditional 12-inch travel Ohlins suspension, Talon/Excel wheels, and premium spec combined with a race proven aluminum chassis. No deal was struck with Electric Moto so ATK is now building the bike on its own. However, they don’t believe electric motorcycles are ready for mass consumption by civilians, at least not yet. They think the simplicity and quiet nature of electric drive makes it perfect for urban patrol duty.
ATK already has a top-flight fleet sales team, and it will be interesting to watch how this pans out, in terms of getting police agencies interested in a zero-emissions alternative to gas off-roaders.
The company is going public with the news now, because as ATK CEO Frank White tells me:
We have been working on this stealth project for some time now and are now going public with it because we need to shake out some more vendors and suppliers who are involved on the battery powered side of the biz.
This is more interesting news from ATK, as, over the past 14 months or so, they’ve been aggressively looking to expand their dirt-bike business into new markets.
The Michigan State Police regularly puts current police motorcycles through a number of objective tests. The results of the most recent test are now available, and they don’t look good for Harley-Davidson. The MSP tested the BMW R1200RT-P, Kawasaki Concours14 ABS Police, and the Harley-Davidson Road King and Electra Glide police models.
Here’s a taste of the results:
Simply put, nothing that Harley-Davidson makes can match the performance of modern motorcycles in the police role. That’s not an opinion. That’s the objective result.
The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office just finished a round of similar tests, and the full report is shown below. In this case, the Kawi is not tested, but the Honda ST1300-P is. Results are similar, when considering the rather different testing methodologies. That report is shown below, in full.
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”.