Michigan State Police objectively prove Harleys suck

Dailies -



Would you rather ride a bike that accelerated from 0-100mph in 9.7 seconds or one that takes nearly half a minute? The Michigan State Police know the answer to that question. Last month they performed comprehensive, independent performance testing on four potential police bikes: The BMW R1200RTP, Kawasaki Concours 14 and the Harley Road King and Electra Glide. Guess which two bikes lost?

Update: Los Angeles County is getting in on the Harley bashing.

In order to provide accountability to taxpayers for its purchases and provide its officers with the best possible equipment, the Michigan State Police conducts yearly performance evaluations of new police models. While most of the testing focusses on cars, reflecting the shear numbers of four wheelers versus two in the department (Jalopnik covered the police car testing), peformance testing on the motorcycles includes everything from acceleration and braking times and forces to outright lap speeds around a road course.

Update: the PDF embedded above comes from Los Angeles county, who completed a police bike performance evaluation this month. It draws similar conclusions to the Michigan report with the exception of some notable peformance differences. Where bikes like the Honda ST1300 are comfortably able to reach 100mph from a standing start in under 10 seconds, the Harleys weren’t even able to reach that speed at all given the space provided.

In an interesting twist over normal performance figures, the performance evaluations are conducted by real world police officers, the same ones that will have to use these bikes in the wild, not tame racers. While that means they achieve somewhat lower numbers than would otherwise be recorded, it does give these tests a welcome dose of real world rider ability; if a bike is exceptionally difficult to use, it will suffer here and vice versa, an easy-to-use bike will benefit even if its outright performance capability is somewhat lower.

This year, there’s a new competitor in the BMW/Harley police bike continuum: the Kawasakai Concours 14 Police. Equipped with a detuned version of the ZX14’s 1,400cc inline four, the Concours makes 153bhp and 100lb/ft which is enough to motivate its prodigious 661lbs, in our hands, up to an indicated 150mph. The police achieved a somewhat lower number, we can only assume they got scared riding that fast in their open face helmets, jodphurs and button down shirts (we’re kidding, they had a short track).

The first and probably most immediately telling results are the straight-forward acceleration and top speed numbers. Note that the long wheelbase and low center of gravity on the two Harleys allows them to initially pull ahead away from the line, keeping that advantage up to about 30 or 40mph at which point the BMW and Kawasaki simply start running away from them. Remember the part about ease of use? Harley’s are dead easy to launch. By 60mph the difference is pronounced while, by 100mph, the Kawasaki’s 100lb/ft of torque are starting to give it a huge advantage even over the BMW. Top speeds seem a bit on the low side, we can only assume they were measured using limited distance.

Next up are braking numbers, measured in maximum rate of deceleration and outright braking distances from 60mph. Again, these numbers seem a little conservative likely indicating testing restrictions, but because they’re same day/same riders/same conditions, they do serve as an accurate comparison. At 650lbs, the lightest bike here is the BMW R1200RTP, while the heaviest is the Harley Electra Glide at 864lbs before police equipment.

60-0 is sort of an odd measurement of braking ability. Presumably arrived at as the mirror image of the equally outdated 0-60mph ubiquitous performance yardstick, it places rider reaction time and surface conditions, not mechanical performance, as the two largest variables. It just isn’t a good indicator of the ability of a braking system to slow a vehicle down repeatedly from high speed. To give you an idea how odd 60-0 numbers can be, Edmunds measured a Porsche 911 Turbo at a 104-foot stopping distance, while a Cayenne SUV took only five feet more. Which vehicle would you want to be driving if you had to panic brake from 100+?

This last set of numbers, lap times, is probably most illustrative of the performance differences between the four bikes. Measured on Michigan’s Grattan Raceway, a narrow, challenging road course with plenty of elevation change, these times appear to be the total of five laps on the circuit. Note that four different officers rode each bike, then the times for each bike were averaged to remove any rider preference.

A 31-second difference between first and last place sounds pretty significant.

So what’s the takeaway from all this? Well, we all probably already knew that Harleys were slow, but objective, Government testing like this is the first step to putting motorcycle police officers nationwide on safer, better-suited bikes for their dangerous jobs. If objective evaluation like this can convince other police departments to stop being blinded by “patriotic” purchasing and start equipping their officers with the best possible equipment then it might be a first step in forcing Harley-Davidson to stop falling back on its American heritage and actually innovate. Motorcycling in this country would be stronger if they did.

Michigan State Police via Guido Ebert

  • http://www.tripleclamp.net Sasha Pave

    Motorcycle cops in America have it tough enough, having to wear open face helmets and, in many cases, no protective gear at all.

    At least give ‘em good performing bikes. Nothing wrong with Harleys, but the cops aren’t exactly there to ‘cruise’ all day.

    Aerostich has a nice offering for LEOs (http://www.policesuit.com/). This, combined with a good flip-up full-face helmet, should be available for cooler weather.

    • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

      I agree with your thoughts on police gear. Every time I see a motorcycle cop I’m wondering why we’re not protecting them better.

      Reading about Justin’s malfunctioning flip-up helmet in the Scar-Off gives me pause when anyone mentions that style of helmet. Granted, it will still do better than open face.

    • http://www.smartcycleshopper.com/motorcycle-reviews/2011-harley-davidson-forty-eight-review/ DougD

      I guess I’ve never thought about that until now. Anyone (a real cop, perhaps?) know why standard police issue seems to be open-face helmets and a uniform that is sans-jacket?

      I guess it might get hot sitting at a speed trap all day with a full-face helmet, and it’s not like one could sit with it off and then rush to put it on when they ‘get the call.’

      • pauldo

        I asked a few local police officers at a recent moto-cop rodeo, they all said the reason is that they need to quickly and easily access their service belt.

        I would imagine it also has a lot to do with the tough-guy image of being a police officer and being on a Hardly *Amerigasm*

      • Endless Mike

        The answer I’ve been given is “tradition” and that their superiors won’t let them get more protective gear even if they spend their own money. It’s a pretty bad situation, if you ask me.

  • http://www.twitter.com/beastincarnate Beast Incarnate

    Holy crap, Wes. I laughed out loud just reading the title of this article in the RSS feed.

    The results of a performance test shouldn’t surprise anyone on the surface, but some of those numbers are staggering: specifically acceleration and lap times.

    I recall reading about some of this testing in Motorcycle Consumer News in Jan and Feb about how the Arizona DPS did an extensive evaluation and went with the BMW RT1150. Since then, they’ve had some concerns over service costs. In reaching out to test some more options, they can’t get Harley to authorize a long term (6-12 mo) test, so instead they’re going ahead with six BMW1200s and six Honda ST1300s. Definitely an interesting thing to look at, though I can’t imagine many places would want to look at HD after something like what you have here.

    Then again, maybe HD can make lemonade out of the VROD by making a police bike with it. It still wouldn’t match the performance numbers of the other bikes, but it’d close the staggering gap.

    • TeeJay

      ST1300 is a bad choice. An English survey showed that 48% of owners claims swingarm instability at high speed. UK stopped using the Pans (it’s called Pan European over here), in other countries the bike was rejected during the evaluation due to the same problem.

      Anyhow, the best police bike is the Honda VFR800P. :)

  • Glenngineer

    I love those RT-Ps. I actually got to sit on one this saturday – the backrest/trunk is a nice ergo touch. I’d love one.

    I’m surprised the Kawasaki didn’t perform better, though. I guess the detuned engine and weight aren’t a good combo.

  • Mauricio

    For the most part, police motorcycles are used for traffic enforcement duties and not as pursuit vehicles.

    • mluddyjr

      You keep your logic out of this- we’re bashing Harleys here.

      Police need the absolute fastest vehicle they can afford. Just look at their patrol cars for an example. Anything less is unsafe.

    • voxveho

      Seriously. I mean who ever needs to stop quickly during routine traffic.

      • s0crates82

        anyone that’s splitting through slow traffic and gets cutoff by some jackass that didn’t check his/her mirrors before manuevering.

  • http://www.forrestmfg.com Steve781

    Kawi also deserves some credit for supporting those KZ1000 police bikes all those years. Gives you an indication they are going to support their new bikes for a long time into the future with reasonable priced and quickly available parts.

    • s0crates82

      it’s funny. i still want one of those. i think if you ditch the fairing it’s a neat looking commuter. there’s a place in canoga park that sells decommissioned ones and i keep meaning to swing by. the only reason i don’t is that i know i’ll friggin buy one if i do.

  • just_james

    it’s jodhpurs, not jodphurs

    • Pete

      What kinds of bikes do the spelling police ride?

      • s0crates82


  • seanslides

    Any intimidation factor that cops on harleys may have had just evaporated. Hell, even the R1200 and the C14 look glacially slow compared to a sport bike.

  • voxveho

    I’d rather have a bike made in the US of A. Yeehaw. Safety, practicality, efficiency? Pff. Who needs em?

    • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

      There were a couple Police-special Buell Ulysses prototypes floating around a while go. That would be a great option for top flight performance and built-in-the-US quality! Oh…oh wait…that’s right. Harley terminated Buell. With extreme prejudice.

    • jack

      That’s just it…they are Not made in the US anymore….Only the name is American! Wake up! Stop buying china made antique technology …

  • miles_prower

    As of 2005, the Traffic Enforcement Unit of my fair city has operated 14 BMW R1100 RT-P motorcycles. I see them all the time. During the day, half of them are parked in front of the two pizza shops just down the street. That’s one advantage of an open-face helmet — you can eat a pizza.

    • miles_prower

      From the dealer’s press release issued at the time of the sale to the police dept:

      “We are all praising the performance and handling of the new “motors” compared to the Harleys. The confidence I have now with just one day at the track was more beneficial than any training I have received in the last six years” said Anthony Cacciola, a Cambridge Police motor officer.

      As TV news crews crowded around the officers and their new bikes and conducted interviews with officers and city officials, the old fleet of Harleys was quietly rolled into the MAX BMW trucks without comment. Mayor Sullivan proclaimed, “this is a proud day for for the City of Cambridge.”

    • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

      Dimitrio’s in Cambridgeport. They’re there constantly.

  • Kevlar

    Not that it’s of any real consequence, but for what it’s worth, those lap time totals are definitely for more than 5 laps. The track record at Grattan is around 1:19. The times listed would put the Concourse around the track with a best 5-lap average of 1:07. Even if that’s 4 laps, that would put the Harley around the track with a 1:31 average for the fastest rider. Having ridden it myself, it’s a pretty tight and technical track, so these heavy bikes will only have two or three spots to even really use their power. Considering these were normal officers riding the bikes, I’m leaning toward this being a 3-lap total.

  • twinsrule

    Suzuki Hayabusa Police Interceptor

  • luxlamf

    Ponch & Jon rode Kawi’s

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Which is why they’re so happy in that photo.

  • luxlamf

    Here in Southern CA you see a Smattering of different bikes, at the Pro Italia Ducati Days this year I talked to a Copper on a Honda, He stated how great it was and how Crappy the CHP bikes (BMW’s) where. I had not noticed that the LAPD rode Hondas and Kawis and only the CHP had BMW’s (except Beverly Hills, they have BMW’s) So than I talked to the CHP officer later, He had the same attitude except of course, In reverse. Both Agreed that the HD’s are a Hindrance as far as being practical.

    • voxveho

      Same in SF. They’ve got a fleet of Electraglides plus a fair few KLR’s for the park police. None of which are a match for a skilled Vespa pilot. Fastest mode of transport in the city, hands down.

  • Cajun58

    Why no data on the Honda ST1300 Police are they no loner in use although I see Johnny riding them frequently here in So Cal.

    • danhammack

      St1300′s are about all you see here in the Seattle area.

  • T Diver

    Which brand makes them write fewer tickets?

  • Corey

    I have to confess to enjoying the HD-P bikes as icons. That potato-potato is way cool to hear, unless it is behind me for a stop. That said, the patter of the BMW boxer or inline hum of the Kawi seem like their only shortcomings when compared to the Big Pigs.

  • Peter88

    I defend Harley as much as I can but the killing of Buell and Wes’s last two sentences in the column really hit home. Don’t kill the heritage but something new is needed (like Triumph and Ducati have done).

  • DoctorNine

    With the HD, you can get the optional police issue spurs though.
    Makes stomping out crime so much easier.

    • http://www.pedalgents.com holdingfast

      yeah, nice and shiny ones!

  • Bjorn

    We had a Ducati ST2 owning mounted police officer as a customer at a shop I worked for. He was over the moon when the state Police started to replace their K100s with R1100s. He raved about the difference for a while before qualifying it with, “It’s still not as good as my ST.” I always thought that the ST4 (service costs notwithstanding) would have made an excellent police mount.
    I can still remember the absurdity of the previously mentioned officer standing in the workshop in full police leathers, gun on his hip, recounting a tale of weekend derring-do and saying, “We would have been in so much shit if Plod had been there.”

  • MichaelMM

    As long as the Po-po’s don’t start using Multistrada 1200 regular and ‘S’ models. Then we would really be fucked!

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray

      Hush your mouth with those kinds of suggestions.

    • pauldo

      Reserved for the Vatican police only, thx.

  • kangaroo2202

    So, a Harley Electra Glide is slower than a Kawasaki Concours. Yawn. Great reporting Wes. Really blew the lid off that one, didn’t ya?

    There’s a reason why 3400 police departments in the U.S. (plus 45 other countries) choose Harleys. They flat out work. With superior low speed handling, the primary mode of motor duty, excellent reliability and unmatched resale value, there is no contest.

    Get over it.

    • KeC

      Superior low speed handling????? You gotta be kidding me :). Thnx, you really made my day! As for 45 other countries? Im not sure I want to know which ones.

      On the other hand this is what Croatian police bought cpl of years back. Equiped with Provida radar system: http://media.photobucket.com/image/Croatian%20police%20bikes/Motorbiker_photos/NewsPics2/Crotia-Police-1.jpg

    • HammSammich

      Superior Harley Handling:


      • slowtire

        Looks like the Dragon. I’ve been on the Dragon with a Harley, and it or any other big cruiser is not the bike for it if you want to go fast. The bikes arn’t made for that type of riding, so who doesn’t know that? The guy in the picture is just way in over his head, going to fast, just like half the sport bike guys who think they’re Rossi when they ride there.

        • HammSammich

          Yeah, I’m not really sure where the picture is taken from, but it could be the Tail of the Dragon. To your point, absolutely this guy is riding too fast for his bike given the road he’s on, but that’s kind of the point. The Harley’s limited lean angle is detrimental to their cornering ability, even at what would be considered modest speeds compared to the other participating bikes in this test. As was referenced in the report, “The lean angle is very restrictive.” That doesn’t readily indicate superior handling to me. And while police pursuits are unlikely to end up carving through canyons, they will have to negotiate intersections, on-ramps, and boulevards that would put the Harley at a disadvantage when traveling 15-20mph over the limit.
          Certainly, squids on sportbikes can be seen making the same boneheaded mistakes as the guy in this picture, but there is a significant difference in the speeds a sportbike would be traveling in order to overshoot a turn. If I was a cop, I’d want the wider margin of error that the Bimmer or Kawi afford. Cruisers have their place, but they just don’t make any sense for a police force unless they’re strictly relegated to leading motorcades and parades.

          • slowtire

            I agree. However, I don’t believe most police departments that use cycles use them for high speed pursuits. I’ve been told by a couple of motor cops that they use them because they’re much easier to get around town, especially in traffic. I’ve also been told that “buying American” has alot to do with it in some municipalities. Regardless of brand, I would think that it depends on where and how their being used.

    • always_go_big

      I’d say there’s a small army of Japanese shirobai police bikers out there that’d happily ride rings around any of these, slow or fast, on their fully loaded, hansome white VFR’s!

    • slowtire

      Kangaroo2202, Wes hates anything cruiser, particularly HD. Ain’t no big deal.

  • Darth Lefty

    Harley has a nice big modern water cooled engine, why don’t they build better bikes around it? Clearly they’re letting in the radiator crowd if they’re testing the new Copwasaki.

  • http://mistertinker.com/ Neil Fenton

    I almost fell for this one. HD wins. Wouldn’t you rather have the slowest one chasing you?

  • miles_prower

    Video of Japanese police officers competing in bike-handling skills:


    Try that on a Harley!

  • http://www.davidfolch.com david folch

    Are Wes & Grant the new Ponch & Jon ?

  • shawn.bassplayer

    The fact that cops are just now finding out that Harley’s are not good police motorcycles says less about Harley’s performance, and more about the Police that rode them.

    Harley’s are “cruisers”. For everyday riding, their performance is “good enough”. You know… where the speed limit is around 35mph and you don’t drag your knee around every corner.

    For Police work, where you might need to chase down a guy in a corvette…. yeah, you might need a little more power. Fuckin DUH. Maybe they could have put up the performance numbers of a Honda Ruckus. Oh wait… that would be a shitty cop bike too.

    Maybe the title should have said…. “Michigan State Police finally pull their heads out of their asses”. :)

    • http://www.davidfolch.com david folch

      “Maybe the title should have said…. “Michigan State Police finally pull their heads out of their asses”. :)”

      nice one Shawn !

    • Ax

      “For Police work, where you might need to chase down a guy in a corvette…” Nobody on ANY bike is going to stop someone in a cage. That’s not what police bikes are for.

  • 85gripen

    L.A. County Sheriff and I believe California Highway Patrol motorcycle officers are now wearing modular helmets rather than open-face. CHP in recent years traded-in their Ponch & Jon Kawasakis for BMWs and LAPD is replacing their Harleys with BMW as well.

  • 85gripen

    I’ll bet the Buell XB12XP would have fared better than the Electra Glide and Road King in these tests and would have had a lower operating cost than both. Great job shuttering Buell to focus on your “core business” (selling outdated technology, legacy and branding), Harley!

  • harley

    hardley dabison = overpriced, over hyped junk! Get over it you wanna be hells angle born to be wild losers with your rattel box !! I owned a 1200 sporty and rode my buddies dyna both pos so dont go a tell me there superior to anything.. these bikes suck ive been riding for 20 years