This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Harley-Davidson police motorcycle — first delivered in 1908 to the Detroit Police Department. The Milwaukee-based company owned the police bike market in the United States for 70-plus years until the arrivals of BMW, Kawasaki and Honda.
While Kawasaki stopped producing specialized police bikes a few years ago — models made famous by the KZ 1000 featured in the "CHiPs" television show — Harley-Davidson/Buell, BMW and Honda continue to offer models specifically for the law enforcement community.
So how does the market look today? Can dealers find benefits in furnishing bikes to first-responders?
The Motor Co. supplies more than 3,400 police departments in the U.S. with motorcycles. How did it amass that market share? Largely through a lease program tailored specifically for law enforcement agencies of all sizes. Check out these terms:
- No mileage limitation. Agencies may ride their leased Harley-Davidson police motorcycles for as many miles as they wish.
- 12-, 24- or 36-month lease options.
- No down payment and no security deposit necessary. A first monthly payment, lease acquisition fee and applicable title, license and registration fee are due at the time of delivery.
- Customizable with Genuine Motor Accessories and Motor Parts, Screamin' Eagle Performance Parts and optional emergency equipment.
- Optional inclusion of a Harley-Davidson Extended Service Plan or dealer prepaid maintenance plan.
- Training opportunities.
Current Harley-Davidson police models include the FXDP Dyna Defender, FLHPI Road King, FLHTPI Electra Glide and XLH Sportster 883. Buell recently introduced the Ulysses Police X±2XP. Available for order as of May 27, the model is scheduled to enter production in August.
To obtain bikes, law enforcement organizations can send a request to a local dealer, or send a request straight to Harley-Davidson, which funnels the desire to a local dealer.
One multi-location H-D retailer tells Dealernews he has dealt in police bikes as a tactic for keeping a fleet of high-profit used units available. But times have changed, he says, and now he describes Harley-Davidson's current police lease program as "nothing spectacular.
"At present I am leasing to local departments for what my floor plan fees figure out to be," he says. "Will I continue with the same program? Probably, because I want the presence and goodwill it offers. Most officers are pleasant and nice to deal with."
"Leasing depends a lot on the fluctuation of the used bike market," says Scott Lindsay, owner of Grand Junction H-D. Grand Junction claims to be the largest supplier of police motorcycles in Colorado. "Sometimes it turns out in your benefit and sometimes it doesn't. We usually put bikes out on a two-year lease, so to have a crystal ball and figure out how the market is going to be two years from now is the risk involved.
"Twelve years ago, when we got into the leasing business, H-D used bikes were hard to acquire. So the front end of the lease (the payments) were very low because we made all of the money on the back end of the bike — when the bike came back off of lease and we resold it. Well the market has changed a little bit. Now we have to make money on the front and back end of the bike to make it profitable for us. Lease payments have gone up substantially and there's more pre-owned product available out there."
BMW AUTHORITY BIKES
Harley-Davidson dealers may be able to offer law enforcement agencies a two-wheeler well suited for community involvement purposes and light traffic duty, but departments seeking bikes for higher speed maneuvers tend to choose a ride with more performance capability, like the BMW R 1200 RT-P.
Internationally, BMW is the largest supplier of motorcycles to first-responders. The first such BMW motorcycle appeared in Germany in 1928 as the 12hp R 24. Today, the OEM supplies "BMW Authority" bikes to agencies in 146 countries.
In the U.S., more than 400 law enforcement agencies have BMW bikes in their fleets. Included are police agencies throughout California and Florida as well as in Anchorage, AK; Atlantic City, N.J.; Boise, Idaho; Honolulu, HI; Irvine, Texas; Montgomery, Ala.; Newport News, Va.; Reno, Nev.; and even Scottsdale, Ariz.
The most recent iteration of BMW's authority bike came in 2006 in the form of the R 1200 RT-P. Most of the standard police items on a RT-P aren't offered by H-D. If they are, they're sold as a separate add-on. BMW also offers a number of other specially prepared models for first-responders, like the F 650 GS and G 650 Xchallenge, and supplies rider training, communications systems, suits, gloves and helmets.
"We enjoy serving the law enforcement community," says Patrick Nesmith, sales manager at Bogarts Motorsports in Birmingham, Ala. Bogarts has supplied BMW Authority Bikes to police departments in Birmingham and Montgomery, as well as to university police departments in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. "They're good customers, and you can't beat the value of the community involvement."
Nesmith says many of the Authority Bikes from Bogarts go out on lease.
BMW says its most cost-effective lease plan is to lease the bikes for a term much longer than 24 months. When viewing the true total lease costs, at 60 months, which would yield approximately 60,000 miles at 10K per year, a BMW motor would cost less in total cash outlay than 2.5 two-year leases on a competitive brand, the OEM claims.
However, according to Kelly Rogers, sales specialist at Big Twin Cycle Center in Boise, Idaho, the agencies he deals with choose to buy rather than lease. Purchase requests often come in the form of a bid process, with multiple dealerships bidding on the sale.
But that doesn't mean the purchasers ride away into the sunset after the sale, never to be heard from again. Rogers says law enforcers are among his best customers: "They're like any other motorcycle enthusiast that becomes a repeat customer — the people you see all of the time. They'll make appearances, come in for parts and service and apparel, and they're all super knowledgeable about the product."
Like its civilian sibling, the ST1300PA is powered by a V-4 producing 125hp and features an electronically adjustable windshield and ABS. Like BMW, Honda supplies its police bike with a variety of specialized amenities, such as a three-position dual-density solo seat; rear component cover for electronics weather protection; a speedometer graduated in 2 mph increments above 10 mph; altered control switches; and brackets for lights, sirens, radio and electronic equipment.
A relatively new offering to the U.S. law enforcement community, the ST1300PA must be gaining adherents. Honda sold out of its '07 allocation and doesn't expect more to become available until later this year.
"We simply sold out and told our dealers there would be more availability towards the end of 08," Honda's Jon Seidel told Dealernews.
Visit www.dealernews.com to read more about the police bike market: Oklahoma Highway Patrol Rides Hayabusa ... Maryland Dealer Sells CHP Lease Returns ... Michigan State Police Rates H-D vs. BMW ... Buell Enters Police Market ... Cops Choose BMW X Challenge ... and much, much more.