CO cops ditching Harley...
This was in the morning paper in Colorado Springs (along with about 4 inches of snow! )
Motorcycle cops drop Harley
Springs decides Honda’s a better performer
By BILL McKEOWN THE GAZETTE
Few American products have acquired the iconic status of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Its name — and its distinctive “potato, potato, potato” exhaust sound — conjure up more than a century of images of the open road, bad boys in leather and, of course, The Man in jodhpurs and shiny black boots.
Scratch that last image, at least in Colorado Springs.
Even as an increasing number of middle-aged faux outlaws in chaps and fringe — dentists, really — embrace the Harley “lifestyle,” Colorado Springs motorcycle cops are giving up their chrome-heavy steeds.
Why? The sense of tradition that Harley has used successfully to flog its V-twin, air-cooled bikes just isn’t cutting it on the road.
“We ask our officers to do performance-style riding, and that means we need a performance motorcycle,” said Sgt. Mark Comte of the Gold Hills subdivision.
Enter — with a subdued exhaust note — Honda. Specifically the ST1300 police model, clad in sleek, white bodywork, aero saddlebags and the kind of performance that leaves the Harley for dead — at least according to some officers.
“It’s the best bike we’ve ever had, hands down. It’s like the difference between a Cessna and an F-15 jet,” said Lee Daffin, who retired two weeks ago after 15 years on the force. Daffin rode the Honda for two of the five years he was a motorcycle cop.
“The Harley was made for cruising,” he said. “I remember on some of the presidential escorts we’d be going 100 mph and the bike would just be shaking underneath me.”
Over the past 18 months, the police force has slowly been replacing its fleet of Harleys with the Honda.
Beginning this week, the seven motorcycle cops in the Falcon subdivision will be the only ones left riding the oldschool Harleys, and they’ll lose them next year. The 21 motorcycle officers working in the three other police subdivisions are astride the 1300cc, four-cylinder, water-cooled Honda.
It isn’t the first time the department has abandoned the Harley. In the 1980s, officers in the city rode Kawasaki police bikes, and many liked them. But that manufacturer got out of the police business, and the department went back to U.S.-made Harleys.
Comte said the the decision to switch to the Honda was difficult and the officers’ reaction was mixed. The city’s 28 motorcycle cops — seven in each police substation — volunteer for motorcycle duty, endure a grueling test to get in, and then commit to a five-year stint — six years if they’re sergeants. They spend all day on the bikes year-round, weather permitting, and they develop a connection to the difficult-to-master machinery.
“The younger officers would rather be on the Honda,” Comte said. “It’s faster, sleeker and more of a cafe-racing style of bike.”
Then there are motorcycle cops such as Sgt. Lonnie Spanswick of the Falcon subdivision. He’s a dyed-in-the-wool Harley guy. Spanswick has appeared in a Harley-Davidson commercial and has owned many bikes from the Milwaukee manufacturer. Last year, he did a 4,000-mile trip through Canada on his personal Harley and plans to ride to the Gulf Coast this summer.
“This is a 100-year-tradition,” he said last week, indicating his gleaming, waxed police steed. “This is just a temporary look,” he said, nodding a bit contemptuously at Comte’s Honda.
“The Harley-Davidson police motorcycle is a proven product. They made the first police bike in 1906. It has all the speed and safety we need, and it corners just as well,” he said.
Comte said the department has been analyzing the performance, cost and maintenance of the Hondas since the first batch rolled in and will continue to do so until the warranties run out. The Honda and Harley are similarly priced, a bit over $14,000, but the Honda has a three-year warranty, the Harley two. They have similar gas mileage, 40-plus miles per gallon.
The Harley, which once had a horrible reputation for reliability, has not been problematic for the department, Comte said. Reliability and Honda, of course, are almost synonymous.
Comte said the biggest selling point for the Honda is its anti-lock braking system. He said the city’s motorcycle cops have a good safety record, but most accidents officers have had involved braking.
Stopping a bike quickly, especially an emergency stop from high speed, requires a cool head and a delicate, practiced touch on the brakes. Sometimes even that is not enough if gravel or water is on the roadway or the bike is not perpendicular. The Honda’s ABS system, he said, takes some of the danger out of quick braking.
Comte said Harley-Davidson finally added ABS to its police bikes in 2006, but it was too little too late.
“The Honda is just a better choice for the type of riding we do,” he said. “Harley-Davidson just hasn’t kept up technologically.”