California Highway Patrol replacing BMWs with Harleys

California Highway Patrol replacing BMWs with Harleys
Decades ago, actor Erik Estrada rode a BMW police motorcycle in the TV movie "CHiPs '99." (Chris Cuffaro / TBS Inc.)

The California Highway Patrol is retiring some BMW motorcycles from its fleet and replacing them with Harley-Davidsons.

Early last year, the state police agency started seeking bids for 400 new motorcycles to replace bikes aging out of its fleet.


The contract was won by Oakland Harley-Davidson, which sold the agency on a custom-fitted 2013 Electra Glide.

The Bay Area dealer upgraded the suspension, rewired the electrics and added special police details, such as a clipboard on the gas tank that is handy for writing tickets by the side of the road.

Mike Genthner, co-owner of the Harley dealership that won the contract, says his shop has already delivered 121 of the custom bikes. A second order for 47 more -- 2014s, this time -- is being fulfilled at the rate of about four bikes a week, by two technicians exclusively assigned to building the CHP cruisers.

The bikes are going out the door priced at a little over $28,300 each, Genthner said -- a little more than the $24,239 base price for a standard Electra Glide.

It's good business for Genthner's dealership, in part because of "piggy-backing," in this case the propensity of one government agency to follow another. Oakland Harley-Davidson already builds bikes for the Alameda County Sheriff's Department, and for the police forces of Bay Area cities such as Fremont, Hayward and others.

Fleet and police sales are an important niche for the fabled American motorcycle manufacturer too, said Steve St. Thomas, director of Harley's fleet and police sales division.

Even though the total units sold each year may be only 4,000 to 5,000 motorcycles, police sales are good advertising.

"It's a very strong brand representation when the general public sees a police officer riding a Harley," St. Thomas said. "It influences customers' purchases."

St. Thomas noted that Harley started selling police bikes almost as soon as it got into business, more than a hundred years ago.

"We started selling police bikes in 1908," he said. "Our very first [fleet] customer, five years after the company started, was the Detroit Police Department. We've been at it ever since."

Over the years, the CHP, which currently has a fleet of 415 motorcycles on the road, has used several different brands. In 2000, the agency conducted a bake-off between the Harley FLP-I, the BMW R1100 and the Kawasaki KZ1000 its officers were riding at the time.

BMW won the bake-off. Genthner thinks the decision to turn back to Harley had a lot to do with the relatively higher cost of maintaining the aging BMWs -- which had been in the fleet a good long while, with many machines clocking over 140,000 miles of service.

In other jurisdictions, BMWs still rule. The company has supplied cop-cycles to 450 agencies, and recently won a five-year contract with the LAPD. It also supplies the L.A. Sheriff's Department, San Diego police, and many others.

A new and improved version, the K59 model of the BMW R1200 RT-P, will debut in July, featuring upgrades based largely on results of tests with LAPD and sheriffs, BMW said.


Kawasaki is still the law enforcement bike of choice for many California cities, among them San Francisco, San Jose, Oxnard and Ventura. It also supplies LAX law enforcement.


The return to Harley ends a long hiatus for the CHP, which last made a deal to use the American marque in 1989. The last of those machines was retired in 1997, a CHP spokesperson said.