The most menacing bike on the road isn't some low-riding, super-stretched chopper with a suicide clutch and battle-ax rims, but a model that's colored like a marshmallow and sits up straight.
It's a police bike. Honda, Harley, Kawi or Beemer, it doesn't matter. If it's badged and holstered, it's going to cause most drivers to take heed.
With a hands-free cellphone law going into effect next week, I thought I'd take a spin on one of the models people may have the misfortune of meeting: BMW's 2008 R1200RT-P. One of six police bikes on the market, the RT-P is the motorcycle of choice for the California Highway Patrol and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, among other agencies.
Being the police version of BMW's R1200RT civilian sport tourer, the RT-P shares the same 110-horsepower, 1,170 cc boxer twin motor. But the bike's real power isn't that it can accelerate from 0 to 100 miles per hour in 10.55 seconds or reach a top speed of 130. No, it's the ticket pad its rider carries in his top-loading saddlebag, the handgun on his hip and the armed reinforcements he can summon in an instant just by talking into his wireless, Bluetooth helmet.
Being a journalist, I wasn't able to tap into the bike's true strength, but I did get a taste of its intimidation value. Even without turning on the bike's blaring siren and flashing lights, I noticed that drivers either treated me like Moses and moved out of my way or slowed down, even below the speed limit.
The stock RT-P is a plug-and-play model that's pre-wired for optional accessories. The PA and flashing blue and yellow lights that strike fear into road-goers' hearts? Those are added for individual agencies after the bikes have been uncrated. The RT-P I got from BMW was ultimately destined for an L.A. Sheriff's deputy and was 90% prepped, gear-wise. While I wasn't given the shotgun, billy club, radio or laser gun, the mounts for them were on the bike. So were the siren, air horn and emergency lights, which I sampled like a kid in a candy store but didn't use on the street, much as I was tempted by endless examples of atrocious driving.
Because of all its gear, the RT-P has two batteries: one to start the bike and an auxiliary to run all the stuff that makes drivers jump out of their seats. There are also two speedometers. One's analog, the other's digital, which allows the officer to pace a vehicle, monitor its speed and, rather creepily, store that information in the bike's onboard computer.
As a civilian, I was intrigued by all the bells and whistles. But they add a lot of weight to this tall and already hefty 650-pound machine, especially when its 7-gallon gas tank is full. While nimble at speed, the bike was a handful to get off the side stand and to maneuver at low speeds.
Like many people, I have mixed feelings about the authorities, but as someone who's now ridden one of their bikes, I'd say their riding skills deserve some major respect.
2008 BMW R1200RT-P Base price: $18,000 Price, as tested: $19,000 Powertrain: air/oil-cooled, fuel-injected, twin-cylinder, four valves per cylinder, shaft drive, six-speed Displacement: 1,170 cc Maximum horsepower: 110 at 7,500 rpm Maximum torque: 85 pound-feet at 6,000 rpm Seat height: 30.7 inches to 33 inches Wet weight: 650 pounds Road test MPG: 40 (based on 219 miles traveled)