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Los Angeles Sheriff Tests Motorcycles

The annual Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department vehicle tests for 2009 police vehicles was a milestone event. In addition to pursuit-capable police vehicles (sedans and SUVs), this year it also tested police motorcycles. Police motorcycle testing has recently come about over the past few years, however, in the past they were tested separately from police cars and SUVs.

All of the major manufacturers of police motorcycles were invited to participate in these tests. The “street” police-specification motorcycles submitted were the, 2008 Harley-Davidson Electra Guide, 2008 Harley-Davidson Road King, 2008 BMW R-1200 RT-P and 2007 Honda ST1300 PA.

These are the current police-specification motorcycles that are available. Additionally, two special-purpose (off/on road) police motorcycles were tested. These bikes are street legal, however, they are capable of off-road operation. The motorcycles tested were the 2008 Harley-Davidson Buell Ulysses® XB12XP and the 2008 BMW G650X-P.

The motorcycle testing process is designed to address the motor officer and/or their agency’s performance and reliability requirement under severe conditions, which the typical police motorcycle must undergo. Similar to the vehicle testing, the motorcycles are evaluated by experienced motorcycle officers from both the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Many of the motorcycle tests are similar to those given to the police vehicles, i.e., the Preliminary Handling Test, the Pursuit Course, fuel efficiency, acceleration, ergonomics, and heat evaluation, there are some tests that are applicable to motorcycles. These tests include Basic Motorcycle Patterns at various speeds, noise evaluation, brake performance through debris, and transitional braking from dry surfaces to wet, and braking performance under hot conditions. There is also a 157-mile ride to evaluate ergonomics.

Basic Motorcycle Patterns

Four circular patterns are used to determine the motorcycle’s turning radius. The circles are 17, 18, 19 and 20 feet in diameter. The motorcycle enters the circular pattern at a very low speed (2 to 3 mph) and circles the pattern for three revolutions. The motorcycle exits the circle, make a U-turn and re-enter the circle and make three revolutions in the opposite direction. This maneuver is done in first gear and is accomplished by using the handlebars and leaning the bike without using the brakes.

The next phase is called the 30 mph cone weave. This is where seven sets of three cones are placed with each cone offset from the center-line at 36-foot intervals. The rider accelerates to a speed of 30 mph and must weave the motorcycle through the seven sets of cones while maintaining the 30-mph speed, with only a 2-mph (+/-) variation in speed. This test simulates the ability of the motorcycle to maneuver around hazards in the roadway.

The Short Cone Weave Pattern has eight cones placed in a straight line at various intervals from 9 ½ to 11 feet apart (center to center). The rider will negotiate the cone weave at low speeds (1 to 2 mph) using steering and the rear brake as necessary to maneuver through this course. This course typifies low-speed maneuverability during enforcement situations. All of these tests are conducted by all four riders.

Brake Evaluation

The motorcycle brake evaluation is conducted in three phases. The first phase involves transitional braking from a dry surface then to a wet surface. The rider accelerates the motorcycle to a speed of 40 mph, and the brakes are applied at a predetermined location where the pavement is dry. The motorcycle decelerates for about 25 feet, where the pavement becomes wet. This will test the controllability of the motorcycle and test the ABS function.

The second test involves accelerating to 40 mph and applying the brakes at a predetermined location where the pavement surface is strewn with sand, gravel, and other debris. Both of these tests are conducted by all four test riders.

Immediately after the 32-lap Preliminary Handling Evaluation, the brakes are evaluated by what is called the Hot Brake Evaluation. This evaluates the brakes’ performance under hot conditions—such as after a pursuit or emergency run. The motorcycle is accelerated to 80 mph and brought to a controlled stop maintaining 22fps² rate of deceleration. This procedure is repeated three times. Then the motorcycle is accelerated to a speed of 60 mph and stopped as quickly as possible, simulating a panic stop. The stopping distance from this stop is measured and recorded.

Any brake malfunctions encountered, such as severe fade, are carefully investigated as to the cause. If the cause of the malfunction is an engineering issue, the bike is disqualified. If the problem can be easily corrected, then the bike is then retested. Any brake defects and the remedial action necessary to correct the problem(s) was noted in the final evaluation report.

157-Mile Ride

This phase tests how the motorcycle functions during extended operating periods, simulating an eight-hour patrol shift. The 157-mile loop consists of 33 miles of urban streets, 76 miles of freeway, 21 miles of the Coast Highway, and 28 miles of mountain and canyon riding. Each motorcycle is ridden by all four evaluating riders.

The bikes are driven normally, and during this test phase, the riders simulated 10 traffic enforcement stops. They properly positioned the bike, dismounted with a two-minute pause, remounted the bike and accelerated into the flow of traffic. Each motorcycle was driven through this test loop by each of the four evaluators, who evaluated each motorcycle individually. Fuel consumption is recorded during each loop and averaged.

As with all of the sedans and all of the SUVs, all of the motorcycles successfully passed all phases of the testing.

John Bellah is a recently retired police officer who served in Southern California for more than 31 years. He can be contacted at

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Mar/Apr 2009

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