The Police Bike Masquerade

Coppelgänger! What it’s like to be a motor officer…or at least look like one.

“Hey, officer. No, no, I’m just the maintenance guy, putting on break-in miles. No, really!”©Motorcyclist

Here's something else I don't get, yet I see it frequently: civilian riders dressing up like law enforcement. For quite some time, ex-police Kawasaki KZ1000Ps were the pseudo-cop machine of choice, rattling and whirring their way through traffic. Often, I'd see those riders dressed in a way that suggested, but wasn't actually, cop: white-and-black half helmet, roper gloves, tall boots, nondescript jacket.

As a generally law-abiding citizen, I tend to sit up and ride right when I suspect local police or the California Highway Patrol is in the immediate vicinity. The sight of a distinctive KZ1000 cruising up through traffic would, inevitably, lead me to slow up a little and give way. Then, after the CHP cycled through its first generation of BMW R-RT bikes, you'd see those beneath civilians, similarly scything though the usual mayhem that are California freeways. And now, to go along with a recalibration of senses brought on by the death of the Ford Crown Victoria (alas, the last LTD has perished) and its replacement by the Ford Explorer (of all things!) I get to watch out for Electra Glides piloted by men with badges and ticket books. Oh, my.

I have always wondered about the psychology of riders who want to look like the law but aren’t. Some, I know, are off-duty or retired cops, and as a creature of habit myself, I think I understand their sticking to familiar forms, like the dads in the neighborhood who think Dockers and Top-Siders are still in style. If you’ve actually served, I have no trouble you showing it.

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A few I’ve queried who were not ever in law enforcement simply say they like the look, purposeful and serious. But I know one or two who ride ex-police bikes purely to game the system. One told me it was like a magic trick, getting traffic to move out of the way, to finally respect motorcycles.

I always wondered just how effective the neo-copbike approach was. Four years ago, I had a chance to find out. Between regular jobs I did a few freelance pieces, including a bit on a Kawasaki Concours 14 “police” bike. It was a demonstrator intended to show various agencies how good the platform was—and it definitely had the legs on the then-prevalent R1200RT used by CHP. I got the call to ride it around and write about the project. Sounded cool to me.

But it was the most horrifying few days in the saddle I’d ever had. First was the overwhelming self-consciousness. Apparently I’m not cut out to be a cop because I got really, really tired of being eyeballed. Worse was the way everyone around me drove. Fully aware that I had no license to speed—in fact, I felt far more aware of that than ever—I tried to keep the pace reasonable. Then everyone would crowd around me or hang just behind. After a few minutes on the highway, I noted a big gap in traffic just ahead. I’d look around for the real enforcement, haul ass for a little bit, and then watch the cycle repeat. Even worse, I had more than a few careless drivers come up behind really quickly, realize what I was (or could be) too late, and jam on the brakes. One nitwit in a Nissan Altima almost took me out while he gathered it up. Drivers didn’t get out of my way; they slowed down right in front of me. Arrggh, no!

I returned the Kawasaki and got on my FZ1 to ride home and was never happier. Sometime later, I replayed this experience with my good friend who is a motor officer. He smiled broadly, laughed heartily, and gave me long, weary “Yuuuuup.”

We have a couple of bikes in the fleet that, apparently, look a little cop-ish from the front: the white Kawasaki Versys 650 and the KTM 1290 Super Adventure. I've enjoyed drivers giving me a little more space and—though I could be imagining it—a smidgen more respect. At least until they figure out there's no siren or gun. So maybe "looking cop" does work a little. But I never count on it.