Harley-Davidson FLHP Road King police motorcycle. (Harley-Davidson)
Make sure it’s a winner
There’s a good chance a former police or military bike has been carefully maintained during its service, but if it has changed hands in the meantime — and even if it hasn’t — you should do a careful inspection before committing to a bike.
Tips to ensure you get a winner:
Look for something within reasonable riding range — close enough that you can check it out and, if you like it, ride it home.
Ask friends and fellow riders. Word-of-mouth recommendations are usually solid.
Ask the seller to have the bike cold when you come to see it. A warmed-up bike may be hiding problems.
Be sure the paperwork is clean. You don’t want to buy a bike and then find out you can’t get it registered because of a problem with the former owner or paperwork.
Look for signs of road rash or repair, and be suspicious if the side signals have been replaced. These are usually damaged when a bike gets dropped.
Check the sight glass in the reservoirs for the clutch and brake fluid. It should be translucent or honey-colored.
Put the ignition key in the "run" position and check that all warning lights come on and gauges read correctly.
Look at the headlight while the bike is idling. Does it flicker or change intensity as the engine is revved?
Inspect for signs of excessive wear or damage to disc brake rotors and calipers, such as grooves cut into the rotors or seepage around the calipers.
On the test ride, the bike should start immediately and quickly settle into a regular idle.
Watch for significant engine smoke at start-up. A small puff of blue or black smoke is OK if it goes away quickly.
Evaluate the clutch and transmission. The pull should be smooth and consistent.
Make sure the bike tracks straight.
Try the brakes. They should feel firm and neither grabby nor spongy.
Where to find ’em
Looking for that perfect veteran cruiser? Try these resources:
Military vehicle listings:
A good place to start is www.milweb.net/classifieds.php?type=5.
Local police auctions:
Check around in your area to see whether local or state police or sheriff’s departments have any "motor" (motorcycle) units. If they do, then eventually those bikes get sold to the public at auctions just like ex-cop cars. Call the public information office and ask them when and where.
Online and print classified ads:
One great resource is Craigslook.com, the national search engine that looks through all local and state Craigslist ads. If you type in "Kz1000 police," it will give you a roster of every single ad placed for that bike on all the Craigslist boards around the country.
Walneck’s Classic Cycle, www.walnecks.com, is a great resource, too. Or, just try Google. In addition to private-party sales, you’ll often find dealers that are selling ex-cop bikes; sometimes, these dealers serviced the bikes for the local department during their time as law enforcement vehicles.
Motorcycles are sold on eBay, too.
Interested in acquiring a motorcycle that's also seen service? An option you might consider — one that's not well-known outside of the collector bike hobby — is to shop for an ex-police or former military bike.
Think the famous "CHiPs" Kz1000P — the bikes Ponch and Jon rode — and the similar-in-layout big-bore Harley cop/MP bikes you often see escorting VIP convoys or running radar on the interstate.
If you're looking for a smaller machine, check out the 883 Sportster "police." For dual sports/adventure tourers, look at the Honda XL250 or the larger Kaw KL650 currently in use with the Marines — some with diesel power, too.
After their tours of duty are over, these bikes are typically sold off at auction, or they can be found the usual way, via print and online classified ads.
Some, like the legendary Kz1000P, can be amazingly affordable. During a recent check, several nice ones were listed on eBay and Craigslist for about $3,000.
Others, such as ex-duty Harleys, usually cost more but can still be a deal compared with a new civvie equivalent.
Plus, there's no putting a price on the history these bikes have. They're not just fun to ride; they're great conversation starters, too.
The bigger bikes, such as the Kz1000P and Harley Road Kings, make great long-haul cruisers. They have freeway-friendly ergonomics — comfortable seats, a relaxed riding position, good wind protection from large factory fairings and windscreens — and plenty of secure storage capacity in the factory hard bags.
The smaller units can be a good choice for a new rider, or someone who just wants a bike that's easier to handle.
As former fleet machines, they've also likely been serviced regularly, something that's hit or miss with a bike that's been in private hands its whole life.
Some of the possibilities:
Kawasaki Kz1000P (1977-2005)
You've almost certainly seen one of these on TV or in the movies. They were the uncredited stars of "CHiPs," and "Dirty Harry" Callahan escaped on one in "The Enforcer."
Though Kawasaki stopped selling the civilian version (Kz1000) in 1981, it continued to make the police-duty version of the big Zed all the way through 2005. Many are still in service with motor units all around the U.S.
Current asking prices range from about $1,500 for a well-used but still restorable one to about $7,000 for a pristine model, possibly still wearing its police-spec Dunlop run-flat tires!
The Kz1000P shares the same basic layout as the standard Kz1000, but in addition to the famous 1,000-cubic-centimeter, DOHC four-cylinder engine, police versions feature full fairing with emergency flashers — to be street legal, you must change these over to clear and yellow lights from red and blue — radio (street legal!) and factory hard bags. Some have running boards, and most of the accessories and parts that fit the standard Kz series will fit the police version, too.
Pros: Powerful and tough; big Kaw in-line air-cooled fours are legendary for their durability. These are fast bikes, capable of 140 mph top speeds. Abundant and easy to find replacement and service parts. Excellent wind and weather protection. Ample storage with factory hard bags.
Cons: The factory seat is solo-only but can be replaced with an aftermarket seat. This is a big, powerful bike, not for beginners. Harder to find east of the Mississippi River, they tended to be used more in places such as California and Arizona.
Harley-Davidson FLHP Road King ‘police' (late 1980s-present)
Big Harleys have been used by civilian and military police at least back to the 1930s.
Depending on the year, the bike will be powered by either the Evolution or (newer) Twin Cam 88/96B or 96A V-twin engines. All are air-cooled designs, so no hassles with radiators, but the newer engines feature twin counterbalancers to smooth out the big twin's famously lumpy idle. Later models also feature six-speed transmissions and a trick (and police bike-specific) cylinder cutout feature that lets the bike run on just one cylinder during prolonged idle use, such as parades.
In the past couple of years, some departments have also been using the smaller and lighter 883 Sportster, which is better suited to urban environments, and also the Buell XB12 for on- and off-road use. The Sporty is ideal for smaller-stature riders thanks to its lower seat height and lighter weight. But like its bigger brother, police versions usually come with sidebags and a front fairing.
The big cruisers seem to be going for between $6,000 and $12,000, depending on year and overall condition. That's still a decent deal on a full-size Harley touring bike.
Pros: The Road King is a big bike ideally suited for extended highway trips. Readily available at police auctions or through private/retail sales. Smaller and lighter 883 and XB12s are perfect for new or smaller-stature riders.
Cons: Usually more expensive than the Kz1000P. Not as quick as the Kz1000P; doesn't handle as well. Heavy. Even less of a beginner's bike than the Kz1000P.
Kawasaki M1030M1 KLR650 diesel (2005-present)
This one's off the beaten path — literally.
In 2005, the Marine Corps ordered up diesel-powered versions of the Kawasaki KL650 dual sport for scouting and recon in Iraq and Afghanistan. The diesel engine — which can also burn JP-8 jet fuel — probably isn't more durable than the standard 4-stroke single-cylinder gas engine, but it is capable of an incredible 200 miles per gallon, versus about 55 for the gas version. With a fuel capacity of about 3 gallons, the bike's good to go for an incredible 600-plus miles without a pit stop.
Its high torque is a big advantage when slogging through sand, deep mud or heavy snow. Another heavy-duty feature of the mil-spec KLR650 is the battery, which is of the absorbent type that can't leak — even if the case breaks — because there's no liquid acid sloshing around inside.
Pros: Incredible range, mileage and durability. Superior low-RPM torque output. Extremely cool; diesel-powered bikes are very rare.
Cons: Very pricey; the current contractor that does the conversion to diesel charges the Defense Department a reported two to three times the current retail price of a civilian gas-powered KLR650. Hard to find.
-- Eric Peters is a Military Times automotive writer.