The Breakdown

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CHP returns to Harley Davidson bikes; SoCal dealer hopes more police agencies will follow

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Harley Davidson motorcycles are returning to the California Highway Patrol after years of being passed over for BMWs. 

Oakland Harley Davidson is building four bikes a week for the CHP at a cost of about $28,000 per bike.  Last week, the dealership delivered its 104th CHP motorcycle since winning the contract a year ago.

"CHP’s Department of General Services outlined very specifically what they wanted on this motorcycle," said Mike Genthner, the dealership's manager of police and fleet sales.  He then ticked off a list of patrol-specific features that he believes make it a "comfortable" and "competent" motorcyle:  a map light, the dash panel where  a clipboard can fit, flashlight holders, heated grips, and a heated seat.

"We’ve put a a higher performance suspension on the  front and rear of the bikes, so that enhances ride quality and the performance aspects of handling," Genthner told KPCC.   

Harley Davidson hasn't had a contract with the CHP since 1989.  Most recently, BMW has been the bike of choice for the CHP.  Many local law enforcement agencies, including the LAPD,  the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, and San Diego police,  have followed its lead, according to the Los Angeles Times

Ron Bartels of Bartels Harley Davidson in Marina Del Rey, remembers when his mechanics serviced CHP bikes in the '80s.  He says when the CHP turned away from Harleys, local police departments started to as well.  Now, he expects the local agencies to follow the CHP back.

"They all respect the Highway Patrol as being the heaviest, hardest testing [of motorcycles]," Bartels said. "They put it through the vigorous testing that local departments don’t spend the money to do, where the state can." Bartels has signed his dealership up once again to repair and maintain highway patrol motorcycles.

Two years ago, the Torrance Police Department turned to Honda to replace a fleet of 2006 Harleys with mechanical problems. As the Daily Breeze reported, the problems included cracked engine cases, excessive vibration, overheating in prolonged traffic stops, emergency lights that drained the battery.

But dealers Mike Genthner of Oakland and Ron Bartels of Marina Del Rey agree that since 2009, Harley Davidson has made substantial improvements to its police bikes.   

"If CHP says this is a good product, it’s probably been put under a microscope pretty tight," Genthner said.  "If I was working at a local agency that had a fleet of four or five, it’s easy for me to look at that bike and say, 'I want that for my city,' without having to go through all the headaches of figuring all that stuff out myself."

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