“The Police Motorcycle”
For over one-hundred-years Americans have obsessed over motorcycles. There is one name always associated with the powerful, industrious, and (let’s be honest) dangerously fast two-wheeled machine: Harley-Davidson. The motorcycle company, founded by William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson in 1903, has a history so rich and so vast it cannot fit into a single museum. Speaking of museums, the Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM) stores a vintage, 1989 Harley-Davidson Police Interceptor in the basement of their storage facility.
Harley-Davidson (H-D) made selling police fleet motorcycles a critical part of their business. Michigan saw the first H-D police motorcycle in action. In 1908, H-D delivered a police edition motorcycle to the Detroit Police Department, and from then on police departments across the country acknowledged the maneuverable machine to be a tactical advantage in the business of fighting crime.
The Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) was no different. In the early 1900’s GRPD had motorcycle policemen patrol the streets on Indian motor bicycles (GRPM also stores a 1913 Indian in their basement, similar to what the earlier policemen rode), but in 1930 Officer Thomas Marshall was photographed sitting on his H-D outside the Police Department garage. Police edition Harley-Davidsons crossed Lake Michigan from Milwaukee and into the streets of Grand Rapids.
Hurt by the Great Depression, H-D marketed their bikes as “The Police Motorcycle,” and since then over 3,400 U.S police departments adopted H-D as their crime-fighting bike of choice.
But, as always, and to quote Bob Dylan, “the times they are a’changin’.”
A July (2012) article by the Detroit Free Press detailed how the Michigan State Police fleet of motorcycles will no longer be exclusively American made. H-D, based out of Wisconsin, has been the All-American motorcycle manufacturer for over a century. But, the Michigan State Police are making a switch. Earlier this year, in April, they purchased nine German made BMW R1200s.
The State Police defended their choice to buy BMW’s by citing an analysis which states the BMW is faster (topping out at 131 m.p.h.) and accelerates from 0-100 m.p.h. in less than 11 seconds. It takes a Harley a little more than half a minute. Simply put, and according to the State Police’s vehicle evaluation team, the BMW police motorcycle surpasses the overall performance of a H-D.
However, the majority of the State motorcycle-riding police officers still sit atop Harley-Davidsons. The question becomes whether this recent shift in police motorcycles will signal the decline of H-D as “The Police Motorcycle,” and make way for BMW as the new cop in town.
Harley dealers in Michigan, along with representatives of H-D, couldn’t be reached for comment in the article. Yet, they were able to quote someone who offers a unique perspective on Michigan motorcycling, especially as a H-D rider. This particular motorcyclist rides a police edition Harley, an advanced version of the 1989 Interceptor. But, he isn’t a cop. He is my father.
Vince Consiglio, or Dad as I call him, has been riding a motorcycle throughout the state of Michigan and all over the U.S as early as 1970, putting 20,000 miles a year on his numerous bikes since 1974. Along the way he’s shifted gears on several different Harleys, from a ’71 Sportster, to the three-wheeled Servicar, and many, many police editions, including his most current 2012 H-D Police Road King. He is always cut a deal for the police bikes, being the President of ABATE of Michigan (American Bikers Aimed Towards Education), and a Chief Instructor for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF).
In the last few months or so, ABATE and my Dad has repeatedly been featured in the local news. Back in March they repealed Michigan’s long-standing mandatory helmet law. It’s because of them that you’ll see some motorcyclists cruising the roads of Michigan without helmets.
In the Detroit Free Press article, Vince Consiglio called the State’s purchase of BMW’s “pretty disappointing.” It’s no surprise he was disappointed, seeing as he’s ridden no other brand but Harley since 1971. He’s proud to ride an American machine, especially a Midwestern one. Once he bought a Harley, he transformed into a motorcycle madman. And, over the years, he’s fully, exponentially, and one-hundred-percently encapsulated the motorcycle lifestyle that has captivated so many Americans; in fact, he does so in his own way, and in extreme fashion.
My Dad is the sort of rider who will ride year round if he can. He owns a Harley with a sidecar attached, used exclusively for riding through the snowy winter months of Michigan. For clothing, he’ll stack layer, upon layer, upon layer over his body to fool himself he’ll stay warm riding in below freezing temperatures.
I’ve grown up seeing the American obsession with motorcycles firsthand. When we went on vacations as a family it was a mother and her sons in the luggage-packed car, with the father riding fast and far ahead on his H-D motorcycle.
H-D is an iconic American company, serving the people’s passion for speed, thrills, and the wonder of the open road. Although I’m not an active motorcyclist myself, it’s in my blood. From a young age I remember hearing the reverberating roar of the engine firing up. As a two-year-old I was strapped into the sidecar with my older brother and taken for a ride. As a teenager I’d ride on the back as a passenger wearing shoulder pads and a helmet with a facemask, and cruise directly to the field for football practice.
When I saw the 1989 H-D Police Interceptor stored as a museum artifact, you can see why I had to write about it. Though all the artifacts were dead silent, I could hear the motorcycle engine roaring, as I do deep within my dreams.
Short Bio: My name is Thomas Consiglio and I was born December 14, 1987 near Detroit, MI. I graduated from GVSU in 2010 with a B.A. in Creative Writing. Minored in English.
More Information from the Grand Rapids Public Museum
This Harley-Davidson motorcycle has a V-Twin 2 cylinder engine, a manual transmission, front and rear disc brakes, dual exhaust, police lights, sirens, and radio. It is white, black, and chrome colored with Grand Rapids Police Department decals on the fairings and panniers. The odometer reads 201,865 miles.