Easy-riding cops cruise Hampshire on Harley Davidsons

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The Independent Online

Elvis rode one. Peter Fonda drifted across America on his in Easy Rider. And now Harley Davidson motorcycles are about to lend a touch of maverick American glamour to the British bobby.

Elvis rode one. Peter Fonda drifted across America on his in Easy Rider. And now Harley Davidson motorcycles are about to lend a touch of maverick American glamour to the British bobby.

The low-slung bikes that became an icon of Sixties counter-culture are being tested by Hampshire police force. The first copper on a Harley will cruise the Deep South of England in the next few weeks, and if the trial is successful the Dyna Defender model used by most US forces, including the Californian Highway Patrol, could soon be common here.

Lee Marvin rode a Harley as the bad boy rival to Marlon Brando in The Wild One, but it was when Fonda and Dennis Hopper crossed the States on choppers in Easy Rider that the bikes became the vehicle of choice for drop-outs and free spirits in the era of acid, Woodstock, Watergate and Vietnam.

However, the new Dyna Defender is very different to a classic Harley tourer, says the company's UK spokesman, Jeremy Pick. It is a "lighter, sportier bike" specifically designed for police work with greater acceleration and a higher top speed of around 125mph, he says, and could serve as a "general purpose" vehicle suitable for escort duties and chasing criminals.

Most British forces currently use BMWs. Asked what makes his bike different, Mr Pick enthuses about its appearance and the distinctive roar of the motor, before settling on a more indefinable quality: "It's got the presence of a Harley."

Before any police force can buy the Dyna Defender it will have to be assessed and approved by the National Association of Police Fleet Managers and the Home Office.

Motorcycle News - the magazine known as "the Bikers' Bible" - has shown great enthusiasm for the idea that Harleys might be used, but a spokeswoman for Hampshire police is more cautious: "Our transport manager is always interested in looking at new things. That's as far as it goes at the moment."

Harley Davidson is not the first company to urge its new technology on the police. At the turn of the last century HJ Norris of Coventry published an advertisement for The Police Tricycle, a rather premature name given that none were in use at the time. The illustration showed a uniformed officer perched uneasily between two enormous wheels, with a third by the pedals at his feet. "The above is recommended for the use of Detective Officers in the serving of Summonses and other processes," said the text. "Would be most convenient in Boroughs, to supply Constables on the beat with their Coffee."

Horses were the first form of police transport, introduced with the Bow Street Patrol in 1763. It disbanded the following year and did not reappear until 1805, when officers were armed.

Bicycles were in common use by the public by 1904, when the police introduced them for a trial period - providing officers used their own machines. The trial worked, the police bought bicycles of its own, and they have been used ever since - including, these days, mountain bikes ridden by officers in lightweight cycle helmets and lycra shorts.

The increase in road traffic and the introduction of the Highway Code in 1930 led to the use of motorcycles by special squads, which mainly used BSA machines at first. Triumph bikes took over in the late Thirties, and remained the most popular until the Sixties.

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