They're quiet, lightweight and eco-friendly. Never words used to describe a police cruiser -- or even the Los Angeles Police Department's fleet of Harley-Davidson and BMW motorcycles.
But the LAPD is now testing two versions of electric motorcycles that are all three of the above. Specially equipped for law enforcement use, both can be charged for as little as $1 a day.
Last month, Chief Charlie Beck rode in on one of the new bad boys -- the Empulse LE, manufactured by Brammo Inc. of Ashland, Ore. -- at an event at the Los Angeles Police Museum.
"Chief Beck has already asked me to look at new types of vehicles that could be green and could be of use in our fleet in the future," said Sgt. Dan Gomez, who heads the department's Tactical Technology division. "These are not to replace, but rather augment, the existing fleet."
Currently, Gomez's team has two bikes to test: the Empulse and a similar one made by Santa Cruz-based Zero Motorcycles Inc.
"We're taking it through its paces," Gomez said of the bikes' technology. "We want to make sure we understand all of it, and we have to verify the technical aspects of the motorcycles."
The Brammo can run up to 120 miles on a single charge under optimum conditions, but on the low end, it's down to just 56 miles.
"It's dependent on the weight, if the driver is a heavy accelerator -- all the same things that affect traditional gas-powered vehicles' mileage," said Greg Lemhouse, director of global fleet development for Brammo. "But if the motorcycle is sitting still, doing a traffic surveillance, that type of thing, it will get higher mileage."
When the battery needs a charge, it can be plugged into a regular 120-volt wall outlet, although that may take several hours. The time would be brought down to one hour at a commercial charging station.
Saddlebags for an officer's gear might further weigh down the motorcycles, decreasing the mileage between charges.
Lemhouse said several law enforcement agencies have tested the Brammo, and the Hawthorne Police Department is using two of the company's earlier model, the Inertia.
The bikes come with steep price tags -- the Brammo retails for $24,995, and details were unavailable for the Zero -- but Lemhouse notes that unlike a traditional motorcycle, the up-front expense is the bulk of the outlay for the life of the bike.
"That cost is really all you're going to have," he said. "There are no gas costs. The maintenance costs are lower because you don't have to do the same level of maintenance as on a traditional motor. The savings will far outpace the initial cost very quickly."
For now, though, a fleet of green, quiet motorcycles is still quite a ways off.
Gomez says the department will test other electric models before it cements any deal.
"We don't have a time frame right now," he said. "But you may start to see officers riding on some during road testing. If we can find a place in the field for these, then we'd have steps to move forward -- including getting it approved and finding funding. But certainly, we're very excited about it." ___