Janesville police consider buying electric motorcycle

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Frank Schultz
Thursday, August 7, 2014

JANESVILLE—Janesville police are riding around town this week on an electric motorcycle.

It's an audition to see if the bike should be added to the department's fleet.

You might not have noticed the bike this week, because unlike internal-combustion engines, the electric motor makes a whirring sound that gets barely above a whisper.

That's one of the attributes that officers like about it, said Sgt. Chuck Aagaard, a motorcycle aficionado who is one of 15 officers who have signed up to use the motorcycle—if the city decides to buy it.

The quiet machine could help cops sneak up on bad guys, Aagaard noted. On the other hand, the police would have to be aware that drivers and pedestrians might not notice the bike on the road—a potential safety issue.

The bike could be used on the streets, but its main use would be on the city's bike trails and dirt paths in parks and greenbelts, Aagaard said.

The bike trails have gotten longer, and plans are to extend them, Aagaard noted. Police now use bicycles to patrol the paths, but a motorbike could cover a lot more ground.

The bike accelerates with no problems, Aagaard said. It has no gears to shift, so officers don't need to bother with a clutch.

“It's got the ample power to do what we need to do,” Aagaard said.

Chief Dave Moore said if the bike passes muster during this week's tryout, he will put it in his 2015 budget. The city council would have the final say.

The bike costs about $18,000, about the same cost as a squad car, Aagaard said.

The bike costs less to run than conventional motorcycles, and it doesn't need oil changes, Aagaard said.

The bike comes with red and blue flashing lights, a siren as loud as a squad car and a horn. Aagaard said an officer riding the bike trail probably would call out “passing on your left” when passing someone, as bicycle riders do now.

The city budget is tight, Moore said, so the proposal would be to not replace one squad car for one year in order to buy the bike.

The bike has limitations. It couldn't be used to transport a prisoner, for example, and it doesn't have the built-in computer that squad cars have, although computers have been added to police bikes, such as the Harley-Davidsons the Rock County Sheriff's Office has, Aagaard said.

The bike's battery needs to be recharged, which takes a lot longer than filing up a gas tank, but a charge will last an entire shift, Aagaard said.

Officers who have tried the bike have found very little to dislike about it. Some thought it could use a more comfortable seat.

Local retiree Jim Kelly was passing by on the bike trail in Palmer Park as Aagaard showed the bike to a reporter and photographer.

“It would be wonderful,” Kelly volunteered. “Make you feel a lot safer, too.”

Here's what an electric police motorcycle sounds like (0:52)

Last updated: 6:03 pm Thursday, August 7, 2014

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