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Pa. Police Dept. Testing Electric Motorcycles

The cluster of Harley-Davidsons parked outside the Reading police headquarters in City Hall attest to many of the officers' affinity for motorcycles.

But none of those bikes is used on the job. An officer last rode a motorcycle on patrol about seven years ago.

That could change next year if Police Chief William M. Heim approves the purchase of up to two electric bikes from Zero Motorcycles.

Lt. Bruce T. Monteiro has been testing a Zero model since last week and feels they would be a good addition to the department's fleet.

As the department's quartermaster, one of Monteiro's responsibilities is fleet maintenance.

He said electric motorcycles, which cost about $20,000, are far less costly to operate than regular patrol vehicles because they don't use fuel and don't require oil changes. They run on a rechargeable battery and are virtually maintenance-free except for the brake pads.

The electric motorcycles are just as stealthy as the bicycles that some city officers now ride, allowing police to sneak up on people in alleys, he said.

"The downside with bike patrol units is, you stick them in an area and they're kind of useless to us if something major happens on the other side of town," Monteiro said. "They can get there, but it's just going to take quite a long time. With this, you're instantly just as quick on the other side of town, and the added factor of your off-road (capability) and all those things.

"Also, bicycles don't have lights and sirens and don't have capability of stopping cars."

Because electric motorcycles run quietly and discharge no fuel emissions, they can be driven in large public buildings such as the Santander Arena, if needed, said Officer Dale R. Trythall Jr., a certified motorcycle cop who also has taken the bike for a few spins.

"This being silent, nobody knows we're coming, so this is great versus a traditional cruiser-style police motorcycle like a Harley-Davidson or Kawasaki," he said.

The Zero bikes have a maximum speed of 98 mph, far below that of gas-powered motorcycle. But that isn't an issue in the city, where maneuverability is paramount.

The Zero bikes are better suited for the needs of the city department. With no gears, there is no shifting required and no hesitation. They start at maximum torque and can climb curbs and steps with no problem.

And in short distances they are quicker than a car or gas-powered motorcycle, Trythall and Monteiro said.

"If you're stuck in a car on a one-way street," Monteiro said, "even getting a couple blocks over could take a few minutes where with this thing you jump on sidewalk, go through a breezeway, over an alley, whatever, and you're right there,"

Monteiro said he has put aside enough money to buy two motorcycles next year, but the chief has to approve the purchases. However, cuts to the department's budget could require those funds to be shifted to cover the cost of buying four new police cars that are needed to keep the fleet at full strength.

Short of a sponsor emerging, the motorcycles might have to wait.

"Now the question is, are we going to get a new car or two motorcycles," Monteiro said.

Copyright 2014 - Reading Eagle, Pa.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service