All of the images in this article were shot by the genius that is Phil Steinhardt of Steinhardt Photography. Go check him out
The Police, 5-0, Babylon, Nipple, Feds, Bacon, Filth, Rozzers, Fuzz or even the Fuzzy Muff – they’re all the same right? Out to part you with your cash and ruin your fun for good measure. A lack of self-control in my misspent youth meant more pursuits than the cast of The Cannonball Run and Smokey and the Bandit combined, not always successfully I might add, with a ban, six points, plenty of fines and an unhealthy disdain for the law to show for it. It took a couple of Lancashire’s finest bike cops and a day riding their BMW R1200RTP to convince me otherwise.
My host for the day was 43 year old Inspector Dave Mangan who oversees roads policing in the Lancashire constabulary. In his role as inspector, Dave attends many serious and fatal accidents involving bikers on the roads of the county. September 11th 2013 was one such incident with a tragic difference as the rider involved was Mike Mangan, Dave’s father. Both had been on a ride from Minehead to Land’s End and on the return journey in the afternoon Mike, an experienced rider, made an error whilst overtaking and hit an oncoming van, killing him instantly. Mike was on the last leg of his journey and it is thought that tiredness was a contributing factor in his death. I found it incredibly difficult to watch the video during the morning briefing explaining the circumstances surrounding the accident, suddenly realising I’d made thousands of ropey overtakes over the years without fully concentrating and it hit me just how easily things can go so wrong. Using accident statistics from around the county, Dave had noticed a frightening pattern emerging with bike accidents in the area involving riders on 500cc+ who were returning from rides in Cumbria and travelling home in the afternoons. It was during those final stretches that accidents were occurring as concentration levels started to drop and fatigue began to set in. A third of all motorcycle accidents in the area have been single vehicle collisions where the rider has taken a corner incorrectly, running wide on corner exit and hitting road furniture or even worse an oncoming vehicle, countless lives lost in totally preventable accidents. In light of his father’s tragic accident, Dave decided to raise awareness of this issue with the ‘Last Ride? Your choice’ campaign which involved SuperBike coming along to see first-hand how the bike cops of the Lancashire force do things from the seat of one of their BMW R1200RTP’s.
The first look at the dash had me a little bit worried, I just wanted to know which buttons made the lights and sirens work but it was far more complicated than that, the BMW indicator system alone was enough to get me sweating. Thankfully veteran bike cop PC Andy Spouse was on hand to show me the ropes, although his claims of 250 ish kilograms for the BMW were a bit hopeful, the radio equipment and extra kit pushing the scales far nearer 300 from what I could tell. Meanwhile I was still getting used to the sight of a fully marked police bike filling up my mirrors, old habits die hard and it took a while before I realised the copper behind me wasn’t out to give me a bollocking. The power was the first thing that got my attention. Not from the 1200cc boxer engine in the BMW, no, the motor feels like it’s been taken straight out of a ditch pump. The power I’m talking about was at my fingertips and I was getting drunk on it surprisingly swiftly, the traffic parting like Moses detonating a nuke over the Red Sea, all while I’m whistling the lyrics to ‘sound of da police’ into my helmet. I can’t stop chuckling at the fact they’re letting me ride one of these things on the road. I was quickly reminded why I was here by the sight of wilting bunches of flowers and a scarred tree early on in our run, the first sobering signs of the troubles that these guys face throughout the summer weekends and an indication that we were following the kind of roads that took the lives of six motorcyclists in 2013 alone. Honestly, is the BMW 1200RTP (P stands for Police specification) a great bike? Not really, is the short answer. Even if it has more buttons than the Starship Enterprise, none of them seemed to engage warp factor nine, acceleration was unexceptional with all of that extra mass on board and top speed a rather paltry 130 or so. Does that mean your average Joe has a chance of escaping from one on his S1000RR? Not bloody likely. We stop for a tea and the conversation turns to doing a runner.
Most bikers are professionals, family types who’ve spent lots of money on their bike and running from the police isn’t at the top of their agenda” Dave insisted. “Contrary to popular belief we aren’t out to do people for plates and visors either, but riding around with a tiny plate in particular is going to draw unwanted attention to you and your bike and it gives us a reason to stop you for a closer look” “We’re here to stop people getting killed and if no one got hurt we wouldn’t have to give out any tickets. Unfortunately that isn’t what’s happening” I ask if they’ll consider trading a get out of jail free card for a free subscription to SuperBike and the long silence that followed was definitely a sign they were giving my offer some serious consideration, I’m sure of it. Naturally bikes came into the conversation and Dave is keen to let me know that he’s a biker first and a police officer second, excitedly talking about the occasion he maxed out his new Hayabusa on a deserted autobahn on a recent trip to Germany. His colleague Andy stopped mid-sentence when a Ducati Multistrada flew past, not because the guy was speeding but because he just wanted to hear the noise it made like every other biker does when a V-twin comes by at full chat. “I’d have one in the garage” he says “Sadly the wife wasn’t fond of the back seat or the vibrations and we’re doing some touring this year so the Street Triple R I’ve got at the moment has to go. I’ve tried the new 1290 Adventure as well but that was the same story so it looks like I’ll be doing a deal on a Triumph Tiger”
If these guys had proved they were actually just human then they were about to demonstrate when they got in the saddle they were almost super human. Decades of riding experience combined with advanced training meant that I very quickly saw a police bike disappear from my view, powerless to catch it no matter how hard I pushed on. I can’t remember seeing any brake lights at all and I was surprised that the police would let their machines fall into disrepair with broken bulbs. It turns out they were working and Andy just wasn’t using them. He wasn’t using much of the seat either, sweeping through the bends using all of the road from one hedge to another and what looked like very little effort. Meanwhile my gibbon impression with added turbo knee was getting me nowhere and I started to visualise the amount of insurance forms that would be needed if I stuck one of their fleet through a dry stone wall by playing catch up. I’m relieved when we make it to Devil’s Bridge, a popular biker meeting spot, so I can take a breather and grab a light snack. Just as I’m tucking into my bacon double cheeseburger Dave tells me it’s probably a bad idea. “It’s best to have light snacks when you’re out for a ride. Your blood sugar will drop as your body starts to process that massive burger which will cause fatigue and lowered concentration” I pretend not to hear him and munch my way through the rest of it. While we’re there the guys are mixing with the other bikers who are out for an afternoon spin. Even the sightseers come over for a chat and it seems every one of them had an Ariel Square four or an AJS or a Norton at some time or another and were keen to talk about it at great length. Whether it’s answering Mr Gixer’s questions about how fast the BMW will go or pointing out directions on a map to a confused tourist, it’s clear that these guys genuinely enjoy their jobs and want to leave a positive opinion of the police force.
Before moving into road policing, Dave spent a few years working in the riot squad and I foolishly ask him to demonstrate the best way to apprehend a baddy. One arm lock later and I wish I’d kept my mouth shut. “Tasers are pretty effective” I’m told. “A small percentage of people are immune to CS gas and it always ends up being the massive bloke who won’t go down after being sprayed with it. Then it ends up being a big bobby pile on to take the guy down” We get chatting about the project that Dave is so passionate about once again and he points in the direction of the road we have just ridden down. “That left hand bend was the scene of a fatality that I attended recently, a young lad on an R1 who drifted wide on the exit and clipped a trailer being towed by a car coming the other way. Group riding also poses a risk as generally the slowest rider is at the back. A few missed overtakes and they’re having to ride even faster than the others just to catch up and inevitably make mistakes by riding outside of their comfort zone. At some of the incidents we see, if only we could have spoken to them, got the message through to keep the speeds down and concentration up on the way home, then perhaps it could have prevented another death”