Better handling. Easier maneuverability. And perhaps almost as important in this line of work, they add the element of surprise.
Members of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff Station’s Off-Highway Vehicle Team, also known as the off-road team, are testing new Zero FX model eBikes, with hopes of having their hands on the handlebars in the next few months, if all goes well.
The Sheriff’s Department is having deputies at various stations test out the new wheels before they’re approved for adoption, and Santa Clarita is hoping to be the first station.
The initial signs appear to be that the new law enforcement vehicles — with a top speed of about 85 mph and an approximately 90-mile range — are garnering very positive reviews.
On Wednesday, Sgt. Guillermo Martinez and Deputy Brian Rooney, who are both on the off-road team, took one of the bikes the Sheriff’s Department currently utilizes, the Suzuki DR-Z400, and one of the new electric Zero models, up to Rowher Flats and Texas Canyon, just to see how the two compared. On Thursday, the testing grounds were Placerita Canyon and the Santa Clara River wash.
“Yesterday (Wednesday) was great. It was a chance for us to test the capabilities between our gas ones and our electric ones — the electric ones are more than capable,” Martinez said.
They both mentioned one minor technical issue — the test models had more street-appropriate tires versus the off-road-ready wheels on the gas model, but they’d expect that to be addressed for the station-ready bikes.
“The power is there. The drivability is there,” Martinez said. “This one’s (the eBike) a little bit more nimble, it allows for us to do maneuvers a little easier, whereas this one … the gas one is a lot heavier than the electric one. Going up on some of the terrain that we’ve gone up in the past, that’s a little bit more challenging, a little bit more technical — it was more of a breeze with the electric one.”
In addition to better handling and being easier to ride, Martinez and Rooney also noted the new bikes were cleaner, generally safer and more practical for use in Santa Clarita.
“Obviously, you’ve got the environmental aspects of it that were mentioned,” said Martinez, who also shared a sheet with the bike’s specs that said they cost about 80 cents and nine hours to recharge. “The other nice thing about it too, is if, for example, in the event of Concerts in the Park, where we have a large congestion of people, this (gas-powered bike) is noisy, it interrupts the music and the atmosphere, and then some of the dangers I fall into is I have a hot exhaust that a child could potentially come and touch it.”
There are also subtle differences that give the edge to the eBikes, Rooney said, noting the Zero models were purpose-built, which meant its functionality, such as the police lights, are integrated to the design, as opposed to being an add-on.
A representative for Zero did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. The Los Angeles Police Department adopted Bosch eBikes for wider use in 2018 after a pilot program the previous year, according to an LAPD news release.
“You could take (the eBikes) to the mall,” Rooney said, “or any huge industrial buildings that we’re clearing, you could ride that in and up and down rows, and they couldn’t hear you, and there’s no exhaust.”
The noise and weight of the gas bike also make it a challenge to use in certain off-road environments, Rooney said.
“I mean you can almost pick that (e)Bike up and turn it around, if you had to,” he said.
“So the balance, the agility on it is a lot easier, and you can’t hear ’em,” he added. “Palmdale had this (eBike) and they used it for their graffiti operation. And he said he rolled up on kids in an alleyway, and they never heard him coming.”