HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- Most drivers will tense up a bit when we see a motor cop in our mirrors. It's a natural reaction, unless you're a perfect driver who never so much as does one mile per hour over the speed limit.
But in a huge parking lot at Huntington State Beach, hundreds of officers were not working traffic enforcement, but on reinforcement of their skills in the saddle. It's an annual event called the Motor Rodeo, put on by the Orange County Traffic Officers Association.
"All the basic skills get put into play, and then some. We have some decent riders here, some great riders, and we have some phenomenal riders," said Laure Bao, the president of the OCTOA.
The various courses are made up of tight cone patterns beyond what they'll likely face on duty. But it's an exercise to sharpen and demonstrate skills, and the participating departments consider the event a training day for their officers. The overall winner is crowned "Top Gun," and last year's honoree, Officer Paul Gooder from the Irvine Police Department, is pretty humble about it.
"You know, it's just a lot of years experience. And it was the first year I had a motorcycle that could actually do a lot of the patterns, so it was fun to put my name in the hat," he said.
Cop after cop, from departments as far south as San Diego and as far north as Oxnard, tackled the array of cones. The rules stipulate not putting a foot down for balance (they have to remain on the foot pegs or floorboards), and hitting a cone means points off your score.
I was able to find out first-hand what handling one of these big purpose-built motorcycles is like. I have many years of riding experience on street bikes, with tens of thousands of miles on all kinds of motorcycles. But aside from various safety courses I've taken over the years, nothing was quite like this.
BMW let me borrow one of their demo bikes -a full-police spec R1250RT-P. And I asked 2018's Motor Rodeo champion, Officer Gooder, for pointers.
"Use your brakes, your rear brake. And just nice and slow, clutch-throttle," he said.
I was on a very simplified course, trying to weave between cones in a straight line, placed about two bike lengths apart. Lots to remember at once, especially for a novice at this sort of thing. On the plus side, I didn't drop or damage BMW's motorcycle. On the minus side, I hit a cone or two.
But so do the pros sometimes, as they try their extra-tricky maneuvers. Hitting a cone is no shame, as it lets the officers know the limits of the course.
And think about this. In addition to the danger inherent in being a police officer in general, these cops take on the additional risk of riding motorcycles in Southern California's legendary traffic.
In the end, a good attitude helps.
"I get paid to ride around on a motorcycle all day, so I'm not complaining," said Officer Gooder, summing up what it's like to be a motor officer.
After getting a small taste of what motorcycle officers do each day on the job, I couldn't agree more.