Are Civilians Welcome at Police Motorcycle Rodeos?

A guy by the name of Greg submitted a comment on a recent blog post titled “Watching Cops Compete“, where he asked,

I am thinking about attending a motorcycle cop competition as a spectator. I like looking at cops and I am quite serious about photography (as an art form), so I thought those events might be fun.

Do those events typically welcome civilians to just go and watch? Are there specific events that you recommend?

My reply (with a little bit more):

Police motorcycle riding competitions, often referred to as “police rodeos,” are held periodically across the U.S. and Canada. “Civilians” like me and hundreds of others attend these events often and many take pictures. Cops stage these events in public just for that purpose — they like to demonstrate their riding skills for their fellow officers, loved-ones, and the public at-large.

If an event is scheduled for more than one day, it is likely that the first day is set aside for practice. Not all cops participate in the practice, and most do not wear a uniform during practice. (So note well, if you are looking to take photos of cops in tall black boots and uniforms, you may be disappointed on practice day.)

On the day of the actual competition, you should arrive early. Park in designated areas, usually indicated by signs or — in most cases — parking lot areas not blocked off by cones and police tape. (Cops love to use cones and police tape [giggle]). Early-arrival will ensure that you can observe a welcoming ceremony, which is usually quite the photo op. Plan to stay all day, too. Much goes on throughout the day. There is usually a break in the action at mid-day for lunch. Sometimes vendors provide food, or you can visit nearby restaurants (or pack your own lunch.)

You will see a bunch of cones on a large area of a parking lot. The cones designate particular pathways for riders to ride through — to the left, to the right, in loops, figure-eights, and so forth. Usually as few as two and as many as ten courses are laid out with cones on which riders compete. To the untrained eye of a civilian, though, it will look like — a confusing mass of cones. That’s another reason to get there early, because you can watch a demonstration given to the entrants in the competition about what they are expected to do on each course.

You will have to stay in the public viewing area behind fences, gates, or cones. Feel free to walk around the perimeter of the entire course area. Unless there is a specific exception, organizers of police rodeos do not want photographers on the actual course during the event for the safety of both the riders and the photographer. You will see a few photographers on the course; they are usually affiliated with the event organization or a law enforcement agency. But us ordinary civilians have to stay outside the marked course area.

Take as many photos as you wish. Unless someone indicates by a sign or tells you that they do not want their picture taken, then all is fair game. Do not expect the cops you see there, especially hanging over the fence near you while watching other riders compete, to be all chummy and your next best friend. They tend to stick with their own, and their families. They will, however, answer questions and some may even pose for photos if asked respectfully (and you don’t come off like some weirdo. Just say, “May I take a picture of you on your bike?” Simple. Usually, they will say “sure” and comply with your request, as long as you are not between them and lunch!)

I cannot recommend any particular police motorcycle competition to attend, as my experience is limited to only one — the Mid-Atlantic Motorcycle Skills Competition, which I have attended for 10 years and served as a judge for the past two. It is a well-organized, well-attended event. You have the most fun as a photographer when there are a large number of entries, such as at this one. Some other competitions, especially if just starting out, may not have as much to photograph.

A list of motorcycle police riding competitions can be searched for and found on the internet. Be aware that dates, locations, and situations change. Before making travel plans, check with the event’s direct website and organizer to ensure the event will still be held where and when indicated.

Please go to any events you wish and take lots of photos! Have fun!

If you would like to see my photo galleries of police motorcycle events I have attended and at which I have taken photos, visit my website here.

Life is short: watch cops compete and learn a thing or two!

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About BHD

I am an average middle-aged biker who lives in the greater suburban sprawl of the Maryland suburbs north and west of Washington, DC, USA.

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