Most reliable motorcycles
Japanese bikes have fewer problems than BMW and Harley models
Consumer Reports magazine: May 2013
Yes, the artfully sculpted lines of a BMW motorcycle and the throaty rumble of a Harley-Davidson V-twin motor can stir your senses. But they’re often accompanied by more problems
than Japanese motorcycles from Honda, Kawasaki, and Yamaha. Those are the
findings from our first motorcycle
, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, in which we asked subscribers to tell us about any serious problems or repairs they had
experienced with their bikes in the previous four years.
As more people take up motorcycle riding, whether to save gas or simply pursue a new or rekindled passion, those new findings can help you avoid problems when you shop for one.
Overall, about one-fifth of the 4,680 bikes for which we received data experienced a major problem in that time period, with the odds varying significantly among brands. The
chances for a problem ranged from about 1 in 10 for Yamaha motorcycles to almost 1 in 3 for BMWs and about 1 in 4 for Harley-Davidsons.
Although we didn’t receive adequate data to include Suzuki and Triumph motorcycles in our analysis, the responses we got suggest that Suzukis provided similar reliability as the
other Japanese brands and Triumphs were among the more problematic brands.
We also found that reliability can vary a lot by the type of bike. Looking at the five brands in our analysis, owners of touring models had the most problems, at 27 percent. That
was followed by on/off-road dual-sports (23 percent), sport touring bikes (19 percent), and cruisers (16 percent). Though we didn’t receive sufficient data to rate high-performance
sport bikes, the information we got suggests they have been as reliable as cruisers.
What’s going wrong
Among the bikes that needed repairs, respondents reported having the most trouble with accessories, such as lights, instruments, switches, and radios (21 percent); brakes (20
percent); the electrical system (16 percent); and the fuel system (15 percent). Our experts suggest that some of the fuel-system problems may be due to improper storage during the
Mechanical engine problems were relatively rare, with only 3 percent having trouble with the cylinder head or valvetrain, or with the crankcase, crankshaft, or pistons. Similarly,
only 3 percent needed transmission repairs, although 7 percent had clutch problems.
Fortunately, most repairs were fairly inexpensive and were performed quickly. Seventy-five percent of all repairs cost less than $200 out-of-pocket, and about two-thirds of the
repaired bikes were back on the road within a couple of days.
Despite the higher number of problems, Harley and BMW owners were among the most satisfied with their bikes. When we asked whether, considering everything, they would buy their
bike again if they had it to do over, 75 percent of Harley owners said definitely yes, closely followed by 74 percent of BMW owners and 72 percent of Honda owners. By contrast,
only 63 and 60 percent of Yamaha and Kawasaki owners, respectively, were as emphatic.
In our car-owner satisfaction surveys, we’ve seen that models that generate enthusiasm—including sports cars and fuel-scrimping hybrids—tend to do the best in this subjective
measure. Perhaps sculpted lines and rumbling engines also strike the right note among motorcyclists.
What your mechanic wants you to know
Photo: Jetta Productions
Motorcyclists could easily prevent many of the problems they encounter. That’s the unvarnished message we got from motorcycle mechanics from around the country who discussed common
problems they see in their shops. Here’s how to prevent unnecessary expense and downtime:
Antilock brakes: A real lifesaver
A welcome trend in motorcycle technology is the growing availability of antilock brakes. Bikes equipped with ABS are 37 percent less likely to be involved in a fatal crash,
according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The reason is simple: Locking up the brakes in a panic stop robs the rider of any steering control. That can easily lead to a skid and crash, which can result in serious
injury. ABS can help prevent skids and crashes by allowing the rider to retain steering control during an emergency stop, and it can be especially valuable in slippery
This critical feature is now standard on many high-end models and adds only a few hundred dollars to the price of more basic bikes—a worthwhile investment in
Copyright © 2000 NTNOA All rights reserved.
Revised: January 05, 2018