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What are the most reliable motorcycles?

Victory Magnum tourers
Victory Magnum

While Japanese motorcycles are the most reliable, Victory and Harley owners are the most satisfied and happy with their bikes, according to American consumer advocacy magazine Consumer Reports.

Australian consumer advocacy magazine Choice does not have any consumer reports on motorcycles or their reliability. A spokesperson says it isn’t cost effective to test motorcycles. However, we can use this 2015 American study as a guide.

The annual USA consumer survey of the top 10 brands found similar results to last year with the Japanese marques leading the reliability stakes. Yamaha recorded the lowest failure rate for four-year-old motorcycles with 11%, followed by Suzuki and Honda (12%) and Kawasaki (15%).

American brands Victory (17%) and Harley-­Davidson (26%) were midpack, and Triumph (29%), Ducati (33%), BMW (40%), and Can-Am (42%) were the more trouble-prone brands.

Because I’m happy

However, it was a different story in the owner satisfaction or happiness stakes with a whopping 80% of Victory owners saying they would definitely buy the same bike if they were to do it all over again. Harley-­Davidson owners were also quite satisfied with 72% happy to buy another Hog, followed by Honda (70%) and all other brands well below 70%.

Consumer Reports surveyed their subscribers who reported on more than 12,300 motorcycles from model years 2008 to 2014.

Comfort ratings

It found that comfort was the most important attribute for high satisfaction scores. Among the 10 brands surveyed, only Victory earned the highest rating for comfort. It also received a top mark in almost every category.

Meanwhile Ducati, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Triumph had the lowest mark for comfort.

Privacy consumer reports
You don’t buy a Ducati Panigale for comfort!

There were closer scores for other satisfaction categories such as acceleration, fun, and styling.

However, in the ratings for handling, the three-wheeler Can-Am Spyder received a lower satisfaction rating than every other brand.

Cost of repairs

When it comes to repairs, cruisers are the most reliable category with a 15% failure rate by the fourth year of ownership. They were followed by dual-sport/adventure, standard, touring, sport touring, and sport bikes ranging up to 23% failure rate.

But none was statistically more failure-­prone than the others.

Can Am Spyder F3
Can-Am Spyder rated low on handling and repairs

Trikes scored significantly greater risk of repairs, especially those with two front and one rear wheel such as the Can-Am Spyder, which was almost twice as likely to experience a problem as most other types of motorcycles.

Among those bikes needing repair, 45% incurred no expense, suggesting that many riders are performing the work themselves or having the bikes repaired under the original manufacturer’s warranty.

Of those that did incur out-of-pocket expenses, the average motorcycle repair bill was $342, with the cost being heavily dependent on brand and type.

Despite a lack of data, Consumer Reports says the median repair costs ranged from $269 for Kawasaki to $455 for BMW. Dual-sport/adventure bikes and cruisers were less expensive to repair, costing $313 and $322 on average, and sport touring models were pricier at $383.

Things that go wrong

  • Repaired parts           Percent of repaired motorcycles
  • Electrical system              24%
  • Accessories                       19%
  • Brakes                                18%
  • Fuel system                       13%
  • Clutch                                   8%
  • Body panels                        6%
  • Drive system                       6%
  • Valve train                           5%
  • Front suspension               5%
  • Cooling system                   4%
  • Piston                                   4%
  • Transmission                      4%
  1. It comes as no surprise that BMW is listed as one of the most unreliable brands. We hear of more recalls and problems with them than most other brands. Their reputation for quality and reliability was gained in the ’70s when their bikes were simple and solid. If they once again focussed on quality and simplicity instead of on lots of gimmicks they might regain that reputation.

    1. I’d have to disagree on the BMW recalls. Subscribe to Motorcycle Consumer News. They list all recalls for the month. BMW is mentioned very infrequently.

      I do ride a BMW…as do many of my friends. Mostly GS’s and K bikes. Problems are nil. And we ride about 10,000 miles or more a year. Mine is 10 years old….still no issues. I’ve also owned all four Japanese brands of bikes.
      Reliability and maintenance schedules were similar. A major issue with my Concours, Suzuki and Yamaha.

      What I will say…BMW dealer maintenance has become quite pricey in the last 3 or so years.

      If you read the Consumer Report article carefully…most issues for all brands were with the fully loaded bikes…large tourers? And in turn…the average repair bill was under $200.

      1. Although I would note call any of the 3 BMW’s that I have owned “unreliable”, I will say that I have spent about $5K in repairs on the post 1980 (1996 R1100RS & 2002 R1150GS) models
        due to Transmission (1996) & Driveline (2002) failures. Compared to the 1982 R100RT that my father purchased new for our trip from PA to TX (now in my garage), that has only ever needed it’s rear shock replaced.
        I will say that… they do build good bikes (to ride), but cost of long term ownership is just too high for me. I have several friends that have traded their BMW’s after similar experience as the newer models are more complex.
        That said, realizing that is the price of progress, I would have to Agree with MotoRain that those “Airhead” bike of years gone buy and the rock solid reliability that came with them, are not what is offered in showrooms today.

        Personally, I wish BMW would focus more on solid “old school” engineering rather than “planned obsolescence” and “marketing hype” so common today.
        Not likely I know, but just my opinion.
        After all, to offer the “Ultimate Riding Machine” you must offer more than you’re competition.

        So in the meantime, I will spend my hard earned disposable income in other directions !

  2. What was the size of the amount of riders surveyed ? It’s not much use quoting percentages when the sample size is unknown.

    1. Hi Bruce,
      It says in the story: “Consumer Reports surveyed their subscribers who reported on more than 12,300 motorcycles from model years 2008 to 2014.”
      It doesn’t actually sasy how many owners and I would expect some own more than one bike.

  3. These stats are probably effectively useless, its comparing apples and oranges, a ducati is uncomfortable ,no shit!
    really a sports tourer or tourer is likely to have clocked up at least double the mileage of a cruiser, likewise an
    adventure bike , it is not unusual to see goldwings and st’s with over 150,000km on them and similar age
    hd’s with 10-20,000 , repairs under warranty would possibly have given a fairer assessment .

    1. Really? I bought a brand new Harley Softail slim last year and already have over 13000 ins without one issue. I’ve owned 14 motorcycles, all Japanese except my current ride. I’m very happy with the Harley and not just for looks but durability. My last bike, a Kawasaki 1500 classic needed a rebuild after 35000 mms. Piston rings were shot. Just a fluke?

  4. One interesting thing is the number of electrical problems a stuffed stator
    is probably one of the most likely things to leave you sitting on the side
    of the road. but a lot of bikes have no alternator light let alone a gauge

  5. People should do their homework BEFORE buying a new bike . Google “Bike model ” faults / breakdowns and ask owners of the bike you wish to buy about any problems . The bike I have decided on to buy sometime this year, I have been watching since 2004. Back then it was heavy and ugly and had its faults. Now its lighter , better looking and faults fixed . This year , its added spoke wheels and a beak. Suzuki V-Strom 650XT . With a lowering link kit (25mm rear / 20mm front) and a few added options puts this in my price bracket . I have road tested 2 so far , but not the xt YET. The great all -rounder. See you suzuki at the end of the FY .

    1. You won’t be disappointed with the new strommy. It is leaps ahead of my 2010 Strom. Talking to guys with one he said they have reworked the engine and many other things anf it feels more like the old TL than ever before. In fact if they re released the TL with this engine it would break records.

  6. Reliability and customer satisfaction are 2 way different things. The average guy on a super-sport is riding way less miles than the guy on a BMW dual sport. I don’t know many people with a CBR 1000rr going on 500 mile rides. So why compare it to a bike that does?

    The guy who rides a $20,000 HD wouldn’t place as high of a value on reliability than the nerd wearing high vis on his VStrom does. They guy who wants a Ducati Panagale has different wants compared to the guy on a Honda CBR.

    Let’s face it, reliability is important, but a motorcycle is so much more than just a reliable tool.

    Also, a cam am is not a motorcycle. Anyone who buys one should be happy it’s broke down and out of service. Less time embarrassing themselves in public DRIVING that thing.

    1. We ride more than 700 km on weekends on sport bikes in europe. Reliability is most important

  7. Wow the whining is amazing! Your bikes may be better or worse. They are just reporting on known issues from other owners.
    Yes, you don’t buy a Panigale for comfort but maybe you would like to know about the possible maintenance issues ahead of time.

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