Last Updated on: 7th February 2023, 03:55 pm
Reliability is a big concern when you’re buying a motorcycle, whether it’s used or new. You probably don’t want to worry about major repairs during the first couple years of owning a new motorcycle, and you definitely don’t want to be concerned about your bike breaking down on a long ride.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way to determine the most reliable motorcycle – although the Big Four Japanese brands (Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki) tend to dominate the market for dependability. Luxury brands like BMW and Ducati tend to be less reliable not to mention more expensive to maintain and repair.
We’ll cover motorcycle reliability by brand but remember that a reliable motorcycle isn’t everything. The most dependable bikes often aren’t the ones with the highest customer satisfaction, and you may decide it’s worth it to deal with more frequent repairs for a beautiful, fun ride.
Table of Contents
The Consumer Reports Motorcycle Reliability Study
Spend any amount of time researching motorcycle brand reliability and you’re bound to find a lot of information citing the Consumer Reports Motorcycle Reliability Study. In 2014, Consumer Reports started rating motorcycles based on customer satisfaction and reliability but essentially stopped after the second report in 2015.
Their findings are controversial for many reasons:
- There is no clear definition of what constitutes a motorcycle’s “failure” – it could include very minor repairs as well as significant, costly, and potentially dangerous malfunctions
- Reliability tests take many years and the study only followed issues owners experienced with brand-new motorcycles during the first four years
- Motorcycle reliability is not as strongly linked to owner satisfaction and the decision to buy a motorcycle as it is with cars
It’s also important to remember that the survey only gathered information from 11,000 riders between 2008 and 2014. Their first survey in 2014 only considered data from 4,680 bikes! At the very least, the information is definitely outdated at this point.
Still, the Consumer Reports motorcycle reliability study does give some insight you may find helpful. After adjusting for mileage ridden over a 1-year period for the 12,300 motorcycles bought new by 11,000 riders, Consumer Reports estimated a failure rate.
|Motorcycle Reliability by Brand (Consumer Reports, 2015)
|Predicted Failure Rate by 4th Year
This means that the chances of having a problem that requires repairs during the first four years of owning a BMW motorcycle is 2 in 5 or 1 in 3 with a Ducati motorcycle. Only 1 in 10 surveyed Yamaha owners had an issue during the first four years with a new bike.
Despite the problems with the survey, it does line up with general advice for choosing the most reliable motorcycle: Yamaha, Suzuki, and Honda are frequently recommended as reliable motorcycles.
“There is a four times greater chance that a BMW will need repair than a Yamaha. That’s pretty significant when you consider the cost of servicing a BMW is substantially higher,” noted Jeff Bartlett, deputy editor of Consumer Reports. He pointed out that BMW owners should plan to have some money set aside for eventual repairs.
Most Common Issues Affecting Motorcycle Reliability
The Consumer Reports motorcycle survey did include other interesting information about consumer satisfaction and the types of issues most likely to happen during the first four years of ownership.
Just five issues accounted for 82% of all problems that required repairs during the first four years of ownership according to the survey: electrical system malfunctions, problems with accessories, brake issues, fuel system malfunction, and problems with the clutch.
According to the earlier 2014 Consumer Reports survey, most “failures” reported were “fairly inexpensive” and repaired quickly. About 75% of the repairs performed during the first four years of ownership cost less than $200 out-of-pocket. Most were repaired within days.
Serious, costly issues were rare. Mechanical engine issues accounted for just 3% of problems. Transmission problems were only 3% of reported repairs.
Not all of these “failures” indicate an unreliable motorcycle, either – the Consumer Reports study pointed out that issues like fuel system problems can be caused by improper off-season storage, not defects.
Motorcycle Reliability – What You Should Really Know
Take the results of motorcycle reliability studies and even what you hear from other motorcycle owners with a grain of salt. To find the most dependable motorcycle that you actually love, consider the following.
Consider the Cost of Maintenance & Repairs – Not the Frequency
As the Consumer Reports motorcycle survey pointed out, motorcycle “failures” were usually pretty affordable at less than $200. If you’re looking for the most reliable motorcycles, you don’t want to rule out great bikes just because they’re likely to need a couple hundred in repairs in the next few years!
A more important thing to consider is the cost of both potential and unavoidable repairs and overall cost of ownership. The availability (and cost) of parts and the typical repairs you can expect will determine how much you’ll pay when something inevitably needs to be replaced.
Honda and the other Big Four tend to be the most affordable motorcycles to maintain. Parts are easy to find which plays a big role. Imported and high-end brands will come with more expensive repairs and harder-to-find parts.
Consumer Reports found that BMW and Harley-Davidson have the highest average cost for maintenance and ownership.
Consumer Satisfaction May Be More Important
Harley and BMW have among the highest average maintenance and repair costs and both have high “failure rates” according to Consumer Reports at 26% and 40% respectively during the first four years. Both brands also ranked very highly in customer satisfaction.
Don’t assume that a bike that’s high maintenance and requires a lot of work isn’t worthwhile! If it checks all your other boxes in power, styling, and handling, the extra work you needed to put into it won’t be what you remember years from now.
|Motorcycle Brands by Owner Satisfaction
|% Who Would Buy Again
Research a Bike for Notorious Problems Before Buying
Rather than focusing on ranking motorcycle brands by reliability, focus on the specific models you’re interested in. Research specific motorcycle models on forums and groups to see what people are saying. If you see a lot of mentions of “common” or “famous” issues, that’s a good indicator the bike may have problems. It may not be a dealbreaker, but it gives you an idea of what to look for and expect.
Consider the Motorcycle Type & Use
Before relying too heavily on motorcycle reliability to make a decision, keep in mind some types of bikes are more reliable than others, both due to design and how they’re used. Think about what you’re looking for and need in a bike. Do you want a daily commuter bike, something for long cross-country trips, or a bike that’s fun for the weekends, off-roading, and adventure?
Cruisers are generally the most reliable type of motorcycle. They’re usually the least complicated and electrical components are often where you will run into the most problems.
Most Reliable Motorcycle Brands
There isn’t much difference between the top three on Consumer Reports’ motorcycle reliability ratings, but Yamaha is ranked the most reliable motorcycle brand with an 11% failure rate.
Yamaha isn’t just a motorcycle manufacturer; they make engines for all types of vehicles with superb manufacturing expertise and capabilities. No matter which Yamaha bike you choose, it will likely be a low-maintenance bike that will stand the test of time.
Suzuki and Honda tie for second place according to the Consumer Reports’ ranking of the most reliable motorcycle brands. Over the first four years of ownership, just 12% of bikes require fairly serious repairs. Honda has the stronger reputation for dependability, but Suzuki’s ranking is more impressive considering they mostly produce high-performance bikes which are ridden harder and more prone to issues.
While Suzuki is known for its dependability, reports of more frequent electrical problems do exist. It’s a good idea to research the specific bike you’re considering to be aware of any common issues.
Tied for second, Honda has a strong reputation for reliability, not only for its motorcycles but also cars. Like Yamaha, Honda has broad manufacturing capabilities and extensive experience with all types of engines that make it a powerhouse of reliability. Its reputation is impressive considering the diverse bikes Honda produces. Honda motorcycles are built for dependability and longevity with many 30-year-old models still on the road. It isn’t uncommon for riders to get more than 150,000 miles out of a well-maintained Honda bike. Their popular touring models like the Gold Wing can even last 300,000 miles!
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While a bit less reliable than the other big three Japanese brands, Kawasaki is still a dependable choice. Their popular Ninja and KLR models are a good choice if you’re looking for a reliable, fun ride and their popularity makes repairs more affordable too.
After the Big Four Japanese brands which, predictably, make up the four most reliable motorcycle brands, an American brand claims the #5 spot. Victory motorcycles have an expected failure rate of 17% during the first four years, according to Consumer Reports. However, remember that survey is outdated. The notorious problem with three-cylinder Triumph Triples seems to be improved with fewer reports of major engine problems.
Least Reliable Motorcycle Brands
Can-Am motorcycles had the worst reliability rating according to Consumer Reports with an estimated 42% of bikes needing repairs within the first four years. Still, 67% of owners said they’d buy a Can-Am bike again.
More frequent repairs or a higher cost of ownership don’t matter as much to Can-Am riders. The Can-Am Spyder, a three-wheeled motorcycle in production since 2007, has developed a following. It’s popular with riders who can’t or don’t wish to ride a traditional motorcycle and it doesn’t even require a motorcycle license in some areas. As a touring bike, it’s packed with high-end features like GPS and heated grips and delivers a great value and performance. It’s appeal for first-time riders is clear so it’s no surprise that less reliability than, say, a Honda made for hard riding isn’t a deal-breaker.
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Consumer Reports found that 40% of new BMWs require fairly serious repair within four years. While riders do find BMW motorcycles to be less reliable overall, this figure may be skewed by two things: Consumer Reports readers are more likely to prefer and buy BMW motorcycles and these bikes are usually ridden for more miles than, say, Kawasaki and Suzuki bikes which may skew the results.
However, 68% of owners would buy a BMW again. That’s a higher customer satisfaction rate than Yamaha, ranked the most reliable motorcycle. A luxury brand with a lot of technology and sophisticated engineering, a BMW bike also comes with more things that can go wrong. Keep in mind that not only are you probably more likely to need repairs, BMW motorcycles are more expensive to repair and maintain than brands like Honda.
Like Ducati, KTM motorcycles have a reputation for unreliability. Regular maintenance can definitely prevent many problems, but maintenance on KTM bikes can be frequent and complicated with screens, filters, and the catalytic converter in the way for a simple oil change. Like Ducati, though, you probably aren’t buying a KTM because you want the most reliable motorcycle or you’re averse to maintenance: you want a bike that delivers a fun, thrilling ride.
Ducati is a premium brand known for its gorgeous, high-performance bikes, but are Ducatis reliable? The brand has a reputation for unreliability although that’s changing. In the past, motorcyclists would advise Ducati owners to have a backup bike and be prepared to get stranded. However, their newer models are showing more promise. The Ducati Scrambler is a popular daily driver and one of the best motorcycles for beginners. It’s one of the most dependable motorcycles Ducati makes and it’s even one of the affordable in terms of purchase price and maintenance.
If dependability is very important to you, remember that motorcycle reliability doesn’t just depend on the brand. Make sure you research specific models for common problems and balance reliability with style, comfort, and performance. Finally, remember how well the bike is maintained plays a big role in ownership costs and dependability.
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