Consumer Reports Reliability Survey. Japanese Motorcycles Score Best. BMW Scores Worst. Harley Riders Don’t Care Too Much…

repair5Reliability is not always the primary criteria in choosing a motorcycle brand and model, but it is always a consideration.

US advocacy magazine “Consumer Reports” made a reliability study of 4680 motorcycles owned by its subscribers (Triumph & Suzuki were not included in the results due to insufficient data.)

Japanese motorcycles are considered the most reliable (1- Yamaha, 2- Kawasaki, 3-Honda) with an average of only 10% of having a problem over a 4-year period. On the same criteria, 25% of Harley-Davidson motorcycles had a problem and surprisingly 33% of the “rugged for adventure” BMW motorcycles had a problem.

Of course, some motorcycle issues are more serious than others and can be more or less expensive when not covered by a warranty. According to the survey, 25% of all repairs cost at least $200 out-of-pocket. Potentially expensive engine, transmission, and suspension problems are very few. The chart below details the frequency of problems cited by consumers who bought a motorcycle new from 2009 to 2012 and reported needing a repair. None of these motorcycles were covered by an extended warranty or service contract purchased at an additional cost at the time of service.


23 Responses to “Consumer Reports Reliability Survey. Japanese Motorcycles Score Best. BMW Scores Worst. Harley Riders Don’t Care Too Much…”

  1. 1 Terence Tory Feb 23rd, 2014 at 9:26 am

    That problem with BMW adventure bikes is because they have to ride so many miles on bad roads to get away HOG club members hogging the bars and icecream stands.And I thought BMW riders were weird! Maybe they’re not so dumb?

  2. 2 BobS Feb 23rd, 2014 at 9:59 am

    Victory, Indian, Ducati, Triumph, KTM, MV Augusta, Aprilla, Suzzie…these are not minor brands. Consumer Reports used far too small a sample of far too few brands to provide actual, usable information. Maybe they were more interested in writing an article than a scientific study of reliability?

  3. 3 Rodent Feb 23rd, 2014 at 11:33 am

    In the 60’s before the japs invented the motorcycle BMW’s were the most reliable bikes on the road. Harley were very problematic, British had positive earth and other problems related to Joseph Lucas, the Prince of Darkness. That was then and now Harley’s are pretty reliable, England don’t produce motorcycles and BMW’s are very complicated machines. Excretion Occurs!

  4. 4 Blackmax Feb 23rd, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    BobS is right it’s too small of a sample with to little consideration for current brands
    But, given history it bears out what has been the case for the last 20 – 30 yrs
    Until recently if you wanted a bike you only had to take to the shop for a yearly tune-up
    You bought a metric (Funny that Honda was 3rd & Kawasaki 2nd }
    If wanted the name, history, etc, etc you bought an H-D
    But unless you were rich & didn’t mind the cost/shop bills (and there were ALWAYS shop bills)
    You got a manual & learned how to do some (or most) of the stuff yourself
    Which is never a bad idea anyway

  5. 5 Dr Robert Harms Feb 24th, 2014 at 7:20 am

    I have not read the complete article (they require buying a subscription or registering) but the sample size is likely not the issue.

    The key statement is :

    “Consumer Reports” made a reliability study of 4680 motorcycles owned by its SUBSCRIBERS”

    An N of 4680 is almost certainly sufficient for estimating— but only to their “SUBSCRIBERS”.

    The results only generalize to their motorcycle owning subscribers.

    The real question that must be faced is the representativeness of their subscribers/owners to
    ALL owners . That’s the real issue.

  6. 6 Doc Robinson Feb 24th, 2014 at 7:33 am

    Over one hundred years ago Mark Twain said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” I agree fully that the sample is too small and also the info published here does not list how many of each make had their owners respond. And I don’t want to spring for a paid subscription in order to find that out.

  7. 7 Rod Feb 24th, 2014 at 8:38 am

    The problem with BMW adventure bikes is NOT because we ride them too much. BMW is making stupid mistakes, the fact some of us ride a lot of miles add to the problem.

    BMW does not seem to be able to design, and procure a cam chain and tensioners, or handlebar switches any more. They deny problem with final drives and clutch splines. I will not go into the Gas Gage fuel strips, a really stupid and badly handled problem. They make an amazing bike. I have one. ((% is perfect. The rest of it is crap. They need to fire some folks and get in someone that can do the job. And of course quit denying there is a problem


  8. 8 cyclereckr Feb 24th, 2014 at 8:44 am

    Maybe I can get a Government grant to study the accuracy of Consumer Reports ?

  9. 9 HD Rider Feb 24th, 2014 at 10:24 am

    They’re right in that I don’t care too much. By the time my Harleys have 1000 miles on them I’ve torn the engine down and added Heads, Cams, Pistons and added any reliability upgrades the aftermarket has developed. I enjoy the brute mechanical qualities of the bike and thoroughly enjoy doing my own work on them (I sure don’t trust the dealer to work on them). They are great bikes, but not so much if they are stock.

  10. 10 Tobby Feb 24th, 2014 at 11:25 am

    All modern road bikes are pretty reliable. I suspect that the bar is so high, that even the lowest of the reliable meets or exceeds customer satisfaction.

    I am reminded of the JD Power reports on BMW and Mercedes from years past that always seemed to show a higher degree of unreliability. As it turns out these drivers as a group were quite critical of the least imperfection and complained loudly thus skewing the data. Newer reports normalize for these differences.

  11. 11 Deacon Feb 24th, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    It’s a very good thing that the Japanese bikes are reliable. I had a 99 Yamaha Roadstar (put 40k trouble free miles on it) and I needed a new set of rear brake pads during a road trip. I knew they were near replacing, so I called ahead to the Helena, MT Yamaha dealer and he flat out told me that he couldn’t replace them – he hadn’t even seen a Roadstar model yet (!!)…but he had all the dirt bike parts I might need. In my experience, the Japanese dealers also sell so much ‘other’ stuff (just to survive in business) that you are lucky if a dealer has the part you need, and then have a ‘mechanic’ to install it. Just sayin…

  12. 12 Lyle Landstrom Feb 24th, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    Does Rodent know what he’s talking about? At any rate, the study should have looked at maintenance as a fucntion of miles ridden rather than time. I’d be willing to bet the average BMW rider puts on more miles than the average HD rider. And dual purpose bikes, for which HD doesn’t make any, are ridden under harsher circumstances. But it is an interesting study. Personally, I go with the brand rather than reliability or whatever Consumer Reports states and I have most of the brands listed int he study. I also agree that there are some pretty major brands missing.

  13. 13 Terence Tory Feb 24th, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    Rodent.Honda did not invent the reliable motorcycle.They just copied NSU’s and Mondials.

    England produces thousands of Triumphs a year.

  14. 14 Rodent Feb 24th, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    FYI On my BMW R100/6 rode 80k trouble free miles, BMW R90/6 about 50k trouble free, BMW 100RS about 80K trouble free except for diode board and diesel mechanic fixed board for $1.83 at Radio Shack. Final BMW R85 about 150K with 2 sets of mufflers under warrantee.
    Whadausay Lyle?

  15. 15 Martin Twofeather Feb 24th, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    The reason Harley don’t care is they already know they are good and if any problem happens they fix it daaaaaaaa

  16. 16 Lyle Feb 24th, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    Rodent, I also have BMWs. But it’s also clear you don’t know a thing about the British bike industry (still very much alive) or Lucas. I can also fix my Harley (only when it needs it), at NAPA. So what?

  17. 17 Rodent Feb 24th, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    I sold and rode British bikes in the 60’s. had Norton Dunstall, dealt with J. Lucas quite regularly. One Saturday I sold 4 Nortons while working for Camrod Corp in Manhattan, use to road race on interior road in Central Park in middle of the night. Had to ride one night from W3rd St in the Village to 109th St and Amsterdam without a clutch. You are right, I don’t know shit about British bikes, especially Zener Diodes!

  18. 18 Woody Feb 25th, 2014 at 9:57 am

    @Rodent, didn’t Florence of Suburbia ride a Zener Diode? 😉

  19. 19 Woody Feb 25th, 2014 at 10:11 am

    Tobby hits on a good point. Although useful, the CU reliability reports rely on the unsubstantiated data from owners and is not scientific at all. During the 80’s when folks were waiting in line and paying over list for some Japanese compacts, those cars were expected to be superior to the domestics and the owners often let their expectations rule their comments. If a starter failed at 10k miles they were fine since the warranty covered it anyway, while domestic buyer were more inclined to be angry at such an early failure. CU themselves found many “highly satisfied” rankings from folks who had many more service issues than those with less work needed, and it fell along brand lines. I’d expect the same from bike owners. A study where people were required to show receipts for repairs needed might show a drastic difference from the CU one.

  20. 20 Leif Feb 25th, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    No Woody –
    Florence rode a Marusho Lilac.

  21. 21 D-man Feb 26th, 2014 at 9:52 am

    @Deacon. Sounds like a piss poor dealer for sure. Not all are that way. Weather they have seen the bike or not any mechanic worth his salt will likely have the tools and know how to replace and bleed some brakes. The parts can be ordered. I would have gladly moved on to someone else. With Mechanics that poor I’d not want them working on my bike. If I wanted a poor mechanic to maintain my stuff I’d do it all myself!

  22. 22 nicker Feb 27th, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    It seems the 900 lb gorilla is still in the middle of the room (without mention).

    Look, its relay very simple. There is no free lunch.
    The more complicated “products” get, the more problematic they become.

    And so the more yammering for the likes of anti-lock brakes, anti-dive suspension, ride-by-wire… etc, etc, etc… the more problems will arise. Regardless of brand.

    “… in the 60s You got a manual & learned how to do some (or most) of the stuff yourself …”

    That’s because manufacturers built motorcycles for “motorcycle people,” not for the average “consumer.”

    But ever since some clown in an add agent coined the term “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” the rest of us have had to , not only put up with a flood of these “nicest people,” but the product lines that have gradually morphed away from traditional motorcycles into user friendly consumer personality accessories.

    Welcome to Nanny-state motorcycling.


  23. 23 Terence Tory Feb 27th, 2014 at 8:29 pm

    nicker,the notion that more complicated bikes have more problems is basically nonsense.It’s the quality of that complication and technology and manufacture that determines reliability.The computer that you typed on is more complicated than a battleship,has it gone down?

    Manufacturers design and build bikes to be pro mechanic-proof,not just home mechanic-proof,as most damage to bikes is done in the dealers workshop by poor work.That’s why there are so many auto-adjusting and maintenance-free items on modern bikes.Even worse than pros,the last thing that manufacturers want is home mechanics touching there bikes because their quality of service is even more risky than the pros.Manufacturers are not interested in guys who make love to their bikes and for very good reasons.

    If Nanny-state motorcycling means things you can forget about and just ride and get to where you want to go,more Nanny the better.Way better than an Uncle-state where you have to find some greasy old dude with a magic spanner to fix something that should not even need attention in the 21st century.

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Cyril Huze