Video: Money- and life-saving tips for motorcycle buyers and owners

Consumer Reports News: May 07, 2013 01:08 PM

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With beautiful spring weather, the allure of the open road on a motorcycle is tempting. To help you choose the best bike for your needs and save money on maintenance, consider these tips, including insights from our recent reliability and owner satisfaction survey of motorcycles purchased new in the past four years.

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. And we found that reliability can vary a lot by type of bike, with touring models having the most problems. (See which motorcycle problems are most common.)

But, before choosing a brand or even bike type based on the reliability data, consider satisfaction. Here, we found a much different story. Despite the higher number of problems, Harley and BMW owners were among the most satisfied with their bikes. (Read our full report on motorcycle reliability and owner satisfaction.)

The mixed message from the data suggests that motorcycle ownership is much more than merely choosing the best machine, there is an emotional component here, as well. Among other things, it involves brand identity, lifestyle, and dealership experience.

If you're a new rider, it is vital to start your two-wheel journey with a quality safety class. Beyond the sheer common sense, studies have shown that significant fatalities occur among untrained and unlicensed riders. Classes, such as those offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF), can teach the laws and riding techniques, as well as provide an opportunity to sample different, entry-level bikes. (See our tips for new and returning riders.)

When it comes time to buy, the key is to select a model that fits your riding style and one you'll be satisfied with. Resist the temptation to overbuy. Choosing a sporty, powerful motorcycle is unfit for a beginner. Likewise, a large, heavy bike will make it more difficult to learn, increase your chances for an accident, and even raise your insurance cost. This is an important point even for returning riders who may not be familiar with the high level of performance today's motorcycles offer, nor have adjusted to the slower reaction times that come with age.

Because motorcycles carry inherent safety risks, we believe it's essential you get antilock brakes, full protective gear, and a helmet. Riders without a helmet are 40 percent more likely to suffer a fatal head injury in a crash and are three times more likely to suffer brain injuries, than those with helmets, according to government studies.

There is much to learn, or re-learn, regarding motorcycle buying and safety. Visit our motorcycle special section to explore our latest advice and survey findings.

Watch the video below for more tips on buying and maintaining a motorcycle.

Jeff Bartlett

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