What goes wrong on motorcycles

Survey highlights common problems

Published: April 13, 2015 08:00 AM
2015 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager

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Motorcycle riding is all about escapism. Freedom, adventure, friends, and travel. The last thing a motorcyclist wants to worry about is a breakdown out on the open road. Choosing a bike from a brand with a better-than-average reliability track record can tilt the odds in your favor, but the reality is, things can and do sometimes go wrong.

In our latest motorcycle reliability survey, we collected data on over 12,300 motorcycles, focusing on failure rates for four-year-old bikes that were purchased new. Based on this data, we estimate that more than 1 in 5 motorcycles will need a repair by the fourth year of ownership.

Among these bikes, there were no expenses incurred for 45-percent of the repaired motorcycles, suggesting that many riders are performing the work themselves and/or having the bikes repaired under warranty. We found that the median repair bill cost $342 for parts and labor. Of the brands for which we have enough data to report, the price spanned from Kawasaki at $269—the only one below $300—to BMW at $455. When looking at motorcycle types, there was a much narrower spread in the costs, from $313 for dual-sport/adventure bike to $383 for a sport tourer.

Among motorcycles that were repaired, nearly a quarter of them had work done on the electrical system. Accessories (19 percent), brakes (18 percent), and fuel system (13 percent) also stand out as areas of potential concern. In contrast, other mechanical systems had a relatively low frequency of repair.

Repaired motorcycle parts Percent of repaired motorcycles
Electrical system 24%
Accessories 19
Brakes 18
Fuel system 13
Clutch 8
Body panels 6
Drive system 6
Valvetrain 5
Front suspension 5
Cooling system 4

The key takeaway is that no matter the brand you favor or type of motorcycle you buy, squirreling away $400 to cover surprise repairs would be wise. And if you plan to customize your bike, leave the complicated work to the professionals.

Visit our motorcycle buying guide to see our full motorcycle reliability and owner satisfaction ratings.

Jeff Bartlett

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