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Harley-Davidson is an iconic, much-loved brand in the world of motorcycles. Since 1903, the brand has built a transportation movement that’s stretched across generations and geography. Today, the name Harley-Davidson still defines the pursuit of open-road adventures and freedom of the spirit.

Over the years, some have decided that despite all that, Harley-Davidson bikes aren’t that reliable. Are these views true? If not, why would people think that way? Are Harley-Davidson motorcycles reliable?

The history of Harley-Davidson 

According to Get Lowered Cycles, in the earliest days of motorcycles, bikes were strictly owner-maintained. Whether it needed an engine rebuild or a tire change, owners maintained the bikes themselves because of the bikes’ simplicity. It was assumed that if you owned a bike, you had the tools and skill set needed to keep it on the road in great shape.

Fast-forward to the ’60s and many Harley owners were making modifications to their bikes. The end result was that the bikes got faster and more intricate and you needed certain know-how to keep them reliably on the road.

By the ’80s, many Harleys were owned and kept by those who built their bikes from parts and revived bikes they bought for a few hundred dollars.

Did Harley owners always have the skills and means to build solid bikes? No. Did they spend more time working on them than riding them? Likely. It was no surprise they gained a reputation for breaking down, wrecking, and requiring a ton of maintenance.

It wasn’t that the bikes built by Harley-Davison were of poor quality, as Get Lowed Cycles points out, it was just a case of poor maintence.

Does Harley-Davidson have a good reputation?

The American Machine Foundry Corporation (AMF) acquired Harley-Davidson in the ’70s and their lack of interest in the brand was a disaster, depending on who you ask (per Lowbrow Customs).

Get Lower Cycles thinks that all changed in the ’80s when Vaughn Beals, Willie G. Davidson, and a group of investors bought the company from AMF and turned it all around.

They spent millions on bringing Harley-Davidson into the new era complete with modern design, rubber-mounted motors, five-speed transmissions, and more. 

Now, you didn’t need to be a mechanic to maintain a Harley. The company provided detailed service intervals to head off point failures and other problems that used to plague the iconic bikes. 

As Get Lowered Cycles explained, Harley-Davidson reinvented itself for a new generation of enthusiasts. With updates to its design and production processes over the last 35 years, the company came back from the edge of extinction to be the market leader for bikes.

The proof is in the pudding

So in the end, it appears that Harley-Davidson’s really are reliable overall. While it’s understandable how Harley-Davidson might have earned a reputation for unreliability in the past, the truth is today you see many bikes on the road that were produced in the last 25 years.

One reason that the Harley-Davidson Motor Company is struggling with sales is that the bikes are so good fans enjoy them for years.

Bloomberg reported that of all Harley-Davidson motorcycles built since 1903, as many as 70% of them are still on the road today. It’s an incredible number even when you factor in bikes lost to accidents and poorly-executed customizations. There’s also the incredible two million bikes sold in just the last eight years.

Tim from the Canadian Gearhead YouTube channel explains in his video “Are Harley Davidsons Reliable?” that the iconic bikes are, contrary to popular belief, very reliable.

In the video, he’s heading to a Harley-Davidson dealership he’s never been to before because he’s never had a need to. He explains the bikes don’t break down and don’t require frequent part replacements. 

With proper service and maintenance, much of which bike owners can do themselves, Harley-Davidson bikes can easily exceed 100,000 miles. As Get Lowered Cycles explains, a Harley you can enjoy for years is the norm, not the rare exception.


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