When everything is going right, riding a motorcycle is about as much fun as you can legally have. It may as well be a drug, because once you get hooked, you never want to stop. Even a short trip to the grocery store is more fun on a bike. For most riders, though, owning a motorcycle is a luxury. It’s not their primary form of transportation, and when life changes, most people will choose to give up their motorcycle before selling their cars and trucks.
A bike that’s reliable and satisfying to ride is bike that you’re going to keep for a long time, and with those two qualities in mind, Consumer Reports conducted a survey of its readers about their bikes. What it found is that, much like with cars, riders usually have to choose between a bike that’s reliable and a bike that’s satisfying to ride. It’s a tough balancing act, but with better information, buyers can at least know what they’re getting themselves into.
No one likes the idea of heading out on a road trip and ending up stranded on the side of the road with a snapped clutch cable or waking up one morning to find that the starter has failed overnight. Sure, roll starting is pretty easy, but no one really wants to be forced to do that every day. For people who depend on their bikes to get them to work or as regular transportation, finding one that is nearly bulletproof is usually the best option. According to the survey, that means buying Japanese.
Yamaha is the top-scoring brand for reliability, followed by Suzuki, Honda, and Kawasaki. Buying American isn’t a bad decision, though, with Victory edging out Harley-Davidson. The least reliable brands were Triumph, Ducati, BMW, and Can-Am.
But brand is not the only predictor of reliability. The type of bike was a factor as well. Cruisers were the most reliable, while sport bikes were the least, and the rest fell somewhere in the middle. The difference in repair rates was only 8%, so it’s not as significant of a difference as you might think. Still, if reliability is your top concern, buying a Japanese cruiser is going to be your best choice.
Interestingly, trikes are apparently significantly less reliable than two-wheeled motorcycles, especially Can-Am. Can-Am reportedly required a repair almost twice as frequently as other types of motorcycles.
Luckily for all riders, 45% of reported repairs came at no cost. That means they were either covered under warranty or were simple enough for owners to do at home. Repairs that did require an out-of-pocket expense averaged $342, but that is also majorly affected by brand and type. For example, Kawasaki repairs averaged $269, while BMW repairs averaged $455. Dual-sport bikes and cruisers were the least expensive; sport touring bikes were the most expensive. No matter what, though, having a $400 emergency fund set aside for repairs is a smart idea.
Most riders would like their bikes to be reliable, but since they’re usually used more for having fun than as basic transportation, the most reliable brands are not necessarily the most satisfying to own. For example, while Victory is a brand with only average reliability, 88% of owners said they would buy the same bike again. Seventy-two percent of Harley-Davidson owners said the same thing, followed closely by 70% of Honda owners.
Oddly enough, comfort was one of the most important factors of owner satisfaction. Victory received top marks for comfort, which pairs perfectly with its incredibly high owner satisfaction rating. Ducati, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Triumph, meanwhile, were considered the least comfortable. As for other satisfaction categories, like acceleration, fun, and styling, most brands were clustered closely together. The only exception was Can-Am, which had average handling satisfaction, the lowest of any brand.
Looking at the results of the survey, they’re not exactly surprising. Sport bikes are high-performance machines and require a lot more maintenance than standards and cruisers. For reliability, Japanese bikes tend to be better than European ones. It’s also refreshing to see that motorcycles are generally quite reliable and will probably run well if they’re properly maintained.
Differences in reliability are also small enough that buying a bike is really more of a matter of taste. Honda and Victory are two brands that come highly recommended, but in general, they’re all pretty good. If you don’t need the stability of a trike, it does look like it’s best to stay away from Can-Am. It’s not necessarily a bad brand — there are just others out there that will probably be better to own.
You can’t go wrong with a bike you enjoy, and with the snow gone and the weather warmer, it’s definitely motorcycle season. Maybe it’s time to finally pull the trigger on that bike you’ve always wanted to own. If you do, have fun with it.