Consumer Reports Motorcycle Survey Results Are In

CR's First-Ever Motorcycle Reliability Survey Rates Harley-Davidson and BMW As Less Reliable Than Japanese Bikes

It's no secret that Harley-Davidson has come a long way since the 1970s and 80s, when its products were seen by many as largely maintenance-intensive and unreliable. It may come as a surprise then, to hear that its current bikes are repair-prone (relative to other brands) according to findings just published in Consumer Reports' first-ever motorcycle reliability survey.

The Consumer Reports National Research Center reports that about one in four owners of Harley motorcycles reported experiencing a major problem in the previous four years. BMW motorcycles were rated as being even less reliable than Harleys, with about one in three owners reporting problems in the previous four years. Only about one in ten Yamaha owners experienced issues during that same time, followed closely by owners of Kawasaki and Honda machines.

Among the bikes that needed repairs, survey participants reporting having the most trouble with accessories, such as lights, instruments, switches, and radios (21 percent), brakes (20 percent), the electrical system (16 percent), and the fuel system (15 percent). Fortunately, repairs were fairly inexpensive, with 75% of them costing less than $200.

"Reliability is one of many factors consumers might consider when purchasing a motorcycle. However, other factors like sculpted lines and rumbling engines also strike the right note among motorcyclists," said Rik Paul, Auto Editor, Consumer Reports.

Here's the kicker, though: Despite having more problems, both the Harley and the BMW owners also were among the most satisfied with their bikes. When asked if they would buy their bike again if they had to do it over, 75 percent of the Harley owners said definitely yes, closely followed by 74 percent of BMW owners and 72 percent of Honda owners. By contrast, only 63 and 60 percent of Yamaha and Kawasaki owners, respectively, were as emphatic in this admittedly subjective category.

The report also noted the growing availability of antilock brakes (ABS) on motorcycles, saying it was a welcome trend. Bikes equipped with ABS are 37 percent less likely to be involved in a fatal crash, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. CR noted that ABS adds only a few hundred dollars to the price of the bike - an investment deemed to be worthwhile and potentially lifesaving. The full report is on and in the May issue of Consumer Reports.

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