What began as a battle of the motorcycle brands to show who makes the most reliable motorcycle has resulted in a nationalist showdown. Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda, and Kawasaki are all among the more reliable brands, based on our survey of more than 11,000 Consumer Reports subscribers. The predicted failure rates for four-year-old motorcycles ranged from 11 to 15 percent in this group.
The domestic brands Victory and Harley-Davidson fell in between the extremes, with 17 and 26 percent, respectively.
The remaining brands—Triumph, Ducati, BMW, and Can-Am—were among the more trouble-prone. In fact, BMW and Canada-based Can-Am are both estimated to have failure rates of around 40 percent by the fourth year of ownership.
With a larger sample size than in our previous motorcycle survey, now counting 12,300 motorcycles, we were able to add more brands and resolution this year. For this analysis, we adjusted for mileage driven over a 12-month period and estimated repair rates for 4-year-old models without a service contract.
Reliability is but one measure. We found that owner satisfaction creates a much different picture. For more details, including methodology.
For some, the allure of the open road, a rumbling exhaust, and the wind in your face are irresistible. Throw in camaraderie, lifestyle, and spirit of adventure, and it’s easy to understand motorcycle riding’s escapist appeal.
Over the years, motorcycles have increased in refinement, sophistication, comfort, and safety. That makes them both more accessible to entry-level bikers and treats for empty-nesters who see the new machines as more ridable than the ones they remember.
The motorcycle landscape, though, is changing. The recession took a 50 percent bite out of sales (to about 560,000 units per year), and they have not recovered. The average age of bikers has crept up slightly to 43. But also, the ratio of female bikers has doubled to 12 percent of the riding population in the past decade.
With those demographics in mind, Consumer Reports surveyed owners to find out two things: how reliable top-selling brands are in terms of frequency of repair and how happy those brands make their owners.
What we found is that reliability and satisfaction are not necessarily tied together. The most beloved bike belonged to an American brand—Victory—even though it was not among the more reliable brands. That distinction belongs to the perennially strong Japanese-built machines.