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The Most Reliable Motorcycle Brands

Harley Davidson

Motorcycles are exhilarating, adrenaline-inducing, thrill rides. They are also among the most dangerous motorized ways to enjoy the open road or get from point A to point B in a flash.

As such, reliability has to be one of (if not THE) most important consideration when evaluating motorcycle brands for your next ride.

Most of us are familiar with the ‘big’ names in motorcycles. The Harley-Davidson’s and Kawasaki’s of the biking world. But there are plenty of other reliable options out there on the market; some with more than a century of experience in the industry and a stellar track record to boot.

From lower maintenance costs, to safety, comfortability and performance, making the right choice when it comes to the manufacturer matters…a lot.

PRO TIP: For those comparing brands not included in this guide, the industry average ‘failure rate’ of a motorcycle after four years of operation is 24%. What does this mean? After four years of ownership, a large-scale motorcycle owner survey revealed that, on average, 24% of bikes needed major repairs or experienced a major breakdown (no matter the brand).

PRO TIP: An ounce of planning is worth a pound of pain. This begins with researching the brands, makes and models you’re considering buying, to the right motorcycle insurance policy and routine regular maintenance.

In this guide, we explore some of the industry’s leading motorcycle brands, known for producing quality bikes year in and year out.

Yamaha / Star

Yamaha FJR 1300

Founded in 1955, Japanese born Yamaha has risen from its humble beginnings to the ranks of
Motorcycle elite. Notably, among the most popular and reliably motorcycle manufacturers in the world, Yamaha’s notoriety was solidified in the MotoGP racing circuit, led by famed moto-racer Valentino Rossi.

What About Reliability?

Data from Consumer Reports reveals that Yamaha is rated by it’s customers as the most reliable motorcycle manufacturer, with only around 11% of bikes failing at the four-year mark. Not only are these bikes reliable, but they’re also affordable.

Among the most popular bikes Yamaha produces, is the infamous YZF-R6.

Honda

Honda Nighthawk

Another Japanese based company, The Honda Motor Company was founded in 1948, but didn’t start producing motorcycles until 1955. Although slow off the starting line so to speak, by 1982 the company was producing almost 3 million bikes per year (a number that only went up from there). To this day Honda remains a favorite among motorcycle enthusiasts and automotive gear heads alike.

What About Reliability?

According to Consumer Reports, Honda tied for 2nd place in this arena, just behind Yamaha with 12% of Honda produced motorcycles failing or requiring major repair within four years of ownership/use.

Suzuki

Suzuki DR Z400

If you’re noticing a trend here, you’d be right. With Suzuki we highlight yet another brand of Japanese origin. Founded in 1909, it took Suzuki more than four decades to start producing motorcycles. It wasn’t until 1952 that the first bike of theirs rolled off the assembly line.

The brand strength and recognition of Suzuki bikes to date is undeniable, ranking among the most reliable brands participating in MotoGP. It’s hallmark models include the GSX-R750 and the GSX-R1000.

What About Reliability?

Tied for second place with Honda, by the fourth year of ownership, only 12% of Suzuki bikes require significant mechanical work to remain safely in operation.

Kawasaki

Kawasaki Ninja

The mighty Kawasaki, born in Japan, since inception this company established itself with an iconic one-of-a-kind look and performance-minded approach. Launched in 1949, it wasn’t until 1963 that the company began producing motorcycles.

What About Reliability?

Kawasaki scores high in this category, with only 15% of its motorcycles failing within the first four years of operation.

Victory

With Victory Motorcycles, we introduce you to the first American-made motorcycle producer to make our list. Owned by Polaris Industries and with it’s assembly facility (formerly) situated in Northwestern Iowa, this iconic brand brought more than just style to the streets.

Capitalizing on the success of Harley-Davidson, Victory hit the US market in 1998, selling its first motorcycle, the V92C. Despite early success, Victory hit a slump, and with three of its last five years in operation failing to produce a profit, it was discontinued.

What About Reliability?

If you’re able to get your hands on this iconic 2-wheeler, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that they hold up quite well. Interestingly, many riders say they prefer the build and durability of the Victory over Harleys. Consumer Reports agrees, putting the 4-year failure rate of Victory cycles at just 17% (less than Harley). This translates to 80% of Victory bike owners stating they would hands down buy the exact same motorcycle if given a chance for a ‘do-over’.

Harley-Davidson

Harley Davidson

There is nothing quite as symbolic as the mighty Harley. Although certainly the most notorious and recognizable brand in motorcycles, it isn’t necessarily the most reliable.

Founded in 1903, this American company screams history, heritage and a hefty dose of good ‘ol American pride.

What About Reliability?

Harley-Davidson falls just short of the overall average, with around 26% of bikes in use for four years requiring significant maintenance and/or repair. Of consideration, is that Harleys also cost a lot, and this premium translates to higher repair costs and replacement parts as well.

BMW

Next up, we take you international, to Germany, where BMW isn’t just synonymous with automobiles. German engineering has well been known to exceed standards of reliability and performance, but does that translate to it’s motorcycles?

Founded in 1901, it wasn’t until 1923 that the company made the leap into the motorcycle manufacturing arena.

What About Reliability?

Despite it’s foothold in the luxury car market, and as a status symbol among the upper-middle class, it’s bikes leave more to be desired. Around 40% of its bikes require significant repair work in the first four years of ownership. Again, as will Harley, expect to pay a premium here.

Ducati

Ducati Scrambler

Considered the “Harley Davidson” of Italian-made motorcycles, this bike has been a source of Italian pride since it raced onto the scene in 1929.

Notable for its V-twin engine and Italian aesthetic, Ducati produced it’s first motorcycle in 1950 and has been in operation ever since. Among it’s most popular bikes include the iconic Scrambler.

What About Reliability?

Here the Italian born machine falls short. Around 33% of all Ducati’s will inadvertently run into mechanical issues within the first few years of ownership. As an added challenge, it may be more difficult in the USA to find a mechanic that specialized in this brand.

Can-Am

Lesser known among non-bikers, Can-Am is actually made by Bombaidier Recreational, a Canadian company. What makes Can-Am so unique is it’s three-wheel design, featuring two front wheels and a singular rear drive wheel in back.

Some have called Can-Am the snowmobile of the roadways, although in actuality its chassis is more similar to that of an ATV.

Classified as a ‘trike’ or ‘roadster’ these misfits tend to fall into the broad category of motorcycles, and are thus included here.

What About Reliability?

A relative newcomer to the scene (2007), Can-Am hasn’t had as much time to perfect its rides. This clearly shows in the 42% of Can-Ams that need mechanical work by their fourth year in operation.

Triumph

Triumph Speed Triple R

A hop and a skip across the ‘pond’ takes us to the United Kingdom, where Triumph reigns supreme as the largest UK-owned motorcycle producer.

Founded in 1983, Triumph Motorcycles ltd. might seem like a newer contender, however, the company continued the lineage of motorcycles first started by “Triumph Engineering” in 1902.

Among its most popular models include the Tiger 800XC and a whole line-up of ‘café racer’ style bikes.

What About Reliability?

Although a fair bit more reliable than much of the competition, this manufacturer still comes in just under the average reliability rating at the four-year mark, with around 29% of its bikes needing repairs.

Victory

Founded in 1997, Victory quickly gained notoriety for its styling and performance. Sadly, this manufacturer closed its doors after almost two decades of serving its loyal fanbase. Despite no longer being available for purchase new off the showroom floor, there are a LOT of these bikes in circulation.

What About Reliability?

Victory ranks among the most reliable bikes during the first four years of ownership, coming in well below the overall average at just 17% of bikes needing repair work.

Manufacturers on Our ‘Buyer Beware’ List

Fact is, just as with cars, there are some brands notorious for producing bikes that require more ongoing maintenance and repair work than others. That’s not to say that these brands are ‘bad’, or that their bikes don’t run well (when working). But, it’s worth noting that they will likely require more upkeep.

Shortlist Includes:

  • Benelli
  • Aprilia
  • Moto Guzzi
  • Royal Enfield

What Kinds of Things Can Go Wrong?

Knowing what to expect from your machine is half the battle. Below we detail the most common parts that tend to malfunction or require repair over time.

A Quick Breakdown of Bike Parts that Can Malfunction by Percent:

  • 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%)
  • Piston (4%)
  • Transmission (4%)

Looking to read more about Motorcycles? Read Our Guide on the Different Types of Motorcycles.