Japanese bikes more reliable than Harley-Davidsons, BMWs: Consumer Reports

Actually, Kawasaki and Honda fared well in Consumer Reports' survey as well; of the Japanese OEMs, Honda had the best brand loyalty.
Harley-Davidson and BMW had the worst reliability in Consumer Reports' survey.
Harley-Davidson and BMW had the worst reliability in Consumer Reports’ survey.

According to Consumer Reports, motorcycles from Harley-Davidson and BMW are less reliable than machines from Japanese manufacturers Honda, Kawasaki, and Yamaha.

Actually, Kawasaki and Honda fared well in Consumer Reports' survey as well; of the Japanese OEMs, Honda had the best brand loyalty.
Actually, Kawasaki and Honda fared well in Consumer Reports’ survey as well; of the Japanese OEMs, Honda had the best brand loyalty.

The magazine published a story this week which gathered information about 4,424 motorcyclists and their experiences with 4,700 motorcycles bought new between 2009 and 2012. They compiled that data into some very interesting findings.

According to the article, BMW fared the worst. About one in three BMW riders needed major repairs in the last four years; about one in four Harley-Davidson riders had needed major repairs in the last four years.

Yamaha had the best record of all the bike manufacturers, with only about one in ten riders needing major repairs. Honda and Kawasaki were close to that number.

Consumer Reports split the repairs into several categories (frame, wheels, brakes, transmission, etc). They found the most-frequent repairs were done to accessories, like the bike’s lights, meters, switches or radio; 21 per cent of riders had repairs to accessories on bikes they’d bought in that time period.

Brake repairs came in second at 20 per cent. The electrical system was the third most common system at fault, with 16 per cent of bikes needing repairs, and 15 per cent of machines needed their fuel systems repaired.

No matter what the numbers said, Harley-Davidson and BMW owners were happy with their purchases. Seventy-five per cent of Harley-Davidson owners said they’d buy from the MoCo again, and 74 per cent of BMW riders would buy another Beemer. Honda had similar brand loyalty – 72 per cent would buy another Honda – but Yamaha and Kawasaki only had 63 per cent and 60 per cent of owners willing to re-purchase their brands.

Expensive repairs to transmissions, motors, etc. seemed to be low for all manufacturers. And of course, the survey  only looked at machines built in the last few years, and the sample size was fairly small.

The report also emphasized the importance of routine maintenance as a method of preventing more expensive repairs.


  1. Has anyone looked in the way BMW and Harley owners use their bikes? Harleys rarely ever get on real road or see any every day usage unlike BMW bikes which are everywhere. You can’t compare the companies. It’s models that have to be compared. Which mean Harley are excluded since they are unique bikes – but not in a good way at all. Harley Davidson is a toy. BMW is truly a tool. In other words, a real motorcycle.

    • That’s why they are called Milwaukee vibrators. Shake, rattle and roll. I owned many Harleys and rode them when it meant something. Now they are like Ford Escorts and everyone has one. A guy above says buy one because they hold their value. Well that’s because you have to put thousands more down when you buy one. If it wasn’t for the Japanese bikes coming to America, Harley would still be making pool tables, bowling balls, 3 wheeled golf carts and a few motorcycles. Harley riders are like the Borg on Star Trek, one of many, no individual thought, controlled by one object. There are are 2 types of riders, One rides a Harley because of the perceived brotherhood and Americanism, the other appreciates all motorcycles and wants to experience them. If you fall into the first category you are probably 50 years old trying to recapture your youth, you are trying to get young girls or you want to be a weekend outlaw. At my age of 63, I ride an 1854cc Roadliner, I’ve owned over 45 motorcycles and I have gotten over myself and who I need to impress. Ride and experience as many bikes as you can!

    • Mostly because reliability is only one element of ownership. Ask anybody who dealt with (and loved) old Triumphs, MGs or Alphas and they’ll tell you. The experience of driving/riding can outweigh the downside of poor reliability.

  2. Is no one picking up that maybe three quarters of Harley and BMW riders would buy again, despite more shop time than the Japanese, because they’re getting better after-sales service? Just saying.

    • It didn’t escape my attention, Costa. FWIW, my mid-2007 MacBook was the least reliable computer I’ve ever owned. The service that I’ve gotten from Apple has been fantastic, however, and that has caused me to populate the household with Apple products.

      I’m quite likely to buy a Sertão down the road. After-sale satisfaction means everything. I think it’s very significant that despite the best reliability, Yamaha owners weren’t high on the list of buying another.

  3. I wonder who actually cares, since you always get the highest resale value (lowest depreciation) on BMW and Harley’s. In the end, buy them new, drive them until the warranty expires then resale or trade them, and you’re still ahead!!!

  4. “75% of Harley riders said they’d buy a Harley even if they had to push them home from the dealership.”

    Cause, for 95% of them, they aren’t buying a motorcycle.

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