The brand Harley-Davidson is synonymous with the idea of great motorcycles. It’s not just an iconic American brand, but a globally recognized automotive institution.
Harley-Davidson bikes are famous in their cruiser and tourer form, and the company has a very long history of seeing off huge competition from both home and abroad. Even in these difficult times, Harley is finding new ways to diversify, such as their Livewire electric motorcycle.
This article answers the question: “Is Harley-Davidson a good motorcycle?”…
Here Is The Short Answer To “Is Harley-Davidson A Good Motorcycle?”
In short, yes.
There’s really no reasonable way to say objectively that Harley-Davidson isn’t a good motorcycle. In fact, it’s a great motorcycle.
Their best qualities are found in prestige-build quality, superlative finishes, and fun rides. The engines are powerful and reliable, and you can fully expect to get 100,000 miles of life from your Harley-Davidson when you maintain it properly and don’t overtax it unduly on the road.
How Reliable Are Harley-Davidson Motorcycles?
Compared to other brands, Harley Davidson motorcycles perform well in terms of reliability, ranking somewhere in the middle.
They are behind their Japanese competitors such as Yamaha, Suzuki, and Honda, but ahead of others such as Triumph, Ducati, BMW, and Can-Am.
Data has shown that after 4 years of use, Harley-Davidson owners report about a 26 percent failure rate.
This may sound high, but the very, very best-performing brands still only manage 11 percent (Yamaha).
It’s still far better than Can-Am’s 42 percent and BMW’s 40 percent 4-year failure rate.
The handlebar bushings are one component that many owners and reviewers have pointed to as being problematic in Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
The rubber handlebar bushings that come as stock from the factory quickly wear out.
This is most noticeable on heavier models with high handlebars.
Over the years, there have been a number of prominent recalls, as well, which have served to shake Harley’s international reputation.
Past recalls have affected many different components, including tail lights, front wheels, brakes, and other problems.
One of the biggest was a recall in 2015 of 185,000 models because the saddlebags were falling off, which presented a clear crash risk.
One other thing owners do have to be a bit careful with on Harley-Davidson bikes is the problem of oil leaks.
Because the drain plugs are often in awkward positions and hard to properly tighten, leaks are thought of as inevitable.
Where Are Harley-Davidson Motorcycles Made?
Harley-Davidson is traditionally manufactured in the United States, and still does but has also invested some money in recent years in overseas plants.
The main American plants are located in York, Pennsylvania; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; with another plant formerly located in Kansas City, Missouri, but which closed in 2019.
Overseas they have plants in Manaus, Brazil; Bawal, India, and their newest facility will be located in Thailand.
What Do The Reviews Say?
On the positive side, reviewers are quick to point out the power and performance of all Harley models.
The engines are well built and the suspension on the bikes is usually very well done to make the ride fairly comfortable.
Another positive aspect is the inclusion of large showa forks in many models which provide great damping when working in tandem with the rear shocks.
On a cruising model, this is a very strong trait.
Furthermore, Harleys are known for their stability and steady riding on the road.
Though they don’t turn sharply like a Kawasaki Ninja, they’re not really supposed to, either.
Their reliability, comfort, and stable ride for longer trips are what people rave about in the reviews.
Meanwhile, on the negative side, some riders who switch from riding sportbikes to riding a Harley struggle with the reclined and open seating position, remarking how it can sometimes feel like they are like a ship’s sail just hanging on.
One more negative issue with Harleys is the price.
They are expensive to purchase, by and large, and they are expensive to maintain, requiring constant maintenance and attention to keep them in good working order.
Japanese-brand bikes are often cheaper or the same price, but cost less in maintenance overall.
Finally, on the negative side, Harleys are sometimes derided as lacking in the most cutting-edge modern equipment.
Some say that they still feel antiquated and living in the past.
Harley has invested a lot in updating its image for a new generation of bike lovers, however, which includes sportier designs.
Which Are The Best And Worst Harley-Davidson Models?
The best Harley-Davidson ever built is arguably the 2008 FXDWG Dyna Wide Glide.
It was first introduced back in 1993 and was remarked firstly for its greater length compared to its Harley siblings.
The most striking features included its Tommy Gun 2-1-2 exhausts, an enlarged rear-end design, and a chopped rear fender. This was an all-new design and took the Harley line by storm.
The Dyna line ended in 2017 when Harley decided to redesign the Softail line.
Probably the worst Harley ever made was the 2001 Ultra Classic.
The biggest scandal of this model was the horrendous use of plastic parts, which horrified Harley fans and turned off a lot of prospective new fans.
The trunk unit was consistently loose on this model, so much so that many said they daren’t use it for fear it would come flying off on the highway or freeway and cause a deadly crash.
Furthermore, the footpegs were too far back for any regular rider to get their heels on properly and most users reported a very uncomfortable vibration.
In short, it was like a poorly made imitation of a Harley-Davidson.
Did Harley-Davidson Have Any Models Recalled?
Yes, Harley Davidson has experienced some recalls over the years.
There have been many recalls over the years, some of them for hundreds of thousands of bikes at a time.
In 2015, there was a recall for 185,000 motorcycles because saddlebags were coming loose and even falling off into the road, which presents an obvious danger to the public.
In 2018, there was a recall for 238,380 bikes over clutch defects.
Recalls for specific defects go all the way back to models originally made in 2008-2010, which was part of what shook people’s confidence in the brand at one point.
The company is now working hard to rehabilitate this issue.
Yamaha Vs. Harley-Davidson Reliability?
The harsh truth is that Harley-Davidson is behind Japanese competitor Yamaha when it comes to reliability.
To some, this will come as no surprise since Japanese brands like Yamaha are nearly always topping the lists for reliability and build quality.
Harley-Davidson has its advantages over Yamaha.
For one, the Harley bikes look far more stylish and carry a weight of prestige that even Yamaha with its reliability finds hard to match.
There’s no Yamaha bike “culture” either, in the same way, or to the same extent that there is for Harley.
However, when it comes to a 4-year failure rate, recall records, overall reliability, and maintenance costs, you will always do and get better with a Yamaha bike.
Why Are Harleys So Expensive?
Part of what you pay for in Harley bikes is the brand and prestige/history of that brand.
It’s not a dissimilar experience to paying a lot more to buy Apple products.
You pay more because it’s Harley, arguably the most recognizable brand in the entire motorcycle world.
They also come with expensive production costs since so many of them are made in the US and most of them are in unionized facilities.
That drives up costs to no end, especially for models made and sold within the US.
The final reason for their expense is that it’s not just the bike itself that’s costly, but all the individual parts.
That means whenever you need a replacement, or a maintenance job, it costs a lot more than it would do on a more “average” motorcycle.
Are Harley-Davidsons Expensive To Maintain?
Yes, they are. It is estimated that a Harley will cost you about $1,600 to maintain each year.
Just a typical service will set you back $400 or more dollars, and you might need more than one per year.
If you run high mileage on your Harley, IE if it’s your primary transport, you could end up going 4 times per year, pushing up costs with other maintenance and gasoline and whatnot up to $2,000 per year or more.
Are Harleys Worth It?
At the end of the day, if you are a fan of the brand, and you like cruising bikes and you don’t mind spending a bit more than average on maintenance then they are worth it.
The glorious sound, undeniable great looks, and prestige of the brand more than make up for many of its shortcomings.
9 Great Tips To Make Sure Your Harley-Davidson Stay Good
1. Keep Your Harley-Davidson Clean
Cleaning the bike, especially the carburetor on a regular basis, will keep contaminants and dirt from clinging to the surfaces.
Harleys can be susceptible to corrosion when not properly attended to, so weekly cleaning of the bike is a good idea.
2. Keep Your Harley-Davidson’s Tire Pressure, Full
When you’re cruising at speed and over long distances, having the right tire pressure is essential.
Inspect your owner’s manual to get your exact recommended tire pressure and then keep it at that pressure all the time.
3. Keep Your Harley-Davidson’s Brake Pads Fresh
Next, your brake pads need to be kept from wearing down too far.
Harley’s are not as nimble in their control as many sportbikes, and that means you need good braking strength to help keep the bike in line.
Don’t let your brake pads get too thin.
4. Keep Your Harley-Davidson Chain Tight
The chain needs to be tight enough so that it keeps everything secure, but not overly tight that it damages the sprockets or causes the engine to have to work too hard.
You need to get that optimal balance and keep it that way for a well-running Harley.
5. Keep Your Harley-Davidson Clutch Adjusted
Ensure that the clutch and clutch cable are well-adjusted and in the right position.
Faulty clutches have been the downfall of many Harleys before.
Keep a close eye on the clutch components and adjust them whenever necessary to keep them working smoothly.
6. Keep Your Harley-Davidson Oil Fresh And Full
A well-oiled Harley is lubricated, cooled, and running smooth.
The oil will need changing about every 5,000 miles, or possibly up to 8,000 miles if you are using high-quality synthetics.
Keep an eye on your oil levels, and keep everything lubricated and oiled.
7. Keep Your Harley-Davidson’s Wheels Aligned
Wheel alignment is another critically important issue.
If you let Harley’s wheels get out of balance, then you risk an uncomfortable ride and possibly even higher risks of losing control.
Ensure that at your annual service that the wheel alignment is checked to be sure it’s good.
If you’ve been in an accident, get the alignment redone straight away.
8. Keep Your Harley-Davidson Battery Charged
Next, hard starts are very bad for Harleys.
They’re one of the worst things that can negatively impact your Harley.
To prevent any need for hard starts, be sure to keep the battery charged so that there’s always enough power to get the engine started up smoothly.
9. Keep Riding Your Harley
Finally, ride your Harley regularly.
Don’t leave it languishing in your garage or other storage areas for too long.
Not only will this force the battery to deplete, but it also risks a buildup of dust and contaminants, and even possibly gumming in the carburetor.
Ride the bike regularly and keep it fresh and ready to go.
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