The Perfect Motorcycle

| 12/10/2013 5:09:00 PM

Tags: ,

In the letters section of this issue, reader Mark Sanders asks the seemingly simple question, "Which bikes are the most reliable ever built?" I say seemingly simple because I don’t think there is a simple answer to his query.

Associate editor Landon Hall suggests almost any airhead BMW (particularly the /5 series — he has a 1973 BMW R75/5), Honda’s ugly duckling CX500 (for decades a favorite of couriers everywhere) and the early Kawasaki KLR650 as reliable bikes.

Other acknowledged reliability kings come to mind, including the Honda CB750, any 4-cylinder 4-stroke late-Seventies to early-Eighties Suzuki, ditto 4-cylinder Kawasakis. Seventies Yamahas? Certainly the Yamaha XS650 twin, but the 1973-1974 Yamaha TX750 twin was a disaster (even though, to be fair, its major issues were mostly quelled in its second — and last — year), and the Yamaha TX500 8-valve double overhead cam twin wasn’t much better. Ever try and get parts for one? Good luck.

I’m making an assumption here, which is that reader Sanders wants a vintage bike big enough for real world urban traffic and highway use. That rules out admittedly excellent but otherwise limited machines like Honda CB175s and 200s. The CB350 might be a contender, but even it had its problems (worn cam bearing supports spring to mind), despite the fact Honda made hundreds of thousands of them.

As it turns out, reliability isn’t the sole provenance of mass manufacturers. Laverda’s 750 twin — by all accounts an up-sized clone of Honda’s superbly built and hugely reliable 305 twin — is famous for covering tens of thousands of miles without complaint. Likewise Moto Morini 350 and 500 V-twins and just about any Moto Guzzi V-twin from the Seventies. Simple, solidly engineered bikes all.

Popular opinion suggests an inverse relationship between a bike’s level of technology and its reliability, but that notion doesn’t always hold up under the microscope. I’m in the middle of replacing a leaking rear main seal on my 1991 BMW K100RS. It may be 22 years old, but the K100RS has most of the attributes of a modern motorcycle, including water cooling, fuel injection and ABS. And it’s a bear to work on. Getting to the transmission is like peeling an onion, working through layers of hardware to get to the offending piece. But here’s the rub. While the seemingly over-engineered K100RS might not be easy to work on, I don’t actually work on it very much. It’s currently showing a little more than 80,000 miles, and outside of new fork seals, this is the first major work it’s required.

1/8/2015 10:00:17 AM

Yup if you are buying new most everything (not chinese) is reliable. If you are buying old you are key to reliability New tires, tubes, brake lines, battery full brake overhauls, check clean replace every electrical connection. Overhaul carbs replace wear items, etc. Free lunches are few and far between. Read up on the forum for your make model, find out what maintenance/ upgrades need doing, do them. Maintenance shortcuts = roadside repairs on every brand and model.

1/30/2014 7:28:17 AM

I've owned and rode a range of bikes starting with a 1977 Suzuki 450. I now put about 15,000 miles / year on a 1976 BMW R75/6. As your article states, a lot has to do with Engineering but you don't point out what's obvious to me, that the owner is responsible for most of his ride's reliability. Take my BMW for example, the ignition is points driven and the rubbing block & points wear as you ride. You have to do an annual tune-up which includes inspecting and replacing or adjusting the points. But my experience is that most riders just ride their bikes until something breaks. Preventative maintenance is a absolute have to if you want to ride a classic bike!!!!

The sound and the fury: celebrate the machines that changed the world!

Motorcycle Classics JulAug 16Motorcycle Classics is America's premier magazine for collectors and enthusiasts, dreamers and restorers, newcomers and life long motorheads who love the sound and the beauty of classic bikes. Every issue  delivers exciting and evocative articles and photographs of the most brilliant, unusual and popular motorcycles ever made!

Save Even More Money with our RALLY-RATE plan!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our RALLY-RATE automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5.00 and get 6 issues of Motorcycle Classics for only $29.95 (USA only).

Or, Bill Me Later and I'll pay just $34.95 for a one year subscription!

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter