It has been said that riders either really love, or really dislike Harley Davidson motorcycles. On one side, supporters possess an incredibly loyal passion for the bike, while on the other side of the spectrum lies a severe distaste for the brand. There seem to be no in-betweens.
Like any other brand, Harley has had its fair share of issues. If you’re a Harley-hater, you’ll find yourself nodding in agreement as we highlight the issues with these bikes. However, we are not here to bash the Harley Davidson brand, quite the contrary – the brand has such a strong following that despite and in spite of all of these glaringly obvious and widely acknowledged issues, Harley Davidson maintains an enormous, dedicated, brand-loyal following. Their fan club spans across the globe and they aren’t just providing lip service in their revere for these bikes, they’re also dropping some big bucks to own, collect, and customize them – even though it’s known that these pesky and costly issues exist!
This iconic bike brand is widely supported and maintains a popular, and highly sought after reputation, even though the following list demonstrates issues that we can all identify with. Let’s take a look at the most glaring problems with Harley Davidson bikes that everyone who loves them chooses to ignore.
20 They Require Constant Upkeep
It goes without saying, yet, we’ll say it. Harley Davidson bikes are known to require regular maintenance. For those of you who love to tinkle with your bikes and take pride in putting in the time to keep on top of the regular maintenance, this is a non-issue. Those who are investing big bucks into their bikes and hoping that will equate to a “better build, involving fewer issues,” are going to get a good run for their money.
Simply put, these bikes need TLC! If you want to maintain a good relationship with your Harley, be prepared to give it some love and make sure you have a cash-stash to support it.
19 Declining Sales
Harley Davidson sales are on the decline and have been for quite a few years. Consumer Reports has been reporting weak sales for this bike brand which date further back than 2011. The biggest issue that Harley Davidson faces in this category seems to be a generational one. Younger riders are not only finding it difficult to afford these bikes, but they are also not as inclined to buy into the status associated with Harley ownership in the way that generations before them had so seamlessly embraced.
With that status adoration they had in the past, it was easy for Harley to charge a premium price for their motorcycles and get away with it. That’s not the case anymore.
18 Expensive To Insure
Expensive to purchase, maintain, and of course, to insure. There is nothing about the Harley Davidson brand that screams “affordable” in any way. Harley motorcycles have a very high theft rate, universally. Pair that with the ridiculously expensive genuine Harley parts, and you have yourself a beautiful formula for over-priced insurance premiums.
Bike insurance is already too expensive, but adding the words “Harley Davidson” to your policy seem to take insurance prices to the next level. It’s amazing how many riders will make peace of this in order to continue to enjoy riding their bikes. While these rates are overlooked, they are certainly not going unnoticed.
17 Hard Starts Are Damaging
Hard-starts are really tough on Harley Davidson cycles. While this affects nearly all Harleys, it’s specifically concerning for the 2007-2012 models. When hard-starting these bikes, the starter kick-back and the grinding of the starter on the clutch ring gear damage both the starter drive and clutch ring itself.
An upgraded SE Compensator Kit or a Baker Compensator Kit will greatly relieve the majority of this damage from happening, but of course, this requires work and cash! The 2013 Harleys came with an upgraded compensator which is great for a while, but of course, it still fails eventually. This can be resolved, but the onus lies on the rider to deal with it.
16 Worn Out Handlebar Bushings
Harleys are notorious for worn-out handlebar bushings. Their stock rubber handlebar bushings quickly wear out and cause the handlebar risers to move forward and backward. This is most noticeable on bikes with higher bars, or heavier Harleys in general, and is especially obvious when moving a non-running bike.
The cure for this is a solid mount system which is not entirely recommended because it enhances the vibration through the hands, and this is very noticeable and taxing on the rider. The best suggestion is to use polyurethane handlebar riser bushings which are available from Harley at a premium price, or of course, aftermarket options exist for 1/3 less.
15 Expensive To Purchase
The Harley Davidson brand carries the reputation of being an expensive and powerfully cultured motorcycle company. You wouldn’t typically associate this brand with bargain bikes in any way, and anyone in the market for a Harley Davidson will notice that fact on every price tag.
It’s widely accepted and overlooked, that the cost of owning a Harley will set you back quite a few dollars more than its foreign counterparts. While the hefty purchase fees are obvious, it seems to be in line with the marketing that has gone into establishing this brand, and loyal Harley enthusiasts easily look past this and dig deep into their wallets, bank accounts, and credit cards, to own one of these beauties.
14 So Many Recalls
We wish we could tell you that this bike is expensive, but it’s so reliable that it’s justified….but we can’t. Harley Davidson recalls are plentiful. There’s definitely no shortage of issues with these bikes, and they constantly top recall lists for various components.
These recalls have affected everything from the front wheel to the taillight and nearly all parts in-between. As recently as January of this year, headlines everywhere were blasting the news of over 44,000 Street motorcycles being recalled for braking issues. Back in 2015, Harley was recalling more than 185,000 motorcycles in the US because the saddlebags were falling off and increasing crash-risks. These bikes cost more money & come with more problems!
13 High Theft Rate
As Reported by Scout in 2017, Harley was among the top 5 most stolen bikes in the US. Consumer reports had the same findings a few years prior to that. It’s not difficult to understand why. These bikes are popular, sought after, and they cost a pretty penny to purchase. They’re incredibly expensive to insure and require a constant stream of money to keep them running properly.
Parts are expensive and can be easily sold for big bucks if the bike is chopped. It’s really no wonder that thieves gravitate towards just stealing these motorcycles instead! While we certainly don’t condone this, it’s easy to see why Harley enthusiasts just look past this glaring downfall. When you have something good, everyone wants it!
12 Oil Leaks
Oil leaks are simply part of Harley Davidson ownership that you’ll have to overlook. There’s hardly any room to get a torque wrench on the drain plugs for proper maintenance on these bikes. Many riders wrap the drain plugs in Teflon tape to prevent, or shall we say, delay, the leaking process.
You’ll need to buy a cheap (yet still, this is a pain to do) plastic piece to shove under the filter, to keep it in place during an oil change, or it will get sloppy. Fans and supporters of the Harley Davidson brand will insist that their bikes are not leaking oil at all - they are simply marking their territory!
11 Historically Unreliable
After spending a lot of money to own these expensive motorcycles, you can surely depend on them to be reliable motorcycles, right? Wrong. The Harley Davidson brand is synonymous with unreliability. The brand felt the hit from this reputation and needed the AMF revival back in the ’70s to stay alive.
Reliability issues trace back to numerous mechanical issues and varying models, spanning over the lifespan of this brand. After being plagued with this issue for so long, it’s now commonplace to see a Harley on the side of the road and not think twice about it. Most would barely bat an eyelash when seeing a Harley Davidson on the side of the road – it’s to be expected.
10 Associated With Bad Boy Image
When you think of Harley Davidson as a company, it may not just be the bike that pops into your mind with vivid imagery. The “bad boy image” is clearly attached to ownership of this motorcycle, and is something that everyone purchasing a Harley either embraces or overlooks. This is definitely known as a “bad boy bike”, boasting an aggressive sound and a widely dominant culture of bikers that look, and sometimes act, as loudly as the bikes they ride.
Everything associated with Harley Davidson seems to be aligned with projecting a bad-boy, ultra-cool, don’t-mess-with-us persona. From the attire that is branded to the accessories that are sold, every aspect of Harley Davidson perception seems linked to being part of the bad-boy-club.
9 Twin Cam Engine Problems
One of the most central and most commonly overlooked issues with Harley Davidson bikes lies within their Twin Cam Engines, specifically, with the design aspect of the cam chain system. The plastic shoes rest on the cam chains and actually wear out over time. Talk about a design flaw! When the shoes rub against each other, the friction and constant contact with the other shoes wears them down. Left unremedied, the entire engine of the Twin Cam will be destroyed.
Weak durability of the shoes equates to frequent replacing- roughly every 40,000 miles or so. To compensate a bit, a fan assisted oil cooler can be applied to assist with these twin cam engine problems.
8 Questionable Lending Habits
Harley-Davidson Financial Services (HDFS) is not exactly known to scrutinize applicants requiring financial assistance for a Harley Davidson purchase. The newer the bike you’re interested in, the better they will be able to do for you. They’re much more lenient with bad credit scores and the application process as a whole when compared to other motorcycle manufacturers.
It’s not uncommon to be approved for a stupendously long-term loan, in an obvious effort to further extend monthly payment plans and make purchasing a Harley Davidson more attainable for the average shopper. While we most certainly appreciate this boost, it’s definitely a bit sketchy. Of course, when you really want one of these spectacular bikes, it’s easy to turn a blind eye to this.
7 Hard To Find A Good Mechanic
We’ve already identified that Harley Davidson’s are finicky, high-maintenance, expensive motorcycles. This certainly doesn’t make it easy to find a good mechanic that you can trust with your bad-boy machine. While anyone can claim they can wrench like a champ, there are very few properly trained, certified mechanics that can give your Harley the TLC it so badly requires.
Servicing directly through Harley Davidson is always an option, but it’s the most expensive one, and the wait times can be long. Finding a trusted mechanic outside of the dealership may be a tedious task, but it’s a worthwhile one. These mechanics can access aftermarket parts that are much more affordable for your bike, that also adds some performance and aesthetic enhancements too.
6 Undersquare Engine
Undersquare motors are defined as cylinders which have a smaller bore (width, diameter) than stroke (length of piston travel). Undersquare engines possess higher torque and lower RPM. While they have their perks, they are definitely heavier and have increased fuel consumption.
Larger strokes limit the RPM, and the bike can’t rev very high. Some see this as the utilization of old and dated engine technology, while others simply site tradition as the reason for this nostalgic feature. Either way, you look at it – you should probably not look at it! This one is definitely something to “overlook” if you’re passionate about Harley ownership.
5 Not Made In The USA
You'd assume that Harley Davidson would manufacture their bikes using all authentic parts made and assembled in the United States. That is, after all, the identity that they associate with. However, that doesn't seem to be the case. It has become common knowledge that some, if not most of the parts that go onto your Harley Davidson are now coming from Japan, China, and other areas across the globe.
Long-gone is their loyalty to build Harley as All-US made bikes, much to everyone's dismay. This also equates to cheaper parts, yet no discounts are given down to the consumer. It's clear to see why we'd opt to just look past this and not focus on it too much!
4 Blinkers Positioned Weirdly
This seems to be an issue with many models, spanning from the ’70s to the current designs. The placement of the blinkers on the dash seems counterproductive, and downright dangerous. When glancing to see if the auto shut off blinker is still on, you’ll have to look down at the dash when you should have your eyes on the road!
Not only is this annoying, but it can also be dangerous as well. This is even more difficult if you’re planning to wear a full-face helmet. Our best advice? You guessed it, overlook and carry on, you know you still want this bike, and the blinker issue is definitely a very real one, but it’s one we can look past if we want to buy a Harley Davidson.
3 Stock Horn Sucks
The stock horn on Harley Davidson’s is weak, puny, and downright embarrassing. This is the most beasty-bike on the road, and we aren’t sure why the horn tells a different tale. It’s safe to say, the first thing to be done after a Harley Davidson purchase is the aftermarket horn –swap!
The sound of the stock bike horn is definitely not on par with the bike or the brand, and it’s puzzling to understand how this embarrassment could be permitted in the first place. This is a great example of another common Harley Davidson annoyance that we will just turn a blind eye, and ear, to.
2 Poor Handling
Sad but true, Harley Davidson rides aren’t really known for their incredible handling capabilities. Quite to the contrary, this seems to be an embarrassing little hiccup that we’ll just pretend doesn’t exist. When purchasing a Harley Davidson, you just have to know that the handling isn’t going to be its strongest feature! In fact, the 1981 Sportster is widely recognized as the worst handling bike that tops all the “worst handling” lists.
These Sportsters can hold their own in a straight line but failed to impress when it came to corners, or when assessing low-speed maneuverability. This is largely due to poor suspension, and well – ok, that’s enough – we still love the bikes, we can see past this, right?
1 AMF Years Were Embarrassing
For those who aren’t up-to-speed, AMF stands for "American Machinery And Foundry," and also very much stands for the biggest embarrassment known to the Harley Davidson brand.
We have to give credit where it’s due in recognizing that Harley Davidson may have ceased to exist without AMF involvement when they purchased Harley-Davidson in 1969. However, 1969-1981 Harleys are among the worst, and the AMF years are definitely the worst period that this company has ever seen. During the AMF years, bikes were of bad quality when pegged against their counterparts. At that time, Harleys were nicknamed “Hardly Driveable,” and became the victim of many jokes. This may be an easy one to overlook – all you have to do is purchase a 1982 or more recent model!
Sources: Overkill Custom Motors Choppers via Scott Clement, Ultracool, Consumers Report & Motley Fool