Harley-Davidson is one of the most iconic and legendary names in the motorcycle industry. In fact, their branding is so on-point that they are one of the most famous brands in the world - even those who've never sat on a motorcycle know the name is synonymous with rebels, rock and roll, and freedom. Don't know how to ride a motorcycle? No problem, Harley makes apparel so those who don't have the opportunity to throw their leg over a hog can still support the brand.
Things haven't always been running smoothly for the Milwaukee motorcycle manufacturer though. There have been several times they've been facing financial ruin and bankruptcy, they were even owned by another company throughout the seventies.
These days they're going harder and stronger than ever, but there are still quite a few problems Harley will never admit about their motorcycles.
Harley's topline is enviable, but it's based on selling large motorcycles at high prices, with alternatives supplied by Japanese cruisers - excellent bikes that lack that Harley attitude, V-twin roar, and of course the outlaw credibility. Nowadays, Harley is facing homegrown competition from a resurgent Indian. And Ducati and Triumph have made a better pitch to young riders, while the urban and entry-level markets are being attacked by Royal Enfield.
What is Harley-Davidson’s base position? What’s the core foundation of its business? Just taking a shot here, but how about something like: “American-made, big, loud motorcycles”? So, announcing you’re moving production – even some production – out of the United States is a major brand violation. While bikes intended for the American market are still assembled in the United States, the parts are sourced from all over the world.
One of the 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. When the shoes rub against each other, the friction and constant contact with the other shoes wears them down. Left unremedied, the entire engine will be destroyed.
When Consumer Reports began rating motorcycles for reliability and customer satisfaction they got responses from more than 11,000 motorcycle riders.The survey found that the Japanese brands were the most reliable and that Harley-Davidson owners are twice as likely to experience problems that require repairs as owners of the Japanese brands, with 26% of new Harleys needing attention.
From the front wheel to the taillight, and nearly all the parts in between - there's been no shortage of recalls of H-D products. Honestly, it's getting ridiculous seeing as they constantly top recall lists for various components. More than 44,000 Streets were recalled for braking issues - and most dealerships didn't even have parts to fix the problem.
Harley Davidson bikes are known to require more maintenance than the average Japanese bike. Those who love spending their time tinkering on their bikes don't really see a problem with this. Those who are looking for trouble-free bike ownership and just want to ride will soon start pulling their hair out... or pulling out their wallets to pay someone to maintain the bike for them.
The Harley Davidson brand isn't typically associated with bargain bikes in any way, and anyone who walks into a dealership will notice that fact on every price tag. A Harley will set you back more than its more reliable Japanese counterparts, but clearly, a lot of enthusiasts are willing to pay the extra money to be part of the H-D family.
Harleys are expensive to purchase and maintain, so it just makes sense that they are expensive to insure as well. The price of the bike and maintenance is part of why insurance is costly. Another reason is the high theft rate, and then, of course, there are quite a few accidents. Add it all up, and you are in for an over-priced insurance premium.
Harley's have a lethal problem - and the company knows about it! The Death Wobble has resulted in the deaths of a large number of Harley owners. The Harley Wobble is not necessarily a result of maintenance issues or prior mechanical problems - it can happen on a bike that is brand new, straight from the manufacturer.
Harleys are among the top 5 most stolen bikes in the US, and it's easy 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.
Harley-Davidson lovers will insist that their bikes are not leaking oil at all - they are simply marking their territory! However, there’s a fair amount of drippy-ness planned into a properly functioning Harley-Davidson. Early Harleys used a "total loss" lubrication system, while modern bikes have breather lines to the air filter so oil mist can be sucked back in - which means it will sometimes leak a little when parked.
Let's not even consider that when you purchase a brand new H-D you're gonna be doing monthly payments for years to come. That's not the freedom we're talking about here. Harley advertises and sells a dream, part of that dream is the freedom that comes with Harley ownership - the biker lifestyle. How many H-D owners really live that lifestyle? Next to none!
There used to be a time when riding a Harley-Davidson meant being a rebellious bad boy who would never conform to society's rules. Today, with few exceptions, riding a Harley-Davidson is the ultimate act of conformity. It’s about belonging to a community. There is absolutely nothing rebellious or individualistic about it.
Harley Davidson’s are expensive crude and finicky high-maintenance motorcycles. To make matters worse, anyone who's spent some time on an H-D forum or social media group has read one or more of the countless posts regarding a mechanic making a mess of things. Wanna ride a Harley? You better work on your own bike and learn how to fix it when it breaks!
Harley-Davidson is still using old school pushrod engines that aren't exactly built for high performance. It's not all bad, as these engines are cheaper to build and easy to work on... but that raises more questions than it answers. Why are Harleys so expensive and why is it so hard to find a good mechanic then?
Due to the bikes' geometry and suspension, the handling characteristics of a Harley can best be described as lazy - at least if we want to be polite when describing them. It's probably a good thing that they're not very powerful because the brakes are pretty awful and hopes and prayers are needed in order to get around a corner successfully.
Harley-Davidson decided to step into the future. They released their first electric bike - the Livewire - and after the hype died down, pretty much everyone decided it was overpriced and didn't have enough range. Someone at the Harley HQ thought it was a good idea to market a $30,000 bike with only a 110-mile range towards Millenials. They were wrong.
Harley uses undersquare engines, i.e. the cylinders have a smaller bore than stroke. Undersquare engines produce more torque, which is a good thing, but they are heavy and thirsty. They also can't rev very high - which diehard fans claim is tradition and how a Harley should be - the rest of us would say it's outdated.
There's no nice way of saying this; Harley owners are getting older, and there doesn't seem to be an immediate solution to this problem. Should they cater to the older audience who hates change and curses the new machines with their water-cooled engines? Or should they focus on the younger crowd who don't have money to spend now, yet they are the future?! It's a tough one.
Hard-starts are really tough on Harley-Davidson bikes, specifically the 2007-2012 models. The starter kick-back and the grinding 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 help prevent the majority of this damage from happening, but of course, this requires work and cash!