What is Considered High Mileage for a Motorcycle
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What is Considered High Mileage for a Motorcycle (and Why does it Matter)?

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For one make and model of motorcycle, we may consider 30,000 miles on the clock to be high. While for another, 60,000 miles is a walk in the park. Read on and find out why.

When it comes to motorcycles, this has to be one of the most in-depth questions to consider. As straightforward as it sounds, the number of variables will have a huge impact on the results.

It’s also essential to realize that this question is often a precursor to buying a used motorcycle. In reality, we should be asking how much rideable-life is a bike with high mileage able to offer?

So let’s take an in-depth look at the criteria that will give us the answers to those all-important questions.

Is high mileage dependent on the type of motorcycle?

Yes.

This response is at the top of the list, but let’s delve a little deeper. In general terms, we can divide motorcycles into various categories. These include sports, commuter, tourer, cruiser, and dual sports bikes.

When it comes to being able to clock up high mileage, the tourer should, in theory, be top of the list. This is because tourers tend to have large engines in a mild state of tune. They clock-up the majority of miles at a constant speed on long journeys with extended service intervals. For the most part, touring bikes are well maintained.

On the flip side, sports bikes are in a higher state of tune. Their higher revving engines have more moving parts thrashing around. Because of their lively engines and good handling, sports bikes by design have more challenging lives.

High mileage for a popular model in each category would look like this:

CategoryMakeModelHigh Mileage
Sports BikeYamahaR650,000
CruiserHarley-DavidsonTC88B Fatboy70,000
CommuterHondaC90100,000
Dual SportBMWR1250 GS130,000
TourerHondaGL1800150,000

You may notice, most of the bikes on our list boast some decent mileage under their wheels. While there are plenty of high mileage examples of each to model to back these up, engine longevity is not a given. Once again, the reasons for this are many.

Is the owner of a high mileage motorcycle important?

Yes.

Never has one element had such input on a bike’s longevity than its owner. Every bike ever made, regardless of how reliable, is at the mercy of its rider. And like everything in life, there are the good, bad, and downright ugly.

A good rider will give their bike a visual once over before every ride. Services will be carried out on time and service record stamped. This type of rider enjoys being in the saddle, and part of that enjoyment means keeping their ride in good condition.

Signs that a good rider owns a motorcycle are easy to identify. Apart from an up-to-date service history, drive chains will be tensioned and lubed, and bushes, bearings, and nipples greased. Furthermore, tires will be correctly inflated with good tread.

The brakes and clutch will work as they should, and under the seat, the wiring harness will be unmolested and electrical components in good condition.

A high mileage bike owned by a good rider makes it a safer bet to buy.  The bad rider may do only enough maintenance to keep their bike on the road. Meanwhile, the ugly rider’s bike will be used, abused and neglected. If it reaches a high mileage through sheer luck, it will be in such a poor state of repair it may render it worthless.

What makes a motorcycle engine capable of high mileage?

The engine layout.

Most touring motorcycles have large capacity engines and are in a mild state of tune. The emphasis is on torque, so they make their max power at lower revs. A typical large-bore V-twin at cruising speed would see its crankshaft completing approximately 60 revolutions per second.

In comparison, peak power on a mid-range sports bike comes in at around 200 crankshaft rotations per second.  To further complicate matters, however, a large capacity 45-degree V-twin engine is prone to vibration. And this can have a detrimental effect on the rest of the bike.

Woman riding a motorcycle

What else is affected on a high mileage bike?

Lots!

So far, we’ve looked at high mileage engines, but as we all know, a motorcycle is only as good as the sum of its parts. In other words, the engine may be willing and in good condition, but the cycle parts are weak.

When considering buying a used motorcycle with anything over 40,000 miles on the clock, don’t forget it’s not only the engine that’s put in the hard work. Wheel and steering head bearings, suspension, bushes, rubber engine mounts, and even electrical components will be worked hard too. When considering buying a high mileage motorcycle, a thorough inspection of the entire bike is essential.

Take a used bike like the early Honda Gold Wings, for example. While the flat-four engine was capable of notching up high mileage, the detachable frame loop was notorious for rusting through within 30,000 miles. Not ideal for a 650-lb motorcycle.

When the Royal Enfield Himalayan launched in 2016, some owners reported steering head bearings needing replacement in 9,000 miles.

Are the model and year important for a high mileage motorcycle?

Yes, 100 percent.

The first year H-D Evolution engine, for example, was notorious for self-destruction.  Crankshaft failure was a regular occurrence at 30,000 miles. Three years later, modified engines offered 80,000 miles before the need for a significant overhaul.

Looking at specific make and model owners’ blogs, you will see pages of debate on which model year is best.  If you’ve seen a specific bike with high mileage and want to know what to look out for, blogs are excellent sources of information.

For example, the Aprilia Pegaso and BMW F650 use more or less the same 650cc single-cylinder Rotax engine. When the Pegaso switched to fuel injection in 2001, it created reliability issues. Meanwhile, the F650 stayed with carbs and can clock up 70,000 miles without too much of a stretch, so don’t be afraid to buy a used example.

When it comes to considering a used bike with high mileage, the specific make and model is highly relevant.

Who makes the most reliable motorcycles?

Yamaha.

For years, Honda has taken the lead in manufacturing the most reliable motorcycles. Yet, the most recent figures show that when it comes to reliability for motorcycles up to four years old, Yamaha nudges ahead.

Honda and Suzuki tie for second place while Kawasaki takes the number three slot. The current motorcycle industry failure rate is around 29 percent. BMW sneaks in almost at the bottom of the table with a 40 percent failure rate.

Often seen as bikes with a six-figure lifespan, this seeming contradictory figure for BMW is influenced by a factory recall of almost 17,000 bikes in August 2020. This fact proves once again that when you’re evaluating the potential of a high mileage motorcycle, research is everything.

What other factors are important when considering what is high mileage for a motorcycle?

Location and climate.

Before Brexit complicated the process, importing motorcycles into the UK was a simple affair.  In USA states such as Florida, the sunny climate and use of motorcycles for recreation rather than necessity were ideal.

A vast dealer network and an aftermarket spares set-up meant specific model years of Harley-Davidson, even with high mileage, were a safe bet. And despite transport and taxes, importing the right Harley-Davidson motorcycle still represented a bargain.

Closer to home, you also need to take into account where the motorcycle’s storage arrangements. A high mileage motorcycle kept in a garage and plugged into a battery tender is going to be in far better shape than one that lives under a cover in the yard.

Black and white motorcycle with low mileage

Is the motorcycle’s production run important?

Yes.

When considering what high mileage for a motorcycle is, a good indicator is how long a particular model has been in production.  A motorcycle with a long production run means that the manufacturer got it right the first time and it has no or few reliability issues.

A perfect example of this is the Honda CG125. This classic commuter bike ran from 1976-2008. Spares are cheap, the engines are bulletproof, and high mileage examples are commonplace.

As for larger capacity motorcycles, the flying suitcase or BMW K100 series enjoyed a 13-year long production run. The shaft-driven flat-four is so well made that a cared-for example with 100,000 miles on the clock may still give another 50,000 miles of service.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Honda NR750 launched in 1992 saw production suspended one year later with only 300 units or so sold.

As explained throughout this article, many factors impact whether a motorcycle’s mileage is considered high.

If you wonder what is considered high mileage for a motorcycle and why it matters, it’s maybe because you’re contemplating a purchase. Don’t get put off by the speedometer reading, do your homework, follow this advice, and you could well bag a good value bargain motorcycle with lots more miles to offer.