Do Harleys Require a Lot of Maintenance? (Explained & Solved!)

You are planning to buy a Harley motorcycle, but almost everyone you know is advising against it.

You hear things like, “Harleys are unreliable,” “Harleys spend more time in repair shops than on the road,” and many more.

However, are these claims true? Let’s find out!

Do Harleys require a lot of maintenance?

Harleys require the same level of maintenance as many other motorcycle brands. Unfortunately, many people ignorantly claim that Harleys spend more time at the repair shop than on the road. This is a myth spread by the brand’s critics who rarely own Harley motorcycles. Harleys are reliable bikes.

As long you adhere to the maintenance schedule specified in the service manual, your Harley will require no extra repairs/servicing.

How Much Maintenance Should You Expect With A Harley?

Like every other motorcycle, Harleys need proper maintenance and upkeep. It further helps if you maintain it promptly according to the service schedule.

The owner’s manual contains most maintenance activities you must perform. It arranges all the servicing jobs into a giant timeline, so you know what components to change from 5,000 miles and 50,000 miles.

Here is a list of the common maintenance a Harley motorcycle requires for optimum performance:

This list is not exhaustive, and some things may have been omitted by error. If you can, get your hands on a Harley service manual to know what maintenance your bike needs.

1. Tires

The condition of your tires affects the overall performance of your motorcycle. Problems with your tires can easily affect the ride’s quality and make for a bad driving experience.

Low tire pressure, for instance, will affect your motorcycle’s handling and braking ability. Also, excess pressure in the tires can reduce road grip, putting you at risk.

Checking your tire pressure is a big part of your Harley maintenance tasks. It is necessary to ensure that your tires have the correct amount of air pressure at all times.

Monitor tire pressure with a pressure gauge, but do this only when the tires are cold. Always make sure that the air pressure in the tires is at an optimal level.

You also need to check the tire tread depth regularly. Worn tires typically perform poorly even on dry roads and are worse on off-road terrain. To avoid being flung off your Harley because the tires cannot grip the road well, remember always to monitor your bike’s tires’ condition.

To inspect tire wear, all you need to do is examine the position of the wear indicator. The wear indicator is a small knob in the grooves of your motorcycle’s tires. If the knob is at the same level as the rubber that meets the road, you need to replace the tire.

2. Brakes

Your brakes are important to your safety and must be in good working condition at all times.

Harleys use hydraulic brakes, which are reliable. Still, brake components are prone to wear-and-tear and need regular inspection and replacement.

Here are some brake parts you should pay attention to:

Brake Fluid

Low brake fluid can affect brake performance negatively and put your life at risk.

Dirty or old brake fluid can also lead to similar problems.

The service manual contains information on how to replace brake fluid on your motorcycle.

Use this information to replace the brake fluid at intervals prescribed by the service manual.

Brake Pads

Always check the thickness of the brake pads to see if they have not totally worn out. It is better to replace brake pads before they are worn to the metal to prevent extensive rotor damage.

Besides, be sure that the brake pads are wearing out evenly.

Extreme or irregular wear on either brake pad likely means your Harley needs a brake pad replacement.

Harley-Davidson recommends inspecting brake pads every 6,000 miles, but we would advise you to examine them more frequently, especially if you do a lot of stop-and-go riding.

Brake Rotors

It is advisable to place your motorcycle on a lift during servicing so that you can inspect brake components such as rotors.

Rotor maintenance involves inspecting the components for signs of warping. You should also check the surface of the rotors for rust.

It is easy to remove rust on rotors with a brake cleaner liquid and Scotch-Brite pad.

Brake Lines

Factory brake lines are made from rubber and are prone to cracking and deteriorating over time. It is important to check the lines for signs of age and wear.

Worn-out brake lines can increase stopping distances and cause brake failure in extreme cases, which is why you want yours to be in good condition.

Steel braided lines last longer than rubber lines and typically improve brake performance. Replacing your rubber lines with steel lines may reduce the frequency of maintenance.

3. Belts and Chains

The belts and chains transfer power from the engine to the wheels. You should always ensure your bike’s belt and chains are in good condition.

It is also necessary to check if the belts and chains’ slack is at an optimum level.

Incorrect tension or slack can lead to premature gearbox wear, sprocket wear, rough gear changes, and erratic transmission performance.

Measure the slack in the belts and chains with a simple slack setter and compare the results to the specs listed in the service manual. Also, remember to do a visual check for signs of excessive chain and belt wear. You may still need to use a tool to measure chain/belt wear to check that they meet manufacturer specifications.

Lubrication is also important. The belts and chains are regularly exposed to dirt, salt, and other corrosive elements. Chains should be cleaned and lubricated to counteract these corrosive elements’ activity and allow your belt and chain to last longer.

4. Fluids

Always check your oil levels, especially before riding. If the oil level is low, top it until it gets to the level specified by the service manual. Be careful to check the condition of the oil, too. Dark or thick oil means your lubricant is old, contaminated, and needs replacement.

Before draining the oil from the bike’s engine, check the service manual for the right procedure to avoid damaging your motorcycle. Experts recommend changing your oil every year. But if you put many miles on your bike, you may need to replace the oil more frequently.

To check the level of coolant in the engine, remove the radiator filler cap. If the coolant needs replacing, remove both the radiator cap and the coolant drain bolt to let out the liquid.

Once you drain the fluid completely, refill the coolant with a funnel. Check the amount of coolant in the engine and confirm if it reaches the manufacturer-recommended level.

5. Filter

It is important to keep both the air filter and fuel filter on your Harley free from any buildup of dirt and grime.

Clogged and dirty filters can reduce performance and fuel economy.

The environment you ride in often determines air filter maintenance. Extensive riding in dusty/dirty areas like construction sites may mean you have to clean the air filter at least once every week. Consult the service manual to know when to replace your air filter [5,000 miles is usually the average].

Fuel filters also need to be cleaned regularly to prevent dirt from clogging them. Like air filters, the service manual will tell when to replace the fuel filter.

Are Harley Motorcycles Expensive To Maintain?

With the stories you have heard about Harleys, you may think these bikes must cost a fortune to keep running.

The truth is maintenance costs on Harleys are like other motorcycles.

However, several factors affect the maintenance costs of Harleys:

1. Driving Habits

The riding you do on your Harley may determine how much you pay for maintenance. For example, stop-and-go driving may cause premature brake and clutch wear on your motorcycle.

Likewise, hard riding (think drag strip races) will force some components like tires to wear out faster.

If you put many miles on your Harley, your maintenance costs will be higher.

Say you ride 20,000 miles annually.

Harley-Davidson recommends periodic servicing every 5,000 miles, meaning you’ll have four scheduled servicing appointments. If the average 5,000-mile service for a Harley motorcycle costs $400 on average, your annual maintenance costs will be $1600.

If your annual mileage were, say, a little above 10,000 miles, your annual maintenance costs would be around $800.

2. Service Provider

Another factor that influences Harley motorcycle maintenance costs is your preferred location for servicing. Do you prefer to service your bike at a Harley-certified shop or an independent repairs shop?

Dealerships charge more than indie shops but may offer after-service support and other incentives that are not available at the latter.

It is up to you to decide which option is better.

One way to reduce maintenance costs is to do most of the servicing yourself. We’d advise you to do so if you have considerable technical experience.

Watching a few DIY videos won’t make you an expert overnight. If you don’t have enough experience, it’s better to service your bike at a repair shop.

Here is a table showing typical servicing costs on Harleys:

Oil & Filter Change $110-$160
Brake Pad Replacement $200-$300
Clutch Replacement $300-$500
Tire Replacement $200-$500

How Do I Know When I Need A Scheduled Service?

Scheduled servicing is as important to your Harley as fuel.

Each scheduled service is due when the motorcycle reaches a specific mileage point or at intervals.

Harley-Davidson recommends taking your bike for servicing at the following mileage points:

  1. 1,000 miles
  2. 5,000 miles
  3. 10,000 miles
  4. 15,000 miles
  5. 20,000 miles (from here onwards, take your bike for scheduled servicing at every 5,000-mile interval).

Each scheduled service’s prices will vary, depending on the mileage, the maintenance milestone, and the amount of work the mechanic will do. For example, a 20,000-mile scheduled service will cost more than a 5,000-mile service.

At 5,000 miles, most components would still be in good condition and may need only a few adjustments. 20,000 miles is a different kettle of fish when your bike’s odometer clocks 20k miles. Many components may be already worn-out and in need of replacement, increasing labor costs.

Never consider the costs of a scheduled service exorbitant that you do at an unqualified indie shop or by yourself (especially if you have no technical experience). By getting your scheduled service done the right way, you will prevent future, expensive-to-fix faults.

The Harley Davidson Service Checklist contains the different milestones and states what maintenance tasks to be performed at each stage.

Here is a table showing the average prices for scheduled servicing on some Harley models:

 Service Milestone  BIG TWIN  SPORTSTER
1,000-mile servicing $365-390  $250-275
2,500/7,500 mile servicing  $150-175  $125-145
5,000-mile servicing  $390-410  $330-410
10,000-mile servicing  $375-400  $315-325

How Old A Model Can You Buy To Stay On The “Safe Side”?

Buying a used Harley motorcycle can be difficult. You need to consider age, mileage, and service history before choosing to buy any model.

Age, in particular, plays a huge role in the used motorcycle buying process for many individuals because many people see it as an indicator of the condition of the motorcycle. A 10-year-old bike, for instance, is likely to have seen more use than a 5-year-old bike and is more prone to the effects of wear-and-tear than the latter. Hence, some buyers are particular about the age of a motorcycle and may refuse to buy it if they think a bike is too old.

So, is there a specific age at which a motorcycle becomes too old to be bought? No, there is not.

This may seem surprising, but age is not a good indicator of a motorcycle’s condition. We’ve seen seven-year-old Harleys that run and look like new and three-year-old models that look like battered war machines. It all depends on how the motorcycle was used and maintained.

Age can mislead you into thinking a bike is in good condition when it is not. What matters is how it was used during that time. Did the previous owner ride the motorcycle responsibly and service it regularly? Or did he ride it hard and didn’t perform regular maintenance?

A seven-year-old Harley that was well used and well maintained will run well than a two-year-old Harley that was driven roughly and badly maintained. Consider things like mileage, service history, driving habits of the previous owner, the number of previous owners, etc., when buying your next pre-owned Harley.

The only exception to this case is if the bike is too old and replacement parts become expensive.

In cases like that, it is better to choose a newer model since it will have cheaper replacement parts.

What Are The Most Typical Problems With Harleys?

Modern Harleys are reliable and have fewer problems than they did in the past. However, this does not mean that Harley motorcycles are perfect machines without defects.

We did some research and came up with a list of the most common problems associated with Harley-Davidson motorcycles:

  1. Leaking Oil
  2. Twin Cam Engine Failures
  3. Faulty Brakes
  4. Multiple-Engine Problems

How Many Miles Can A Harley Last?

In the past, Harleys were unreliable motorcycles that broke down frequently and cost a lot to keep functioning. Frustrated owners would sell or even abandon their Harleys rather than pay exorbitant amounts to keep them on the road. Harleys rarely lasted long, and high-mileage models were rare.

However, all that has changed, and modern Harleys have improved in quality. With prompt and proper maintenance, there is no reason a Harley motorcycle should reach or cross the 40,000-50,000-mile mark without major repairs.

Such high mileages may seem outrageous, given Harley’s past reputation for unreliability. As we explained earlier, the reliability of Harley models has improved, and high-mileage Harley motorcycles are now the norm, not the exception.

Ultimately, whether your Harley lasts long is entirely up to you. By committing to responsible driving habits and regular servicing, you can prolong the life of your Harley motorcycle.

Drive roughly, refuse to do proper maintenance, and you’ll end up with a bike that will break down, even before it sees any considerable use.

Do Harley Motorcycles Require More Maintenance Than Other Brands?

Harley’s motorcycles can compete with even the finest motorcycles in terms of reliability.

Gone are the days when Harleys required more servicing and repairs compared to rival brands. Now, the average Harley motorcycle should not require more maintenance than any other motorcycle on the road.

However, the reliability of your Harley is largely based on how well you maintain it. You need to follow the servicing schedule religiously. Don’t be tempted into thinking a scheduled service is nothing more than an oil and filter change because it is often more than that.

The dealership technicians in charge of servicing your motorcycle are trained to detect even the smallest faults in your motorcycle. There are faults trained technicians may notice while working on your motorcycle. You’d likely overlook it if you handled the servicing.

The instructions in the service manual are best interpreted by individuals with considerable technical knowledge. To illustrate, consider a typical service manual instruction such as “inspect the swing-arm pivot.” A bike owner without prior technical knowledge will probably interpret the instruction as “check if the swing-arm pivot is connected” and do just that.

A trained tech understands that the instruction calls for a comprehensive examination of the swing-arm pivot. Therefore, instead of stopping at a visual check of the swing-arm component, he goes ahead and puts the motorcycle on a lift, jacks up the back wheel, and removes the shock absorbers. Then he uses a dial indicator to check if the end-play on the swing-arm bearings/bushings is within proper specifications.

The above illustration shows why it is often better to have your maintenance done by trained mechanics, no matter how costly it may be. It may seem expensive and unnecessary, but it is the best way to protect yourself from multiple, more expensive repairs.

4 Tips To Reduce Maintenance On A Harley:

No one wants to buy a motorcycle and have to spend more to keep it on the road. Below is a list of tips to help you reduce maintenance costs:

1. Conduct Prompt & Proper Maintenance

If you want to make sure your Harley motorcycle stays in prime condition for long, you will need to perform regular maintenance. The Harley Davidson Service Manual has a list of prescribed maintenance tasks aimed at keeping your bike running. Read the manual and ensure you perform maintenance tasks as at when due.

Ensure a Harley-certified mechanic services your Harley properly. If you want to service the bike yourself, invest in tools and spares, you will need to do a proper job. Read the service manual for instructions on how to service your bike properly.

If there are instructions you have trouble understanding, seek help from those with considerable technical knowledge. There is a lot of information concerning DIY maintenance, which you can get from online forums, motorcycle-related websites, and the likes.

However, if you want to service your Harley by yourself or by a mechanic, ensure it is done properly. Badly done servicing can only lead to more problems for your motorcycle. Problems that often require extra time, energy, and resources to fix.

2. Avoid Buying Inferior Parts

Considering how expensive parts can be, it is tempting to buy cheap spares from an independent dealer to save costs. These parts are often not of the highest quality; hence, their low sale prices. Using them on your motorcycle may cause extensive damage, leading to increased maintenance costs.

We will advise you to buy spare parts from Harley-certified dealerships or reputable auto shops. Yes, these parts may be more expensive, but they will give you value for your money and will last longer than the cheap ones.

3. Ride Responsibly

Wear-and-tear is an inevitable reality for any motorcycle, but you can reduce it with the right riding habits. One such habit is to keep hard driving to a minimum. Hard driving forces components to work twice the normal rate and will cause them to wear out faster.

Also, if you are often stuck in stop-and-go traffic, do not ride the clutch, but neither should you drive in such a way that you need to brake hard every second. Hard braking and riding the clutch while driving will cause premature brake and clutch wear and damage other motorcycle parts.

4. Avoid Modifying Your Motorcycle

If you want to reduce the rate at which you have to replace components on your bike, stay away from any fancy modifications.

“Modding” your Harley for increased performance will put extra strain on motorcycle components such as brakes and suspension.

Extra strain leads to increased wear-and-tear, which ultimately translates to more money spent on replacing worn parts.

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