There are plenty of fish in the sea, they tell us, but they don’t know that feeling of finding the iron steed with the perfect tuning.
Whether cruising in the pocket or squealing ’round switchbacks, no two engines feel the same; a fear creeps in, one every rider knows well.
Just when we’re coming out of that curve, hoping this ride lasts forever, we wonder, just how long do motorcycle engines last?
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Here’s the Short Answer to How Long Motorcycle Engines Last:
A motorcycle engine will last as long as you’re willing to service it and replace worn parts before they fail. While the general expectancy of a motorcycle is between 50,000 and 250,000 miles depending on the make, model, and type of moto, owner riding, storage, and maintenance habits are the major variables.
How Many Miles Do Motorcycle Engines Last on Average?
On average, motorcycle engines are projected to last between 50,000 and 250,000 miles, depending on the type of bike, make, model, and the owner’s riding, storage, and maintenance habits. That said, a well-kept bike motor can last a lifetime.
The average life expectancy of a motorcycle’s motor in years varies between sportbike, touring bike, cruiser, cafe racer, etc.
Calculating the number of years a bike engine lasts also requires knowing the number of miles it’s ridden per year.
For example, while the average road-ready bagger clocks 5,000 miles a year, your typical sportbike isn’t clearing 3k. So, if the average life expectancy of a sportbike engine is 50,000 miles, and the average sportbike is ridden for 3,000 miles a year, the average life expectancy looks like 17 years.
A hard-bagged touring bike like a Goldwing has a projected lifespan of 250,000 miles and gets about 5,000 miles of road action a year. So, same formula; 250,000/5,000= an engine life expectancy of 50 years, and siblings, real-life riders out there have proved it to be true.
Let’s take a look at some real-life examples of motorcycle engines with high miles:
- “I have had other BMW motorcycles which have had over 100,000mi/160,934.4KM As of today, 6/11/2021, Red, my main machine, has 165,167 miles. At 76 years, I probably should be looking at using the car more. But seriously, there’s nothing quite like a motorcycle (engine)… I am very appreciative that for these 30-year-old machines, I can still obtain new replacement parts for all the critical systems. The number of parts that are Not Available is very low.”
- Take care of your [motorcycle engine], and it’ll take care of you for as long as possible. Recently saw a Wing on Flea-Bay that had 500,000+ on the original engine. My [engine] has 110,000+ on the clock.
- I personally know about not just 1…
- …but 2 Honda Goldwing GL1800 Owners who’ve clocked more than 425,000 miles and counting on the 80s and 90s Goldwings AND are still on the road with their original engines.
- Further down in this article, we’ll talk about two riders who’ve put 1,000,000 (that’s 1 million) original miles on their motorcycle engines–
- —One of these bikes was a Harley FXR cruiser, and the other was a Goldwing GL1800, which just goes to show the type of bike is less critical than owner upkeep.
The truth is that your engine will last as long as you’re willing to maintain it, including replacing parts as they wear out, but before they fail, as running a bike engine with worn parts causes damage to other components.
The most efficient way to catch critical wear and tear on your engine in its early stages is to follow the service schedule in your make/year model’s owner’s manual.
You’ll notice that this maintenance-interval table not only includes the basics, like oil and filter changes, brake checks, fluid changes, and air-filter cleanings; it also includes detailed inspections and lubrication.
If you’re inspecting your bike motor’s various parts and systems per the outlined maintenance schedule, you’ll learn to recognize wear before it becomes problematic.
The best offense is often a solid defense; motorcycle engines are a prime exhibit of this theory. Sticking to basic upkeep, lubrication, and component-inspection routine will keep your motorcycle’s engine performing dependably for years.
Understanding the scenarios that’ll shorten the life of your bike’s motor is a big part of playing that solid D’.
- Motorcycle engines often fail as a result of prolonged periods without use. Bike engines are mini-factories of high-performance, requiring various mechanical parts working at a rapid-fire pace close to one another.
- The high-powered/small-package aspect of a bike engine makes frequent inspection and lubrication such a critical variable.
- Fresh oil and fuel are critical for a bike engine. If your bike sits at room temperature for a prolonged period, the oil and fuel can corrode and gunk up inside your motorcycle’s engine, negatively impacting its shelf life.
Another bike-motor-murderer is frequent cold starts.
Even on modern, fuel-injected motorcycle engines, riding your engine hard before the oil has a chance to warm up can cause serious problems. So, motors of bikes used for long-distance rides tend to last longer than motorcycle engines on commuters that rev high in short bursts without ever warming up.
The good news here is that one of the best things you can do to prolong the engine’s life on any motorcycle is to ride it regularly, long enough to heat your fresh oil up and pump it through the machine.
Of course, you’ll have to follow a basic service regimen to ensure that the oil you are running through your motorcycle engine is quenching its thirst. Now, if you start your bike cold and hop on without letting the oil warm and loosen the way the engineers expected it to, lubrication will suffer.
The cold, coagulated oil isn’t lubricating the engine in this scenario. Meanwhile, you’re roasting at high RPMs around town, switching gears, and disengaging your clutch before anything is coated in oil.
Your parts run together and get hot, but you kill the bike as soon as the oil heats up, meaning the engine has never been lubricated.
This can be especially damaging to your motorcycle engine’s lifespan if you’re riding it hard in that short period, and here’s why:
- Unlike general-purpose cars, motorcycle engines are designed for high-performance; it’s the whole point. Despite its high power, a motorcycle engine is much smaller than a car’s, requiring hotter ignitions, aggressive cams, and a more dramatic compression.
- While it sounds like I’m building up to telling you a bike motor is primed to explode and die early, it’s quite the opposite. An engine with this much-concentrated force must be fabricated from high-grade parts that can get hot and throw blows at high RPMs.
Even a cheaper motorcycle’s engine needs to be constructed from quality materials to perform its essential functions; these bikes are often more affordable because the engine performance is lower than usual, allowing it to be built from cheaper materials.
Hence, a low-revving motorcycle engine doesn’t always last longer than a high-performance rev-monster, which brings us to another good question…
What Motorcycle Engine Types Last Longer?
The longest-lasting types of modern motorcycle engines are Boxers, Inlines, V-Twins, and L-Twins. However, any motorcycle engine will last a long time if maintained, ridden, and stored per the manufacturer’s suggestions.
Boxer engines are a rare type used by BMW engines, using an even number of cylinders between 4-6 that sit horizontally on each side of the crankshaft. The low center of gravity at work here provides high power at a low temp, prolonging the engine’s life.
Boxer engines are expensive to maintain and rare, making them a luxurious, less accessible choice for those who prefer to wrench at home.
Inline motorcycle engines use between four and six cylinders, arranged crosswise inside an engine block and liquid-cooled. These engines offer high-performance, high-revs, high speeds with low vibrations and wear, making them the ideal superbike engine.
Again, their long life comes at a trade-off; they are expensive and more complex to maintain.
V-Twins and L-Twins use two large cylinders arranged at an angle, described by the lettering of their respective names. These engines are widely popular in modern bikes due to their high torque and power, which are incredibly stable, reliable, simple, and easy to work on.
What Motorcycle Engine Types Do NOT Last Long?
Any two-stroke motorcycle engine likely won’t last as long as a four-stroke motor, as they’re harder to maintain since they guzzle fuel and oil faster. Two-stroke bike motors require oil mixed into the fuel, which burns hotter and wears the engine.
Two strokes are so much harder to maintain that they don’t last as long as four strokes. Many two-stroke bike owners tire of the constant engine cleaning, meaning the engine sits with burned-up oil/fuel mix in its engine.
The cycle of high-maintenance/eventual neglection made the four-stroke motorcycle engine a more popular choice, even though it takes four piston strokes to perform its function, vs. the two-piston strokes required by a two-stroke motorcycle engine.
A two-stroke motorcycle engine allows more air and fuel to flow through the machine—a requirement to perform its essential job that unfortunately leads to a relatively rapid wear-and-tear.
Compared to the four-stroke motorcycle engine process used by most modern cruisers and sportbikes, smaller dirt bikes and racing bikes still use two-stroke motorcycle engines that generally don’t last as long.
What Are the Main Factors to Affect Motorcycle Engine Longevity?
The main factors affecting motorcycle longevity are the rider’s usage, storage, maintenance routines, cooling methods, and engineering style. These factors affect your bike engine’s lifespan, mileage, performance, and reliability.
Rider input and maintenance habits are possibly the most significant force impacting how long your motorcycle engine will last.
- If you are a hard-riding road-roaster who peaks RPMs on the reg, you’re stressing your bike’s engine by overheating and overloading it.
- Regularly riding your bike is great for your engine’s longevity, as long as you’re following the manufacturers’ riding suggestions.
- Your etiquette on the road affects your motorcycle engine’s lifespan, but your garage game is also a critical contributor to engine life.
Adhering to your owner’s manual service schedule proactively and thoroughly is probably the number 1, most significant factor that affects how long your engine will last.
- There’s a drastic difference between the lifespans of motorcycle engines of two of the same year model moto when one has an owner keeping up with maintenance, and the other is neglected.
- With regular service that includes all the detailed inspections and lubrications outlined in your owner’s manual and routine oil changes after hard usage, you could keep your motorcycle engine alive for as long as you are.
The cooling method your engine uses also affects its longevity.
- It’s not that liquid-cooled motorcycle engines last longer than air-cooled ones; they cool differently. Understanding the nuances of each cooling process can affect upkeep and riding etiquette to increase the life of your bike’s motor.
- For example, when you are stuck in traffic on an air-cooled motorcycle, you can tack a few decades onto your engine life by killing the engine to avoid the overheating caused by engine idling without airflow.
- On a liquid-cooled bike, your engine is getting the same refreshing bath of coolant, whether at high speed or low, as long as you’re keeping up with your coolant level and condition.
And finally, the type of motorcycle engine in question is another factor to consider when assessing the lifespan of a motorcycle engine.
- Grossly simplified, while larger engine capacities are designed for performance, smaller cc engines are built for efficiency and accessibility.
- Again, it’s not that one type of motorcycle engine lasts longer than the other; any style of motorcycle engine can last long if it’s well kept and ridden correctly.
- If you’re pushing a small engine like it’s a superbike, you’re shaving some mad miles off its lifespan.
- By the flip of that same token, if you are on a monster-mashing 1850cc hot rod of a motorcycle and you’re high revving in low gear like you’re on a dirt bike, your engines are beating, and you’re cutting down its lifespan.
If nothing else, the easiest way to extend how long your motorcycle’s engine will last is to follow these four tips:
- Replace or clean your air filter after riding through harsh conditions.
- Replace oil, filter, and flush engine fluids per owner’s manual spec.
- Store your motorcycle away from moisture and weather that will corrode your engine’s metal components.
- Ride your motorcycle often, per the owner’s manual suggested riding behavior, to keep your engine lubed up, cooled down, fresh-oil-coated, and well-protected against wear and tear.
What Is the Most Extended Mileage Recorded on a Motorcycle Engine?
The most extended recorded mileage lifespan on a motorcycle is one million miles and counting; this has happened twice that we’re aware of, and both motorcycle engines are still functioning.
We heard of it happening from a story about a Wisconsin Senator named Dave Zien putting a world record of 1,000,000 miles on the odometer of a 1991 Harley Davidson FXR.
It took MR. Zien 20 years to hit the million-mile mark, and he kept strict documentation.
In 2017, another Wisconsin man rolled past 1,000,000 miles on a 1975 Honda GL1000 Goldwing.
As far as we know, these are the most documented original miles on a motorcycle, but the two riders claimed their bikes were still running, meaning the number could have increased by the time you’re reading this!
What Is the Oldest Motorcycle Engine That Still Functions OK?
There are myriad vintage chopper collectors who build bikes around Harley-Davidson Knucklehead motorcycle engines from the 30s and 40s, though they’re rebuilt.
The oldest known original motorcycles with running engines are the Vincent Black Shadow from 1948 and Honda C90 from 1958.