A&R Rubbies: Least Reliable Motorcycles of 2009

12/27/2009 @ 3:49 pm, by Jensen Beeler25 COMMENTS

One way of measuring a motorcycle’s reliability is to see how many recalls were made for the model in a given year. Recalls are almost invariably created when a malfunction or design flaw poses potential harm to a rider’s life, or impedes the basic operation of the motorcyce. This past year saw 21 recalls from motorcycle manufacturers, with a few bikes and companies gracing our pages more than they’d care to admit. Check after the jump to see who these repeat offenders are.

Least Reliable Motorcycles of 2009: Harley-Davidson/Buell

Although the Harley-Davidson and Buell loyalists won’t like to hear it, American made motorcycles were the most recalled bikes in 2009. Not only did both brands have the largest combined volume of bikes recalled (HD: 110,000+, Buell: 3,400+), but they also built one of the bikes with the most individual recalls (the Buell XB12 series had 3 recalls this year, and 4 recalls in the past 18 months). With these two black-eyes on the American company, there is little wonder why Harley-Davidson stock has taken a hit from the recall announcements.

First Runner-up: Ducati & The Ducati Streetfighter

Despite claims by Ducati that the company has achieved quality on par with the Japanese manufacturers, Ducati is responsible for the most overall recalls of 2009, with six individual recalls that included over 3,500 motorcycles in 2009.

Responsible for three of these recalls is the Ducati Streetfighter, which shares a recall with the 1098R/1198S Superbikes. Also seeing the NHTSA’s email list were the Ducati Monster & Ducati Desmosedici. For the record, the Japanese Four had a combined recall volume of 439 motorcycles, which came from only 2 registered recalls (Kawasaki & Yamaha).

Second Runner-up: BMW & The K-Series

BMW recalled over 2,000 K-Series motorcycles in 2009, along with an unknown number of GS series motorcycles. Perhaps changing some perspective on the German manufacturer’s aura of reliability, the Bavarian brand was our third least reliable manufacturer, and long with the other companies in this list, comprises a group that is noticeably apart from the rest of the industry on the recall count.

  • RT @Asphalt_Rubber: A&R Rubbies: Least Reliable Motorcycles of 2009 – http://bit.ly/7wXTja #motorcycle

  • DanOh

    Recall =/= reliability!

    Reliability involves unscheduled breakdowns and unscheduled maintenance. Recalls are (usually) scheduled updates to a discovered shortcoming and show that the company is taking continued responsibility for the products they produce. A vehicle could have a hundred recalls and perfect reliability; or zero recalls and horrible reliability.

    Recalls should not be discouraged (as this article effectively does) so as not to encourage companies to ‘hide’ problems to avoid the negative press (i.e. Mitsubishi recently).

    The title is very misleading – it should read simply “Most recalled Motorcycles of 2009”, nothing more.

    [ HD is garbage though ;) ]

  • http://bit.ly/6QFHAB …Most unreliable Motorcycles of 2009, Harley/Buell, Ducati, BMW. So no 1125, 1198, or S1000R for me I suppose. lol

  • A&R Rubbies: Least Reliable Motorcycles of 2009 http://bit.ly/5Cttha

  • A&R Rubbies: Least Reliable Motorcycles of 2009 http://bit.ly/6kFGHf

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  • andrew

    I agree, recalls are not a good measure and they should not be discouraged by equating them with poor reliability. It would be equally valid to say that the company with most recalls is the one most diligent about quality of their product!

    So, what *is* a good measure of reliability? I believe car industry collects statistics on how many warranty repairs were performed on each model… perhaps that would be a more useful yardstick?

  • A&R Rubbies: Least Reliable Motorcycles of 2009 http://bit.ly/4XvDRM

  • is it me or has anyone else noticed the editorial “voice” on this site is often misses the mark?

  • H-D, Buell, Ducati, and BMW most recalls in 2009: http://bit.ly/6QFHAB

  • MTGR

    Not only do I agree that recalls alone are not an accurate indicator of reliability but I would add that KTM has a right to be pissed at such a sensationalist title sitting below a photo of their Duke when they are not even on your list!!

  • ok it is official, 1) i need an editor and 2) MTGR is correct, KTM is one of the brands with the least recalls.

  • Brad

    God knows Buell is bad, but I thought Harley was built well.

  • John A.

    I disagree. I have worked in the automotive industry in QC for 18 years and recalls are just one indicator of reliability. Recalls are usually indicative of design flaws, which can affect overall performance, safety and reliability. Also, with so many people doing their own wrenching on motorcycles these days, many unscheduled maintenance problems go unreported.

  • Ken

    So….Where’s the Most Reliable List….???

  • 1.) I agree with the majority here recalls do not equate to liability. My bike is recalled for a fuel map change doesn’t effect the reliability of the machine.
    2.) Recalls to units sold in the ? Do they count units not sold as well as sold bikes , what I mean is kawasaki had say 200 recalls because they sold 200 bikes and Buell had 3400 cause they sold 4000 I am not sure how that works.
    3.) Harley is junk anyway.

  • Ken

    I agree , although my opinion is biased , being an owner of a Buell 1125R , that I love , my recalls have been mapping updates , re-routing a brake line , and a vent hose .

    I have just shy of 20K miles , with no major problems . I have nothing but goo things to say , and only a Big $hit Eating Grin I cant seem to get rid of after I ride .

    I must admit , a major reason I purchased a Buell 1125R was due to the BP Rotax motor …


    Not all recalls are equal. re-routing a brake line isn’t on par with say the recall of tires on Ford Explorers or exploding gas tanks in Pintos.

    One thing Buell owners know is that for the most part Buell works to quickly address and correct minor issues through the recall system. The last major recall Buell had was with the tuber line.

    The opposite can be said of the Big Four Japanese companies who deny any problems and refuse to correct issues. Anyone had a “doohickey” kill their KLR?

    It isn’t like Buell had to recall bikes for bad frame welds.

    If you’ve got a bias against Buell, you should have posted this article before HD stabbed Buell in the back.

    Now, it’s just piling onto a corpse.

  • 4Cammer

    Brad, we all know that G-d rides a Buell. Boring bikes are not his thing…. :)

  • Dyna Owner

    The real measure of manufactures quality is warranty work. JD Powers measure automotive initial quality in the number of warranty claims that are filed for each model over a specific timer period. for example the number of warranty claims submitted to Ford on its 2009 Focus models in the first 12 months of ownership.

    Recalls happen all the time over the life of a product, I have just received a recall notice on my 2001 Explorer but it has never broken down so it would have good quality as compared to other SUVs of the same model year.

    I don’t know if the information is available to the public, but I would like to see the number of warranty claims made to each manufacture then assess their quality based on that data.

    Randall Bearden, Quality Engineer

  • Morpheous

    Unfortunate that you run a Pic of a KTM Duke crashing to open the article, kind of leads the mind to inflect that they were the worst perpetrator. This site (A&R) needs to be more careful so as not to make misleading mistakes like that. I have 14,000 trouble free miles on my 2008 Duke 690. Every bit as reliable as my SV650 was. I think there is a test rider recall going on in that pic, the bike works just fine..

  • John A.

    Recalls do reflect reliability as well as quality. One of my motorcycles was recalled for a wire harness issue. However, owners of this bike were already having problems related to the recall…..some even found themselves stranded when the bike would not start.

    Some recalls occur after the problem has already developed on owners bikes.

  • moosestang

    Ken, map updates are not recalls, at least not for buell.

    Stupid article. Run the buell against any jap bike until one motor dies. Anything that spins 15k revolutions per minute isn’t going to last that long. Redline on the buell is what? 7k? I bet that motor lasts twice as many miles.

  • rex

    A little misleading I would think.

    You are hinting that the Buells are poor quality based on recalls?
    I have a 97 Buell M2, that has almost 45,000 miles on it. A few recalls for the bike, when new, but nothing major. Totally reliable, and is fantastic to ride. I also have a Buell S2 with 20,000 miles on it. Again, nothing but replacing oil, batteries, and tires.
    I also just bought a new Buell CR. Nothing but fantastic.
    It appears that people are not familiar with Buells. There is the air cooled motor, which does not rev as high as the water cooled motor. It is not just the Sportster based motor anymore, in the Buells. There is the new Rotax motor that is fantastic!
    I have had over 45 motorcycles, including Yamahas, Hondas, Suzukis, Kawasakis, Triumphs, and Buells. I prefer my Buells over any of them. So smooth, So much torque, and the handle fantastic. My point of view.

  • jake318

    America is the land of legalities . the CYA mentality causes anything and everything to be recalled. I had a recall on the front brake line on my Buell xb12R . THEY MOVED THE LINE HOLDER CLIP OVER ! INCH because some kid had an accident and said the line wasnt long enough and restrickted his movement …. Bull