A few years ago, when I was stuck at the Rupert River crossing on Quebec’s North Road with two punctured tubes, no repair kit and a ruined tire, my friend drove 1700 kilometers each way to pick me up with his car and trailer. Years later, he sold the trailer and his current car doesn’t have a hitch, so it was finally my time to redress the imbalance a little. He had a bike to trade on something not-quite-new at a dealership 200 kilometers away. I had a truck and trailer. It was a no-brainer that we’d do it together.
While my friend was busy with the paperwork, I had plenty of time to cruise the shiny, new motorcycles on offer, of which there were plenty. Huge sport-tourers, monster car-engined cruisers, vast bling-bedecked ADV bikes, and a whole host of less gargantuan bikes, such as the Triumph Street Scrambler, which looked toy-like and delicate in comparison. But it wasn’t the size of bikes like the Triumph Rocket Three or the BMW K1600GTL that shocked me. After all, I regularly ride a Suzuki Cavalcade which nobody in their right mind would consider svelte. But being someone who typically feeds at the bottom of the motorcycle trough, does my own wrenching, and almost never visits motorcycle dealerships, I was absolutely staggered by some of the new-bike prices. Many of the “higher end” motorbikes were being offered at well over $30,000 CAD – yes, even a couple of fully farkled adventure bikes. Mind boggling. I was in sticker shock. I could buy five perfectly good motorbikes for that amount and still have enough money left over for a decent cross-country tour.
I know some people have more money than sense. And there are those for whom anything less than the “best” (read, most expensive) feel as though they haven’t achieved full Master-of-the-Universe status. But really, $30,000+ for a motorcycle that’s probably going to spend half the year sitting in a heated garage, only be brought out on the sunniest of days and loose 25 percent of its value in the first couple of years? You’ve got to be kidding?
Which brings me to me second observation. I recently bought a new-to-me 2007 Moto Guzzi with 85,000 kilometers (52,000 miles) on the clock. It has been well taken care of, looks like new and runs like new. In the Guzzi world, such distances are considered by many as “just nicely run-in.” I had to replace the oil, front brake pads and front tire but it’s good to go. But as I looked around the dealership at the used bikes, I was staggered to see that many showed less than 10,000 km on the odometer, and the “high-mileage” bikes had less than 25,000 kilometers. Now, I understand that motorcycle dealerships are not interested in taking high-mileage bikes in trade just to have them sit on the shop floor, un-bought and taking up space. But just what constitutes high-mileage anyway? Why does the buying public attach such importance to a few miles? Do motorbikes really wear out quickly, or have we—the potential buying public—been sold the idea that any bike with a few miles under its wheels is half the way to the knacker’s yard?
I did a quick Google search to see what was generally considered “high-mileage” by the luminaries on the internet and the consensus seemed to be anywhere over 20,000 miles (~30,000 kilometers) depending on the type of machine. At that rate, I, like many on this forum, would have to be looking to buy a new bike almost every year. Obviously, high performance bikes, especially those with small engines, are more likely to have been thrashed and worn than some massive tourer that’s spent most of its life idling along at highway speeds, barely putting any stress on its parts, but the idea that 20,000 miles is high mileage is laughable.
In the old days of air-cooled twins and singles, with sloppy manufacturing tolerances and unsophisticated metallurgy, such an opinion might be warranted—yet, even then there are countless examples of old Brit iron, Airhead BMWs, and yes, even stone age Guzzis that have been around the clock a few times, to indicate that with a modicum of care and the occasional oil change, even the most rudimentary machines can last and last.
Modern machines, with their closer tolerances, quality lubrication and sophisticated systems which strive to keep them running in perfect tune, barely wear at all. Here is a tale of 200,000 miles on a Yamaha Super Tenere, or what about over 200,000 miles on a Suzuki V-Strom 1000? Such high mileages are not uncommon. Sure, over these miles the bikes have needed a little maintenance beyond regular oil changes. Fork seals go, brake pads wear out and other minor interventions may be necessary over the miles, but the parts that matter are still going strong.
Perhaps the question shouldn’t be “what is high mileage for a motorcycle.” It should be, “how much basic maintenance am I prepared to do (or pay someone else to do), in order to have a safe and reliable motorbike?” If the answer is “none,” or ‘”next to none,” then start cruising the dealerships for a new, or next-to-new machine. But if the answer is “some,” then bikes with a few miles on the clock shouldn’t put you off. And remember, even those $30,000+ motorcycles, fresh and shiny from the dealership, aren’t immune from wear and tear. They too will require pads, seals, oil, grease, valve adjustments and tires eventually, no matter how astonishing the initial purchase price, as long as they don’t just sit in the garage looking pretty.