How Long Does a Motorcycle Engine Last? [Video]


How long does a motorcycle engine last? This is a typical question of many motorcycle buyers, and the answer is that it depends. With proper care, motorcycle engines can last 200k miles or even more in the big touring bikes like the Honda Gold Wing. In contrast, you can’t find too many high-performance sportbikes out there with more than 60k-80k miles. What’s more, the engines of dirt bikes need a top-end refresh after 20-50 hours, which translates to less than 1000 miles in many cases!

Therefore, the lifespan of a motorcycle engine depends on many factors, from the features of the bike to the rider’s attitude and care.

If you would like to find out more about these factors and the average life expectancy of bikes, you are in the right place. You can also read about how mileage affects a motorcycle’s value and how some cheating sellers tinker with the odometer on bikes!

How Long Does a Motorcycle Engine Last?

Before we drill into the details, it’s worth it to definite what we mean by “engine last.” According to general opinion, a motorcycle engine lasts until it becomes complete junk and needs to be replaced or has to be taken apart and completely rebuilt. Because of the high costs, with aged bikes this typically means the end of the entire machine.

Especially on smaller and simpler bikes, the engine can be repaired many times before it finally reaches the end of its life.

These easier engine rebuilds are known as a “top end refresh.” As its name implies, this typically means replacing the parts found on the “top” of the engine. They include the piston(s), the piston rings, as well as the other components in the head (spark plugs, gaskets, etc.).

Top end refresh is virtually a “general” maintenance on 2-stroke dirt bikes, but many smaller single-cylinder motorcycles require this after a certain amount of mileage. Thanks to the simpler design of these motorcycles, rebuilding their engines is far easier than on the big-bore motorcycle engines.

In contrast, a complete engine rebuild/replacement on middle-weight and heavy motorcycles is always a big consideration. These power sources contain many more parts and rebuilding them is an enormous task.

That’s why in many cases when the engine is blown in an aged bigger motorcycle, it typically means the end of its life.

Factors That Affect the Lifespan of Motorcycle Engines

Many riders say that it’s impossible to tell how long a motorcycle engine lasts, since it depends on so many factors. However, we’ve done extensive research and listed the most important factors that affect the lifespan of a motorcycle engine:

  • Type, brand, and quality of the motorcycle
  • Engine features (displacement, performance, number of cylinders, carburetion)
  • Cooling system (air/liquid)
  • Modifications
  • The quality of the maintenance
  • The rider’s attitude
  • Where and how the bike is stored
  • Where the motorcycle runs (dirt/highway/city)
  • Other environmental conditions

Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors!

Type and Features of the Motorcycle

It’s safe to say that one of the main factors that affect the available miles on a motorbike is its design and features.

The rule of thumb is the bigger a motorcycle engine the longer it lasts. This is because a small displacement engine has a worse power-to-weight ratio. This means that they have to work harder to move these heavy machines. This is why lightweight motorcycle engines have a significantly shorter lifespan compared to the big boys.

On the other hand, too high a performance often leads to a short engine life. You can find many middle-weight or even heavy motorcycles out there with 80-120 HP engines. And let’s face it, this engine power is plenty enough for a moderate but reasonable performance.

But motorcycles are considered to be powersport vehicles, which means that buyers always want more power. This is why you can find 150-230 HP engines in many street-legal motorcycles.

But above a certain level, too much power wears out the engine’s internals much faster.

Just like the “unnecessary” factory horsepower ratings, performance modifications also reduce the life-expectancy of motorcycle engines and make them less reliable. For instance, racing motorcycles offer the best performance available, but their engines need to be rebuilt much more often than any of the stock engines.

Also, the HP-to-displacement ratio is no less important.

To deliver the maximum performance and best power-to-weight ratio, sportbikes offer the highest HP ratings in each engine class. Therefore, their engines wear out fast.

In contrast, huge touring and cruiser bikes are designed to cover long distances, so their engines last much longer. Of course, touring bikes are often run on highways, which puts the least stress on the engine and drivetrain.

These machines typically feature large displacement engines that put out about 90-130 HP. Here are some examples of the HP/cc ratios of some popular heavy motorcycles:

Model HP cc cc/HP Category
Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special 100 1868 18.7 Cruiser
Honda Gold Wing GL1800 125 1812 14.5 Touring
Yamaha Super Tenere 109 1199 11.0 Adventure
KTM 1290 Super Adventure R 160 1309 8.2 Adventure
Suzuki Hayabusa 197 1340 6.8 Sport
Ducati Panigale V4 214 1103 5.2 Sport
Honda CBR1000RR 215 1000 4.7 Sport

As you can see, cruiser and touring motorcycles feature much bigger engines while producing half as much horsepower as heavy sportbikes.

This means much less stress on these engines as they run on much lower RPMs.  Finally, this results in less wear and tear and a longer engine life.

According to RevZilla, engines in big touring motorcycles can even last 10 times more than those in off-road bikes, if we compare the real mileages!

Another factor we have to mention is the design of the engine itself. Certain layouts like 45-degree V-twin or single-cylinder engines cause much more vibration than the inline, or flat-twin engines.

In contrast, flat-four and flat-six engines run very smoothly. This is the reason why Honda Gold Wing engines are known for their legendary reliability and durability.

On the other end of the spectrum, you can find the cheap no-name bikes with virtually zero life-expectancy. The general rule applies here too, you get what you pay for.

Regarding cooling systems, liquid-cooled motorcycle engines last longer than their air-cooled brothers. This is because liquid-cooled engines always operate at lower temperatures and come with tighter clearances.

How It’s Used

Another key factor that heavily affects the life expectancy of a motorcycle engine is the rider’s attitude.

The general rule is the harder you ride the motorcycle, the shorter its engine will last.

Dirt bikes and sportbikes typically get a lot of abuse while touring bikes run at a constant speed for long distances. As you might assume, the latter is much better for the engine.

If the rider hammers the throttle all the time until the revs limit out and shifts without using the clutch, he will destroy the engine sooner than he thinks.

We also have to mention other “every day” abuses like burnouts and revving the engine in neutral, which can result in a blown engine!

Also, any load on the bike like gear or a passenger, or a trailer behind the bike make the engine’s job harder.

A bike used for a lot of short trips may be in worse condition at 5,000 miles than another bike that has run 15,000 miles on highways.

A lot of off-road riding puts tons of wear and tear on a motorcycle engine. On dirt or sand the rider can’t maintain a constant speed. Instead, he has to continuously play with the throttle. Moreover, dirt and water enter the engine in many cases causing faster wear or even malfunctions.

Besides the engine, off-road riding also accelerates the wear of other components like the shocks, drivetrain, and brakes, and finally the entire machine.

This is why adventure bikes that solely run on roads are in much better condition than those that often leave it. Here is a good video on the hidden costs of off-road riding with an adventure bike!

Maintenance

Experts agree that the key factor that determines how many miles a motorcycle engine lasts is the quality of its maintenance.

A “babied” and properly maintained motorcycle can run many years without any major issues, while a completely neglected bike can be totally destroyed in a season or two.

And contrary to popular belief, proper motorcycle maintenance does not equal an annual oil change! Thorough maintenance includes many more steps, from always performing the pre-ride inspection to regularly adjusting tire pressure and chain tension.

Although the scheduled maintenance steps are clearly stated in each bike’s manual, many of them are often overlooked.  You would be surprised if you knew how many owners neglect their bikes.

Maintenance? Who cares! They will sell the bike anyway, so why spend a single dollar on it?

You can see many riders who fire up their engines and then hit the throttle hard. Others overlook the maintenance schedule or use low-quality parts and liquids to save a couple of bucks.

There are also owners who don’t care about valve adjustment or carb settings. And the list is virtually endless!

Finally, you can’t forget about storage. Many bikes are stored in a dry heated garage, while others are left out in the weather for the season or even year-round! You can imagine the wear and tear on these machines.

So, the biggest takeaway here is that the owner’s attitude and care always heavily affects the lifespan of a motorcycle engine.

What is High Mileage for a Motorcycle?

What’s high mileage for a motorcycle? This is another common question of motorcycle buyers and the answer is again, it depends.

Based on official Transportation Statistics, the average ridden mileage is about 2,000-3,000 miles per year, so anything above this range is higher than the national average. On the other hand, what is considered “high mileage” on a bike strongly depends on the make and model. For instance, on a high-performance sport motorcycle, 50k miles is considered high mileage, but on a 6-cylinder Honda Gold Wing, this amount of mileage is nothing.

These huge touring bikes are famous for their durability, as some have already hit an unbelievable mileage of 400-500k miles with original engines!

Besides the type of bike, its brand can be a factor too. For instance, you can expect to get more mileage on Japanese motorcycles manufactured by the “big four” Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Kawasaki.

How Many Miles Will a 600cc Bike Last?

It’s hard to tell how many miles a 600cc bike will last, but based on real-life experiences, many of these bikes won’t last longer than 50,000 miles. This is because these bikes typically get a lot of abuse, so they won’t last as long as touring or cruiser motorcycles. Of course, if it’s ridden gently and maintained at the highest level, a 600cc bike can even last 100,000-150,000 miles, but this is far above average.

But let’s face it, 600cc sportbikes are very rarely ridden gently!

Many of these machines are racing replicas, which get very hard use. You can expect better mileage on the sport-touring models in this class, but it is still less mileage than big-bore touring bikes.

How Does Mileage Affect Motorcycle Value?

Just like in the case of cars, the value of a motorcycle is greatly affected by its mileage. The rule of thumb is the higher mileage a motorcycle has the more it’s devalued. But motorcycle mechanics agree that when it comes to the values of a used motorcycle, the condition of the bike is always more important than its mileage.

Despite this, many first-time buyer’s sole focus is on the mileage of the bike, but they are wrong. It’s safe to say the real value of a used motorcycle cannot be solely determined by its mileage!

For instance, even a new motorcycle with zero miles can be destroyed in front of the showroom. In contrast, you can find aged cruisers in really good shape.

Because of this, if you are considering buying a used bike it’s recommended that you do some research on the model you are interested in. You can find many Facebook groups and forum threads (or even entire forums) dedicated to specific motorcycle models.

This way, you can get a lot of useful info about the specific model, from the most common issues to life expectancy.

Another key step of the buying process is getting the machine inspected by a professional. Unless you are an experienced motorcycle mechanic, there is no other way to determine the real condition of the bike.

Many first-time buyers purchase a used bike without an inspection, and later realize that they were cheated. Don’t be one of them!

Best practice is to take the bike to a dealership or a service shop for a thorough inspection before you purchase it!

In most cases, the seller will agree to this, but if not, this can be a clue that there is something wrong with the bike. Keep in mind that some shady sellers will try to trick you by changing the odometer before selling the bike!

You would be surprised how many owners play this game. Odometers can be disconnected, tinkered with, or even replaced, especially the mechanical ones. However, many newer bikes come with digital gauges, and scams are becoming more common with these bikes, too.

It’s also good to know that non-stock tires or sprocket sets can also lead to lower or even higher numbers on the odometer than in reality.

Consequently, even though mileage affects the value of a motorcycle, its condition is always more important. And this is all the more true as a bike grows older!

Conclusion

How many miles does a motorcycle engine last?

Sadly, it’s impossible to say how many miles a motorcycle engine exactly lasts as it depends on so many different factors. But based on real-life experiences, with reasonable use and proper care, engines in touring motorcycles can last 100k-200k miles, or even more in some models. In contrast, 600cc and 1000cc sportbike engines typically last 60-80k miles, while many high-performance dirt bikes require a “top end refresh” after 1000 miles.

The four biggest factors that affect a motorcycle engine’s lifespan are as follows:

  • The type of bike (touring, cruiser, sport, etc.)
  • The features of the engine (cc, cc/HP ratio, compression, layout, cooling system)
  • The owner’s attitude and riding habits
  • The quality of maintenance

Consequently, motorcycles can run with an original engine for 20-30 years, or it can even be destroyed in a season.

Because of this, if you are considering buying a used motorcycle it’s highly recommended that you don’t just focus on the mileage of the machine, as its condition is far more important.

Instead, it’s recommended that you get the bike inspected by a professional mechanic before you make your purchase!

References

https://www.revzilla.com/common-tread/what-is-high-mileage-for-a-motorcycle

https://www.motorcyclistonline.com/tips-for-buying-and-selling-used-bike-motorcyclist-magazine-retail-confidential/

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