You’ll find this question and its counterpart (what’s low mileage for a motorcycle) all over internet forums and message boards, and those who ask it, I guess, are people looking for their first and used motorcycle. Here I’ll try to summarize the wisdom of humanity as it appears in online discussions (feel free to add your own opinion as a comment to this post).
The answer: It depends on many factors—here’s a list of these factors in order of importance:
- How was the motorcycle maintained? Did the owner follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule? Was the oil changed on time? What type of oil was used? Etc.
- What are the riding habits of the owner? How often the bike was ridden? In what conditions?
- What is the engine of the motorcycle? Is it small 250cc or large 600cc+? Is the engine water-cooled, air-cooled, or oil-cooled?
- And finally, what model and brand is the motorcycle?
First on the list of factors is maintenance. If the owner didn’t follow the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule and recommendations, a seemingly low mileage motorcycle can in fact be considered high mileage. If you are buying a used motorcycle, ask the owner for notes or papers with the maintenance history—how often was the oil changed, what parts were replaced and their part numbers, etc.
The riding habits of the owner are also important. A careful owner wouldn’t rev up the engine when cold, which can damage the engine or reduce its longevity. Riding hard strains both the body parts and engine.
Smaller engines have shorter lifespans. Water-cooled engines last longer than air-cooled. And of course, the brand and model of the motorcycle also play a part. Every brand and model has its weaknesses, but if too many people complain of the same major problem that happens too early, that should be a red flag that you should stay away.