There are plenty of motorcycle brands to choose from, and few as iconic as Harley-Davidson. They are cool, legendary and can be fun to ride but they can also be pretty expensive. The question you need to ask yourself is, are Harley-Davidsons worth the money?
Harley-Davidsons are worth the money because they hold their value, are reliable (if properly maintained), offer the rider entry into an exclusive club of like-minded owners as well as the chance to own a piece of history.
In this post, we’ll give you some important things to consider about Harley-Davidsons and you can then decide for yourself whether or not they are worth the cost.
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Why Harleys are Worth the Cost
Harley-Davidsons are worth the cost because they combine traditional, old-school looks and ride geometry with modern technology and craftsmanship to give riders a bike with true American spirit.
A Harley is a heavier motorcycle that gives a solid, sturdy ride. They aren’t the fastest bikes on the road, but that’s not why an enthusiast buys a Harley.
A Harley-Davidson typically features a long wheelbase and greater rake angles which gives them stability in high winds on the open road.
Combined with plush, wide seats, a relaxed riding position and road-smoothing shocks, these bikes are perfect for touring.
The sound of the patented Harley engine is another reason riders fall in love with the idea of owning a Harley.
The low rumble of a Harley engine at idle conjures images of a long, open road, miles of freedom and endless possibilities.
Why Choose a Harley?
Sound alone cannot be discounted as a powerful inducement to open one’s checkbook.
Harley has capitalized on this, and other aspects of their motorcycles to expand the brand with leather jackets, riding gear and all manner of accessories.
In recent years H-D has vastly improved the quality and performance of their legendary V-Twin engines with something they called Project Rushmore.
The ride quality was also enhanced by dampening vibrations and providing more comfort and control.
Harley-Davidson has been in the business of building motorcycles for over 115 years and they are built to last if given proper attention and service.
The long history of the company, the iconic brand and a reputation for building solid, reliable machines are all reasons riders use to justify the cost of buying a Harley-Davidson.
What is the Typical Cost of a Harley-Davidson?
Prices for a new Harley-Davidson range from $7,000 to $44,000.
Costs Vary Substantially By Model
Harley-Davidson manufactures five different lines of bikes, including a new electric version, as well as a three-wheeled trike.
For our purposes, we’ll look at the three most popular categories: touring, cruiser, and street. Keep in mind that each category contains multiple models and price points.
At the high end is the CVO™ Limited at $44,039 with the Electra® Glide Standard as the entry-level bike in the Touring category priced at $18,999.
Touring motorcycles provide lots of power and comfortable seating for long rides.
They are identified by saddle bags, large fairings to cut the wind and high-end accessories such as 4 speaker stereo sound and GPS navigation and even a computer-aided defensive driving system (on some models) that will help keep the bike upright in a dangerous situation.
Prices range from $13,599 for the SOFTAIL® Standard to the FATBOY® 114 at $20,599.
Cruisers can handle extended treks but are most suited for city riding and exploring back roads on day trips.
Cruisers bridge the gap between touring and street and offer riders a combination of features and ride quality found in both categories.
The Harley-Davidson STREET® can be had for $7,599 while the top of the line, ROADSTER™ starts at $11,499.
This is Harley’s sport riding category, with bikes made for canyon racing and jetting about town.
Street bikes feature flat bars, more ground clearance for aggressive cornering, inverted forks and premium shocks.
What’s Your Bottom Line?
Think as to why you’re buying a Harley in the first place and what’s really important to you.
If you’re confident in your ability to stay upright if danger strikes without the aid of a computer-aided stabilizer and the only song you want to hear is the throaty roar of that Harley motor, then maybe you could skip the CVO™Limited and save yourself over twenty grand, and buy yourself an Electra® Glide instead.
On the other hand, if you’ll be riding mostly around your local area and commuting to work consider a model in the Cruiser category.
Perhaps you like racing on mountain roads and carving canyons with your cafe racer friends. In that case Harley has a full range of Street models that would fit this riding style best.
What Makes a Harley Different from other Motorcycles?
The distinctive sound of the motor was something we touched on earlier as a reason that many choose to buy a Harley.
The number one difference between a Harley-Davidson and other motorcycles is the sound created by the unique engine design.
The piston firing sequence in a Harley motor is timed so that one fires on one turn of the crankshaft and the other fires on the next revolution.
As a result, one of the two pistons is constantly firing with each revolution.
While the exhaust note can be dampened or enhanced according to rider preference (and local regulations) the sound of the Harley motor is distinctive and unique from any other on the road.
In fact, H-D filed a trademark application in 1994 to register the “unique sound” of the Harley engine.
There are other differences such as the ride quality.
Harleys are lower and wider (ground clearance is minimal), which can take some getting used to for a novice H-D owner.
Also braking and cornering, again, different on a Harley and something that even experienced motorcycle riders need to get acclimated to on an H-D.
Harley-Davidson bikes hold their resale value very well and there are also more customizing options available for Harleys than any other bike on the market.
The ability to have a bike that holds value and in some cases can actually increase based on the custom work and parts you put into it can’t be overstated.
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Pros And Cons Of Harley Davidsons
- They hold their value. In fact, a well-maintained H-D can actually return close to the purchase price in some cases. Rare, mint-condition models exceed the original price.
- With Harley you’re owning an iconic American brand with a unique history, distinctive sound, patented engine and classic looks.
- Harleys are expensive, even a mid-range model will set you back over $20,000. Service, parts, upgrades and branded merchandise add up. Some call it the “Harley tax” and most are cool with it going in, but it can come as shock to others.
- You’re either a biker or you’re not and owning a Harley won’t make you a biker. It just means you have a lot of money to spend on a bike. Harleys are great but they aren’t cheap. No thyself and know thy bank account.
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How Long Do Harleys Last?
Harley-Davidsons can be very reliable but you need to take care of them.
Most complaints about Harleys breaking down come from owners who aren’t willing to spend the money on the recommended maintenance.
You don’t buy a racehorse if you can’t afford the boarding fees, right?
The same applies here. The initial cost of a Harley is only part of the equation.
H-D engines, frames and transmissions are solid and a well-maintained bike should last 100,000 miles and then some.
There are issues with some of the electrical connections-especially headlights and turn-signals that sometimes blip out just due to ordinary road vibrations. This is only a minor concern but can be annoying.
Something more serious is wheel bearings, which need to be replaced often. If a wheel bearing fails at highway speed you could be in serious trouble.
Since H-D wheel bearings are sealed there is no way to inspect them so you don’t know when they need to be changed, until they do, and that can spell trouble.
Again, with regular maintenance your H-D dealer will know when these should be changed out.
Pro Tip: Have your wheel bearings changed whenever you put on fresh tires.
The Cost Of Ownership
A major factor to keep in mind is the maintenance costs associated with owning any Harley model. For example:
- 5,000 Mile Service $500 (H-D recommends service at 5,000 mile intervals)
- 5,000 Miles Front/Rear tires $275 -$400 each
- Replacement parts are generally expensive-and you’ll want H-D parts
- Chrome polish (Some owners spend $60 a month on polish)
- Average cost per year at 20,000 miles ridden is over $2,000
- Insurance costs depending on model and miles ridden average $1807 per year
- Aforementioned wheel bearings
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Consider Buying a Pre-Owned Harley Instead of a New Model
Your dad was right when he told you to buy a used car instead of a new one. The same applies with motorcycles.
While Harleys do hold their value quite well there’s no getting around the fact that as soon as you roll that $44,000 CVO™ Limited off the lot it’s going to lose about $7,000 in value before you clock your first kilometer.
In fact, talk with most Harley riders and they’ll tell you they’re riding a pre-owned machine.
Many prefer a vintage classic that might boast some nice aftermarket upgrades instead of sinking a small fortune into a new bike that’s going to depreciate rapidly.
Harley-Davidson has a rigorous program as far as what bikes it accepts for trade and then re-conditions them to run like new.
If you make the wise choice to buy a pre-owned machine it’s a good idea to start with your local H-D dealer. One drawback is the selection may be limited according to what they have on hand.
Another is that if you’re buying from a private party you have to be extra cautious and bring your mechanic with you when looking the bike over. Even then, you’ll get no warranty as you would with a pre-owned bike from an H-D dealer.
Pro Tip: V-Twin engines are notorious for running hot, especially at prolonged idle whilst in traffic. Whether you buy new or pre-owned, consider getting an oil cooling system. It will add many miles to your engine and may help you avoid other problems caused by super-heated oil.
Harley-Davidson’s are the quintessential, classic American motorcycle, renowned for their sound, power, craftsmanship, and iconic looks.
When purchased new they can be breathtakingly expensive and recommended maintenance isn’t cheap, especially if you plan on riding more than 10,000 miles a year.
You need to consider how often you’ll actually be on the road as well as extra costs, like chrome polish, tires and insurance.
Harleys are difficult to ride for first-timers and even experienced riders who have never ridden a Harley before need to take extra care.
For that, and other reasons we’ve mentioned above, you may want to strongly consider buying a pre-owned Harley. It will save you a significant amount of money and still allow you to stamp your membership in an exclusive club.
You may also be interested in our article: How Long Do Harley Davidsons Last (Complete Guide)