How Long Do Motorcycle Engines Last?

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Key Takeaways

  • Different types of motorcycles are manufactured for different lifespans including touring, cruising, sport, adventure, dirt, and electric bikes.
  • Proper maintenance according to the owner’s manual must be regularly scheduled to extend the life of the motorcycle.
  • Riding techniques like cruising, commuting, aggressive, off-road, and novice riding will have an impact on the lifespan of the motorcycle.

The lifespan of a motorcycle varies widely, and you might be surprised how many miles you can squeeze out of a properly maintained bike.

The average life of a motorcycle is 12 years according to a study by the Motorcycle Industry Council. The primary factors for bike longevity are the type of motorcycle, the maintenance schedule, and the style of riding.

Many studies have explored this question of motorcycle lifespan, and I’ve collected the research to pass it on to you. Riding and working on bikes for thirty years have given me insight as to the many factors that rate high for durability. The top bike review sites and technical engine spec sites are compelling and tell the story of how to get the most miles out of your machine.

In this article...


The Type of Motorcycle Determines Its Longevity

Whether it's a two-stroke or four-stroke, V-twin or L-twin, flat head or overhead cams, high ccs or small displacement engines, liquid-cooled or air-cooled engine, big bore or small bore, all motorcycle engines come with different expiration dates. The characteristics of quality components, metals, and complex systems determine how long the motorcycle engine lasts.

Two-stroke bike engines found in smaller motorcycles have shorter lifespans because they burn engine oil as part of the combustion process which leads to increased wear and tear. Four-stroke motorcycle engines use a separate oil system to lubricate motorcycle engine components reducing friction and engine breakdown.

Heat impacts the lifecycle of an average motorcycle engine more than anything else, and liquid-cooled motorcycle engines combat this heat, preserving the motorcycle engine better than almost anything else.

The "wet sump" motorcycle engine is oil cooled. In this type of engine, the engine oil is stored in a reservoir or sump located at the bottom of the motorcycle engine and continuously circulates throughout the engine by an oil pump distributing and dissipating the heat to provide lubrication and cooling.

Touring Motorcycles Lifespan: Over 140,000 Miles

Touring bikes are designed for long country roads and winding mountain passes. Their engines are optimized for low-end torque which keeps the motorcycle engine from revving high and extends its life. Durability is standard due to the heavy-duty frames and components of touring bikes designed to withstand the weight of the bike and the rider.

Typically, the touring bike has large displacement motorcycle engines with low-stress designs and uses advanced materials like lightweight alloys and high-strength steels to help reduce the weight of the bike and improve performance and durability.

Customarily, the riding styles of touring riders put less stress on the motorcycle engine not to mention the care and maintenance regimens of long-distance riders resulting in a bike with a longer lifespan. With the incredible care of the owner, many forums suggest touring bikes can flip odometer mileage numbers past 180,000.

Cruising Motorcycles Lifespan: Over 120,000 Miles

Cruising bikes, like their touring bike brothers, are optimized for low-end torque having larger low-revving motorcycle engines that can take a beating and last mile after mile. Cruisers are built for aesthetics and a high-performance riding experience.  With heavy-duty frames and high-quality motorcycle engine parts, they are manufactured for longevity and durability to carry the weight of the riders and deliver a powerful ride for long, stress-free distances.

Most cruising bikes in this genre are pristinely and meticulously cared for by their owners. With regular maintenance and upgrades the high mileage reaches over 150,000.

Sport Motorcycles Lifespan: Over 70,000 Miles

Sport bikes are created for high-speed performance and maneuverability with motorcycle engines that are made for power and high revving. This kind of motorcycle engine creates massive amounts of heat which can reduce its lifespan.

Even with proper maintenance, sport bike motorcycle engines take a lot of abuse. Whether it's racing on a track or flying down the highway, these road rockets will burn through oil and wear out more quickly than touring or cruiser bikes. The riders tend to ride “spirited” which is the polite way of describing a speed demon, and that spells more torque, more power, and fewer miles. While it is possible to see odometers spin past 70,000 miles with constant upgrades and maintenance, even 25,000 is considered high miles for a sports bike.

Adventure Motorcycles Lifespan: Over 60,000 Miles

Because adventure bikes are designed for both on and off-road use, typically their engines can wear out fast. These dual-sport motorcycles are typically larger, heavier, and have more complex components than standard motorcycles which means much more maintenance than average bikes.

The rough terrain and harsh conditions can take a toll on the bike over time. Bike parts like suspension, tires, brakes, and delicate internal motorcycle engine parts can wear out faster due to the constant vibrations and impacts from riding over rocks, gravel, and mud. This leads to the necessity of constant cleaning and maintenance due to rust, corrosion, and damage to electrical components from the elements. It’s possible to get many miles out of this bike. Several forum contributors attest to piling up over 75,000 miles on their adventure bikes, but normally that’s only when it’s not used for actual “adventuring.”

Dirt Bikes Lifespan: 50,000 Miles

With their smaller, high-revving motorcycle engines, dirt bikes are designed for power and exclusively for off-road use. These smaller engines are often exposed to harsher riding conditions like dirt, pebbles, mud, grime, and debris further reducing their lifespan. There are some dirt bikes with liquid-cooled engines that stave off engine heat and are sealed against moisture, but an exposed air-cooled bike engine will be nearly impossible to clean perfectly and suffer the consequences of a reduced engine life.

With proper maintenance, a dirt bike can last for many years and beyond 60,000 miles, but it will require more frequent maintenance and constant cleaning.

Electric Bikes Lifespan: 50,000 to 200,000 Miles

Electric engines are a newer technology in the motorcycle world. They have completely different characteristics compared to traditional combustion engines, so the jury is still out when it comes to longevity. Because they do not need oil changes and have less than 50 moving parts in the motorcycle engine, they have less engine wear and could last for mind-boggling distances. However, it’s too soon to tell. The durability of these non-conforming bikes is more affected by the quality of the battery and charging systems than the wear of the motorcycle engine life. The overall lifespan comes down to new technology that has yet to be tested over vast swaths of time. What we do know is that some inferior quality electric bikes wear quickly while others do not seem to have an expiration date.

Lithium-ion batteries have a limited lifespan and can gradually lose their capacity over time. Battery degradation is caused by the number of charge cycles, heated operating temperature, and over or under-charging.

The battery management system (BMS) is responsible for monitoring the state of charge and health of the battery. If the BMS fails, it can result in inaccurate readings, reduced performance, and potential safety hazards.

The BMS often has between 500 and 1,000 cycles in its life. This means that a battery pack that is charged from 0% to 100% and then ridden down to 0% again is considered one cycle. Therefore, the total mileage that an electric motorcycle can travel in its lifespan will depend on the battery pack's capacity and the number of cycles it can withstand.

A typical electric motorcycle can travel between 50 and 200 miles on a single charge depending on the battery pack's capacity and the riding conditions. Assuming a battery pack's lifespan of 500 to 1,000 cycles and a range of 50 to 200 miles per charge, an electric motorcycle can travel between 25,000 and 200,000 miles in its lifespan.

If the electric bike is well maintained and protected from moisture, rain, and dirt, and if the BMS is replaced after its lifespan of 200,000, there is no reason to believe that the simplicity of the  engine could take the bike even further. Only time will tell.

The Maintenance of Your Motorcycle Determines Its Longevity

Please note that this is a general guide and that specific maintenance requirements may vary by make and model, so please check your owner’s manual.

The storage of your motorcycle is included in maintenance, so if you don’t have a shed or garage, consider buying a quality tarp that is both waterproof and vented to prevent corrosion from condensation. Use a gasoline stabilizer for longer storage as well.

This maintenance schedule is generalized for the average motorcycle engine’s lifespan:

After 0-500 miles:

  • Check and adjust the chain tension
  • Check and adjust the tire pressure
  • Check the oil level
  • Check the brake pads for wear

After 500-1,000 miles:

  • Change the oil, oil filter, and air filter
  • Lubricate the chain
  • Check and adjust the clutch and throttle cables

After 2,500-5,000 miles:

  • Replace the air filter
  • Replace the brake fluid
  • Check and adjust the valve clearance
  • Check the wheel bearings
  • Check the steering head bearings

After 7,500-10,000 miles:

  • Change the oil and oil filter
  • Replace the spark plugs
  • Lubricate the chain
  • Check and adjust the clutch and throttle cables
  • Check the brake pads for wear
  • Check the brake rotors for wear
  • Check the tires for wear and replace them if necessary
  • Perform a general inspection of the bike by a certified mechanic

After 15,000-20,000 miles:

  • Replace the fuel filter
  • Replace the coolant
  • Replace the brake lines
  • Replace the wheel bearings
  • Replace the steering head bearings

After 25,000-30,000 miles:

  • Change the oil and oil filter
  • Replace air filters
  • Lubricate the chain
  • Check and adjust the clutch and throttle cables
  • Replace the cam chain and tensioner
  • Replace the drive belt or chain
  • Perform a general inspection of the bike by a certified mechanic

After 40,000-50,000 miles:

  • Replace the fork oil and seals
  • Replace the shock absorber fluid and seals
  • Replace the clutch plates and springs
  • Replace the throttle cables
  • Replace the brake pads and rotors

After 60,000-75,000 miles:

  • Replace the chain and sprockets
  • Replace the water pump
  • Replace the starter motor and alternator
  • Perform a general inspection of the bike by a certified mechanic

After 100,000 miles:

  • Perform a complete engine rebuild or replace the engine
  • Replace the clutch basket
  • Replace the transmission gears and bearings
  • Replace the crankshaft bearings
  • Replace all worn parts
  • Perform a general inspection of the bike by a certified mechanic

The Riding Technique Determines Its Longevity

Highway Cruising:

Highway cruising is a form of riding that entails riding at a consistent speed on long stretches of road. This mode of riding is less demanding and stressful on the motorcycle engine as it permits it to function at a sustained RPM and allows air to pass through the motorcycle’s engine mitigating heat and wear on engine parts.

Commuting Riders:

Commuting involves riding a motorcycle in stop-and-go traffic often with frequent gear changes. This type of riding abbreviates engine life by increasing wear on the clutch and transmission and overheating the motorcycle engine during idling.

Aggressive Riding:

Aggressive riding includes sudden acceleration, peeling out, high-revving, hard braking, and high-speed cornering. This type of riding can be hard on the motorcycle engine and other components of the motorcycle wearing down the internal engine parts as friction creates heat causing excessive wear and a diminished engine life.

Off-road Riding:

Off-road riding and jumping ramps or hills on unpaved roads, trails, or terrain can be hard on the motorcycle's suspension, wheels, and tires, and can also expose the motorcycle engine to dust, debris, and dirt corroding the motor and shortening the engine life.

Novice Riding:

Novice riders who may not be as experienced in maintaining proper clutch control can cause premature wear on the clutch. This type of rider may have a tendency to ride with a "jerky" throttle and braking style putting extra stress on the motorcycle engine and transmission.

To prevent excessive wear on the motorcycle, novice riders should focus on developing a smooth and consistent riding style, learning proper clutch control, and taking time to practice and build experience.