With world-class respect and a proven rugged reliability its odd that people use motorcycles so little and buy/ sell them so frequently. This is especially true for Japanese motorcycles. I personally see no reason why certain motorcycles should not last as long as cars. I am not talking about high revving, highly stressed examples but rather under stressed tough bikes.
Two that come to mind are the Honda Pan European ST1100 (later the 1300) and the Honda Deauville NT650V (later 700). There are other examples but we will focus on these two. And no it is not a coincidence that they are both Honda motorcycles. Japanese motorcycles, especially compared to their competition, have always been reliable. This reliability, in my opinion, peaked from the early nineties onwards to 2012.
This slice of time is after when you needed to know about your machine to keep it running and before electronics started to complicate things for the home mechanic. Tolerances on this era of machines are specific but not finite, bodywork is there but is not brittle and power is strong but not overwhelming.
Electronics seem to be paving the way forward for motorcycles and thus their longevity is yet to be tested. Whereas machines built within the previous two decades perfected older technologies but remained simple – and therefore unstoppable.
Firstly to the Pan’ – this motorcycle is a renowned reliable tourer. They are currently at a near God status in the motorcycling world. Pans’ are bought up in conversation when you need to give an example as to how Honda used to make bikes. They had (and still have) everything that a ‘serious’ motorcyclist would need. Keeping in mind that it is a machine, and all machines with moving parts need some sort of attention, these do not go wrong on Pans’ and they last.
Pan’ owners know this through and through. The Pan’ has an ocean surface smooth transverse V4 housed by solid weather protection for the rider. Coupled with responsive handling and enough power to carry you and your family across the world they are known for big miles and you can not fault them.
The little brother (or sister) to the Pan is the Deauville. The original version was a 650cc but was treated to an increase to 700cc and fuel injection in 2007. This bike does have some limitations as it does not have the gravitas or long legs of the Pan’ but is made in the same vain. Weather protection, shaft drive, inbuilt storage space and to the moon and back reliability. In reality this is all the motorcycle that you would ever need but it is nice to own a Pan’.
The Pan’ got an update in 2002 with an increase to 1300cc and fuel injection. As it had such big shoes to fill from the 1100cc version it was received with a luke warm reception but reviewers conceded it was still a class leader.
Each of the motorcycles mentioned have been used as Blood bikes, Police bikes, escort bikes, for couriers and enthusiasts. Only the best motorcycles get this treatment as they are used in emergency situations when they are not allowed to fail – and they never did.
Fast-forwarding to the present day and motorcycles do not have the built quality they once did and the buying public are branching out to all sorts of different motorcycling avenues. I do not doubt that modern bikes have the same if not better reliability but they appear less practically focused.
Fortunately, for many others and myself this has lead to a small developing hobby. Classic motorcycles have never been so popular and part of their charm is the spannering and mechanics that goes into project motorcycles. This can be a daunting prospect for many. Older machines have different technologies and weird arrangements that are hard to communicate with. Buy a Japanese motorcycle anywhere between 1992-2010 and you will find all the tech you have seen on cars for the last fifty years. This makes them simple for average hobbyist, like myself, to get stuck in.
Unless you really find a real banger and avoid bikes with over 75,000 miles you cant go too far wrong. In most cases these bikes will not need engine rebuilds, replacement bearings, new engine cases, replaced shaft drives or any other scary sounding heavy mechanical work. New oil and fluids, spark plugs, tyres, brake pads and any other small bits and that bike will run; and it will run well. These bikes were made meticulously with reliability in mind and that shows when you are working on them. Yes they are basic but that adds to the ease of use and things you can do yourself. Follow any manual or YouTube video and you can muddle through.
This does not take anyway from the riding experience as these bikes still handle and road the ride well. Moreover, they are somewhat affordable. Compared to cars of the same age you will pay more but compared to newer or older bikes you will pay less.
£1500 will get you a decent first Generation Pan’, +£2000 will get you a good Deauville that needs some TLC and £5000 will get you a great 1300 Pan’ that you could have for the rest of your life and all you would need to do is complete a basic service once a year. I opted for a 2007 Deauville for £1500 that needs some work. It was listed at £1800 but the seller was happy to sell it for less as he knew it needed some work. I am still awaiting delivery but it has had one owner from new and has 38,000 miles. The plastics have lost their colour, the service history is unknown but it runs and is solid.
As an amateur I feel confident that I can give it a ‘heavy’ service at the cost of approximately £300 and have it on the road for many years to come if I so wish. No engine re-builds, hard to find parts or oddball mechanical know how needed. I know that I will enjoy getting this bike fighting fit while being challenged but not flabbergasted into confusion and frustration.