Japanese Motorcycle Brands: Why Are They So Reliable?

The Japanese motorcycle industry is renowned for producing high-performing, well-built, reliable motorcycles.

But how exactly is this achieved? And what are other motorcycle brands missing that the Japanese seem to have kept secret?

Image of the big four logos, i.e., the most popular and dominant Japanese motorcycle manufacturers in the industry today

I decided to venture into the history of ‘The Big Four’ (Japanese motorcycle brands) in an attempt to unveil the practices, processes and manufacturing standards behind the success of Honda Motors, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha.

Here’s what to expect…

We’ll dive into the best Japanese motorcycles (produced to date), consumer report failure ratings (to compare brand reliability), price comparisons, manufacturing philosophy and the history of Japanese motorcycle brands.

Grab yourself a coffee, as this one is bound to put hairs on your chest!

Old Vs Current Japanese Motorcycle Brands

Let’s start with a list of the current motorcycle brands in Japan. The following four companies make up what we call “The Big Four”.

  • Yamaha Motor Company (1955 – current)
  • Honda (1946 – current)
  • Suzuki (1952 – current)
  • Kawasaki – originally called Meguro (1949 – current)

In the early 20th century, Japan would harbour 200+ motorcycle firms with many of them being forced out of business by 1945. Today, only “The Big Four” remain, but a few of the previous companies I could track includes:

A list of motorcycle firms that cease to exist today.

  • Tohatsu (1922 – 1964)
  • Cabton (1933 – 1960)
  • Bridgestone (1952 – 1970)
  • Rikuo (1929 – 1950)
  • Miyata (1890 – 1964)
  • Hodaka (1964 – 1978)
  • Fuji Rabbit (946 – 1968)
  • Marusho (1948 – 1967)
  • Abe-Star (1951 – 1958)
  • Nihon Motorcycle Company (1909 – 1926)
  • Hodaka (1964 – 1978)

Best-Selling (Most Popular) Japanese motorcycles

The best-selling motorcycle brand in the last decade has been Honda, and there is no sign of them slowing down anytime in the near future. See a list of every Japanese motorcycle ever made.

  • Honda PCX 125
  • Honda CBF 125 M
  • Honda Vision (NSC 110 NH)
  • Yamaha NMAX 125
  • Honda SH 125i
  • Honda CB300R
  • Yamaha YZF-R3
  • Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R
  • Honda Grom
  • Honda Rebel 300
  • Honda NT 1100
  • Honda CB500 I
  • Honda CB650R
  • Honda CBR1000RR-R SP
  • Yamaha MT-07 I
  • Yamaha Tenere 700
  • Yamaha MT-07 Tracer
  • Yamaha XSR125
  • Yamaha V-Star 250
  • Yamaha YZF-R6
  • Kawasaki Z900
  • Kawasaki Ninja H2
  • Kawasaki Concours 14 ABS
  • Kawasaki KX™ 85
  • Kawasaki Vulcan® 1700 Voyager ABS
  • Suzuki DL 1000 AL4
  • Suzuki GSX-R750 L5
  • Suzuki GSX-R1000 L5
  • Suzuki GSX-S1000A L6 ABS
  • Suzuki UK 110 NE
  • Suzuki DR-Z400SM

Iconic Japanese Motorcycles

  • Honda CB77
  • Honda CB750
  • Honda Super Cub
  • Kawasaki Triple
  • Kawasaki Z1
  • Honda Gold Wing
  • Honda Rune
  • Honda Shadow VT1100
  • Yamaha Vmax
  • Honda Africa Twin
  • 1987 Honda CBR600F
  • Honda VFR750
  • Kawasaki EX500 (Ninja)
  • Suzuki RG500
  • Suzuki Hayabusa
  • Suzuki TL1000R
  • Kawasaki Ninja H2
  • Yamaha R1 – 2009

Cheapest Japanese Motorcycles To Buy

Hey, this list is totally subjective and truly a bunch of bikes that I either know of being cheap to buy or were found to be cheaper when compared to other bikes of similar age during research.

The figures below are based on average retail prices.

  • 2015+ Yamaha R3 – (£3000+)
  • 2009 Yamaha MT-03 – (£2800+)
  • 2010-2014 Suzuki SV650 – (£3000+)
  • 2010+ Suzuki DRZ-400 – (£3000+)
  • 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 250 – (£2000+)
  • 2009 Kawasaki Ninja 500 – (£2300+)
  • 2009 Kawasaki Vulcan 500 – (£3400+)
  • 2010+ Kawasaki Vulcan 900 – (£3600+)
  • 2005 Yamaha V-star 650 Classic – (£1500+)
  • 2006 Honda Rebel 250 – (£1000+)
  • 2008 Suzuki GS500F – (£2500+)
  • 2011 Suzuki TU250X – (£1500+)
  • 2007 Suzuki Bandit 650 – (£2100+)
  • 2004 Yamaha Fazer 600 – (£2200 +)
  • 2003 Honda CBR600F – (£1800+)
  • 2003 Suzuki SV650 – (£2000+)

Why are Japanese motorcycles Cheaper Than Other brands?

International sales, market demand, product diversification, and budget-minded materials are just a few ways how Japanese motorcycle manufacturers continuously mass-produce motorcycles and outprice competitors.

In fact, in 2014 alone, Honda reported sales of over sixteen million units, which is HUGE when compared to the minute 260,000 of Harley-Davidson.

And it doesn’t stop there, as you do not need to go far to find a Japanese part being sold at almost half the cost of a European, which leads us to the next topic…

Lower Maintenance Costs

High repair costs translate to “stay well away” for the majority of riders…especially newbies.

And similarly to owning a BMW motorcar, owning a BMW motorcycle will likely result in regular trips to the dealership, as many repairs require specialized tools.

Japanese bikes, on the other hand, allow you to make numerous repairs in the convenience of your home, even with a limited number of tools.

And if you determine that professional hands are needed, then you can choose from the vast majority of available mechanics who are happy to tackle the job (as many Japanese bikes are manufactured with simplicity, making them enjoyable for the majority of mechanics to repair).

This leads us to dealer networks and availability which are two very important parts of a business for allowing customers to find mechanics in a timely fashion.

Large Dealer Networks

The table below shares the total number of dealerships for 10 of the most popular motorcycle brands across the UK and USA (which of course makes a difference in how easy it is to find a local repair shop for repairs).

Total Number Of Retail Dealers in the UK

This list has been ordered from the highest to the lowest total number of locations

Brand Number of locations
Harley Davidson29

Now let’s head over to the US to see how that shapes up!

total Number Of Powersport Locations For Each Motorcycle Brand in the USA

This list has also been ordered from highest to lowest

Brand Number Of Locations
Harley Davidson675
image of japan shipping borders with ship and stock being transported

Overseas Import (machinery & parts)

During the 1950s Honda imported machinery from West Germany and Switzerland which led to the production of the Honda Cub F2 Type that debuted and began export to Greece and Africa in April 1953.

Then in 1954 Soichiro attended the Isle of Man TT and learned new technologies from acquiring an Italian racing machine that led them to produce the RC142 which made its debut on May 5, 1959.

And with the expansion of the Japanese domestic market (in the mid-1900s), Japanese motorcycle brands were able to develop new factories with innovative techniques, automated assembly lines, and special-purpose machinery that would finally set them apart from the rest of the entire motorcycle industry.

However, by post-Second World War, many of the once-established Japanese motorcycle firms had failed from lack of funds, changes in consumer demands, and changes in creditors, suppliers and dealers.

low-cost positions

Large manufacturers (such as Honda) use low-cost positions as a method to increase profitability. In doing so, the company can then re-invest a larger amount of capital back into areas such as research and development, materials, marketing and the testing of new technologies for production.

Typically this is achieved through building manufacturing plants in the countries intended to sell which in turn will save time, cost of shipping and cost of labour.

Each new plant operates on the ‘just in time supply method‘ which is essentially how manufacturers reduce inventory holding costs and increase inventory turnover by only supplying goods as and when they are needed.

Why Are Japanese Motorcycles So Reliable?

Japanese motorcycles are known as the most reliable bikes because the 2015 Consumer report (interviewing 11,000+ riders) suggests so.

The report concluded failure ratings of 11% (Yamaha), 12% (Suzuki), 12% (Honda), and 15% (Kawasaki) respectively. Conversely, the same report revealed that above 40% of BMW and Ducati owners had experienced a failure (outside of regular maintenance) in the first four years of ownership.

So while BMW makes fantastic bikes (even more so now than then), according to consumer reports deputy editor Jeff Bartlett they are almost four times more likely to experience failure compared to a Yamaha.

Better Build Quality

Monozukuri (translating to) Japanese craftsmanship.

Looking into the history of the Japanese motorcycle industry led me on a journey of masterful automation with a hint of what the Japanese call “the extra touch” (usually made by humans) and gives reasoning as to why their motorcycles are built to such high standards.

In fact, this design philosophy allows Japanese manufacturers to factor in an additional margin for error resulting in their machines being more tolerant of incorrect use or negligence.

On the other hand, European brands are far more adventurous and eager to adopt new technologies despite the risks of failure. So it will be interesting to see how the Japanese adapt to the emerging EV market.

years Of R&D (Research & Development)

Technological developments from research and paying close attention to consumer demands have been pivotal in the evolution of Japanese motorcycle manufacturing.

For example, Soichiro Honda (founder of Honda Motors) travelled to the US in the mid-1950s with the goal of examining motorcycle manufacturing plans to help him produce a motorcycle that met the design, build quality and performance of European standards.

In fact, by 1965, Honda had raised the benchmark so high that other motorcycle manufacturers across Japan were forced into investing in new expensive diecasting equipment, setting new standards for conveyor line assemblies and working towards new aggressive sales targets just to compete.

This would result in the design, build quality and production lines from all of The Big Four being pushed to absolute potential, giving them a slight edge in overtaking European manufacturers for global sales.

Venn diagram of Japanese philosophy with the word Ikigai in the middle of the overlap

A stellar Manufacturing philosophy

Japanese motorcycle brands have historically been able to produce higher quality vehicles over other nations by operating on a philosophy called ‘lean Manufacturing‘.

Originally developed by Toyota, the process of ‘lean manufacturing’ leans on (no pun intended) the principle of Kaizen, which translates to “kai-positive, zen-change”…

Meaning, the entire manufacturing process is focused on a continuous reduction of wasteful practices (i.e., practices that do not add value to the customer), in addition, practices that instead add value to the process are conversely incorporated to improve results.

Repeating this process creates an efficient, cost-effective, less time-consuming, fun, flexible, and reliable system that is adaptable and highly tolerant to fluctuations.

Through exasperating development, wartime precision manufacturing, and the skill to retain strong financial positions, the Japanese continue to remain dominant in the motorcycle industry as a result of understanding the technologies and manufacturing efficiencies needed to create high-performing, reliable two-wheelers.

In recent years, manufacturers in other countries and industries have adopted this philosophy, but the Japanese have always lived by it, as it’s literally embedded into their social and cooperate culture.

A Brief History of the best Japanese Motorcycle Brands

Understanding the Japanese motorcycle industry means understanding its history. So the following sections will look into how each of The Big Four Japanese motorcycle brands emerged into the conglomerate we see today.

Honda Logo

Honda Motors

Honda Motorcycles

Soichiro Honda and Takeo Fujisawa founded Honda in 1948 with the goal of providing Japanese people with a cheap, reliable method of transportation that would endure Japan’s damaged roads following the Second World War.

Soichiro Honda began working on cars by day and produced piston rings (for Toyota Motorcars) by night, but he would quickly face adversity when only 3 of the 50 produced rings met Toyota’s extreme standards.

This led Soichiro to learn science and advanced casting techniques through visiting libraries, factories and universities over the following two years to create a prototype that would be satisfactory for Toyota.

Shortly after Soichiro would develop an automated production line to allow mass amounts of unskilled workers to create high-quality piston rings at scale (to ensure the demands of Nakajima Aircraft and Toyota were met).

image 2
Honda’s first 2-stroke motorcycle called ‘The Dream D

1958 – Was the birth year of the Honda Super Cub (better known as “the classic pizza bike” to those in the UK) with sales of over one hundred MILLION units! Built to an incredibly high standard after the founders of Honda Motors toured Germany and witnessed the popularity of lightweight motorcycles.

Around this time Honda forbid dealers from selling competitor products and worked extremely hard to establish a strong dealer network within Japan.

1968 – Honda introduces the most disruptive motorcycle of all time… Its name… the CB750!

At the time when twin-cylinder Harleys, BSA’s and triumphs dominated global sales, it was widely accepted that owning a motorcycle meant oil leaks and infrequent engine starts.

But not the CB750.

Not only was this bike more reliable, but it was also lighter in weight, fitted with the world’s first front disc brake and had superbike-level power by delivering 67 horses and a max speed of 200kph (125mph).

Post-Second World War Honda was one of the few first to gain technical sophistication to take advantage of mass production.

To date, Honda has produced over 400 million motorcycles and has 35 production units in 21 countries, making them the largest producer of engines in the world. The company remains the leader in the international motorcycle market with products like Gold Wing, CB1100, CRF1100L Africa Twin, CRF1100L Africa Twin, CBR1000RR-R SP, CB1000R, and GROM.

Today, Honda continues to maintain extreme quality control with hyper levels of precision in the production line through testing, dismantling and inspecting every 20th motorcycle sold, regardless of shape, size and model.

Yamaha Logo

Yamaha Motor Company inc

Yamaha Motorcycles

Yamaha (previously named Nippon Gakki) was the first-ever motorcycle manufacturer and the second-largest motorcycle dealer (behind Honda) founded in Japan. Their story begins in 1954 (when they produced their first motorcycle) and continues to 1956 when they quickly entered the limelight after winning two major motorcycle races in the Japanese Grand Prix.

1851 – Was the birth year of the Founder Torakusu Yamaha, who was born on May 20th, 1851 and lived to the small age of 66 when he died on 8 August 1917.

1921 – Shortly after the death of Torakusu Yamaha, Yamaha Motor Company would begin producing ‘wooden’ aircraft propellers that would later lead to the production of metal propellers (during the Manchurian invasions) in 1933.

In 1942 Soichiro Honda would help Yamaha (by inventing the automatic milling machine) to increase the rate at which they could produce wooden propellers. The result? Yamaha went from producing 1 propellor (by hand) every week to producing 2 propellers (by machine) every 30 minutes (despite the two later becoming enemies.

1945 – (Post-World War II) Yamaha begins producing musical instruments such as harmonicas, xylophones, accordions and horns (using the technologies and production line efficiencies developed from producing aircraft propellers).

1953Genichi Kawakami (who later became president of Yamaha) travels to Europe and is astounded by the high standards of living for regular people and the efficiencies of automation within factories.

November 7, 1953 – Kawakami returns home to begin building a prototype motorcycle engine (at a time when Nippon Gakki now called Yamaha had no experience in the motor industry) to compete with Honda and Suzuki (with an extreme focus on matching the standard of Western two-stroke engines)

The yamaha YA-1
Image source: Global Yamaha Motor

1955 – While established as the world’s largest musical instruments manufacturer, Yamaha produces their first motorcycle called the ‘YA-1 (The Red Dragonfly)‘. This 125cc air-cooled two-stroke engine (when combined with portable dynamometers and a unique understanding of air flow manipulation) would result in Yamaha having an unfair advantage during races.

At the time, other teams would compete (with Yamaha) at a major disadvantage from the lack of understanding airflow (as Yamaha had already garnered years of experience with airflow from producing musical instruments), which in turn, allowed them to build superior engines.

1960 – Yamaha would begin exporting to the US market after developing the 250 cc YD1 (image of this bike below) that finally moved away from imitating European manufacturing to create a motorcycle that truly possessed ‘Japanese originality’.

This was also the year Yamaha released their first commercially approved outboard (i.e., boat) motor ‘the P-7‘ to the domestic market.

image 1
Image of the first series of YD1s being tested with President Kawakami and his team

1964 – Yamaha wins their first championship in the 250cc class which leads to increased exposure in the motor industry requiring them to increase the rate at which they produce motorcycles (to match new demands) as their reputation grows.

Yamaha is leading the charge with successful models Niken, MT09, YZF R1M, YZFR3, BOLT, XSR 900, and Tenere 700.

Today, they remain to develop new technologies such as 3d-non-contact scanning, programming for engine development, unique machinery to improve craftsmanship, and intricate human processes that increase checkpoints and maintain extreme levels of precision in production.

suzuki logo

Suzuki Motorcycles

Suzuki Motorcycles

1887 – Michio Suzuki (Japanese businessman and founder of Suzuki Motors) is born in Hamamatsu and lived to the shocking age of 95 when he died on 27 October 1982.

1909 – Age 22 was the year Michio Suzuki Founded ‘Suzuki loom works’ and began manufacturing innovative modern pedal-driven wooden looms to supply to Southeast Asia and India.

1920 – (Suzuki goes public!) Suzuki loom works becomes a publicly traded company on the stock exchange in an attempt to raise capital to expand the business and meet the growing demands of the market.

1937 – Michio purchases the Austin 7 (a now classic economy nicknamed the baby Austin) to further study auto engineering and begin working on the first Suzuki motorcycle.

Unfortunately, this same year that Japan invades China forcing Suzuki and all other manufacturers to produce ammunition in the Second Sino-Japanese War (as the government classified civilian passenger carts as nonessential during this time).

However, unforeseeably this turbulent time would birth wartime precision engineering as Suzuki adapted their technology for weaving operations to create military-level materials such as rope, uniforms and cloth.

Suzuki would later become masters of mass production by developing hand grenades, aircraft sights, explosive shells, pistons and crankshafts for six-cylinder military-use engines.

the power free motorised bicycle created by Suzuki in 1952
Image of the Power Free produced in 1952 by Suzuki

1952 – (post-World War II) Suzuki produces their first prototype which was not mass produced but did lead the to create their second motorised bicycle (with a 2-stroke 36cc 1-horsepower engine) called the Power Free.

1954 – Suzuki produces the 60cc motorised bicycle called the Diamond Free and imports three foreign vehicles (a Volkswagon, Citroen and Lloyd) so they can study the engineering behind each of them. At this time, owning a car was still a luxury for the majority of ordinary Japanese citizens, causing Suzuki to focus on full-size motorcycle production.

1955 – Suzuki changes its name to Suzuki Motor Co., Ltd.

1958 – The ColledaCOX makes its debut equipped with a single cylinder head, four stroke-engine and three-speed transmission.

1960 – Suzuki debuts at the Isle of Man TT but it was the following year that would mark history for Suzuki when world champion racer (Ernst Degner) would defect from east Germany to give them all of MZ’s (Motorenwerke Zschopau) technology secrets.

Who was Ernst Degner?

Ernst Degner

Ernst Degner was a famous motorcycle racer from Germany who rode for a now-defunct motorcycle maker called MZ. At the time Japanese companies struggled to manufacture capable two-stroked machines while the Germans pulled ahead ready to win their first championship.

Suzuki during this time plotted behind the scenes to help Degner and his family defect to west Germany in exchange for sharing the MZ’s technologies. Ernst Degner stole the MZ engines and with the help of the Japanese, comprised a series of engine parts and a folder full of drawings that were smuggled out of the MZ race shop.

With the Japanese extracting the technology, they were quickly able to become powerhouses in the world of motorcycles.

1962 – Suzuki returns to compete in the Isle Of Man TT race with Degner at their disposal helping them to win the 50cc championship class by an unprecedented 8-second gap.

Today, it is one of the most recognizable motorcycle brands worldwide with motorcycles in categories such ad SuperSport, Ultimate Sport, KATANA, STREET, Sport Adventure, Cruiser, Scooter, Dual Purpose, Off-Road, and Motorcross.

Kawasaki logo

Kawasaki Motorcrop USA

Kawasaki Motorcycles

Kawasaki unlike the other companies made a very late entry into the Japanese market.

1837 – Shozo Kawasaki (founder of Kawasaki) was born and lived to the age of 75 when he died on 2 December 1912.

1876 – The year Kawasaki was founded by Shozo Kawasaki (at age 27) after previously starting a shipping business that failed from destroyed cargo equipment in a storm.

1930 – As World War II begins, Kawasaki begins developing escort and military-level fighter aircraft. They would go on to build 11,000+ aircraft and develop and level of technical skills that was close to that of the West.

1940 – Post World War II they begin producing and selling suitcases, typewriters and firefighting equipment which later leads to producing motorcycles in 1949.

But unlike the other three motorcycle manufacturers, Kawasaki had no experience in sales and dealer networks.

So… in 1960 – they entered a partnership with Meguro and decided to focus on off-road racing rather than road racing like the other Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha.

1969 – Kawasaki produce the mark 3, 500cc two-stroke triple and by 1970 (i.e., the birthyear of the Z1) they are producing and selling nearly 150,000 units per year.

To this day, the Kawasaki Ninja H2 still hold the record for the highest-performing engine produced by an original manufacturer.

Today, the company remains focused on performance and has over 35,000 employees with headquarters in Kobe, Japan.

We have taken a look at each brand from the Japanese motorcycle industry. Now it’s time to take a look into history to gain an understanding of the environment in which each brand developed.

How many miles Do Japanese motorcycles last?

A well-kept Japanese or American-manufactured motorcycle can last well over 25 years with Europeans lasting around 20.

The table below has listed the average lifespans for each of the most popular motorcycle brands.

BrandTotal Lifetime MilesAverage Miles per year Number of YearsAdditional Notes
Honda150,000+500030Touring models may last even longer
Suzuki100,000+500020Valve clearance will need to be checked at 25k+ mileage
Yamaha100,000+500020High-grade components should be installed to maximise the lifespan
Kawasaki 100,000+500020Average expense bike to properly maintain

Lifetime miles by type Of Motorcycle

MotorcycleExpected Mileage
Poorly maintained sportbike20,000 miles or less
Well maintained sportbikeUp to 50,000 miles
Poorly maintained touring motorcycle50,000 miles or less
Well-maintained touring motorcycleUp to 100,000 miles or more
Japanese history timeline image
Source: Image created by Tianne Feliciano and submitted on Behance

A Timeline of The Japanese Motorcycle Industry

1881 – The year that the Miyata Manufacturing factory is opened by Eisuke Miyata (a bower and engineer who produced rickshaws) to begin producing guns for the Imperial Japanese Army.

1890 – Eitarō Miyata (son of Eisuke Miyata) manufactures Miyata’s first prototype bicycle.

1900 – Japan changes its laws to allow foreign imported guns which floods the market with cheap counterfeit rifles. This is the same unfortunate year of Eisuke Miyata’s passing resulting in his son Eitarō deciding to focus the business entirely on the production of bicycles.

1901 – The expansion of the Japanese motorcycle industry was riddled with struggles from the scarcity of high-quality materials, and poor conditions of roads making it near impossible to obtain development capital or improve production facilities.

1909Narazo Shimazu creates the Nihon Motor Company to manufacture the NS motorcycle, which was the first motorcycle to be designed, bought and sold in Japan. Shimazu produced a further 20 NS motorcycles and over 700 arrows and helped set the stage for future Japanese motorcycle manufacturers.

1910 – competitive motorsports begins to gain popularity in Japan with over 200 motorcycle clubs founded by 1923. During this time, many bikes were being bought and sold throughout the country with many imports coming from Europe and North America.

image of the damage The Great Kantō Earthquake did to the streets of Japan in 1923
Image Source: Britannica.com

1923 – The Great Kantō earthquake strikes Japan causing catastrophic damage to the land, houses and locomotives causing the need for new reliable methods of transportation to become critical.

1930 – The Japanese military gain more and more control over the Sankyo Company (later named the Rikuo Nainen Company) as a result of the 1924 military law allowing the government to subsidise the motorcycle industry. Production of motorcycles went from small shops to large factories permitting the Sankyo Company to produce the Rikuo Type 97 military motorcycle.

1932 – Miyata Manufacturing begins the production of motorcycles and builds a two-stroke air-cooled 175cc (5hp) motorcycle in 1933. By March 1934, Miyata had built 13 units which were lighter, had better fuel economy and was lower priced than the market’s current Harley Davidson.

1945 – Japan surrenders in World War II on September 2nd, 1945. At the time, the supreme commander of the allied forces (General Douglas MacArthur) places a ban on aircraft production in Japan forcing manufacturers to focus their efforts on the production of bicycles with engines, scooters and motorcycles.

During this time the motorcycle industry gained from the experience of wartime manufacturers such as aircraft producers and other firms had gained critical knowledge and experience in mass production.

1950 – Japanese motorcycle manufacturers begin to move away from imitating European technology and start taking steps to become independent.

At the time customer demand required frequent design changes during this period causing many assembly makers to go out of business because of supply problems, dealer insolvencies, sales network problems, and a lack of technical expertise (which became Honda’s biggest advantage).

1955 – The Hamamatsu motorcycles association collapses due to many assembly makers going bankrupt. In addition, customer standards cause smaller assembly makers with limited capital, outdated equipment and small teams to go out of business.

Serious competition and endurance races also emerged in the 50s, and besides winning, racing improved the technical skills of the manufacturers, weeding out the weak.

Winners advertised heavily to demonstrate their success and promote the reliability and endurance of their machines, while the losers quickly went bankrupt and disappeared.

1962 – Only 15 motorcycle manufacturer companies remain and by 1963 around 8 of those either collapsed or left the industry.

1965 – 98%+ of the existing firms fail, leaving only “The Big Four” we know today (Suzuki, Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki).

Frequently Asked Questions

Got questions? We’ve got answers!

According to a 2015 consumer report, Yamaha was found to be the most reliable Japanese manufacturer after returning an 11% failure rating in a test group of 12,000+ customers.

Sidenote: This study took place many years ago and is not truly an accurate gauge of the most reliable motorcycle brand of today. Of course, with the right resources, a study like this could take place again, as consumerreports.org no longer offers this service.

According to consumer reports the most reliable bikes ever to ever exist are the Honda Goldwing, Kawasaki Ninja, Suzuki Hayabusa and Yamaha R1. I personally cannot believe that the Honda Super cub was not included here too, as I have owned two and know many riders that used these bikes for YEARS ON END!

Japanese motorcycle brands gained popularity in the 1960s after winning several Isle Of Man TT championships (i.e., the most popular motorsport championship of the time) and for being fast and reliable.

They would achieve this by taking existing European and American technologies and improving upon them with wartime precision engineering with an extreme focus on reliability. Many streets in Japan were been damaged Post World War II, causing manufacturing to prioritise practicality and performance over design.

I would have to say that Japanese bikes are classed as being “better” by the majority of riders because of superior performance (#Kawasaki Ninja H2R – 240mph top speed) and reliability #HondaGoldwing with simple designs that are easy to repair and not smothered with new complex technologies.

That being said, I certainly believe that not adopting new technologies could be damaging for many companies in the modern era.


From over 200 motorcycle manufacturers to just four in less than 20 years, the Japanese motorcycle industry is one of the most profitable and leading sectors in the Japanese economy.

Japanese motorcycles are considered the most reliable of all bikes because consumer reports suggest that these bikes have the lowest failure ratings. This is because the Japanese motorcycle industry has been around the longest and developed through wartime precision manufacturing with strict quality controls.

The nearest competitor in the American market, Harley Davidson does not have the same high degree of quality control features in its manufacturing process that most Japanese motorcycle brands have.

Japanese brands were not only extremely quality-conscious but they also placed an imperative level of focus on being cost-effective. As a result, Japanese motorcycles became the most popular motorised bikes that were known for being reliable, and affordable and required less maintenance.  

Picture of Leon Angus

Leon Angus

I love bikes. All types, but mainly motorbikes (or motorcycles for those in the U.S.). I also love cars, planes and boats too! I'm a qualified Motorsport Engineer that currently lives in the UK and drives trains for a living (weird combo, don't ask), I love to cook, into fitness and love to smell petrol in my spare time! A true petrol head at heart. This website is my path back into the motor industry and the place where I can shell fuel for fanatics along the way. Learn More about the mission here

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Picture of Leon Angus

Leon Angus

I love bikes. All types, but mainly motorbikes (or motorcycles for those in the U.S.). I also love cars, planes and boats too! I'm a qualified Motorsport Engineer that currently lives in the UK and drives trains for a living (weird combo, don't ask), I love to cook, into fitness and love to smell petrol in my spare time! A true petrol head at heart. This website is my path back into the motor industry and the place where I can shell fuel for fanatics along the way. Learn More about the mission here

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