Watson On: Total Recall



Total Recall

If I was to tell you the very expensive new Italian motorcycle, you had just bought, potentially could catch fire, the steering might suddenly detach and the swing arm shaft pivots could fall out, you’d probably suggest I was jealous and was making the whole thing up.

Photo by: http://tpvfd.org/

But if you take the time, like I have, to look at the Recall Database of the U.S. Government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) you’d discover things about some of the top selling motorcycles here in the U.S. that could actually surprise you. Like me, it might make you raise an eyebrow and wonder how on earth some of these bikes ever made it into dealer showrooms, let alone left the factory, with some of the reported issues.

All manufacturers of road vehicles, including motorcycles, in the U.S. are legally obliged to inform the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) of safety issues that have been reported to them. These are logged in a national database and owners and dealers have to be informed of a problem. At the same time a manufacturer has to present to NHTSA as to how the issue is going to be remedied.

According to my calculations, more than 70 safety recall notices were issued last year in the U.S. by more than 15 motorcycle companies. A tiny, tiny number compared to the almost daily recalls issued by the automotive manufacturers. But it did strike me as odd that most of the motorcycle problems appeared to be fundamental manufacturing or design flaws and I’m curious as to how or why this happens.

At most manufacturer media introductions for a new bike we are always given the quality message and shown in detail all of the company’s huge efforts to build safe, reliable motorcycles and an explanation of the time a manufacturer has spent in designing, developing and then launching its new model.

Quite often the bikes we get to test have been fettled and gone over with a fine tooth comb before being handed over to the grubby hands of the media and because of that we seldom run into problems. Plus we might get to ride a new bike for no more than a day and don’t live with it on a regular basis and get the real world experience as an owner. It seems to me the problems begin when the production motorcycles are sold to the public.

Can someone explain to me how ‘an exhaust butterfly valve Bowden cable could melt or burn due to excess heat from the catalytic converter’? This, according to the NHTSA report, could potentially cause smoke and/or a fire. Why was that not spotted at the factory before this particular motorcycle was signed off as production ready?

As with all recall notices the word ‘potentially’ is used a lot in the reports either because it could or it might happen. Nobody is ever prepared to say it will definitely happen.

That burning issue was one of five all on one bike, which also included ‘due to incorrect assembly tolerances, the uniball bearing on the damper rod eyelet could slip out of its seat on the Ohlins steering damper which potentially could lead to the loss of control of the motorcycle’.

The third problem was insufficient Loctite glue had been used on steering head screws at the factory and they might fall out, potentially leading to a loss of control. On top of that the right and left swingarm pivots could also potentially come undone. Finally, the ‘front brake master cylinder reservoir hose might interfere with the threading end of the reservoir retaining screw causing damage, which in turn could lead to a front brake system failure, increasing the risk of a crash’.

Those five issues were all recalls, issued simultaneously for 2012-2013 Ducati 1199 Panigales sold here in the U.S.

To be fair though it doesn’t say how many bikes were affected, or even if any customer actually experienced any of them. Either the Ducati factory, or one of its dealers had detected them in time and Ducati was then legally compelled to report the issue to NHTSA and then presumably inform Panigale customers to bring their bikes in as soon as possible to their nearest dealer.

It’s not just the exotica that has had it woes with recall problems. For years, both BMW and Honda have built brands renowned for great quality. Yet in 2013, more than 12 recalls were issued for the 2013 C 600 Sport, C 650 GT, F 700 GS, F 800 GS, F 800 GS Adventure, F 800 GT, R 1200 R and R1200 GS, as water may enter the side-stand switch preventing the motorcycle from starting or potentially shutting off the engine while it is being ridden.

The GS700 also suffered from faulty electrics on the side stand switch and a rider could potentially go down the road with the stand down. While 2,341 BMW K-Series built from 2007 to 2013 were recalled because ‘brake fluid in the front brake reservoir can foam’. BMW’s top-notch model, the S1000 RR, wasn’t without its problems either. Thanks to a claimed faulty manufacturing process, bolts on 2012 RR’s side stands potentially could come loose causing the stands to fall off the frame. I’m assuming this could happen at any time but I’d imagine it might be pretty scary if the bike was actually moving.

Honda had problems in 2013 with its CB500, CBR500 and CBR500R with a bolt on the rocker arm shaft being incorrectly manufactured. Honda quickly issued a recall because if the bolt was not replaced it could apparently fall out of the cylinder head altogether. That would in turn make the bike lose power and potentially stall and ‘increase the risk of a crash’.

Triumph Motorcycles had a pretty hectic year too with 19 recalls issued in the U.S. across its range. Admittedly some of these were for the same problem – a malfunctioning ABS system – but there were ECU problems on some engines potentially shutting down abruptly and malfunctioning neutral lights that came on when the bike was actually in gear.

Harley-Davidson launched its 2014 Project Rushmore bikes to a big fanfare last August, yet within weeks of delivering them to customers it was having problems with its clutch master cylinders that somehow were allowing air into the system.

It also appeared, according to the NHTSA report, that some of the bikes may have been assembled with the incorrect clutch release plate at the factory and these would prevent the clutch from disengaging. Consequently H-D was concerned that riders may have difficulty slowing or stopping these bike and the company had no choice but to issue an immediate recall.

It wasn’t just the big guys either that had issues. KTM had to contact customers about leaking fuel hoses on the 350 and 550 EXC models that may potentially leak gasoline onto the rear tire and increase the risk of a crash, or in the presence of an ignition source cause a fire. The problem was traced to hoses that developed holes or cracked over time.

Zero Motorcycles with its electric bikes has just had to send out a recall this year. Due to a manufacturing defect the motor rotor may come into contact with the stator when moving. This potentially could cause the motor to seize and the rear wheel on a Zero to lock up and increase the risk of a crash.

Now I maybe over simplifying things here and the complexities of the manufacturing and development processes I am sure are far more complicated than I could ever begin to imagine.

I just find it odd in this day and age that motorcycles can come to market with what appears to me to be basic engineering flaws that nobody actually spotted before they left the factory gate in the first place.

You can check out the information yourself at the NHTSA website: http://www-odi.nhtsa.dot.gov/owners/SearchSafetyIssues

  • Doug Herbert

    I can relate, as I am the owner of an 8 month old Triumph Trophy, which has a new ECM, a new cylinder head, a new side stand bracket, a recall against the gas tank, and software patches for every micro on the bike. Luckily, the bike has only left me stranded once, and failed to start at home a second time. These due to a wiring harness that was too short, and therefore pulling pins out of the hand controls. However headed up quality control for this bike should be sacked.

    Even Honda has problems. While I was waiting on my Trophy to get fixed, I got restless. Based on the glowing reviews of the Honda CB500X on here, I bought one. Fortunately, the one I bought already had the recall performed.

    It’s great to see all the new technology on bikes, but the manufacturers need to understand that quality is number 1, and features and power are distant 2nd and 3rd in importance.

    • george

      QC is tough… However, I think you meant to say whoever.

    • Ryan Mayo

      The recall on my CB500X was done before I took delivery of the bike. I have no problems with recalls, it at least means the manufacturer is fixing it. I knew about the rocker shaft bolt as a problem before the recall was done, now it’s one less thing to worry about.

  • tobykeller

    Can someone explain to me ‘make the bike loose power’? This, according to the author, could potentially be an acceptable alternative to ‘lose power’. Why was that not spotted by the editor before this particular motorcycle article was signed off as production ready?

    I just find it odd in this day and age that motorcycle articles can come to market with what appears to me to be basic grammar and spelling flaws that nobody actually spotted before they left the press room in the first place.

    • KeithB


    • PaddingtonPoohBear

      Perhaps they’re just trying to relate to today’s youth (who can’t seem to understand the difference between “your” and “you’re” etc. etc. etc.).

      Seriously though, I’m guessing it just slipped through – gud katch Mr. Speling Nahtzee. =P

    • d$

      I find it odd that in this day and age, a person can log onto their computer, read free motorcycle content beamed directly into their eyeballs while they are supposed to be working and still have the balls to write a snippy complaint about copy editing. If you don’t like go somewhere else and pay to have your precious content copyedited before you get it, lest some typo offend your precious eyes.

      • tobykeller

        I think you missed the point. I don’t care about typos per se; it’s just richly ironic that an article that takes others to task for shoddy quality control suffers from… wait for it… shoddy quality control. Ironic to the point that I can paraphrase the authors exact words to turn his argument back on him.

        Oh, and for years, I _did_ pay for content from this site, and would happily do so still except that they switched to an advertising model, so now we all pay for it a different way.

        • Tim Watson

          I on the other hand think you provided a great service and thank you for pointing out the irony.

          • Nemosufu Namecheck

            Me two,, Ewe pruvides an grate serves.

        • ChrisB

          Watson’s bad grammar is not going to put my safety at risk.

    • 200 Fathoms


  • Sjef

    I was just wondering last week how it still seems acceptable to motorcycle riders that they spend thousands of Euro’s ( or Dollars w/e ) and plenty of times they end up with bikes which evidently aren’t ready to be sold to the public. Even basic issues like waterproofing gauges or having decent paint on swingarms get overlooked. And most owners just shrug it of with a: ”I had to wait 2 weeks for it to be fixed, but what do you expect it’s a new bike.”
    I just think it’s a bit weird and makes the manufacturers come off as a bit lazy.

    • Justin McClintock

      Agreed. Some of the issues bikes have would be completely unacceptable in the auto industry. And it’s even harder to fathom how they got that way with a motorcycle give how far simpler motorcycles are.

  • Gabe Cosarca

    These on going issues and recalls makes buying a used bike a better idea. I try to explain people I know the advantages of buying used over new and I mentioned recalls before and received the deer in the headlights look. I figure because motorcycle recalls don’t make the national news, people assume there aren’t any. Good job on bringing this to light.

    • Scott Vogt

      I also use this logic when buying bikes. But I do appreciate the brave/rich soles that do the reliability testing for me. I’m not opposed to buying new because you get nice things like warranties and such, but the pedigree of the bike is a little more appealing to me

  • Nate Terrill

    Crap, I just bought a BMW.

    • Bruce Steever


      • Nate Terrill

        I still love it anyway. No issues…………………….so far.

  • William Connor

    Triumph did have a few recalls this year. My Explorer was the basis for several of them. They did an excellent job of addressing the issues and fixing it. Sometimes these crop up in production because of supplier issues as well. Things assembled other places, new production runs that come in and aren’t within spec. It’s not always the primary manufacturer that causes the problem, but they are the responsible party.

  • Aaron Snocker

    Having never built a motorcycle from scratch I’m not really sure how easy it is to build one without anything going wrong let alone a few thousand. Unfortunately, the real world is the only place where a lot of the hidden defects present themselves. Especially when good ol Murphy starts poking his pesky little law around.

  • Lord Triumph

    I have a brand new KTM 1190 ADV that has had three recalls on it already.

    • Afonso Mata

      Would you, please, elaborate? ;)

      • Lord Triumph

        Starter motor failure. MSC set for wrong wheel size. Ergo seat stitching sub standard.

        • ducman916

          I believe you are describing warranty repairs, not recalls. There is a big difference.

        • Bruce Steever

          Indeed, those are not recalls.

  • Jack Meoph

    I’ve always assumed that any product manufactured has a 10% (probably more like 15%) fail rate, no matter quality control or design. Remember also that many of the parts for any vehicle are made not by the OEM, but subcontracted out to a network of suppliers and manufacturers that have always made various parts for the main corporations. Some vehicles are even sent to outside sources for final assembly. Think of how many different parts there are in something as complex as a modern motorcycle and be amazed that so many of them actually work the way they’re suppose to.

    I have a Pontiac Solstice, and it’s part of the GM recall for the faulty ignition switch. Am I worried about it? Nope, because I don’t have a bunch of keys attached to my car key ring, which is the actual cause of the car turning off (the directional movement of mass effecting rotation of the key into the acc. position).

    • Afonso Mata

      American car with European engine. Like. I didn’t know that model, and it seems like a pretty good car :) Cheers

    • artist_formally_known_as_cWj

      Mom had a key ring full of keys including the one for the ’89 Camry. The ignition lock was eventually so worn, one could start the car then remove the key. This seemed like a nifty feature to have (leave locked car running, come back to car still fully air conditioned during Louisiana summer heat).

      At least, it seemed like a nifty feature until I locked the key in the car with it running (due to having gotten used to locking the door while it was running).

      And to say nothing of the fact that, at that point, one could probably have started that car with a tongue depressor cut lengthwise.

      I don’t keep more than two keys and a fob on any ring for an automobile now.

  • E Brown

    Hey, I’d rather my Panigale caught fire than my Ferrari 458 Italia…

    • http://krtong.com/ Kr Tong

      Spoken whilst stirring martini.

  • Davidabl2

    Just maybe R&D is working harder,faster and with bigger budgets than lowly QC…since everybody wants the newest bells&whistles

  • timuseravan

    “Now I maybe over simplifying things here and the complexities of the manufacturing and development processes I am sure are far more complicated than I could ever begin to imagine.”

    Even with all the computer simulations and actual tests, it is virtually impossible to recreate all the permutations and combinations of real world use. Especially now that the same bike may be sold all over the world and is expected to work in all temperatures, road and environmental conditions. So a motorcycle which may not smoke/catch fire in Canada can do so in India.

    Add in the various parts made by vendors, contractors, sub-contractors and sub-sub-contractors in different countries. It is far more complicated than you imagine.

  • Paolo

    Do you remember when every bike would come out perfect straight from the assembly line? Yeah…me neither!

    • Bruce Steever

      I do, but i’ve owned a lot of Hondas and Suzukis, so what do i know? (That’s humor people, take it easy, eh…)

      • Paolo

        It’s all good. I’ve had 3 japs before my Harley, and they’ve all been great! A Yamaha Vstar and two Honda Shadows…bulletproof bikes!

  • http://www.themotorcycleobsession.com/ Chris Cope


    It’s funnier if you read it in the voice of Brak from ‘Space Host Coast to Coast’.

    • http://metabomber.com/ Jesse

      “… ON MY BIG RED DU-CA-Ti!”

  • Piglet2010

    Anyone else notice the stylistic resemblance between the firefighter suits and a ‘Stich?