The Harley Brake Investigation

//The Harley Brake Investigation

The Harley Brake Investigation

Harley brake

Average riders put more thought into louder pipes than the maintenance of their motorcycle braking system.

Loud pipes save lives. We published a post  about this controversy not too long ago. True or not, one thing about loud pipes is certain – the Feds aren’t interested in pipes that aren’t loud enough.

The Harley Brake Investigation

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) received 43 complaints about faulty brakes on Harley-Davidson motorcycles. At the time this is written, the NHTSA is labeling this a “preliminary evaluation.” Regardless of what you call it, the news is not good for Harley.

Fortunately, no fatalities resulted from the three known accidents linked to the brake problem. But with 430,000 motorcycles possibly affected, the risk is there.

Harley-Davidson isn’t denying the problem, but nor are they accepting sole responsibility. Harley claims the problem stems from bad brake fluid. Fluid that should be changed every two years.

The Two-Year Rule?

Harley placed some blame on owners who fail to change brake fluid. According to the company, this maintenance is “required.” Unfortunately, many owners claim this “requirement” isn’t so clear in the owners’ manual.

It’s also not clear if this requirement is valid. Opinions seem to be as varied as the loud pipes controversy.

It might not be a requirement, but it can’t hurt. As one blog post puts it

“If your bike won’t go, well, it might put a damper on your day; but if your bike won’t stop, you have much bigger problems ahead of you.”

Three Things You Should Consider

Before we continue our discussion about brake fluid, a word about brake pads. Check your pads every time you replace your tire. You won’t necessarily need to replace them that often. Inspecting them that often, though, is a good habit to develop.

Another good habit to develop is to bleed your brakes. The process isn’t as hard as it sounds – check out this how-to video.

We also have a few products to make the job easier.

Finally, a bottle of brake fluid typically costs less than $20. Replacing your brake fluid is simply extending the process of bleeding your brakes. For peace of mind, why not do it every 2-3 times you bleed the brakes?

Making a Safe Choice

Will you be safer using louder pipes? Maybe. Will you be safer maintaining your braking system? Of course you will.

Harley-Davidson isn’t off the hook. Brake fluid shouldn’t damage such a critical component so easily. However, we aren’t off the hook either.

Please – give as much thought to your brakes as you do your pipes.

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15 Comments

  1. John July 18, 2016 at 11:45 pm

    I just replaced my front pads and rotors because the rotors were warped after 12000 miles. The dealer gouged me for $200 to bleed the brakes. There is some special tool that only HD has that cycles the abs Pistons to get all of the fluid out. I’ve hear of guys bleeding the majority of the system without this tool, but if you get air in the abs unit only the dealer can reset the computer. Maybe if the fluid needs to be changed so frequently HD should make this tool available to independent shops. There are a lot of other options for American made bike these days; maybe it’s time to give them a look.

  2. Doug H. July 18, 2016 at 8:48 pm

    Mine is a 2010 with the Brembo calipers and ABS. Like all of my vehicles I actually do change the fluid every 2 years. Guess what? I have zero issues to date with the hydraulics for the brakes on my machine .
    Here’s what I know happens with brake fluid. (any good mechanic knows this) Brake fluid will collect moisture from any air that it encounters. (that’s why we fill from only sealed containers that haven’t been sitting on the shelf for years) The water that is now in the system will start to corrode metals and degrade rubber parts .
    That’s why a flush every 2 years is mandatory on all vehicles that use DOT 3 or 4 type brake fluids

    • Joe Peek July 19, 2016 at 8:28 am

      Thanks for the info Doug!

      • Doug H. July 19, 2016 at 1:18 pm

        Joe,
        I forgot to mention, I looked up brake fluid in my owner’s manual .
        On page 171, under heading number 1, 4th bullet, it clearly says . “Use only DOT 4 HYDRAULIC BRAKE FLUID (Part No. 99953-99A) and replace fluid every 2 years. See a Harley-Davidson dealer.”
        For customers to claim it is not in their owner’s manuals is bogus . I found it in mine with ease .

        • Joe Peek July 19, 2016 at 6:11 pm

          Thanks Doug! I guess it depends both on how hard someone bothers looking and if they are going to pay attention. Appreciate the info!

        • Lee July 19, 2016 at 10:36 pm

          Joe you’re absolutely right but it doesn’t change the fact that Harley’s trying to get out of this because of that 4th bullet. What if the brake fluid has nothing to do with the defect? Harley can put anything they want in the owner’s manual. Just wait till we start hearing from owners who did the fluid change after 2 years and still had the problem.

  3. mike July 18, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    Its not that the ABS fails it is how it fails. It does not fail “safe” where you will lose abs and still have brakes. It fails in death mode, no warning no brakes. the fluid change is not really a valid point.

  4. Dan Navarro July 18, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    Some riders prefer to ignore this step when they bring it in for 1k 5k 10k service. Every service tech will tell them they need to change at certain intervals. I.e. 5 year old bike coming in for 5 k service. Factory recommends you change it every 2 years. They ignore it or choose to do the maintenance on there own. Ignoring all the safety bulletins in owners manual or service manual. Myself I dip the fluid each time I change my oil. But I am a certified Harley tech.

    • Joe Peek July 19, 2016 at 8:28 am

      Sometimes a better safe than sorry approach is warranted!

  5. Lee July 18, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    There 2 kinds of companies – the kind that take responsibility for problems and guarantee their customers’ loyalty forever, and the kind that weasel out to save a quick buck. Back in the old days of brake fluid, you could see after a year that it wasn’t as clear as new fluid, after 2 years it got opaque and after 3 years it turned black. After that it got black sludge at the bottom of the reservoir. Now brake fluid stays clear year after year. If it’s clear, it hasn’t absorbed moisture and it hasn’t degraded. Harley is full of it. And a brake system is sealed and should never need bleeding unless it’s leaking, in which case the leaking component should be replaced. Just bleeding it is treating the symptom and not the disease.

    • Joe Peek July 19, 2016 at 8:27 am

      Good points Lee; but what do you think about the info offered by both Doug and Dan?

      • Lee July 19, 2016 at 9:30 am

        With the advent of synthetic motor oil frequent oil changes are no longer necessary yet there are still people out there who change oil every 3K miles. Old habits are hard to break. People say brake fluid absorbs moisture from the air but don’t explain how that happens in a sealed system. If the brake fluid in my Harley looks like new 2, 3, 4 years later that’s good enough for me. And if Harley charges customers $200 for a fluid change there’s going to be a mob of people at the Indian dealer.

  6. Dawn July 18, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    I don’t think Harley can get away with brake fluid maintenance theory or that only older bikes are affected. I have a ’16 Fat Boy S and my rear brake went out with only 900 miles on it. $1200 later (luckily under warranty) but also lost 3 weeks of riding time to get it fixed since several of the parts were on back order. The rear brake ceased up, the rotor turned blue from how hot it got and wiring even melted due to heat. When I asked the HD techs and service manager, they said they’ve never seen anything like it?!?!
    Harley better look into this thoroughly!

  7. woody July 18, 2016 at 11:35 am

    Great information – thanks guys – Woody
    – ride hard, ride fast, do it on one wheel, be safe!

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