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ST1100 Problems - A Buyers' Guide

ST1100 problems are fortunately rare, as the Pan is well-known for its reliability. When inspecting a potential ST1100 to determine its suitability, be prepared by taking a Philips screwdriver, a pair of overalls, and perhaps an old piece of carpet to lie on; you're going to be getting up close and personal with the underneath!

Also, why not arm yourself with more detailed information, including an easy-to-use checklist? The Used Motorcycle Buyers' Guide is a free e-book which is available in the ST-1100 Shop

  • Some early models manufactured from 1991 to 1993 were recalled due to a defective bank angle sensor, but since then there seem to have been no major ST1100 problems.
  • Problems occur with the starter relay - this is a fairly common failure on Japanese bikes and is not specific to the ST1100.
  • The exhaust is prone to rust - particularly the collector box underneath and the points at which the silencers attach to the collector box. If the bike you are considering buying has a stainless steel exhaust, so much the better - although this may be reflected in a higher price.
  • Swingarm rust. Especially prevalent in the UK due to the winter gritting of the roads with salt. This is not an easy thing to repair on your own although it can be done. The difficulty you'll have here is seeing whether the swingarm is rusty. A proper inspection requires the rear wheel to be removed - although it's doubtful whether the seller will countenance this. Failing that, have a look at the centre stand. Because it's located close to both the collector box and rear swingarm, it's subjected to the same degree of exposure, so its condition should be a fairly good indicator. (Sellers - paint your centre stands now!)
  • Brake pistons. As these are in an exposed position, they are subject to seizure. Proper inspection of these require the removal of the caliper from the bike; again it's doubtful that the seller will allow this. But it should be noticeable on the test ride (through vibration, steering wobble or the feeling that the bike is "falling off the tyre"). A cursory inspection of the rear brake pistons can be done by rotating the rear wheel by hand whilst checking the operation of the rear brake pedal.
  • Steering head bearings. Again, these are not just ST1100 problems. With the bike on its centre stand, have the seller sit on the passenger seat so that the front wheel is off the ground. Grasp the front forks at the bottom and try pulling them towards you; there should be no obvious movement. Turn the handlebars from side to side, seeing if you can feel any "notchiness".
  • Whilst the seller is sitting on the passenger seat, spin the front wheel to check the condition of the front wheel bearings. Try out the front brake at the same time - this should give you an idea of whether the brake pistons are seized or not.

Other things to check:

  • Mileage. A high odometer reading is not necessarily a bad thing; as long as the bike has been properly maintained. Bear in mind that finding a low-mileage ST1100 is becoming increasingly difficult. However, make sure the mileage is genuine; check any service records or available documents.
  • Service history. This may not take the form of a stamped logbook; the seller may well have done all his servicing himself. This is not a reason to walk away - there are "cowboy" motorcycle dealerships out there, just as there are meticulous owners.
  • Crash damage. Now using the Philips screwdriver you've brought (you did remember to bring it, didn't you?), remove the crash bar covers on each side. These plastic covers are only held on by one screw - and may have been replaced after an accident. What you're looking for is any signs of damage to the steel crash bars themselves. This need not necessarily deter you from the purchase, but could serve as an indication that further hidden damage may exist. (My right-hand crash bar is scratched and slightly bent from the time I ran over a manhole cover, on a bend, in the rain. It was at low speed, and the crash bar did its job, protecting the rest of the bike).
  • Check the alignment of the fairing panels. Gaps could indicate a bent cowling stay - further indication of crash damage.
  • Documentation. Check that the serial numbers of frame and engine match those on the logbook. The frame serial number is stamped into the right-hand side of the steering head. The engine number can be found at the bottom of the crankcase behind the oil sump.
  • Check the condition of the rear shock absorber; it is in an exposed position and can be prone to corrosion. Fortunately it's fairly easy to replace.
  • On ABS models, check that the ABS electronics are working correctly. When the ignition is switched on, the ABS indicator light should come on. When starting to ride, the light should go out. If it remains on, or blinks, there is a fault with the ABS system.
  • Similarly, if fitted with TCS, when the ignition is switched on, the TCS indicator light comes on briefly. If it blinks, there is a problem with the traction control system.

Finally, the test ride. Take it easy, but go through the gears ensuring they work. Check front and rear brakes, and see if there is any tendency for wobble or weave (this could be an indication of worn steering head bearings, sticking brake pistons, or even an unbalanced front tyre). If the bike has ABS, check if the rear modulator is functioning correctly by pressing hard on the rear brake, trying to lock the rear wheel. If you can lock the rear wheel, it is likely that the modulator will need to be replaced - and they are expensive.

What? The seller won't let you take a test ride? Walk away.

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