Phil's Blog

So, you want to be a Harley mechanic?

by on Oct.26, 2017, under Shop/Bike

The following was written by yours truly, in, on April 14, 2006…the day after I stopped being a professional mechanic. I look it up and share it with people every once in a while, so it should just get posted here, since I haven’t posted anything in over 6 years, since I graduated. The original discussion thread can still be found here.

[The following is non-fictional. No names are mentionned to protect
the guilty. Any resemblance to actual people is definitely

So, you want to be a Harley mechanic (or “technician”, as some
of us edumacated folk like to say)?

You probably think you’ll get to work on some cool bikes.
People will think you have a cool job. Some people will look up to
you as someone who knows more than they do. You’ll see people’s
reaction to the great work you do. You’ll help people out with their
bike troubles, and save their vacations. You’ll get to ride the
latest, coolest new products.

All the above are true. BUT, there are lots of caveats, too.

You’ll have to ride some really nasty POS bikes. Some
downright unsafe ones too. Raine or shine. Freezing your ass off
sometimes. On the exact same loops of traffic. Over and over. And,
every time, you have to get all your gear on, and back off afterwards.
While someone checks your efficiency.

You’ll have to fix some really messed up stuff, caused by the
customers. Those who are qualified to work on their bikes usually
don’t need to bring them to shops, except for tire changes and major
work. Now you have to explain why fixing a non-operational turn
signal took several hours, since you had to replace miles of crimped
together, electrical tape, silly-puttied together wiring.

You will deal with an incredibly large proportion of
small-penis syndrome wannabe tough-guy idiots. This includes
customers, fellow employees, and management. Note: This is not to
say that it is the majority, but a larger percentage than in the rest
of your life.

You *will* be at the very bottom of the totem pole. Salesmen
will want you to do the impossible, and won’t give a shit if it can be
done. Parts department will want you to fix shit without the proper
parts, either because they don’t have them, or they fucked up and
ordered the wrong shit.

You will find out that there are very, *very* few “bolt-on”
items. Surprisingly, *most* of the H-D branded stuff fits fairly
well, and *most* of the aftermarket accessories are pure, total
garbage. This does not include high-performance stuff. You’d be very
hard pressed to find a bad product from S&S, Headquarters, Zippers,
ets…But the accessories suck. For example, White Brothers has been
making the Easy Clutch for years. I’ve put in hundreds, if not
thousands of these. You’d think they’d have figured out by now that
you have to grind down 99% of these to make them fit with a stock
cable, or the little hook won’t fit on the coupler.

You’ll find that sales people lie (shocking, I bet). And
it’ll be up to you to try and make what they claimed would work
*actually* work. This is true of parts departments too. Some of it
is due to cluelessness, lots of it is due to greed and a desire to
“make the sale”. You’ll get no recognition for fixing their mess. A
good parts person or salesperson is worth his weight in gold. There
are very few good parts people or salespeople.

You’ll work next to people who are clueless and/or clearly
don’t give a rat’s ass about the quality of their work. You’ll see
stuff that makes you cringe, and stuff you’d never, ever, want to do
on your bike. They’ll take shortcuts. After all, how is a customer
going to know if the clutch and throttle cables got lubed proplerly
during a service? Smart customers will figure it out and start
requesting you or other wrenches like you who actually care and treat
bikes they work on like their own (or better). Once again, expect no
recognition from this.

You’ll find out that you are a disposable ressource in the
eyes of management. People who claim you are “family” will turn
around and screw you in a second if they don’t need you anymore. I
have worked for many kinds of people from mobsters to MENSA members.
Ironically, the mobsters were the only ones who made a real effort to
meet their promises, and were honest when they could not, and
explained why.

You will work next to some people who would have to multiply
their IQ by a factor of 2 to be able to reliably tie their shoes
properly every morning. If you’re as lucky as I was, you’ll also get
to work next to some like-minded people, whom you can count on, who
will indeed treat you like family, help you through rough times, and
do anything short of giving you the shirts off their backs, and know
that you would do the same. Those people are also worth their weight
in gold, and also very rare.

You’ll have no job security. Your schedule may be required to
change often. You may be told many times that “If you don’t like it,
the fucking door is that way.”

You’ll have to buy your own tools. Lots of them. Including
some specialty tools to make your life easier. If you decide to buy
*good* tools, you will have more invested in tools than many people
have in their primary vehicle. I’m afraid to add it all up, but I’m
sure I probably have at least $20k invested.

You will face an incredible amount of bigotry and intolerance
for anything different than what some people’s limited life experience
has opened their tiny minds to. You can try to change that. You’ll
probably fail in most cases.

You will work with some people who have *no* business anywhere
near anything customer-service oriented. They will still be there,
either through an unwillingness to deal with them, the fact that some
money is still coming in, or pure nepotism. Or a combination of the
above. It will be made very clear that “the bottom line” is all that
matters. The quality of the work is secondary. The work ethic or
integrity is secondary.

If, like me, you take pride in your work, and you take your
work very, very (i.e. way too) seriously, the above will drive you

All the above are based on the last 7 years of my life, which
have been spent working in the motorcycle industry, with the last six
as a Harley technician. I have learned a lot. I have made some very
good friends. I have done pretty much anything on a Harley that you
would find in a dealership, and more. From a simple tire change to
building strokers, machining cases and heads, using a lathe, milling
machine, boring bar, Sunnen hone, etc…

But, due to many, many factors (including all the ones listed
above), I’ve decided that it’s time to end this particular chapter in
my life. As of yesterday (or today, technically, since this is a
statuatory holiday), I am no longer a professional wrench (purely by
my choice).

My tools are at home. I’ll eventually get a lift and
compressor in my shop here, and I can enjoy working on my own stuff
again. If I decide to do a few small projects here and there, I’ll
pick the customers, the quotes, the hourly rate, and how long I
decide it’ll take until it’s done.

In the mean time, I have a few things lined up. Like another
job in something totally unrelated and stress-free, and the
possibility of going back to school and pursuing a degree (I’m
thinking a Physics degree, so I can get back to my former geekdom).

It’s been an interesting ride. Would I do it again? Who
knows. And why even worry about it. I did it, I learned, and now
it’s time to move on. Hopefully it’ll give me a bit more time to
spend in here, nitpicking at some of the tech posts .

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Spring 2011 Semester in review

by on Apr.27, 2011, under SFU

It’s finally here:  My last semester!  Due to reasons I don’t want to get into, I took on a somewhat ridiculous workload the last few semesters, and specially this semester.  Here we go:

CMPT 310

Artificial Intelligence

This was actually a very interesting course. It is not often taught by a sessional, but it was this time.  A PhD candidate named Hassan Khosravi was teaching it, and he was by far the best sessional I’ve ever had, and better than many profs as well.

The assignments were not particularly difficult for a 3rd year class (despite what some whiners on ratemyprofessor may have to say), nor was the material (but having taken 405 already and taking 413 at the same time certainly left lots of crossover for me.  I guess it would be more challenging if someone was taking this before 307 and any stats courses.  The department really should work on fixing prerequisites).  My only regret?  We didn’t get to cover neural networks.  The savior?  You can get extra credit in this course by doing a presentation.  Whereas most people opted to just sum up a chapter we had already seen, some of us presented new material.  My friend Dave presented something on Watson (the Jeopardy robot), I did a presentation on neural networks (which forced me to research and learn about them), and my friend Rhiannon did a presentation on a cool lyric-generating project.

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Take Pride in your Work (AKA: The state of some CS TAs at SFU)

by on Mar.11, 2011, under SFU

This started out as a Facebook note, but it has turned into quite the saga.  All emails are posted in their entirety and verbatim, except for obfuscating details that could help identify the guilty parties.

Some interesting parts that aren’t specifically mentioned but which will help clarify:  This was a group project, but I did it by myself.  The project included coding which had to be submitted both electronically and on hardcopy, and a bunch of other material that was only hardcopy.

[Tuesday, March 8th, 2011]

Well, it took 4 years, but I finally found one of the most useless TAs in existence. I got back a 22 page report I submitted (with code) with only two things on it. A checkmark on the penultimate page, and an “88” (grade).

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Fall 2010 Semester in Review

by on Jan.02, 2011, under SFU

For once, I’m actually doing this pretty much at the expected time.  Will wonders ever cease?  On with the usual onslaught…

CMPT 454

Might as well get this one out of the way first.  Don’t take this course.  Was the teacher good?  Yes, he was quite competent.  He knew his material, explained it well, and went through tons of examples.  So why not take this course?  Because it is basically useless and mind-numbingly boring.

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Last semester in review

by on Nov.27, 2010, under SFU

I probably should get around to doing this.  Without further ado:

CMPT 300

This one has lots of material.  I really like the person who was teaching it as a person…not necessarily as a teacher.  The assignments were long and tedious (which is to be expected), but these particular assignments were particularly unclear (a trademark of that teacher, from my observations.), requiring extra office time to figure it out properly.

That being said, I did learn a lot.  Mainly, like Greg likes to say:  ‘The lesson of 300 is that concurrency is hard and you’re probably not smart enough to do it correctly’ (or something to that effect).  Indeed.  It’s a mandatory course, so just take it.

CMPT 354

I thought I would learn lots about SQL and how to use it properly.  I was sadly mistaken. This is only due to the fact that the teacher who was teaching it is, by far, the worse teacher I’ve had at SFU yet.  He added ridiculous stuff like OLAP/Multi-dimensional databases, and spent several lectures on something as ridiculous as XML and XPath.  He was clearly a Mickey$oft junkie, unless it came time to actually demonstrate something with their software, at which point he was useless.

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What is Computing Science?

by on Feb.02, 2010, under SFU

[NOTE:  This article was written in the summer of 2009 for inclusion in a Computing Science Student Society newsletter.  It has since been edited and the newsletter has been compiled.  As of right now, it has not, however, yet seen the light of day.  Here is my article, unedited…]

Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you are either a Computing Science student, interested in becoming a Computing Science student, a student in something linked to Computing Science, or associated peripherally with Computing Science somehow. Either that, or you needed some reading material for the next few minutes. Regardless, congratulations on making it this far.

However, it is amazing how many Computing Science students, specially upon entering the faculty, don’t really know what Computing Science actually is. I’d venture a guess that most people associate computer programming with Computing Science, but that is really not what Computing Science is. As a matter of fact, the computer is just a tool sometimes (not even close to always) used in the study of Computing Science.

Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.”

— Edsger Wybe Dijkstra

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Dear irresponsible pet owner: You suck.

by on Jan.10, 2010, under Critters

Roxy and I had a rather interesting morning.  Rather than type it out again, here are the facts as reported to Animal Control after their visit:

Letter to Animal Control Officer (all identifying details have been removed.  Obviously, these were in the original letter!

Closeup of Roxy’s wound (I should have spread it out so we could more clearly see how deep it was)

Roxy’s wound (so you can see the location)

Loose dog after I went knocking on doors 1

Loose dog after I went knocking on doors 2

Loose dog after I went knocking on doors 3

Loose dog after I went knocking on doors 4

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Last…er…two semesters ago recap.

by on Jan.10, 2010, under SFU

Yes, it’s been waaayyy too long, so I’m now buckling down and writing my recap of last two semesters ago.  As you may or may not recall, I dubbed last summer my Summer of Uselessness due to the courses I was taking.  Here’s the wrapup:

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The Bike

by on Jul.12, 2009, under Shop/Bike

For those who wanted pictures (click on any to enlarge).

Right Side
The right side. The very long throttle cable will be replaced as soon as the new one comes in, creating nicer and cleaner routing and eliminating the possibility for kinking in the triple-trees.

Left Side
The left side. Sorry for the poor lighting, but I was too lazy to turn the bike around. Imagine an even blacker version of the right side.


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I’ve been busy…

by on Jun.14, 2009, under Shop/Bike

As some of you know, I used to be a Harley-Davidson mechanic.  Over 3 years ago now, I finally quit and basically left the business altogether.

Since then, my own bike sat unattended in my garage, as I was basically burnt out on the whole wrenching thing.  Lately, I decided it was time to get back to it, on my own terms.  I decided to at least set up a small home shop for myself.  I bought a compressor and bike lift, and started setting up my other stuff.  Here’s where I’m at right now (click on any image to enlarge):

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