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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