by Ken Boersma
Well, there I was. I finally had my Harley. And, you know, it was every bit as much fun as I thought it was going to be. And, I thought, it was so much fun, why not make a career out of the motorcycle industry? And one day, I saw a television ad on the Speed Channel for MMI, the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute. A whole school devoted to motorcycles! I got the information, talked to one of the advisors at the school, and soon was on my way to Phoenix to begin learning how to work on Harleys!
Admittedly, I was not your typical student. I was a good bit older, and I had almost no mechanical background. I had never been the guy tinkering with old cars in my back yard like many of my fellow students. But I found out it didn’t matter. At MMI, they take you through the process of becoming a mechanic step by step, and I soon found that I could become a pretty good mechanic if I worked hard at the classes. And, even better, you are taught by experts in the field, men who have designed, built or raced bikes and really know and have experienced what you are there to learn.
The classes start with 6 weeks of theory. It doesn’t matter which brand of motorcycle you intend to concentrate on (MMI has specialties in all of the major brands) because the theory is all the same. You learn from the very beginning…the history of the motorcycle; how engines work; the theory behind suspensions; electrical systems; and many other subjects.
After Theory, the hands on classes begin. You start with non-working engines and transmissions, learning how to take them apart and re-assemble them properly, learning how to use measuring tools like calipers and micrometers, learning how to read spec sheets and determine if the parts meet spec. There are classes where you learn to change tires with both tire irons and machines, properly change break fluid and work on forks. And an electrical class, where you learn to diagnose starting, charging, and ignition systems, how to read and trace wiring diagrams. There is machine shop, where you learn to hone cylinders, balance crankshafts, and grind valves.
Then you get to put all together in a final review and performance evaluation, where you are tested both on paper and in the shop on everything you have learned so far. And then the first half of school is over! Once you have passed this hurdle, you begin your specialized classes. For me, it was on to Harley school!
From here on in, you’re treated like a real mechanic, although a beginning one. You begin to clock in and out of assigned tasks; everything from changing fork oil to lacing a wheel to tearing down and rebuilding a transmission. While all of the classes are enjoyable, you also are able to take the performance classes, where you learn what it takes to increase the performance of an engine, and dyno class, where you learn to run the dynamometer, and can measure the performance differences of swapping pipes and other components.
For something a little different, you take classes on Buells and VRods too, with their different takes on the classic Harley traditions. I was at MMI for 14 months, and I have to say I didn’t regret a minute of the time there. The knowledge I gained was amazing, more than I thought there was to learn when I started. The people I met there, both men and women, and students and instructors, were great, and they were all there for the same reason; the love of motorcycles. And for that 14 months, I got to immerse myself in the business and pleasure of motorcycles. It doesn’t get any better than that!