Motorcycle Mechanic Job and Training Information
Motorcycle mechanics are also sometimes called motorcycle technicians or motorcycle service technicians. They are all the same thing, although some professionals in the field do prefer to be called motorcycle technicians (especially if they work for a manufacturer or national racing team).
These highly skilled professionals perform the specialized, challenging work of ensuring that motorcycles are in safe and efficient working order. From customized choppers and touring editions to high-powered race bikes and off-road dirt bikes, they can work with an array of technologies, such as classic-style engines, finely-tuned computers, and more.
Plus, many work on more than just bikes. (They often have the skills to work on ATVs, snowmobiles, and other motorized vehicles powered by small engines.)
Depending on where they work and the level of their expertise, they perform duties such as:
Inspecting, Diagnosing, and Testing:
- Visually inspecting motorcycles
- Listening to engines for signs of problems
- Conducting tests on generator output, ignition timing, and engine performance
- Test-driving motorcycles to help pinpoint the source of any problems
- Diagnosing mechanical or electrical problems
- Inspecting and testing any malfunctioning parts
- Discussing diagnosed problems, necessary parts and labor, and estimated costs with clients
Maintaining, Customizing, and Repairing:
- Repairing broken parts
- Replacing parts that can't be fixed
- Adjusting or repairing motorcycle subassemblies (such as transmissions, drive chains, forks, and brakes)
- Dismantling engines or subassemblies
- Reviewing the technical manuals of motorcycle manufacturers
- Performing routine maintenance (e.g., replacing spark plugs, changing oil, lubricating parts, etc.)
- Scraping carbon build-up off of pistons, valves, cylinders, and other parts
- Performing complete engine overhauls
- Hammering out bends or dents in motorcycle frames
- Welding any breaks or tears in motorcycle frames
- Fitting custom accessories to new motorcycles
- Assembling, inspecting, and test-riding new motorcycles
Ensuring Shop Safety and Organization:
- Completing any necessary paperwork for warranty or insurance repairs
- Properly disposing of hazardous substances
- Keeping good records of all work performed and parts used
- Ordering spare parts
To complete these tasks, technicians must use a large variety of tools, including both hand and power tools, as well as sophisticated computerized diagnostic and tuning equipment.
Technicians can find work with a variety of different types of employers, including:
- Motorcycle dealerships
- Motorcycle repair shops
- Motorcycle racing teams
- Motorcycle manufacturers
- Automotive salvage yards
After plenty of experience, some also choose to open their own repair shops.
According to national estimates from 2012, the median hourly wage was $15.93, which translates to $33,140 annually. *
Though when starting out in the field it's not uncommon to earn approximately $10 to $11 per hour, added experience and skills can result in the chance to earn $50,000 or more per year.
Here are some other important things to keep in mind about pay:
- Most are not paid a regular hourly wage or salary. Rather, they get paid a flat rate or commission for each client repair or piece of work they perform. So, if you're efficient and good at your job, you could have the potential to up your take-home pay.
- Some employers, especially larger business provide valuable benefits packages.
- There can be a variance between a Harley-Davidson mechanic salary and that of a motorcycle technician who has more generalized training. However, one is not necessarily better than the other.
Being a motorcycle mechanic is challenging, and plenty of people in the field have turned their love of motorcycles into lasting careers. Additionally, here are some of the most common benefits of working in the field:
- Interesting work—Repairing motorcycles involves using your brain as well as your hands to solve complex problems. It can be a rewarding experience that produces personal satisfaction and a full sense of being engaged, and useful.
- A sense of pride—The feeling of independence that comes from working with a bike one-on-one can make the job a very pleasing experience.
- Potential for self-employment—With experience, you can have the option of running your own repair shop and greatly increasing your income potential and independence.
- Skills that transfer—It can be a good entry point into other mechanical trades. With additional training, many of the skills can be transferred into trades such as auto mechanics, diesel mechanics, or heavy vehicle repair.
- Personal fulfillment—Those who work in motorcycle repair are often passionate about the field. By choosing to enter this profession, you could be working side-by-side with others who are equally excited about motorcycles.
- Environmentally-friendly transportation—While not often highlighted as a perk, motorcycles are a form of "green" transportation, and working in this field can allow you to contribute to a cleaner environment.
The demand is expected to remain high for the foreseeable future. In fact, employment is projected to increase by 6 percent between 2012 and 2022. **
Most jobs in this field are likely to be found in the motorcycle dealer industry. And those who get formal training will probably have the best job prospects.
Those with the right skills, experience, connections, and attitude can advance or transfer into other positions within the industry, such as:
- Master service technician
- Service writer
- Service manager
- Shop foreman
- Shop owner
- Racing team technician
- Sales representative
- Manufacturer representative
In most states, a motorcycle mechanic doesn't technically need any formal qualifications to start training or performing work. But it is always best to check with the state you plan to work in to make sure. Some states do impose requirements, and formal education is usually encouraged by employers as a way to learn the basics.
For instance, a few states, such as Michigan and Hawaii, require motorcycle mechanics to obtain special state licensing or certification before they can perform work for the public. Getting state certification usually involves paying a fee and passing a written exam.
Beyond any state requirements, technicians can obtain individual manufacturer certifications to perform warranty or insurance work on specific makes and models. But it's important to know that there is no professional sanctioning body that certifies all motorcycle technicians. Rather, individual manufacturers award certifications themselves via special classes and workshops (e.g., Harley-Davidson awards Harley certifications and Honda awards Honda certifications). Some employers may also pay to send their mechanics to such workshops.
Aside from training qualifications, a motorcycle mechanic usually must have at least a high school diploma to get started, as well as a license for driving motorcycles. Successful technicians also tend to possess the following:
- A genuine passion for motorcycles
- Exceptional problem-solving abilities
- Strong hand-eye coordination
- Basic math skills
- A knowledge of basic electronics
- An eye for detail
- Physical stamina
- A strong safety mindset
Welding is also a great skill to have. A lot of what you can learn in welding school could actually enhance your qualifications as a motorcycle mechanic. And if you ever intend to open your own repair shop, training related to business can be very helpful as well.
Getting Into the Field
Today, the most common way to get started in this field is to attend a school that offers a diploma, certificate, or associate's degree in motorcycle service technology. Most programs take one year or less to complete, except for associate's degree programs, which take two years.
Another way to begin involves the apprenticeship route. In this scenario, you get paid as you learn the trade. And some employers will also pay for some formal schooling components required to help you learn the basics or to gain specific manufacturer certifications.
Home study courses, usually offered online, are another way to learn the theory and basic fundamentals.
Additionally, it's a smart idea to ask those who work at respected dealerships as well as reputable shop owners in your area for their advice on schooling options and other ways of getting started in the trade. Sometimes all it takes to get people talking is offering to buy them lunch in exchange for answering your questions.
Here are some other important things to consider:
On the Formal Training Path:
- Getting formal training at a reputable school can ensure that you learn how to do things the right way.
- A few schools have selective admission policies, which means that you may need to be currently employed as an apprentice before you can be admitted to certain motorcycle programs.
- When choosing a program, it's a good idea to consider whether you will have the opportunity to learn how to work on other small-engine vehicles such as snowmobiles, ATVs, and jet skis. Depending on the region you live in, having the skills to work on more than motorcycles can provide additional opportunities during the off-season.
- Depending on the school you attend, you might have the opportunity to meet important industry contacts such as manufacturer representatives. Such contacts can make all the difference in your career development since, everything else being equal, success in the motorcycle industry is frequently about who you know.
- You might want to focus on learning how to become a Harley mechanic or how to become a mechanic for another particular manufacturer. But, generally the both options will take the same amount of time to complete.
On the Apprenticeship Track:
- Training as an apprentice can also be an excellent way to learn the trade, but you have to make sure that your employer is truly committed to your development and isn't simply teaching you shortcuts or bad habits.
- Identifying the repair shops and dealerships that have excellent reputations is a step that shouldn't be ignored.
- You can sometimes get extra practice at developing your skills by checking out a motorcycle salvage yard and offering to dismantle bikes for them.
- Big-name dealerships can be a good place to work and make important industry contacts since manufacturer representatives sometimes visit. Staying visible with such representatives is especially important if you dream of landing a job with a popular manufacturer or national motorcycle racing team.
Types of Certification
Technicians can become certified to work on (or even specialize in) the bikes of individual manufacturers such as:
Programs range in cost depending on the type of school, the location, quality of school facilities, and the type of credential awarded. Most programs grant a diploma or certificate, but it is also sometimes possible to find one that grants an associate's degree.
Therefore, depending on the program you choose, tuition and fees could cost anywhere from about $3,000 to $25,000 or more. Within that cost, you may be provided with:
- Safety footwear
- Welding gloves and beanie
- Safety goggles
- Shop coveralls or smocks
- Various parts and other supplies as needed for different projects
Additionally, financial aid is usually available for those who qualify.
Most programs last about one year and are designed to help you learn about subjects such as:
Shop Operations and Theory:
- Hand and shop tools
- Workplace professionalism
- Hazardous materials
- Workplace safety
Motorcycle Components and Systems:
- Two- and four-stroke engine fundamentals
- Electrical systems
- Fuel systems
- Suspension systems
- Brake systems
- Chassis systems
- Exhaust systems
- Ignition systems
- Transmission and clutches
- Dirt bikes, mopeds, scooters, and ATVs
- Diagnostic methods
- Maintenance and repair methods
- Make and model identification
- Basic welding
Additionally, some programs incorporate an apprenticeship at an experienced repair shop, which can provide valuable experience in a shop setting, and possibly opening the door to a potential job opportunity after graduation.
Start Right Now
Check out the list of schools above to get a head start on finding the ones that offer programs in your area. With any luck, you could soon be turning your passion for motorcycles into a lasting career!
* The Occupational Information Network (O*NET), website last accessed on March 10, 2014.
** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, website last accessed on March 10, 2014.