Answers to 8 Common Questions About Becoming a Motorcycle Mechanic
Are you excited about the idea of getting paid to troubleshoot, repair, and maintain the systems that keep these fast machines performing at their best? Here are answers to eight of the most frequently asked questions about pursuing a career as a motorcycle mechanic:
- What does a motorcycle mechanic do?
- What qualifications are required?
- How can I get started in this trade?
- What will a training program teach me?
- How much does training cost?
- How much do motorcycle mechanics earn?
- What's the job outlook for this trade?
- What are some of the perks of this job?
1. What Does a Motorcycle Mechanic Do?
Also known as a motorcycle technician or motorcycle service technician, a motorcycle mechanic ensures that the bikes he or she services are in safe and efficient working order. These technicians can work with a wide array of bike types, from customized choppers and touring editions to high-powered race bikes and off-road dirt bikes.
Technicians can find work with motorcycle repair shops, dealerships, manufacturers, racing teams, and salvage yards. Depending on where they work and how much expertise they have, their daily tasks might include:
- Conducting tests on ignition timing, generator output, and engine performance
- Diagnosing electrical or mechanical issues
- Inspecting and testing malfunctioning components
- Discussing diagnosed problems, required parts and labor, and estimated costs with customers
- Repairing or replacing broken parts
- 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
- Welding any breaks or tears in motorcycle frames
- Fitting custom accessories to new motorcycles
- Completing paperwork for warranty or insurance repairs
2. What Qualifications Are Required?
In most states, strictly speaking, you don't need formal qualifications to be a mechanic who works on motorcycles. But it's always best to check with the state you plan to work in to make sure. Some states do impose requirements, and employers often encourage mechanics to undergo formal education 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.
Technicians can also obtain 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. While auto mechanics can get National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification and outdoor power equipment technicians can get Equipment & Engine Training Council (EETC) certification, motorcycle mechanics generally become certified by individual manufacturers.
So you become a certified motorcycle mechanic by completing a special motorcycle repair training workshop through major brands like Harley-Davidson, BMW, Honda, Yamaha, and Suzuki. Some employers even 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 real passion for motorcycles
- Excellent problem-solving abilities
- Good hand-eye coordination
- Basic math skills
- A good understanding of basic electronics
- An eye for detail
- Physical stamina
- A strong safety mindset
Welding is another 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.
3. How Can I Get Started in This Trade?
It's wise to ask staff members at reputable shops and respected dealerships in your area for their advice on training options and other ways of getting into this trade. You may want to offer to buy them lunch if they will agree to answer your questions.
Commonly, you become a repair technician by attending a school that offers a diploma, certificate, or associate degree in motorcycle service technology. Such programs are offered by trade schools and vocational colleges across the country. Online courses are also available.
Motorcycle mechanic school is typically one year or less if you pursue a diploma or certificate. It takes about two years to become a mechanic through an associate degree program.
Another way to begin involves the apprenticeship route. In this scenario, you get paid as you learn the trade. Some employers will also pay for some of the formal schooling components required to help you learn the basics or to gain specific manufacturer certifications.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- 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 training programs.
- When choosing a program, consider whether you will have the chance 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 just motorcycles can lead to additional opportunities during the off-season.
- Arguably, the best motorcycle mechanic school is one that gives you 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.
- Some programs offer you the chance to specialize in working with motorcycles from certain manufacturers. For instance, Harley-Davidson University is a brand-specific training facility that sets standards for Harley-certified technicians, and some vocational programs are aligned with those standards. So if you want to focus on learning how to become a Harley mechanic or a mechanic for another manufacturer, research programs carefully.
As you might expect, related occupations like diesel mechanic and marine mechanic have similar training paths. Typically, you become a diesel mechanic by completing a post-secondary training program or an apprenticeship; ASE certification is also available and can make you more attractive to potential employers. Likewise, you become a marine mechanic by completing a relevant program at a vocational school and/or undergoing an apprenticeship. Marine mechanics can also pursue certification from the American Boat & Yacht Council to enhance their employment prospects.
4. What Will a Training Program Teach Me?
It's important to establish a foundation of knowledge related to the technical concepts and processes involved in motorcycle repair. That's why programs generally offer a blend of classroom lessons and hands-on training. They're designed to help you learn the underlying principles of motorcycle repair and develop the practical abilities to perform the work.
Programs typically cover subjects like:
- Engine and transmission fundamentals
- Electrical systems
- Ignition, fuel, and exhaust systems
- Suspensions and brakes
- Diagnostic procedures
- Repair and maintenance methods
- Basic welding techniques
- Proper handling of hazardous materials
- Workplace professionalism and safety
Many programs are developed and led by instructors with years of experience in the industry. Some even incorporate placements at repair shops that give students valuable motorcycle mechanic work experience.
Your final grade will reflect your performance on both the written work in the classroom and the hands-on work in the shop. Some programs also give marks for regular attendance and professional demeanor.
5. How Much Does Training Cost?
Program costs vary depending on the type of school, the location, the quality of school facilities, and the type of credential awarded. Most programs grant a diploma or certificate, but some grant an associate degree.
Therefore, depending on the program you choose, mechanic school costs 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
Keep in mind that financial aid is usually available for those who qualify.
6. How Much Do Motorcycle Mechanics Earn?
A motorcycle mechanic makes $17.69 per hour as a median wage. When starting out in the field, it's common to earn around $11 per hour. (By comparison, entry-level auto techs make about the same amount, while newbie diesel mechanics make $15 per hour.) However, the highest-earning motorcycle mechanics can make $28 or more per hour.1
Assuming he or she works full-time, a motorcycle mechanic makes $36,790 a year as a median salary.1
Here are some other important points about pay:
- Most motorcycle mechanics are not paid a regular hourly wage or salary. Instead, they receive a flat rate or commission for each piece of work they perform. So, if you're efficient and good at your job, you could potentially up your take-home pay.
- Some employers, especially larger businesses, provide valuable benefits like health insurance and a retirement plan.
- In some cases, specialized technicians like Harley-Davidson mechanics make a bit more than mechanics who have more generalized training. However, that doesn't always hold true.
7. What's the Job Outlook for This Trade?
Motorcycle mechanics are in demand. In fact, employment in this field is projected to increase by 9 percent between 2018 and 2028. About 1,900 jobs are expected to become available each year over that decade.2 Technicians who get formal training will likely have the best job prospects.
Plus, 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
8. What Are Some of the Perks of This Job?
Motorcycle mechanic is a good career choice for a variety of reasons. Here are some of the most common benefits of working in this trade:
- Interesting work—Repairing motorcycles involves using your brain as well as your hands to solve complex problems. It can be a rewarding experience that leads to personal satisfaction.
- 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 could end up running your own repair shop and greatly increasing your income potential and independence.
- Skills that transfer—Motorcycle repair 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.
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1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on October 10, 2019.
2 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Employment Projections, website last visited on October 10, 2019.