® A Word About Mechanics

Yeah, that's me, in 1984, giving a hands-on demo at a seminar I did for the Honda V4 Sport Touring Association.

I have been a mechanic in the powersports industry for over 45 years now. I'm really not that great a mechanic, I know it. And the fact that I have stuck with it so long probably makes me pretty dumb, seeing as I have not bettered myself in all that time. But I am blessed by God, that I will say. I could not be where I am now having planned it, having done it on my own. I am grateful. Think what you may, that is the way of it. But being a mechanic is a lowly position in the eyes of many. I am active online and it seems as if there prevails a very poor image indeed of the motorcycle mechanic. Oddly, since some forums have bike mechanics among their members. Nonetheless, it is considered a vocation on par with collecting the trash.

I disagree with a lot that is found on forums, and I take particular exception to this sentiment. I am coming to see that the two are related, this general disagreement with the Internet majority and the irritation at being thought of as inferior. I have worked with guys that should have been scientists, engineers, professors at least. Some did go on to "professional" careers. Most of them were far better diagnosticians than I, much better. I was in awe of them, and still am. I once had a tech working for me who could remove, disassable, rebuild, true and reinstall in the crankcases a KTM crankshaft in less than 30 minutes! I worked alongside another fellow who could crouch behind a BMW boxer twin and tell which carburetor needed its idle raised, and another guy who the service manager would call away from his work for a minute to just listen to a Gold Wing and the service manager would then write up the service ticket from the result. I remember a fella in the stall next to mine in my second year as a mechanic whose voice I hardly knew because he rarely said a word, but I also remember he exuded physician-like confidence, many of his tools were custom-made, and more importantly, he never had a comeback. Not once in the time I knew him. And then there was Willy, a quirky fellow to whom sportbike riders flocked just to have him ride their bikes and tell them what they needed to do to them. These few real-life examples don't even begin to tell the story, because almost all of the guys I worked with were stars, people whom, were they in any other field, would have been recognized and financially rewarded for their efforts. But because of the grime under their fingernails, their brilliance was overlooked. Because their speech wasn't university-toned, they were looked down upon. However, there is a quality about career techs, a uniquely awesome and brilliant trait, that is hard to put into words. But let me try.

This is a classified advertisement American Honda ran in Cycle News (obviously when it was still a paper publication) sometime in the 80s. Note that Honda in the ad equates completing their technical training to achieving a Bachelor's degree.

The closest I can come to it is they are the world's ultimate pragmatists. Having through day-to-day successes and failures in one of the most severe venues, the commission pay playing field, earned a competency that is rare as isotopes and engineered to result in a kind of life or death distillation of the essense of truth. The pruning aside of all that is extraneous. They know what works. Despite what the manual might say. Despite that factions from many quarters might object, they have, through the intense fires of necessity, learned the truth. And it is this truth, that makes others not like them. Truth in its barest, purest form, is, sadly, always offensive and frequently at odds with the majority, simply because it is the truth, and it is naked and free and owing nothing to anyone, an extremely stark and cold and uncompromising thing in an increasingly political (-ly correct) world. It has been the mechanics and technicians of the world who have come up with all the most meaningful technical discoveries, not their managers who took the credit in most cases. As in many fields, in a playing out in real life the Dilbert-esque truth of it, the competency of the worker bee is seldom acknowledged.

Folks have often branded bike mechanics as unsociable, and largely we are. But more than that, and what is there that is mistaken for unsocialability in many cases, is that we live in a world of otherworldy truth, because our lives depend on it, and thus have developed an impatience with subterfuge, and even with the conventional niceties that are so necessary for smooth human interaction. I have worked hard to overcome this in my life. But this truth, this hard-won competency is the stock in trade of the mechanic. It is his or her life. Their commodity.

In my 45+ years I have observed that technicians have changed, the demographic is shifting. Today's young people don't want to live out of their cars, and who can blame them? No one has to do that today, but many did back in the day. When fast food today pays $12 per hour, why put up with the hard work and even harder working conditions for just a few bucks more? So while it is wrong to say that the intelligence and skill level of the average motorcycle mechanic today is less than it once was, it is nonetheless true that the professionals, the astute career guys, are getting harder to find. And this is too bad, it really is. On many fronts, only one of which is that folks today assume motorcycle mechanics are necessarily all "bottom feeders.". They aren't. They never will be in my book.

Suggested reading:
The superstar myth
Service in the Service Dept.?
A story about motivation
The face of the store
More about mechanics
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© 1996-2018 Mike Nixon