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Harley-Davidson® Dealership Maintenance and Repair: Masters of their Craft

Added October 2, 2020
Service technician working on a motorcycle

Harley-Davidson Service Consultants and Technicians are highly trained professionals. But what can you expect when you take your bike to an Authorized Harley-Davidson® dealer for maintenance or repair?

First and foremost, scheduled maintenance, repairs, upgrades, and customization – our Service Technicians are experts at all of these. Our Service Consultants are there to ensure you get the best possible experience from your visit.

Service Consultants

The process you’ll experience when dropping off your motorcycle for a Harley-Davidson® Authorized Service helps us ensure you get maximum value from each visit and starts with meeting your service consultant. After greeting you, the Service Consultant is likely to:

  • Confirm the reason for the appointment, and confirm your expectations
  • Verify the VIN and vehicle mileage
  • Document the motorcycle’s cosmetic condition

Next, they will inquire about how the motorcycle fits you and how it functions:

  • Do you have any issues with comfort, balance, feeling stretched, or cramped?
  • Are you satisfied with how the bike moves and feels when you sit on it and when riding?
  • Does the ride feel smooth, tight and balanced, both when moving in a straight line and when turning at both low and high speed?
  • Is everything working correctly – lights, horn, turn signals, accessories?

They will ask about your long-term hopes and expectations for style and performance:

  • Looks: Does your bike look like you want it to, or is there anything you would like to add or change?
  • Performance: Do you want more speed and acceleration on the highway or when first setting off?
  • Handling: Do you want the suspension to suit your physical characteristics and riding style better?
  • Comfort: Do you want your bike to sit lower or taller?

Next, they’ll perform a 360-degree visual inspection to identify leaks, wear, damage, or functional issues, and provide a written estimate of the cost and time to complete all the work. Lastly, they will confirm your contact information and your preferences for communication.

After the Service Technician begins working, your Service Consultant may contact you to communicate any other critical service needs and work status. When the bike is ready to collect, they will summarize what was done, take payment, and have you riding off for your next adventure in no time. Next time you are in for a service appointment, look to your Service Consultant to be your link to a top-level Authorized Service experience from start to finish.

Service Technicians

At HDU, the best get even better.

Since 1917, they’ve been coming to Milwaukee. From across the U.S. – and around the globe – they journey to the home of Harley-Davidson. Not to party or pay homage to the world’s greatest motorcycles, but to learn.

They’re the people you trust to keep your Harley-Davidson® motorcycle running its best. And they come to H-D University (HDU) to make sure the service they provide lives up to the legend of the name on their sleeves.

To understand the role of the service technician in your bike’s maintenance or repair, it’s best to start at the beginning of a technician’s journey.

H-D University from the beginning

It started as the Quartermaster School, established to train U.S. military mechanics to service the motorcycles H-D supplied the Army during World War I. The facility was not fancy – a glorified shed, reminiscent of the Motor Company’s first “factory.” But like the mechanics it served, it got the job done.

Today, HDU occupies more than 30,000 square feet on two floors at the Motor Company’s Juneau Avenue headquarters, including five high-tech learning labs and four classrooms. Each year, more than 1,000 technicians (as well as a variety of other dealership personnel) pass through its doorway. 
Their goal: To ultimately become a Harley-Davidson-recognized Master Technician.

“They take great pride in reaching that level, it’s a big accomplishment,” says Manager of Technical Training and Development Gary Pelot. “When a customer sees somebody with the Master patch on their shirt, they know they have the most capable, highest quality technician.”

Harley-Davidson Master Technician requirements

Reaching that level is a rigorous test of skill and knowledge. A minimum of five years of experience at an Authorized Harley-Davidson® Dealership is required, but it usually takes longer to work your way up through the lower levels and complete all the required course work.

Even techs with a lot of experience have to start at “Staff ”-level recognition. From there, they move on to “Technician,” “Advanced Technician,” “Expert Technician,” and, finally, “Master Technician.”

Previously, Master-level recognition was available in Powertrain, Electrical, and Chassis. But in 2013, those were combined into one level. “We believe that a Master Tech should be a master at everything,” Pelot says.

Some courses, including refreshers and updates, can be completed online, but core classes require hours of instructor-led classroom and lab time. Classes are hands-on and interactive, using all the latest tools and technology. Lectures often turn into discussions, where students can learn as much from each other as they do from the instructor.

The program is expanding around the globe, with HDU satellite facilities in 20 countries. In the U.S., instructor-led classes are offered in Orlando, Florida; Norwood, Massachusetts; and Phoenix, Arizona through a partnership with the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute (MMI). But Milwaukee is still the only place where all the classes are offered – and it’s where the global trainers come for training.

Plus, with its history, facilities, and proximity to Harley-Davidson designers, engineers, and other “subject matter experts” – not to mention the Harley-Davidson Museum – nothing beats the full Milwaukee experience.

“I did a lot of training at MMI in Orlando, but it’s different here,” says Eric Pierce from a Harley-Davidson® dealership in Fort Myers, Florida. “This is Harley. This is their facility. I love the atmosphere here, where everything is Harley-Davidson.”

Instilling the Harley DNA

It starts at a very young age. Ask a tech why he or she is there, and the answer often begins with, “I’ve loved motorcycles since I was a kid.” Those with a real sense of purpose usually start their careers with a degree from MMI and then look for a dealership job. Sometimes that means wandering in the metric wilderness for a while before a highly sought H-D opportunity opens up.

Others take a different path, perhaps talking a dealership into letting you fetch tools and wash bikes in high school. You watch and learn at all times, working your way up, absorbing the knowledge you know you’ll need to make it as an H-D technician.

Shea Hall, from Republic H-D® in Houston, Texas, started his first job with an MMI degree in-hand but knew he would still have to prove himself. He told his bosses, “I’ll scrub your toilets, clockwise on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday; then counter-clockwise on Thursday and Saturday. Whatever it takes.”

Fortunately, it didn’t come to that. But that attitude is an essential quality in a future H-D Master Technician, and now Hall is squarely on that path.

Ongoing technician learning requirements

And because technology is always advancing, the learning never stops. Higher-level courses include testing on prerequisite subject matter to ensure fresh knowledge is built on a solid foundation. Technician-level recognition is good for two years; all others beyond that must be renewed annually.

This is primarily done through rigorous online assessments, sparing dealerships the cost of sending techs back to Milwaukee every year. But when advancement is the goal, or when significant new products are introduced, additional training is required.

Learning to Think

Who would you rather have working on your bike – someone who swaps out parts until it starts working again or someone who takes a strategic approach to solve the problem? When you think about it, the answer is obvious.

The course focuses on thinking through a problem rationally, with isolation techniques to narrow down the problem, so that a truly educated decision can be made. The answer might be, “Yeah, you do need this part.” But it also might be, “No, you don’t need any parts at all.”

In lab portions of the class, students are typically each assigned their own motorcycle to work on. Each is “bugged” with similar problems, and students are challenged to fix it independently. There’s no leaning on the greater experience a classmate might have to help them solve the problem. If a student struggles, that’s just part of the process.

Students can ask questions, but are encouraged to spin their wheels a few times before they throw up a hand. The student’s job is to be brave enough to holler out and say, “Hey, I need some help.” 

Classes typically run two, three, or four days, 8:30 AM-4 PM. In many ways, they resemble a standard college class, including nightly homework assignments.

“We like to get them geared up and thinking about the next day,” Pelot says. “And we encourage them to work together and share their homework answers. They learn a lot from their fellow technicians – like, ‘What do you see in your shop that maybe we don’t see in ours?”

Only at HDU

What truly separates authentic HDU-recognized technicians from the pack of pretenders is the exclusivity. Only techs who work at Authorized Harley-Davidson® Dealerships can enroll. And only factory-trained techs have access to all the newest training, tools, and protocols.

A prime example is the H-D™ Digital Technician® II, a proprietary diagnostic computer interface that provides an electronic “window” into the heart of a Harley-Davidson® motorcycle.

“This thing does a lot,” says Master Technician Jay Coutu, from Tucson H-D® in Tucson, Arizona. “This is the first thing you grab when you have a problem. Your hack shops, they’re not going to have this. It’s H-D only. And it’s a good thing because we’re the only ones that know how to use it.”

Even technicians who have previously worked at an H-D® dealership, before moving on to an independent shop, soon fall behind. Technology advances rapidly, and they just don’t have access to the ongoing training H-D-recognized technicians receive.

Continuing training is a significant investment for a dealership. Dealers don’t have to send their staff to HDU, but the vast majority do. They understand that keeping their Authorized Service people at the top of their game benefits everyone, especially riders.

“It allows the owners to have the shortest amount of downtime when bringing their bike to the shop,” Pelot says. “It helps ensure that your bike gets fixed quickly, correctly, and the first time. That’s our goal. And that’s the dealer’s goal.”

“Training is super important,” Coutu adds. “And you come back loving your job. We’re all good at a certain thing, so like … I might be good at electrical, and he might be good at transmissions. We can bounce ideas off each other. Between all of us, we can fix anything. We do it all.

“Our people care about Harley-Davidson® motorcycles. That’s why we’re here.”

A version of this post appeared in HOG® magazine.

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