The Little Rat chillin’ at Second Gear for some winter tune-ups.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about owning a vintage motorcycle, and it made me realize how important it is to have a good motorcycle mechanic. Not just any mechanic, but a truly great mechanic: one who will do quality work, who would never dream of taking advantage of you, and who will work alongside you on whatever issues your bike might throw your way.
Finding that kind of mechanic can be daunting — especially if you’re new to motorcycles. I mean, it’s easy enough to google “motorcycle mechanic (your city)” and find dozens of shops, or get a reference from a friend.
But when you’re standing in a shop for the first time, how can you tell if that mechanic is worth your time?
To be clear, this article doesn’t apply if you need help with your 2010 Sportster or 2014 Scrambler. If you have a new bike (post-2000s, generally), it’s safest to go to a branded shop — especially if it’s still under warranty.
If you have a vintage or obscure bike, though, or one that’s a bit of both, that’s a different story. Branded shops may or may not have the tools and experience you need. So, just like with an independent shop, you’ll have to use your best judgement.
But, what is best judgement when it comes to motorcycle mechanics? I wish I could tell you from experience, but I’ve had dodgy experiences with both car and bike mechanics before. I feel lucky to have stumbled upon the awesome mechanics that I know now.
So, to get an expert opinion on the matter, I reached out to some of the great mechanics I’ve worked with: Sofi Tsingos of GT-Moto, Kevin Ludwig of Dirty Hands Garage, and Joe Tessitore and Jeff Johnson of Second Gear.
Being a Good Mechanic Goes Beyond Experience
While talking to these mechanics, I started to see a trend: none of them mentioned specific knowledge or experience.
Nobody said “make sure they’ve had at least 10 years of experience with your model,” or “check to see if they have a formal certification from your bike’s manufacturer.”
This surprised me at first, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. After all, a mechanic can have years and years of experience and still screw you over. Knowledge and experience, although it’s important, isn’t exactly the question here.
Good Mechanics are Open and Honest
So, how can you tell if someone has enough experience to handle your project? Joe and Jeff recommend asking the mechanic to take pictures of their work and save the old parts. “A good mechanic should be transparent with the process and not afraid to show proof that they did the work.”
Kevin and Sofi both agreed that openness was important. Sofi said, “I’m not comfortable with anyone who isn’t willing to answer my questions.” And Kevin said, “If [a mechanic] is very vague about what they are going to do, or can’t give you a rough estimate, you should have your guard up.”
This definitely aligns with my experience. Some of the best mechanics I’ve worked with were open and straightforward, while the ones I regretted made me feel like my questions and concerns were unimportant.
After all, if a mechanic knows what they’re doing, they shouldn’t feel the need to hide their work, or be dismissive of your concerns. But, more than that, taking the time to answer your questions can help you tell whether a mechanic sees you as just another carb rebuild or a potential long-term partnership.
Good Mechanics ask Questions
The mechanics I’ve worked well with have asked questions, too, which Joe and Jeff agree is a good sign. They said, “a good mechanic will usually ask a fair amount of questions to get as much info about the bike’s history as possible.”
For me, this has been the number one indicator of a quality mechanic. If you have a vintage motorcycle, chances are it’s got a lot of history and baggage that might influence what’s wrong, and a good mechanic should recognize that.
It also shows that a mechanic is willing to listen to you, which is going to be important if you want to take your bike to that mechanic for years to come.
Good Mechanics Show Attention to Detail
For Kevin, cleanliness of a mechanic’s shop is key — particularly, how well the bikes are cared for. “Are they collecting dust, or are they neatly lined up and taken care of?”
This is great advice for a couple of reasons. For one, if a shop has dozens of unfinished projects laying around, do you really want your bike to become one of them? But also, it helps you gauge a mechanic’s attention to detail.
Attention to detail is extremely important when working on bikes, because — as Sofi points out — mechanical failure on a motorcycle can be deadly.
“It’s not a car that you can just roll off the side of the road if it fails,” she says. “When you bring your bike to someone, realize that they have your life in their hands.”
Good Mechanics are Respectful
And finally, but perhaps most importantly, a good mechanic should treat you with respect. “If [a mechanic] can’t be bothered with you, or talks down to you, walk away,” said Kevin.
Sofi agrees, and says that your mechanic shouldn’t “make you feel like you are taking up their time,” because, after all, “you’re the one paying for that time.”
I haven’t been part of the motorcycle community for long, but it’s obvious that at some point it became commonplace for motorcycle mechanics to treat their customers dismissively. I avoid that frame of mind like the plague.
Who wants to work with a mechanic who sees you as a second-rate customer? Who wants to even spend time with people who need you to prove you belong there?
Not only is this mindset dangerous when it comes to riding motorcycles generally (ride your own ride!), but it creates a false rivalry between you and your mechanic. Kevin put it well when he said:
“Often people see their mechanic as someone standing across from them with their bike in the middle… But it’s not something between us. We are standing side by side, and the bike is a problem that we have to approach together.”
I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of relationship I’d like to have with my mechanic.
But, of course, a relationship goes both ways. As a customer, I’ve found myself wondering what the protocol is, whether I was bugging my mechanic too much, or if I was treating my mechanic in a way that was conducive to building a long-term partnership.
So, let’s call this post part one of two. In the next post, we’ll get inside the heads of these mechanics, and find out what it means to be a good customer. That way, once you find that great mechanic, you can be sure to keep them around.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear your stories of working with mechanics. Do you have any “tells” you use to figure out whether a mechanic is worth your time? Do you have any juicy horror stories? I’d love to hear them in the comments!
Many thanks to Sofi, Kevin, Jeff and Joe for their time! If you’d like to get in touch, here’s the links: