A Few Easy Rides at MMI-Phoenix

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 08/2013
  • posted in: Great Garages

The people of Motorcycle Mechanics Institute live, learn and love their cycles.

The nation’s largest educator for motorcycle technicians, MMI, 2844 W. Deer Valley Road in north Phoenix, offers training on cycles, ATVs and watercraft for major marques such as Harley-Davidson, Honda, BMW, Kawasaki, Yamaha and Suzuki.

In addition, MMI maintains an excellent collection of Harley-Davidson cycles back more than 60 years as well as individual engines to the early 1900s, when single cylinders with poppet valves controlled both exhaust and intake. And, of course, those who work and study at MMI-Phoenix have an opportunity to see a wide variety of Harleys, both historical and contemporary.

The 11-acre campus opened in 1977 at Cave Creek and Bell roads, then moved to its current location as the good word spread throughout the country. Today, in six buildings, the 123,000-square-foot training school can train as many as 3,300 students with its 94 instructors. In all, the MMI-Phoenix campus employs approximately 185.

“Of those 94, 90 instructors were former students here,” says Larry Barrington, MMI’s campus education director who joined Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in 1978. The Phoenix native, who commutes to the school each way from Cordes Lakes, an hour and change north, explains that the school requires five years field experience before a graduate can be brought back to teach.

Some of the employers in the Phoenix area that employ MMI graduates are Arrowhead Harley-Davidson; Coyote Honda; Buddy Stubbs Harley-Davidson; and BMW Motorcycles of Scottsdale.

Technicians from these companies, whether originally trained at MMI or not, have an opportunity to return to the school for update training because contemporary electrical, computer systems as well as engines, transmissions and suspension are always changing, explains Barrington, who began in the industry as a Yamaha technician.

The school provides the training necessary to excel as an entry-level motorcycle technician, teaching students how to diagnose, service and repair motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles. Students also learn how to order parts and work directly with customers, so that employers can bring on cross-trained employees who immediately fit in at their dealerships.

Recently, Barrington and Duffy Conner, chief instructor and MMI Harley-Davidson expert, discussed six of the school’s prized cycles for Highline Autos. The bikes are displayed to show the students the evolution of the famed American company, he says:

•1950 FL Hydra-Glide — “Harley-Davidson had a decrease in motorcycle sales between 1940–1950. This was due to American military servicemen being exposed to British-built motorcycles during World War II. By 1950 the total registration of British motorcycles in America was increasing, so Harley-Davidson lobbied the U.S. government to put tariffs on imported motorcycles. Harley-Davidson’s efforts were unsuccessful. 

“Harley-Davidson Motor Company knew they needed to improve their product. The Panhead motor set the standard, and this 1950 Hydra-Glide, with its telescopic fork front end, continued to set that standard. This style continued until late 1954. The name ‘Hydra-Glide’ was stamped onto the motorcycles cowling. This motorcycle became so popular with U.S. buyers that Harley-Davidson decided to drop the springer front end from its list of options for this model. This was the second year for the hydraulic front end.”

•1951 WL 45-cubic-inch Flathead — “These were Harley-Davidson’s longest production motors, produced from 1937–1973. The 1945 Flathead was used by police departments, military and automotive service stations. During World War II, 88,000 of these bikes were produced for the military; some historians claim this bike helped win the war.

“Harley-Davidson’s contract with the military boosted sales and marked the beginning of the end for their biggest competitor, Indian. They were the first Harley-Davidsons to use an electric starter and an alternator charging system.”

•1958 FL Panhead  — “More than 122,000 Panheads were produced between 1948 and 1965. They are one of the most recognized motorcycles in the industry and literally changed the face of motorcycling.”

“Panheads introduced many technological changes in Harley-Davidson motors that are still in use today, such as the hydraulic valve train, which made for quiet running and eliminated the need for constant adjustment, hydraulic brakes and the hand clutch with foot shifting, which is an industry standard to this day. To some, the Panhead is the most beautiful motorcycle Harley-Davidson ever made.”

•1963 FLH Panhead — “This model, from 1961–1964, was Harley-Davidson’s first attempt at single-fire ignition as a factory option. This was not stock but could be ordered. Each cylinder head had its own set of points and coil, allowing individual sparks in each cylinder. 

“‘The ‘Panhead’ was so named because of the shape of the rocker covers, as the covers look like a pan upside down. Replacing the Knucklehead in 1948, the engine is a two-cylinder, two-valve-per-cylinder, pushrod V-twin. The Shovelhead style replaced it in 1965.

“Movie fans will recall Peter Fonda’s ‘Captain America’ chopper and Dennis Hopper’s ‘Billy Bike’ from Easy Rider (1969); both cycles had Panhead engines.”

•1969 FLH — “This was the last year Harley-Davidson produced the big twin-generator-style engine. Enthusiasts commonly refer to it as the Shovelhead because of its appearance. Manufactured from 1966 until 1984, the engine has a 45-degree air-cooled engine, which had up to a 82-cubic-inch displacement.

“They produced about 10 percent more horsepower than the previous Panheads and were replaced by the Evolution engine in 1984.”

V-Rod Revolution – “The V-Rod engine design is based on the design of the VR 1000 Harley-Davidson race bike. This motorcycle began its development during the 1995 year, and its first styling prototype was completed in 1997. The powertrain development was started that year as well.

“The V-Rod motorcycle was introduced to the public in 2002. Harley-Davidson developed this motorcycle to meet current and future emission requirements, increase overall power train durability and, of course, to help attract sport bike motorcycle enthusiasts. This is Harley-Davidson’s first liquid-cooled 60° V-Twin.”

For more information on MMI-Phoenix, call 623.869.9644 or visit www.uti.edu/campus-locations/mmi-phoenix.

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