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Harley-Davidson® Training Celebrates 40 Years | A Look Back at How it Started

Oct 27, 2023 ·

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Motorcycle Mechanics Institute (MMI) has been around for a long time—since 1966, to be exact. In that time, we’ve grown to become an official training partner for top brands worldwide.1 We’ve seen so many changes along the way. In fact, MMI is celebrating its 40th anniversary of collaborating with the Harley-Davidson, Inc.® to provide aligned, Harley-Davidson®-specific training.

If you’re a Harley-Davidson® fan, you probably know the 1980s were a revolutionary decade for the industry. What you might not know is that we’re a part of that story. Read on to see how we came to be the only Harley-Davidson University™-aligned school, and how we’ve evolved since then.

Taking it Back to the ‘80s: How Harley-Davidson® First Came to MMI

“I can remember the day, January 26, 1981,” says David Koshollek, the first Harley-Davidson® instructor at MMI among only five total motorcycle technical trainers they had on staff at the Phoenix campus.

That was the first time he heard of the opportunity to be a part of something completely new. As David told us, in the ‘80s, working at a Harley-Davidson® dealer was difficult to get into.

This was probably because during that time, Harley-Davidson® was a swinging pendulum, on the brink of extinction. They had just bought themselves back from American Machine and Foundry (AMF) in June of 1981 and were struggling financially. Then, in 1982, one Harley-Davidson® employee by the name of John Stark believed he had just the thing that could help the company take off again, and that was teaming up with a school that could train great technicians and set the bar higher for professionalism in service and repair.

According to David, Harley-Davidson® looked into motorcycle technician schools throughout the country, and the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute stood out to them for a few reasons:

“What they liked about MMI was our dedication to creating professional technicians with great work habits and decorum,” recalls David. “MMI students wore uniform shirts and followed a professional dress code. This was right in line with Harley-Davidson® corporate.”

In the summer of 1982, Harley-Davidson® made the decision to work with MMI. That led to a busy three months of preparation to get the course up and running. David had to hire one more instructor, Dave Bush, locate a building suitable for a classroom and workshop, and acquire the tools, equipment, parts and motorcycles needed for training. Then, he and his new co-instructor headed to the Harley-Davidson® headquarters in Milwaukee for a four-day crash course in Harley-Davidson® motorcycle technology, maintenance, repair and rebuild. It was a monumental undertaking, but they got it done, and MMI became the first entry-level training program for Harley-Davidson® technicians.1

“This was the first factory training program for MMI, I just knew it was an opportunity of a lifetime,” says David. “It was kind of nuts, you look back and think, they took a huge risk with the motor company so stressed financially, and we at MMI had no idea how much work and money it was going to require. But, with blind faith and an enormous amount of effort, we got it done.”

There might not have been nearly as many computer or electronic components in Harley-Davidson® machines in the 1980s compared to now, but there were some exciting things taking place in MMI’s first Harley-Davidson® classes.

One was the introduction of the Evolution® engine in the summer of 1983, a new engine developed in the early 1980s and credited by many for the company’s comeback that helped it become an icon. Often referred to as the "Evo," this air-cooled, 45-degree, V-twin engine was more fuel-efficient and generated significantly more power than previous models.

Also exciting, electric components were making their way onto the motorcycle, starting with an electronic ignition, which brought its own challenges within the MMI classroom. Although a great leap in technology, this ignition came with unique challenges that were often difficult to diagnose.

“Back in ‘83, everything was carbureted, there was no fuel injection of any sort. ... The most difficult thing to teach was electrical systems,” shares David. “For example, when teaching dynamometer tuning classes in the mid-’90s, you needed a computer to run it, and many of our students had never operated a computer before. So, the first hour of class was actually teaching students how to use a mouse and navigate simple computer operations.”

Since then, MMI classes have taken off with equipment and the right technology to train techs for the needs of today’s industry.

Training in Harley-Davidson® Now

As we work to provide training that can prepare students for careers, one of the biggest questions we face is, “How do we make our curriculum relevant to the industry?”

With a demand for technicians and evolving technology, this is a constant challenge. That’s why we collaborate with leading brands like Harley-Davidson® and align our curriculum to their needs, so our students are ready to pursue careers once they graduate.1

“Our curriculum alignment has evolved over the years. We are aligned with Harley-Davidson University™ and continue to keep pace with their program,” shares UTI Director of Education Jim Wagnon. “From Shovelheads and Ironheads to Evolution® engine and Twin Cam (the M8 are taught) to training the way the industry does with online components, we’ve come a long way and we plan to keep going.”

Another important factor that has been displayed at MMI over these 40 years: passion. It was a recurring theme we heard not only from the instructors 40 years ago, but also from the instructors now and even the Harley-Davidson® management, and it plays a big role in the classroom.

That passion can be found among the students, too. When we asked Duffy Conner, a present-day instructor for Harley-Davidson® at MMI’s Arizona campus, what the students’ favorite course was, the answer was obvious: the Early Model course.

“It’s easily a favorite among students,” says Duffy. “In three weeks, they get to see 60+ years of Harley-Davidson® and see right there just how much it’s evolved.”

Invest in Yourself: Get Trained in Harley-Davidson® With MMI

If you’re wondering if motorcycle mechanic training is right for you, it’s about your passion. The traditional four-year college isn’t for everyone, and Harley-Davidson® training can be a great option to prepare to become a technician. Get started on following your passion today.

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1) MMI is an educational institution and cannot guarantee employment or salary.

2) For program outcome information and other disclosures, visit

7) Some programs may require longer than one year to complete.

18) UTI now offers all of its automotive, diesel, motorcycle and marine technician training in a blended learning format consisting of online lecture courses along with in-person, hands-on lab training.

Universal Technical Institute of Illinois, Inc. is approved by the Division of Private Business and Vocational Schools of the Illinois Board of Higher Education.


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