Recently I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Jacob Lutz, one of our terrific Motoworks Chicago
mechanics technicians. Jacob is a quiet, unassuming guy, but as they say, “still waters run deep.” In this conversation, we get into what it’s like to go to motorcycle medical school, some sage advice for bike owners everywhere, and why you should be very wary of what you read on the forums if, you know, you actually want your motorcycle to work.
Nathaniel: We always start these off with “state your name for the record”.
Jacob: My name is Jacob Alexander Lutz.
Ooh, middle name. How official. What is it that you do, and have done, here at Motoworks?
I am a motorcycle technician with Motoworks, and I have worked at Motoworks since July of 2012 in that capacity, and other capacities. I’ve been the tow guy — running the truck out picking up bikes and scooters. I have even been the guy washing bikes. I’ve done a lot of little odds and ends. I take up a lot of the slack that has to be taken up because everyone else is way too busy with everything else, or at least is supposed to be.
Cool. So motorcycle tech? That’s another word for mechanic. Do you prefer one term to the other? I know some people do.
I’m on the bandwagon of turning it to technician, rather than leaving it as mechanic, because “mechanic” inspires this connotation of “shade-tree mechanic” — the guy operating under a shade tree who kind of knows what he’s doing but doesn’t quite really. They idea behind “technician” is to shift the perception more towards professional, factory-trained technicians who know their stuff and aren’t quite so sketchy.
So people who might actually know what they’re doing?
Yeah. It inspires a lot more confidence in the work, and can also be used to argue for a realistic labor rate. That conversation is a necessary evil for the repair industry. You’ve got to ask for what the work is worth, because things like tools, training and facilities actually costs a lot of money.
The work you do is valuable, and you’ve got to make a living too.
Exactly, I deserve to make a living just like everybody else.
I agree. “Technician” then. Where did you go to school?
I went to school in MMI in Orlando, Florida. Motorcycle Mechanics Institute. I did their basic program as well as the Yamaha Pro program. I also did BMW. When I graduated I was certified as an intro BMW technician, and certified as an intro Yamaha technician.
After MMI, was Motoworks your first professional gig?
Motoworks was my first real professional gig. I did a different gig for about a month after I first moved to Chicago at this little scooter shop, and it’s a very stark contrast between Motoworks and that shady little shop working out of a two-car garage on Chinese scooters.
Yeah, I can think that there’d be some contrast there.
Interesting. Are you not from this area then?
I’m not from this area. I was born and raised in Roanoke, Virginia. Then I moved to Florida to go to school — exclusively for going to school — and the entire time I was at school I had been dating someone long distance that lived in Chicago. At that time, we were dating off and on for two years, and I decided to move to Chicago to be with her after I graduated school.
That didn’t quite pan out, but that’s how things are.
Whatever gets you here, though, right? Because here you are.
It got me here, and it’s where I am, and it’s where I’ve been.
So you’re pretty fresh out of school, you do your little stint at the shady scooter shop, and then you come into Motoworks as that first real mechanic’s experience. What was that like? What was that learning curve like?
There’s a very big difference from what they teach you in school, which is kind of a blanket education that somewhat fills in most of the gaps for every single little thing you could do with a degree from that school. Working in a very specialized niche of European motorcycle repair and service is it’s own thing, though. European bikes are very different from the Japanese-centered education I received when I was in school. So it was a bit of an adjustment to work on the European bikes and work on the European way of things.
What would be an example of that difference between a European and Japanese bike?
Japanese bikes are all very similar. Sometimes the only difference is a matter of what name is on the tank. But when it comes to European, a Ducati Monster is vastly different than a BMW F800. The model lines are very unique. They’re used to doing things in a very different way that is unique to each individual manufacturer. BMW is that way, and Ducati especially with their Desmodromic valve system. Triumph is — I don’t think generic is the right word, but I don’t really know a better word for it.
Yes, a little more standardized — a little more mainstream with the way they manufacture things. They’re more simplified, but in a good way.
Very straightforward, yes. Vespa is a little eccentric, but also somewhat straightforward. It’s a nice little blend between the two. Primarily I worked on the scooters when I first started here, so I got pretty accustomed to working on European scooters my first few years here, and then I got very well acquainted with working on vintage BMWs my first couple of winters here as well.
Of all the bikes that you get to work on here, what’s your preference? What do you like to work on?
I like the BMWs the most. It’s what I went to school for, and it’s what I really enjoy working on. I think BMW’s design just matches my ideal of how motorcycles are supposed to be put together.
What does that ideal mean for you?
The ideal for me is a machine meant to be ridden, but also a machine meant to be serviced and maintained. A machine that’s meant to be purchased and kept. Something to be loved by a person, and to be a part of someone’s life longer than, say, what you might experience with simple purchase of, say, a Japanese bike, or something kind of cheap. It’s a bike. It’s a thrill for the moment while you have the cash, but then gets sold two years later when you don’t really care about it anymore.
A BMW is an investment because it’s purchasing something that facilitates your lifestyle: being a BMW rider. That’s what I like the most about their bikes, and what I like about most of their clientele. Their bikes are their steed.
You have a relationship with your machine.
You have a relationship with the machine, versus everything else, where it’s just something you use, and then dispose of.
Interesting. You say BMW does a great job of making a bike that is serviceable. What would be an example of that?
The classic example would be the airhead — the R motors — all the way up until even now. The valve covers are accessible, and other basic service things are accessible. Things you need to service every few thousand miles are right in front of you, ready to be worked on, ready to be put away, and ready to be ridden again.
They did a very nice job of keeping that design up until the ’90s, and then they went fuel-injection. They did it because the technology was there, that you wouldn’t have to clean your carb all the time, or tune your carb, or it’s not necessary of you to maintain your own oil changes, and simple little things like that, because customers started relying more on dealerships to take all of the hassle of doing the work yourself away from you. With that, you don’t have that same intimate relationship with your machine, but at the same time, you still have your machine, but without all of the headache and busted knuckles of owning a BMW that one might otherwise incur.
Do you feel like the newer BMWs, up into today, even if they’re not expecting their customers to work on it themselves, do you feel like they’re still built with service in mind for the mechanics that are going to work on them?
Definitely. You can see that in their newest example with the water-heads, where the clutch finally put in front of the engine, instead of the rear, so you can do a clutch in only a matter of a couple of hours, instead of the ten hour job it used to be with everything leading up to it.
You can conceivably do one on the side of the road?
Conceivably. If you have to.
That’s something that you couldn’t do before. I just bought an R1200GS myself, and when I read that the clutch was in the front that was a major selling point because I had seen our technicians here at Motoworks take the ass out of so many BMWs to change clutches and just thinking, “Oh, my God. That seems like a nightmare.” So reading that it’s now in the front, I’m thinking, “Yeah. Of course.”
Right. Previously you had to pull the swing arm, sub frame, trans box, all the wires, all the hoses, and all of those things that don’t quite line up perfectly when it comes time to re-assemble them, just because of manufacturing tolerances being slightly skewed. All of the headache that comes with taking that sub frame off and putting it back on, and then having to route everything around the frame was just done away with. Now it’s under a front cover. You might have to take the wheel off, but it’s just the wheel.
And it’s just the front wheel, too. It’s not even the rear. That’s fabulous.
Were you into bikes before? Back that up. What made you want to be a motorcycle technician?
I didn’t grow up with motorcycles in any way. They were always a distant fascination of mine. I always thought they were cool. I always thought they looked like something that would be fun to own, and to have, and to ride, but I was never in the money to have one until I was about 19, when a girlfriend bought one for me, which was very nice of her. She bought me my very first bike.
That’s a good girlfriend.
Jacob: Yeah, she was. She was a nice girl at that time in my life. So I had that Ninja 250, and I kept that for a couple of years, and I was working kind of a dead-end job being a security guard. I did a lot of thinking while I was sitting around in the guard shack for eight hours a night. I came to the realization that not everyone has to have a medical degree to have a career — to live their life working — and that’s not how you achieve happiness. It’s okay to have a blue collar job. It’s okay to have a job where you just go to a technical school and pick up a trade. It doesn’t have to be something your entire life revolves around either, but it can be something that you put a significant amount of your life into, and get a lot of reward out of.
Seeing all the ads and hearing all the things MMI promises — while not all of it could be expected to be true — it seemed like working in the motorcycle business was something I wanted to do. Working on my bike was something I enjoyed doing. I always loved learning how it works, and I loved learning more about my bike as I fixed it, so I thought, maybe that’s exponentially more so working on other people’s bikes and working on different models.
I didn’t really go into it with any experience, but I decided to go to school, and I tried it, and it worked out. It was actually a very easy move, and it was a very easy thing to get into.
How long is that program at MMI?
That program, the base program, is about nine months, and then the elective program, which you’re required to have at least one elective, such as most of the Japanese brands or BMW that takes about 12 weeks. That versus the 24 weeks for Honda. If you do Harley, that’s 36 weeks.
On top of?
On top of the first nine months.
You can go anywhere between nine months and a few years, depending on how much money you want to spend, and how much you want to learn.
Yeah and what you want to do when you’re done. Interesting.
Before we came up here, you were downstairs working on your current bike. Tell us about the bike you have now.
Jacob: The current bike I have now is a 1998 Honda BTR-1000 Superhawk. I’ve had that bike for two years, almost three. I love that bike a lot. It’s versatile enough to do just about everything I want to on it, while being cheap enough that I can actually afford it. It’s a fun bike to do any modification to I want, it’s a fun bike to take on the track, it’s a fun bike to take cross country, which I’ve done a couple of times on it. It’s a great bike, and I love it. I just wish I had more money to throw into it.
That’s always the thing, isn’t it? No matter how much that bike cost at first, what’s it going to cost in the long run?
Yeah. You always end up paying the full pop, either now or later.
Yeah. Definitely. And that’s okay, because it’s worth it.
If money were no object, and not saying that you would even get rid of your Superhawk, what’s the bike that you would just love to have?
I would absolutely love to have a water-head BMW 1200 GS. Maybe even the Adventure, I’m not sure.
Yeah. I’ve got to say, it’s a great machine.
I’ve had limited experience with it. I’ve ridden only about one or two of them, but every experience has been great, and it’s built upon what I really love, which is riding the R-series RS, which I always thought was a fantastic, well refined, perfect bike for me.
What is it that you like about those?
I almost feel like the bike was made for me. I’m a tall guy. I’m not a very strong guy, I’m tall and skinny. I can just sit right in the saddle. I feel comfortable on it. I have all the power to go as fast as I want, within reason. I have the off-road capability. I have the capability of really going deep into the woods, going deep out and having an adventure on the adventure bike of my dreams, and I just love the versatility of the bike. It’s perfect for just about anything you can do with. It’s a simple tire change.
Yeah. You’re preaching to the choir here. I, personally just bought myself the R1200 GS, and I sold three bikes to do it. I’m so glad to have consolidated down to just that one do-everything machine.
If I had a GS and the Super Hawk, or even just the GS, I could probably go the rest of my life without buying another bike, within reason.
That would make sense. Just keep that one going.
Jacob: Just keep the GS.
That’s definitely part of the plan for me.
Obviously, as a professional technician, you’re spending most of your time working on other people’s bikes, and I can only imagine you probably see a lot of the same stuff over and over again. If you were going to give advice to bike owners out there, from a mechanical standpoint or from a technical standpoint, what’s something that you would love to see people stop doing?
I wish people would understand that it is a complicated machine, and that, while it performs well, it still needs love. Every motorcycle needs love.
What do you mean by that?
I mean by that if something is broken, you should fix it. If something is unsafe, you should make it safe. If you have worn out brake pads, you have worn out tires, you have things that are just unsafe and it’s an absolutely unnecessary chance on something that’s already scary enough riding through Chicago, with the potholes and the bad drivers — I see no reason not to maintain it, and sufficiently increase your chance of surviving or avoiding an incident.
I think people just need to understand that their bikes need care. While I’m in the job of caring for the people’s bikes, I see a lot of misinformed care on their part.
Guys that go on forums.
Right. The forums.
The forums. Think about what you want from your bike, and think if it’s really practical for you. If you want to put on a race pipe just so you can commute, is it really necessary? Do you really need all that chrome when you have bald tires that are 12 years old? “Chrome doesn’t get you home.”
That rhymes. That’s nice. “Chrome doesn’t get you home.”
I picked that up from our service advisor.
That’s funny. So you would tell people to stop neglecting their bike?
Yeah. Don’t neglect the necessary. Simple as that. Know what is necessary, and after that, have fun with it. Make it safe, and then have fun.
So you’re about to make a transition out to the Pacific Northwest?
Lots of cool riding up there.
There is a tremendous amount of cool riding out there.
Have you got a gig lined up?
I have a gig lined up out there with a BMW dealer, so I’ll finally be using that BMW certification. Not that I haven’t already, but I’ll be getting my money’s worth out of it now for sure. I’ll be working as an Level One BMW technician, and down the road, maybe I’ll even be a Master Tech.
What is that certification process like? What does it take to get from where you are now — where obviously you’re a working certified technician — to something more advanced? Is it just more training?
It’s a matter of more training. They have a tier system. Level One, level Two, and Master Tech. It’s three tiers. I’m at my Level One. I just need a little update training, which they’re going to facilitate for me in Portland coming into the dealership. Then, it’s level two training, and then after that, you go through your Master Tech training. It’s all a matter of how long you stick around at your dealership, and how well you do, and how much they want to invest in you.
Very cool. Getting the employee pricing on that 12 GS down the road won’t hurt either.
Ha! No, it certainly won’t.
That’s such a great part of the country for a bike like that, because you’ve definitely got the great outdoors right at your fingertips.
Every kind of environment you could want within driving distance.
Awesome. Hey, this was terrific. Thanks for chatting with us.
This is Jacob’s final week in the shop. So if you get a chance, say hello and goodbye and wish him well on his way to new adventures in Oregon. We’ll miss him for sure.