HAVING COMPLETED a Bachelors degree in mechanical engineering, I’ve experienced the rigours of the shop for many years, but that was five years ago, and feature writing as a career choice has mostly kept me away from my on-paper qualifications. Harley-Davidson wasn’t aware of this at the launch of the Indian chapter of their skill training academy, the Harley-Davidson University, in Delhi, when they invited a group of journalists and enthusiasts to get their hands dirty.
More interesting than most projects during college, this one involved dismantling a brand new Milwaukee Eight V-Twin engine and then reassembling it in the span of two days. Naturally, the shop’s supervisor, in the form of John McEnaney (Harley-Davidson Regional Lead, Technical Support, Asia Pacific) was way cooler than any of my professors, back in the day.
Nostalgia first slapped me in the face during McEnaney’s classroom orientation session the first morning. He introduced us to the evolution of the American bikemaker’s engines over the years, from the days of the panheads and shovelheads to the currentgen Milwaukee-Eights. Manufactured in two avatars — the 107 and the 117 — they are at the heart of the flagship 2018 Softail range of bikes from Harley’s stables. The former has a cubic capacity of 1,745cc and comes with two counterbalancers, while the latter displaces a maximum of 1,923cc and has one counterbalancer.
While chatting post the event, Harley-Davidson India and China MD Peter ‘Pete’ MacKenzie told me that this facility follows in the footsteps of their University in the USA, and a couple across Europe. There’s one in Thailand as well, and the latest in India becomes the fourth in the Asia Pacific region. “Subject to enrolment, we are planning to train around 400 participants annually. The mission is to make sure we are capable of delivering technical and nontechnical training to Harley employees,” he said.
Enough of the theoretical lessons — we were now about to walk the talk. Divided into groups of three, each team was assigned its own engine, a service manual and a complete tool cabinet, as we got busy dismantling the engines. My partners, Bike India’s Ravi Chandnani and Jehan Darukhanawala of Evo India, were no mugs on the job, as we unscrewed and unwound our way through the top end in no time. The rocker covers were the first to come off, followed by the rockers, but only at the TDC, or top dead centre (internal combustion engines in the fourth semester, anyone?).
The cylinder heads were then dislodged and were followed by the pistons. But McEnaney was loud and clear in cautioning us to wrap the connecting rods in rubber sheaths before proceeding any further. Even the slightest of damage could affect the performance of the engine. Once through that bit, we were now into the bottom end. The cams came off first, and then the crankcase, as we marvelled at the sight of a completely dismantled Harley engine at the end of a busy day. Les jeux sont faits!
The second half of the workshop involved no classroom hours. The objective was fairly simple: put back together what you broke down yesterday. We had labelled our dismantled bolts and other tiny parts, which made the construction of the engine rather easy.
What needed to be kept in mind was the sequence and torque with which each screw had to be tightened. Service manuals served as textbooks, as McEnaney reiterated the importance of attention to detail, time and again. The most challenging bit was to get the cylinders back in place. Almost like an intricate piece of software code, the piston rings have to be arranged in the correct pattern before the cylinders are placed over the pistons.
Some other teams struggled with it, but we got through like a breeze (completely unlike anything during college). Once the flywheel was rotated to ensure the bottom dead centre (BDC), we were ready to insert the pushrods and then put the rocker arms back in place. Like the teacher’s pets, we quickly made sure our pushrods bled. The free rotation allowed us to put the rocker covers back on, and we were done. First position in the class meant a round of applause from McEnaney, which softened the fatigue from all the hours of work during the two days.
“Apart from engine fundamentals, we’ll also offer training on chassis, electrical systems and so forth here. As for the non-technical side of things, our employees will be trained to understand what we, as a 115-year old establishment, stand for. Other courses involve visual merchandise, parts and accessories,” said MacKenzie during our conversation. In all honesty, this was more fun than any of the workshop sessions during engineering college. Maybe Harley will call us back again for another one of their courses, and maybe I will actually enjoy learning about mechanical parts, for a change.