The famous Piano Man loves his motorcycles and you’ll find a few special Harley-Davidsons in his 70-something collection.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that riding motorcycles would be a hazardous pastime for a man who earns his very substantial living with his hands. In 1977, Billy bought his first bike, but then in 1982 his career on the keyboard nearly ended. He struck a motorist who turned in front of him near his home on Long Island, landing him in hospital and totalling his new 1979 Harley-Davidson XLCR.
“The impact pulverized the bone in my left thumb and pulled my right wrist out of its socket,” said Billy, “I’m bleeding, my hands didn’t work, and a police officer asks me for my license. So, I told him to pull my wallet out of my pocket. He looks at my license, then yells to the woman, ‘Hey, lady, you just hit Billy Joel!’”
This now rare ‘cafe racer’ from the Milwaukee factory was not one of H-D’s highlights, but the 1000c V-Twin has nevertheless found affection with Billy and he has found a replacement machine for his collection.
That collection has been housed for the last ten years in an old storefront called 20th Century Cycles. This otherwise unassuming old white-washed building, across the road from the little town’s railway museum, houses a most considerable collection of motorcycles owned by Billy Joel.
He also does customisations, but is quick to point out ‘no choppers!”
These customisations typically involve bringing older classic bikes up to modern and spec and, conversely, making newer machines, look vintage.
“Some of these are brand new bikes, but we like to make them look like they’re from the ‘30s, ‘40s or ‘50s,” says Billy.
Alex Puls is Billy’s chief mechanic at 20th Century Cycles.
“For example, we’ve taken two new Harley-Davidsons and make them look like the famous ‘knucklehead’ machines from the ‘30s and ‘40s,” says Puls, “and that sort of symbolises exactly what we’re doing here.”
If you are visiting Long Island, you are invited to drop by 20th Century Cycles, grab a T-Shirt and see the always expanding collection for yourself.
20th-Century Cycles is located at 101 Audrey Ave, Oyster Bay, NY 11771.