"If you get bored at Bike Week, drive to Ocala and visit H&B Cycles. That crusty old dude has more motorcycle shit than you can believe." After four days of staring at baggers, beach bums and stretched Hyabusas, Billdozer and I didn't need to be told twice. Heeding the advice our friend and Florida ex-pat Caleb Owens, we left the ghostly Limpnickie Lot one day early and drove west over state road 40 through Volusia and Marion counties. When we arrived at H&B Cycles on a humid Monday morning, the bounty awaiting us was even grander than Cro had described.
In 1973, Richard Barner migrated to Florida from his birthplace outside of Albany, New York, with 500 dollars in his pocket. Soon after leaving behind the bitter winters of The Empire State Richard landed a job as a heavy equipment operator. After busting sand, gravel and his ass for four years, Richard bought out his founding partner and diversified H&B Excavating into custom motorcycles.
H&B Cycles officially opened in 1977, but Richard didn't start collecting bikes, parts and accessories seriously until he sold the majority of his heavy equipment in 1995. Semi-retired and anxious to scratch his relentless itch for two-wheeled iron, Richard invested the proceeds from his land and business ventures into the collection that occupies his massive compound today. In five buildings, eight shipping containers and several acres of mossy oak Richard hoards hundreds of restored Harleys, thousands of frames and motors and nearly a million new and used parts and accessories.
The collection of parts and complete bikes housed in H&B's main building on 3964 N.W. Gainesville Road is mind boggling, but it's only the beginning. Stroll past the dilapidated grader, rusty SS sidecar—a movie prop from the "Raiders" trilogy, according to Richard—and small oval dirt track and you'll reach the H&B musuem. Here is where Richard stores hundreds of pristine full dressers, restored pans, knuckles, shovels and Evos with some of the wackiest pedigrees you can imagine.
A red and black panhead with light bar and windshield caught my eye. "That bike used to belong to a police chief in Puerto Rico. It was painted purple and orange, just like you'd expect a Puerto Rican would paint it." Mind you, Richard isn't always this playful and chatty. Billdozer lurked around for 20 minutes waiting for the right time to ask the surly old man if we could check out his stash, but the opportunity never presented itself. Only after two dudes from Finland dropped in did Richard seem willing to give us a tour, and while I trolled in the Finns' wake, Richard regaled us with a torrent of priceless gems. Here are some of the better quotes from our tour:
"My youngest boy was tired of getting beat up by the bigger kids, so I showed him how to throw a punch. Now that little fucker beat on his bigger brothers 'til they got cerebral palsy!"
"This here is the world's fastest lawnmower. It'll cut an acre of land in 15 minutes."
"When I was in the excavating business I wouldn't move my equipment for less than a grand. Now I build motocross tracks and dirt ovals for free on the same land they couldn't pay me to dig in the '80s. Motherfuckers can't even keep me in diesel fuel. Told 'em if I work for free they gotta give me and my kids free entry fees for life."
"I got brothers and sisters who have master's degrees. I dropped out of the tenth grade and I got more money than all them motherfuckers!"
After spending 45 minutes with the man and his machinery, we found ourselves face to face with some disgruntled customers inside the front door. When I asked Richard what I should tell the dudes in chaps and HOG vests, he said, "Tell 'em to fuck off and go to the Harley dealer if they're in a hurry."
If you get a chance to visit H&B Cycles in Ocala, Florida, bring your checkbook, but leave your watch at home. Richard Barner doesn't hurry for anyone.