The Jay Leno Motorcycle Collection, Circa 1985

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Photo by John Joss
Jay Leno and his Vincent Special, circa 1985

To most of the world he’s a stand-up comedian and late-night host. We know better. Jay Leno is a bone-deep, no-apologies, classic motorcycle collector and enthusiast. He used to make a living fixing bikes in Boston (his “wretched day job”), and he has a huge classic motorcycle collection today. In 1985, I wrote to NBC asking permission to interview him.

Two weeks later the phone rang. “This is Jay. Jay Leno.” I was surprised to hear back: “Well, you wrote, didn’t you” — a statement, not a question. I drove to his Beverly Hills, Calif., home (as my camera case wouldn’t fit on my bike), worried about driving my old Honda Civic, fearing some sort of vehicle-code violation. He looked each way over his driveway gates, mock-furtive: “Bring it in, quick, before they arrest you.”

The interview was a breeze. He greeted me with a video of a space shuttle launch on a huge screen in his living room, with the sound at maximum volume (“Mavis is out”). Then he trotted out his (then) favorite bike: a 1950 HRD-Vincent Rapide Special. He started it first kick.

Leno is as he appears on his show: affable, clever and kind, totally without “side.”  He knows a lot about classic motorcycles and he specified his Vincent, a truly gorgeous piece, with a near-Featherbed frame and Ceriani front fork and brake. He doesn’t go for modern sport bikes with their swoopy fairings: “I don’t trust a motorcycle I can’t see through.”

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