HAMMOND – To some, Joe Foster is known as the owner of Performance Cycle; for others, he is called incredible, a machine and an exceptional mechanic.
“Super Joe Foster” earned his nickname after racing his motorcycles for 30 years. He adopted this nickname by having a successful business selling motorcycle parts for the past 48 years.
“I know Joe is a pretty humble guy, but he’s the best mechanic I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Dan Stern, a former employee and lifelong friend of Foster.
Performance Cycle, in Hammond, has been in the same location on Calumet Avenue since its grand opening in 1976. Foster has been serving customers in northwest Indiana and Illinois for nearly 50 years selling motorcycle parts, replacing them and creating custom bikes.
Foster, 75, is ready to retire after devoting his life to motorcycles and serving thousands of customers.
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“I decided this year that the business would be closed and the building would be sold at the end of the year,” said Foster, of Cedar Lake. “I did well in the motorcycle industry.”
He noted that he didn’t have many plans during his retirement other than relaxing and watching the sunset.
Foster began his career as a mechanic in the 1960s working on lawnmowers with his father. He was 13 years old. He moved on to working on Triumph motorcycles in 1966 after having a growing passion for them during his youth.
Motorcycle drag racing became an important aspect of Foster’s life around the time Performance Cycle opened. He said he runs frequently at Old US 30 Drag Strip in Hobart, Great Lakes Dragaway in Wisconsin and Byron Dragaway in Illinois.
“I have a very vivid memory of walking into Joe’s shop and right to left there would be three to four complete trail bikes. I was a huge drag racing fan and attended races regularly,” Stern said. “Seeing these drag race bikes while going to Joe to buy parts really intrigued me.”
At the height of her drag racing career, Foster was racing more than three times a week. Meanwhile, motorcycles were allowed to race against cars for larger monetary incentives, which he normally did.
In 1983, Foster was sent to the National Hot Rod Association’s US Nationals in Indianapolis by the owner of the Great Lakes Dragaway to race. Although he didn’t win the race, his bike was declared the best-designed and best-looking bike for racing, Stern said.
“It had never been done before, a motorcycle had never been given this honor,” said Stern, who now lives in California. “He was dominant in drag racing. Joe was amazing, a real machine.
By the mid-1980s, Foster said the demand for customizing bikes had waned. Customizing to create a bike used to be easier, but now can be dangerous, he added.
“These custom bikes now look great, but the handling is terrible,” Foster said. “If I could tell someone what to do, I would tell them to leave their bikes in storage.”
After customization slowed, Foster switched to selling parts only and replacing parts if a customer needed help. To date, his store sells all necessities for Japanese motorcycle brands, including Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki.
Some of the main parts sold are tires, rims, oil and inner tubes, Foster said. It also has a variety of leather jackets and gloves for riders.
In the past 48 years, Performance Cycle has never had an in-store computer or paid advertisements. Foster’s clientele comes entirely from word of mouth.
“What got me into retail was all those years of seeing Joe and his ability to attract people and make them a loyal customer,” said Stern, who previously owned a Harley Davidson dealership in California. “He always knew the store’s inventory in his head too.”
Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers” says talented people become experts in their field after putting in 10,000 hours of work, Yvonne Foster said. She said her husband had spent more than 10 times that time becoming a motorcycle expert.
“You can look at Joe and see a tough-looking, cigar-smoking 75-year-old man,” said Yvonne Foster, his wife of more than 20 years. “But what you see is the determination to serve his clientele, who now bring his grandchildren to buy parts for their motorcycles.”
Foster still rides the area on one of his three motorcycles, most recently on the Victory for Veterans Memorial Ride at Wicker Park. Although retirement is near, he has no plans to hang up his leather jacket and stop touring anytime soon.