10 October, 2016
If you are a fan of classic motorbikes, chances are the name Vincent Black Shadow conjures up feelings of intense desire, or pride if you are a fortunate owner of one of the less than 1,700 of these superb bikes ever made.
Whether you are at motorbike event or manage to catch a sight of this rare beauty out and about, the Vincent Black Shadow remains an eye catching motorbike with more than enough tech under the hood to match it.
The bike was notoriously quick for its time and is generally considered to be the world’s first superbike. It was also famously featured in the novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the author, Hunter S. Thompson famously wrote, "If you rode the Black Shadow at top speed for any length of time, you would almost certainly die."
With its eye catching appearance and interesting history it is easy to see why the Vincent Black Shadow remains popular with collectors and motorbike enthusiasts around the world and fully deserves its place as our motorbike of the month.
History of the Vincent Black Shadow
Following its first model, the Rapide, Vincent decided to follow up by producing a more sports oriented bike. The Black Shadow was adapted from an early model Rapide, with many new features and alterations made to help distinguish the new model. For the project, George and Cliff Brown worked with designer Phil Irving to hand build the Rapide model.
The finished model, which was originally called ‘Gunga Din’, formed the basis of the Black Shadow which was released in 1948. The model was very popular and overtook the Rapide in production quickly. The appearance of the bike was one of its most attractive features for motorbike owners as the black bodywork was distinctive for its time, standing out against the chrome, polished aesthetic of many other models.
The finished design had 54hp at 5700 rpm which was groundbreaking at the time and quickly earned the bike the title of ‘The World's Fastest Production Motorcycle. This was really put to the test by Rolland Free who attempted to break the 150mph barrier in the September of 1948. He was unable to do this initially but instead of giving up, he modified the bike by removing the seat and riding the bike whilst lying prone in his speedos. This paid off for Rolland who went on to break many of the records at the time. The modified version is unique and holds the apt title of the ‘Bathing Suit Bike.”
About the Vincent Black Shadow
The Vincent Black Shadow reached its impressive speed through a combination of the reworked Rapide engine and the improved design of the bike. Instead of being cradled in the bike’s frame rails, the engine was suspended above, becoming a stressed member of the bike. The engine itself was a 1998-cc V-Twin meaning that the bike was able to reach speeds of around 125 mph in an era where many were struggling to top 100.
The Black Shadow also had a number of other notable features including extensive use of aluminum alloy in its design and spring rear sub-frame. Additionally the black coating, whilst looking effortlessly cool, also helped improve heat dissipation. Each of the 1,700 bikes were hand assembled in the UK, which is just one of the reasons why there are so few of the motorbikes around to this day.
Because of the long lasting popularity of the bikes, the Vincent H.R.D Owners Club commissioned a replica Black Shadow in 2007. The received such positive reviews that they decided to auction the vehicle. It is now owned by a very fortunate member of the Owners Club in New Zealand.
How do you feel about the Vincent Black Shadow? Would you love to get your hands on one? Tweet us at @Footman_James to join our discussion on this iconic vehicle.