Our cultural exchange program with our motorcycling buddies overseas at Motorcycle News continues as they give us the scoop on the latest reincarnation of the Vincent Black Shadow.
The 2007 Vincent Black Shadow is not a restoration. All parts are based on original factory engineering drawings or precisely measured original components.
Pictures don't do this Vincent Black Shadow justice. After first staring at e-mailed pics of it for a long, long time, my conclusion was it looked immaculate; the biz. But now, in a garage in Kent, with its chromed and painted parts just inches from my fingertips, my thoughts start with 'immaculate' and end with 'perfection'. It doesn't matter which bit my eyes fall on, it's 'perfection'. This must be how the 2200 worldwide members of the Vincent HRD Owners Club
first got hooked.
From the gloss black finish of the engine cases to the chrome rimmed upright speedometer and all the parts precisely torqued in place elsewhere, there's not a sign of ill-fitting tool abuse or stains from years of grime and use - the usual traits of age and restoration. And there's a very good reason for this: this Vincent is not a restoration. It is new - all new. Every grease nipple, section of frame and cables are under 500 miles old. The smell of a slight fuel weep and marked tires are the only items to show this is a runner. Oh, and there's the '07 registration plate. Awesome.
And now it's my time to start it. Although drilled in the precise technique, I admit I'd forgotten it just after turning one of the two fuel taps on (it had already been run to warm the engine) and debating whether to push the bar-mounted choke levers to fully on. Instead, I take up on the offer of help to start it. One of the three carefully watching members of the Vincent Owners Club (VOC) takes over. It starts so easily that I'm truly humbled by the experience and by a machine around sixty years in design.
The burble and rustle of moving parts aren't smothered by the healthy exhaust note. The bobbing of the bike on tickover accentuates the feel of a living, breathing piece of history under this Vincent ignoramus. Excitement and nervousness roll into one. I haven't felt this way since my first ride on a 500 Grand Prix bike, or Rossi's RC211V. I need a wee.
While the clutch lever is in the 'normal' place, the gearlever and its shaft is in another world. My right boot hovers above the gear lever as I struggle to remember the shift movement: one up and three down. First gear goes home with a shunt of metal somewhere along that gear shaft deep in the engine cases. It didn't need the extra blips of throttle and deliberate clutch to pull away. It might be an old 'un but the mechanicals are all there and in mint condition. The shift to second is as sweet. But the front brake isn't.
The 2007 Vincent Black Shadow uses an air-cooled 998cc 50-degree V-Twin with a claimed output of 55bhp.
There's little tension in the two front brake cables down to the twin 7-inch front brake drums. Cheap Chinese trail bikes might have stronger front brakes, but then they are about half the weight of the Shadow. My left foot has to work the two rear brake drums - an alien concept that results in my foot resting on the brake as I pull from a junction only to stall it. Bugger. Time to put into practice those forgotten preachings of starting a Vincent.
Right peg lifted and kickstart swung out in record time, dab the kickstart until compression is reached, pull the de-compressor lever, dab the kickstarter again until it just goes over compression, let go of the de-compressor and stamp down on the kickstarter like it was a slug on my lettuce patch. It starts so easily.
Along A-roads around Brands Hatch, the Black shadow is as happy as I am. The upright speedo's needle ratchets its way round to 70 mph with the occasional break in its ascent from changing gear. Digital speedos, pah, all electrics and expense with no character whatsoever. Bloody lovely: it's sunny and dry and I'm riding a bike with a bark of an exhaust note that is immediately recognizable as a slow-revving classic's.
The damped Girdraulic forks and cantilever-mounted twin rear springs with separate damper chamber are surprisingly modern in feel. They soak up most of the big dips and bumps but let you know when you hit sunken or raised manholes. The freshly adjusted front brake is working at full strength, or rather as much strength as my fingers can muster. Not so much slow but rather deliberate gear changes (one of the VOC three wise men has said I'll hear rapid cog swaps rather than feel them) keep the V-Twin motor on the boil, but then I make a discovery that makes my smile even wider. The throttle tube has a longer throw than I thought, and the extra twist fully lift the remote carb plungers.
That extra rate of fuel kicks off an even bigger smile. It's not a startling rate of acceleration, but something like an old air-cooled SS900 Ducati lump would give up on a good day. The sharper edged exhaust note bounces off hedgerows and trees and I can hear myself coming and going.
At 80 mph there's a strong feeling through the bars and pegs of more speed to come but mechanical empathy rules today. That upright speedo tops out at 150 mph, which was a sharp way of telling the world in its day the 'Shadow' was the fastest bike in the world. But it's not my bike and the tires aren't exactly sports numbers - they are based as close to the original rubber as possible. It's funny how a vision of a skinny (3.5 x 19in) and square-profiled Avon rear tire can pop up with a series of bends approaching. I'll tell you, we don't know we're born today.
The old-school speedo mirrors the Vincent's original charm. No need for digital, analog, or LCD here.
Using the front brake makes the chassis dip while the forks stay the same length. If a a comparison has to be drawn it would have to be Yamaha's over-engineered hub-steered GTS1000. A strange feeling but reassuring one at the same time as the bike feels better connected to the road. A little bit of modern day body shift off the seat should see us through these S-bends.
The Vincent takes it all in stride. Yes, the weight of the bike (227 kg / 500.5 lbs wet) is telling through the bars when flicking left then right, not the age of its design. Only that the rear tire causes the stable handling to get upset - riding off the edge of the tread induces a weave which settles down as quickly as it started.
Spirited riding compounds the belief that the Black Shadow really was the Ducati 1098 of its day, and totally understandable why it was the machine to have way back then in the late '40s - even though its £350 (around $700 U.S.) price was on par with a new house. I can also see why people get hooked on wanting a Vincent in the garage today even though we'd be looking anywhere between £25-30K (and more at auction) for a decent original. As for this bike - a brand new machine, don't forget - there's more to say. Read on.
A NEW VINCENT BLACK SHADOW, HOW COME?
The Vincent-HRD Owners Club is a non-profit-making club dedicated to preserving the heritage of the Vincent marque. Not only does it run a very competent and successful club consisting of archivists, engineers, owners, machine registrar, boffins etc., it also has ties with The VOC Spares Company Ltd. This associate company deals purely in spares for Vincent-HRD machines and, together with the club, an idea was formed to build a complete bike to ensure the quality of its spares and to see whether or not every part was available. It also happened to be the next stage up from when the club successfully built a complete new engine in 2004.
The model of the bike was decided - C-model circa 1949-54 - and the plans from 2005 were put into action in early 2006.
The allure of owning a Vincent Black Shadow retains its luster. Otherwise, why would the Vincent HRD Owners Club have an estimated 2200 members worldwide?
The project wasn't easy. While most of the spares are common replacement parts (not copies but made to original dimensions and spec) to fit on existing chassis, a new machine meant building a new upper frame member (the headstock and main spar that also held the engine oil from which the engine attaches/hangs from) and rear frame member (the subframe). There was also the matter of producing the Girdraulic forks to the original exacting standards - in the end the forks were machined from solid so are stronger than the originals although you couldn't tell them apart. The building problems didn't end there. As the club's information officer Paul Adams says: "Where we didn't have the original factory engineering drawings to make parts, we had to measure exactly original components and present them as new drawings to the engineering companies we used. If these parts were quantity ordered they'd be fairly cheap, but the initial outlay would be huge. In effect the parts we had made are bespoke and that sort of quality costs money."
WHAT'S SO SPECIAL ABOUT VINCENT BLACK SHADOWS?
They were deigned by Brits, built by Brits and ridden by just about everybody, and still are. The fact that it was fast for its day, handled as good as any 1970s Japanese bike and was full of technical goodness says it all. I mean, what other bikes do you know where thumbwheels are used to adjust the chain so easily and T-bar-type QD wheel spindle removal is standard? Everything about the bike is adjustable, that's internal and external, it has left and right sidestands that adapt to be a front wheel lift, and there's a mainstand. Adjustable rear damping and steering damper, too. To top it off there's a removable metal tool tray under the seat. To sum up the Vincent Black shadow: the bollocks.
WHO DO I MAKE THE CHECK PAYABLE TO?
You don't. This machine is unique and, therefore, desirable to the point where big money could be involved. But as it essentially belongs to the Vincent-HRD Owners Club it's only fair that the machine will end up in the hands of a club member. All club members are invited to tender a sealed bid for the bike. The closing date for bids is August 31 this year and the winning bid will be announced at the club's annual dinner and dance Oct. 21, 2007. Even this old hack is contemplating joining the VOC.
The VOC has no intention of producing a limited run of complete machines due to red tape (insurance, liability, type approval. However, there will be 'approved constructors' who will uphold the stringent standards the VOC demands and these will be supplied parts to create a bike to customer requirements.
After Franklin remembered the Vincent's starting sequence, he fired her up and took her for a spin along the A-Roads around Brands Hatch.
Vincent Black Shadow
Cost (est): £25-35k ($49,900-$69,900 U.S.)
Power (claimed): 55bhp
Torque (claimed): N/A
Dry weight: 206 kg (454 lbs)
Info: 01322 666 455 www.voc.uk.com
Fuel: 16 litres (4.22 gal.)
Seat height: 826mm (32.5 in.)
Wheelbase: 1435mm (56.5 in.)
Engine: Air-cooled 998cc (84 x 90mm) 4-valve SOHC 4-stroke 50-degree V-Twin. 2 x type 276 Amal carburetors.
4-speed gearbox. Chain final drive.
Chassis: Tubular steel duplex cradle frame.
Suspension:Vincent Girdraulic front forks and cantilever-mounted dual springs with remote oil chamber rear suspension.
Brakes: 2 x 7 in. diameter drum brakes front and rear with single leading shoe.
Tires: Avon - 3.00 x 20 front, 3.50 x 19 rear
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