IT SEEMS every nation has it’s own hero motorcycles — Americans unquestionably worship the Harley, Brits (depending perhaps on your generation), adore the Norton, Kiwis stand proud that they (well, one of them) created the Britten 1000, Indians love their Royal Enfields (despite nicking them from the Poms), the Russians (still) have the Ural, and Japan has plenty to choose from — but it will be certainly something made in Japan.
But what about Australia?
While we did have Alron dirt bikes for a while, the run was short and they lacked headline appeal. For the most part, we Aussies don’t have an obvious local hero so we’re happy enough to swoon over bikes from any corner of the globe.
But for all that, we do like the notion of an Australian connection — and that’s one reason that the British-made Vincent, and especially the Vincent Black Shadow, has near-legendary status down-under.
For the uninitiated, one of the engineering brains behind Vincent’s big V-twins was an Australian named Phil Irving. We have covered some of the Vincent story previously (see our spread on West Aussie Ian Boyd’s jaw-dropping Vincent collection here) so we’re not going to repeat ourselves at any length. But suffice to say that Irving played a pivotal role in the design of the overhead valve 500cc single engine that powered the Vincent Meteor and Comet, and then for virtually siamese-twinning two such engines to create the V-twin 1000cc motor that powered the Rapide and then the Black Shadow.
The Rapide and Black Shadow can lay claim to a whole bunch of engineering feats including cantilever rear suspension, double-sided brakes (with drums on both sides of each wheel), and extensive use of aluminium alloys to reduce weight.
But it is the Black Shadow’s out-and-out top speed that has carved it a place in history.
A breathed-on Shadow (generally referred to by moto-history buffs as a Black Lightning) scorched across the Bonneville salt flats in 1948 at a previously unheard-of 150mph, its rider in a ‘planking’ position and wearing little more than a pair of bathers. The photo has gone down in history.
Less well known is this piece of fast-bike history: The Black Shadow was the fastest bike in the world for 35 years.
According to Wikipedia (and who are we to argue?) the world’s fastest bike up to 1948 was the 1927 Brough Superior SS100, supposedly good for 110mph.
In 1949, the 150mph Black Shadow smashed the SS100 from top spot and remained the fastest bike ever made until the Kawasaki GPz900 of 1984.
And that’s one hell of a record.