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My immunity to the appeal of motorcycles dwindled in the mid-1960s. I was driving Hilary’s VW bug in Central Park, great curves, especially in the park’s north east. A guy, a black guy, way-laying his little motorcycle over in the curves, gets held at the next light: green! vrooms away, laying into the curves, laying way over in the curves.
Humans without adult two-wheel experience simply cannot imagine getting safe traction from the side of the tire! I caught him at a light. I said, “That’s a cool machine!” He basked in the admiration, said out of the side of his face, “Break your leg soon as look attcha”. Green: zroom! I couldn’t believe the underparts weren’t bottoming out, scrapping the pavement.
I bought a little Yamaha 100 twin, world’s first 100 cc twin. I heeled it so hard through those same curves, imagining other people admiring foolhardy me the way I’d admired that black guy … I swear, sparks flew: I did bottom out! More miraculously, I kept riding!
I was talking bikes to a guy in a leather motorcycle jacket in the West End. A bike, parkable perpendicular to the sidewalk, can nearly always find a space right by your destination. We went out, there it was: at the nearest possible point to the door. The guy told me he had a Vincent Black Shadow at home in his bedroom that he was rebuilding. The guy rebuilt my carburator for me, took me to the Bronx to see his Vincent.
Vincent Black Shadow
My new buddy explained to me — reading every word of every issue of Cycle World further explained to me: In the 1940s Vincent came out with the Black Shadow. 1000 ccs. no frame, so it was light, for a big bike. One was shipped in a crate to the Bonneville Salt Flats. The Vincent was assembled straight of the crate, not tuned, just assembled, and immediately broke the land speed record, by way way.
The Brough Superior, the 1000 cc bike Lawrence of Arabia killed himself on, a gift from Mrs. GBS, would have been fast, but that was two decades earlier: the world had never seen anything like the Vincent.
Well, a year or two further into the 1960s I’m visiting my mother. She’s sold the house I grew up in and moved to an apartment, the upper floor, of a house on the Freeport River. I loved it: the stock car races were across the water. So was land fill. So was a military reserve facility. Next door to the south was a marine storage yard: next door to the north was a commercial clam fleet. I saw the clam guy riding BSA dirt bikes. I saw that he stored them in a shed back of the clam boats. I said Hi, told him I’d seen a Black Shadow once. He told me he’d bought a Black Shadow, just recently. “Oh! Can I see it?” Nah, they guy tells me he got rid of it: fast: thing scared the shit out of him.
And here’s the story he told me:
He bought the Vincent. This was in Freeport, Nassau County, Long Island, New York. He wanted to try it out, but away from traffic. So he trucked the bike, a clammer, he had lots of trucks, to Suffok County, found a long, straight, flat, empty road, parked the truck, rolled down the Vincent …
So the guy’s tooling along, feels nice, he’s proud of himself, when, oh shit, he sees in his mirror, here comes a goddam Cadillac. He’ll ignore it, just let it go by.
But the Caddy doesn’t go by, it rides right next to him, giving little demonstration bursts of power: vroom, vroom. Caddy vroom.
So my clammer says that he says to himself: This is my maiden voyage on this beast, I want to be careful, I’m not ready to fool with some fool Caddy. I’m now doing a sane 70, that’s fast enough for starters. I see my options as: 1) continue to ignore him maybe he’ll go away. 2) pull over to the side, decline to be so much as on the same road with him. 3) Crank the Shodow, win the race instantly: then: if the Vincent doesn’t win instantly, pull over, dismount, refuse to be an idiot for another single second.
So the guy, my clamming neighbor on his just discovered Black Shadow, cranks the accelerator: right hand grip, hand still on the handlebars, feels it accelerate. My buddy counts a tick, glances in the rear view mirror to his left. Where’s the Caddy? !!!
There’s only an empty road behind him! What? Am I hallucinating? Guy looks down at the speedometer. The gauge tells him he’s doing 150 mph! And he’s accelerated it only a crack. Most of the power is still there! in reserve!
And the craziest thing, the guy told me, the bike felt smoother, more stable, at 150 than it had felt at 70!
So, he said, in simple, it scared him. He brought it home, and sold it. He didn’t own it for twenty four hours.
OK. That’s a monster, world famous. My little 100 was so adorable. Its two stroked engine had a very narrow power band toward the top of hight revs. It would scream, then leap! There was a delicious moment when it was really really fast.