I bought my Vincent in 1974 when I was nineteen. The total price was $600, and I was working in a machine shop for $2.50 an hour. A brand new Norton Commando was $1995, and a used Vincent in good shape was $4000. Mine was a basket case. I got wheels, forks, oil tank, gas tank, flywheels and rods, engine cases, cylinders and barrels. Aside from that, the engine was completely empty! Later I found out this bike had recently changed hands several times, what got sold became a smaller pile every time, and I showed up last.
1977. I got the idea in my head that I wanted to go Vintage Roadracing. There really was no such class in those days, but I was determined to make a Vincent roadracer. Here I’ve taken the forks off my ’72 Norton, and made a fiberglass tank, seat, and front fender. I really know nothing about chassis geometry. I have Mukini carbs from a Suzuki 500, and S&W twin air-shocks under the seat. Some electronic tach from a Harley; I think my priorities were ass-backwards, seeing the empty crankcases and also the front number plate and steering damper.
1981. The bike ran for the first time. Ignition was total loss, and the Mukinis had been replaced with Amals. The chain tensioner used a skateboard wheel, and was necessary because the swingarm pivot was much too high, and wore out the chain in 500 miles, which is when it all came apart for its next reincarnation.
1984. The concept now is to build a “road sled”, something street legal. I had realized by now that a Vincent roadracer was not such a great idea. I liked the idea of a one piece tank / seat combo, and this shape is fashioned out of cardboard. The Norton front end has been replaced with 1980 Suzuki 1100 adjustable forks. 36mm S&W Blue Magnum carbs (Lectron copies) replace the Amals, and a Hi-Jacker air shock from a car (remember those?) is used on the rear. It never worked either. . .
As the years went by, technology advanced, and I got better at designing and making things. Fillet brazed mild steel got replaced with TIG-welded 4130. Here’s a collection of non-standard Vincent parts that were never used.
1994. Ten years later. Still haven’t ridden more than those original 500 miles. Note the billet triple clamps, Honda 600 Hurricane wheels and brakes, new 4130 swingarm with eccentric axle adjusters (trick), and relocated swingarm pivot. Still haven’t figured out what kind of rear shock to use.
1995. Vincent is getting closer . . . the basic rolling chassis is done, and I like the orange / turquoise blue combo.
I went with a modified Honda 250 motocrosser shock, positioned and extended to give 4.5″ of rear wheel travel. Shifting is on the left. Note carbon-fibre muffler, and CNC foot peg mounts. It was time for fenders and a tank / seat combo.
1996. I’ve set myself a deadline of April 30 to finish the bike so I can ride it. Here I’ve had a little problem with my fender mold. April 30 is eight weeks away, and I put the rest of my life on hold. I figure a deadline is the only way I’m ever going to get it done. Remember, I’ve had this bike for 24 years and still have only ridden it 500 miles. The fender molds were a complete disaster when they wouldn’t separate, and cost me a week of extra work.
Making the shape of the tank / seat from plastic welding rod and a glue gun. A lot of 16 hour days were worked in this time. The April 30 deadline would allow me to leave a couple of weeks later for California . . . on the bike. Some people thought I was a little crazy.
This is the bottom of the gas tank. I put carbon fibre over the hump so that, if you looked down through the filler cap (GSX-R) you would swear it was ALL carbon fibre. I learned a lot about fiberglass during this period.
April 30, 1996. I ride the bike to Iona Beach, several miles away; Vincent seems OK. There is no kickstarter, so it’s bump start everywhere. The seat is only 1/4″ foam. Hope you noticed the carbon fibre fenders.
Then I had a problem with the transmission. Then the pushrods. Then the primary drive chain. I was spending way too much time fixing, and I was leaving for California in a week. I did go, broke down three times, and limped home the last 10 miles on one cylinder. It was stressful, which is not how a motorcycle holiday should be.
1997. Last photo of Vincent before leaving for a new home. I have owned this Black Shadow for a quarter of a century. Changes are: new fairing, paint, wiring, air horn, triple clamps, upside down forks, Screamin’ Eagle electronic ignition, and 32mm Mukini flat-slides.
Am I sad? No . . . 25 years and STILL no kickstarter!