Awesome Things – Vincent Black Shadow

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“The World’s Fastest Standard Motorcycle. This is a Fact Not a Slogan.”


The above is a from a Vincent ad in 1952. What a killer line. As a sometimes writer of ad copy I’m unbelievably jealous of it. It’s clean, clear and perfectly true as sixty years ago, the Vincent Black Shadow represented the pinnacle of street-legal performance. Officially timed at 122mph (195km/h), it could outpace Jaguar’s XK120 sportscar – then the world’s fastest production car – making it the first true Superbike, and the benchmark of motorbike excellence.

Awesome Points

  1. Hunter S. Thompson was obsessed with the Black Shadow, referred to it in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and is quoted as saying “If you rode the Black Shadow at top speed for any length of time, you would almost certainly die. That is why there are not many life members of the Vincent Black Shadow Society.”

  2. Back in 1948 the Black Shadow possessed all the criteria that define a classic. It was outrageously expensive, provided unequalled performance, and looked mean and purposeful. While other manufacturers were dipping their top models in chrome to symbolise extravagance, Vincent went against convention by painting the Black Shadow sinister black.

  3. Rollie Free smashed the Bonneville Salt Flats record wearing just a bathing suit, a rubber cap and sneakers on a modified Shadow, besting the old record held by Harley-Davidson.

  4. In high-performance Black Shadow form, and especially in competition Black Lightning guise, the Vincent was so fast it took over 20 years for anyone to come along with faster production machines.

  5. Aside from being fast, Vincents are technically interesting. Their narrow-angle V-twins have aluminum pistons, forged connecting rods, a unique rocker arm design, twin Amal carburetors and boasting four speeds when a ¬Harley-Davidson had only three. And at a time when no other bike manufacturer cared about brakes, most American bikes had just one rear brake, Vincents had four brake drums.

  6. If it was a normal bike you’d day everything is comfortable. For a superbike it’s unbelievable. Nothing is stripped away in an effort to find speed and everything is adjustable – if you have big feet, you can extend the shift lever so your toe catches the end of it, want to change your riding position, the Feridax Dualseat was adjustable, prefer a hard stop, you can change brake tension with your fingertips

  7. Highlighting just how ahead of their times the Vicents were the 1956 film version of George Orwell’s novel 1984 had the police riding fully faired Vicents (which sadly didn’t catch on early enough to save Vincent as a company – but did as a concept years later).

Lastly, and here’s the blatant plug. Like Awesome things? You should check out MrHawke Flex Pomade.


Awesome Images – Vicent Black Shadow

Vicent Black Shadow Land Bonneville record

Rollie Free – Record
Photo: HARRIS VINCENT GALLERY INC.


Main Photo: Phillip Tooth


Black Shadow Side Profile

The Glory of the Black Shadow
Photo: Mecum Auctions

Vicent Black Shadow Speedo

Black Shadow Speedo
Photo: Mecum Auctions


Written by Sam Smith. Article first published on April 16, 2018. Return to the Hawke Guide ›

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