‘SO MUCH MORE THAN JUST AN EN­GINE’

Though its top speed grabbed head­lines, the Black Shadow’s han­dling was equally ahead of its time. CB’S Mike Armitage ex­plores the chas­sis and rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence

Classic Bike (UK) - - VINCENT BLACK SHADOW -

Vincent’s big V-twin pushed bound­aries of straight-line per­for­mance, but also set the bench­mark for chas­sis de­sign. With its en­gine as a stressed mem­ber, the first rear-end that we now recog­nise as a swingarm and eye-open­ing ad­justa­bil­ity, the Black Shadow shaped mod­ern mo­tor­cy­cles.

Swingarm rear sus­pen­sion had been dab­bled with pretty much since bikes were in­vented – Amer­ica’s Thomas Mo­tor Com­pany had a tri­an­gu­lated de­sign on their Auto-bi as early as 1903. But though oth­ers tried swin garms and springs, Vincent’s patented can­tilever swingarm first seen on the Me­teor and Comet sin­gles es­tab­lished a lay­out since used by al­most ev­ery ma­jor brand. With damped sus­pen­sion units added on the Rapide, they set the blue­print for the can­tilever mono shocks on to­day’s bikes.

The unit-con­struc­tion en­gine for the 1946 B-se­ries Rapide was as a load-bear­ing part of the chas­sis, so Vincent didn’t need a nor­mal frame. A sim­ple spine fixed the steer­ing head to the en­gine and dou­bled as the oil tank, the swingarm hang­ing from the back of the en­gine. Du­cati’s ‘mono­coque’ 1199 Pani­gale looked rad­i­cal when it was launched in 2012, yet was repli­cat­ing Vincent’s vi­sions of 70 years be­fore.

Black Shadow chas­sis de­sign went fur­ther, with the fric­tion-con­trolled girder fork re­placed with the Gir­draulic set-up. With springs run­ning along­side the fork blades and a cen­tral hy­draulic damper, the firm’s new 125mph ma­chine had proper ride qual­ity when many Bri­tish bikes still had rigid frames. There was more: ge­om­e­try could be al­tered, and ’bar, foot­peg, levers and seat were ad­justable. This was cut­tingedge in 1948 – and is still be­yond most bikes now.

Ride a Black Shadow to­day and it’s hard to think it’s a 70-year-old de­sign. Ut­terly sta­ble with a very ‘together’ feel, its ge­om­e­try and low weight give won­der­ful low-speed agility. Great steer­ing lock, too. Up at mod­ern road speeds the bike is un­flus­tered and re­mains sim­ple to han­dle. And the mo­tor plays a part: the fa­mous V-twin of­fers lazy torque for easy progress and is won­der­fully re­laxed in the mid­dle of its range, with a light twist­grip and great sense of con­nec­tion be­tween your right hand and the crank.

And yes, it’s still brisk. If it hits 60mph in sec­ond gear, school­boy logic means 120mph in fourth…

Sim­ple, yet very clever at the same time

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