The bike behind the bathing suit: The first Vincent Black Lightning


Sometimes, important moments are made truly historic with a single photograph. The sailor kissing a woman in Times Square on V-J Day in 1945. Cassius Clay standing over a downed Sonny Liston in 1965. The U.S. hockey team celebrating victory over Russia in the 1980 Winter Olympics. And, for motorcycling, Rollie Free streaking across the Bonneville Salt Flats aboard a racing Vincent, wearing nothing but a bathing suit, canvas shoes, and a shower cap. It is the defining image of what is now regarded as the quintessential Vincent bike.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2017/11/30/the-first-vincent-black-lightning


What a handsome bike! And the speeds that a Vincent Black Lightning could attain were phenomanol! I have always appreciated the lines, and the looks of British motorcycles from the BSA’s to the Triumph and Nortons from the 60’s to today. They easily eclispe the fat, slovenly Harley Davidsons that are only fit for fat, middle aged twits to cruise on. Hartleys are so over rated. The real American icon for a cycle is the Indian!


I have seen the photo and read the history of this iconic bike numerous times over the years. But never addressed in any article chronicling this event is what to me is equally significant. Who was the photographer, what vehicle was the photographer in, or did the photographer pan the bike from a distance? Who owns and where is the original photograph today?


Ever heard of a Buell 1125R or an 1125CR? Built by Erik Buell, the company was then owned wholly by Harley Davidson, and built in Wisconsin.

146 crankshaft horsepower, 375 lbs dry weight. Water cooled 72 degree V-Twin with a slipper clutch and 6 speed gear box.
Capable of 172 plus mph with R model gearing, potentially more if converted to chain drive and using the right sprockets.

I’ve had one up to 159 mph on a rapidly deflating rear tire, and it was still more stable than most bikes I’ve ridden at much lower speeds with good tires.

I’m currently installing a big bore kit (1190cc) on one. When it is finished, I plan to do some experimentation on another to see how much power I can get by using the swirl intake cams and adjustable cam gears EBR (followup company founded by Erik Buell) used to allegedly make 185 crank horse power.