On Sept. 13, 1948, Roland “Rollie” Free, riding prone on a specially prepared Vincent Black Shadow considered the first Black Lightning, and wearing nothing more than a pair of beach shoes and a bathing suit and cap, made his historic 150.313mph land speed record run on the Bonneville Salt Flats. The image of Free tearing across the Salt Flats on the “Bathing Suit Bike” is indelibly etched into the motorcycle community’s collective psyche, a vision of speed and outrageous daring that’s never been equaled in the 70 years since.
Recently released on Vimeo, Black Lightning: The Rollie Free Story, details Rollie Free’s life and the facts of his epic 1948 Bonneville run. Produced and directed by motorsports film producer Zach Siglow, the documentary-style, 35-minute tribute features interviews and insights from notables including William Edgar, son of John Edgar, the owner of Free’s record-setting Vincent, and Marty Dickerson, who set two Bonneville records aboard his own Vincent, the “Blue Bike,” in 1951 and 1953.
Free and Edgar were the perfect pair. A former speed boat racer knocked out of competition after an accident, Edgar wanted to beat the 136.183mph Land Speed Record set by Joe Petrali in 1937 aboard a streamlined Harley-Davidson. Snubbed by H-D early in his career, Free was devoted to beating them at their own game and readily embraced the opportunity to ride Edgar’s Vincent.
Also featuring commentary from pre-eminent U.S. motorcycle historian Jerry Hatfield, author of Flat Out! The Rollie Free Story, and motorsports commentator and historian Alain de Cadenet, Siglow’s film is highly recommended. Yours to stream or download for only $8.