Ready to Ride: Vincent Rapide Series B

Only recently bitten by the Vincent bug, Mark Stephenson discovered a Vespa as the gateway drug to classic motorcycles.

Photo by Nick Cedar

“A phone call to P. C. Vincent explaining my troubles — and the fact that I had been talked into entering for the five lap outer circuit handicap race [at Brooklands] on the following week-end produced the sort of service for which the firm has always been noted. The bike was collected, rebuilt (and between you and me, secretly breathed on, I think) and returned in three days.

“We lined up for the race, and I felt horribly out of place with fearsome track machines on either side, drilled almost transparent with holes, and with handlebars which made me want to laugh. There were plenty of glances at my machine, complete with mud-guards, dynamo, toolbox ...

We were off! What fun that ride was and how soon it was all over! On returning to the paddock I was told I had won my Gold Star at 106mph.”

— Jim Kentish, well known mid-20th century British racer, on his first race.

Photo by Nick Cedar

Vincent motorcycles have probably generated more legends per bike built than any other brand. The photo of Rollie Free at the Bonneville Salt Flats stretched out on a Vincent Black Lightning and wearing nothing but a bathing suit has been cited as the most famous motorcycle photo of all time. People still pass around the story of the time George Brown, the works development rider, outran the local police, pushed the Vincent into his garage and had it half apart before the constabulary showed up.

Still on the road

Behind all the stories are real motorcycles, many of which are still taken on the road on a regular basis. A Vincent is one of a handful of bikes built in the 1940s and 1950s that is comfortable at freeway speeds today. It has been estimated that 11,000 were built before Phillip Vincent had to stop production at the end of 1955, and many have survived.

4/29/2021 7:04:51 PM

Vincents are great bikes, but over rated in my view. I raced against a Vincent every week at Great Lakes Dragaway. My 1956 H-D FLH had 1st over Hepolite pistons, a straight pipe and 2 teeth lower gearing. We were side by side in any gear but the mouse trap clutch cost me a bike length or 2 by the end. H-D went 13:01, Vincent 12:90s. In 1967 TC Christenson went 152mph at GLD on a 750 Norton Atlas nitro drag bike. Just short of the Vincent at Bonneville.

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