1952 Vincent Rapide Series C “Black Lightning” Special by Jeff Decker

For someone who doesn’t like stock Vincents, Jeff Decker builds a mighty fine Black Lightning. He’s a sculptor as well as a bike builder, and his eye for a line is evident with this beautiful salt racer. As these exclusive Horst Roesler shots reveal, Decker has managed to make the Vincent look fast even when it’s standing still on the Bonneville salt flats.

Decker has received some flak over this bike from Vincent purists. But his Black Lightning is not one of the 30-odd bona fide factory bikes. He assembled it using period-correct salvaged parts supplied by luminaries such as Marty Dickerson and Mel Helde, Jr., who was Rollie Free’s mechanic. And Decker has nothing to hide: “this bike really is a cobbled-together Frankenstein that I’m not ashamed of.”

At first glance, the Vincent DNA is obvious in this machine. Mostly in that huge engine. But park it next to a ‘real’ Lightning, and the differences become obvious. The rider sits a full foot lower on the Schwinn Sting-Ray seat than on the stock machine. The tank is several inches narrower: indeed, only the footpegs and bars extend beyond the width of the engine. The headlight is from a 1970s Honda ATC, and complements the oversized speedo better than the bulky original lamp.

Jeff Decker is equally outspoken regarding his ultra-famous customized motorcycle, a 1952 Vincent Rapide which he calls ‘The Black Lightning.’ Decker uses the term ‘Lightning’ to emphasize his machine’s full-race specification, and to puncture any inflated notions that the infamous Vincent Black Lightning – of which only 31 were built – was the greatest motorcycle ever. In truth, the men who made Vincent famous by setting numerous speed records and winning ‘drag races’ all across the Southwest – Marty Dickerson and Rollie Free – used race-tuned Rapide and Black Shadow models.