Expressions like “acute attention to detail” and “remarkable fit and finish” are commonplace in the custom bike scene, but they barely do justice to the 1952 Vincent Black Shadow known as the Black Falcon. Ian Barry, the brains behind this amazing build, heads up Falcon Motorcycles in Los Angeles where he and six fellow craftsmen worked a year and a half to bring “The Black” to its final form.
The extensively modified Vincent, completed in 2011, is the third motorcycle built by the firm he started 2008. What began as a contemporized tribute to the work of Philip Vincent and Phil Irving became, over time, a sculptural form of Barry’s own creation.
“I tread very lightly at the beginning,” he said, “but started looking at all these parts, thinking, they didn’t have this material or that bearing back then.” And the finished work, while honoring the design and engineering genius of its original creators, became a singular expression of one man’s devotion to craft.
The Black Falcon in race mode
Images of the Black Falcon have appeared in nearly every motorcycle publication of note in the last few years, generating widespread reactions of respect and admiration from both the public and fellow builders. But the limitations of still photography fell short in conveying the breadth of creative work implicit in the minute details and adjustability of the motorcycle. The photos just didn’t reveal the finer points of a hand-built machine that can be reconfigured by hand; that is, without tools.
So the Vintagent, a media company based on vintage motorcycle culture, art and design, created a short video on the intricacies of the Black Falcon, showing just how it all fits together. And comes apart, and changes form before your eyes. The camera lingers on the decorative flourishes and lustrous details, and shows Designer Barry’s hands detaching the fuel tanks as if they were LEGO bricks. He demonstrates the clever adjustability, by hand, of the brake lever, six-position handlebars, foot pegs, shift lever, front and rear wheels, and brakes.
Everywhere you look there’s something to stare at. The adjustable seat’s stainless steel perimeter holds an array of springs, covered by a snap-on touring seat or optional sprint covering. Under the seat, and on the refabricated Vincent Girdraulic front fork, are Works Performance gas shocks. The Touring or Sprint fuel tanks attach to the oil-carrying monocoque chassis with spring-loaded retaining pins. The 8-inch, double-sided, four-leading-shoe front brake drum is milled from a block of aluminum, a signal improvement on the originals in terms of function. The mufflers are made of bronze alloy.
Neither of the Phils, Vincent or Irving, could scarcely imagine what Ian Barry would come to fashion of their original designs. We may safely assume they would both appreciate his commitment to the original design principles though, and probably acknowledge his harmonious unions of form and function.
After which, of course, they would want to hear it run.