Thursday, August 01, 2013


From the Bonhams Quail Lodge auction catalog (which I wrote!):
Jeff Decker is rightly famous for his sculpture, the motorcycle equivalent of Frederick Remington, which has earned him the position of ‘official Harley Davidson sculptor’; his twice life-size ‘Hillclimber bronze statue outsidethe Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee is truly magnificent and a testament to his tremendous artistic talent.  Mr. Decker is also a collector of rare motorcycles (Crockers, genuine racing Harleys from the 1920s onwards, Speedway machines, etc), motorcycle memorabilia, motoring artwork, and ‘1%er club cutoffs’, the sleeveless vests emblazoned with motorcycle club logos.  All of his obsessions with the art and culture around motorcycling have made him a legend in his lifetime, especially for his outspoken opinions on these same subjects.

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.  

The fact that the most famous Vincents are not actual ‘Black Lightnings’ is critical to understanding Jeff Decker’s motorcycle: the parts used in its creation are mostly ex-Marty Dickerson, as used in his Bonneville Salt Flat record attempts and drag-racing career. They were gathered from archVincent collector and recognized authority Herb Harris, who supplied the ex-Dickerson crankcases, two front cylinder heads, and genuine Black Lightning wheel hubs.  Most parts used are genuine Vincent, and the engine is tuned to Black Lightning specification, with MkIII racing cams, and two ‘front’ cylinder heads.  As the important parts of his machine were actually used in competition, Jeff Decker says “my bike’s got more racing history than 90 percent of the Lightnings out there.”

After collecting the necessary basics, Decker set about narrowing the fuel tank by 4.5” and lowering that tank as much as possible onto the engine to emphasize the brutal beauty of the Vincent V-twin engine.  The tiny ‘banana’ seat is cantilevered from the rear engine mount, and makes the saddle height nearly 8” lower than stock.  He fabricated a custom exhaust system with terminates in a ‘waffle box’ silencer underneath the engine.  The handlebars are straight, with Decker’s own custom-fabricated controls.  The headlamp is a tiny unit tucked well into the girder forks, which use a custom hydraulic shock absorber.  The alloy wheel rim flanges are ‘Deckerated’ with aesthetic drilling, along with the brake cooling ribs, andan original Black Shadow speedometer crowns the front girder fork.  The complete machine is amazingly compact and light, weighs significantly less than a standard Vincent, and looks lean and tough.

Jeff Decker’s “Black Lightning” is a rare thing; a custom motorcycle built by an actual artist, with his hands and by his own design, as an homage to the machines which passed into legend through their racing and record-breaking success.  It is especially rare being a ‘sculpture’ by a famous artist which can actually be ridden down the road, and ridden hard.


Nortley said...

Negative comments aside, it's good that the Black Lightning did come along. 1952 Vincent Rapide just wouldn't have cut it as a song title.OB ejgh

GuitarSlinger said...

No matter what Jeff may say .... it aint a Black Lightening ... No matter what the critics may say ... its still one of the best Vincent customs of recent times . But three things ...

1) No mention of the godfather of Vincent custom and hot rods here in the US ? Really Paul . That'd be the recently deceased Big Sid btw .

2) The negative comments about the real Black Lightenings are .... how shall we say this Paul ... a bit unfounded and more than a bit Historically unsubstantiated .

3) I thought this bike had already been sold ... so whats the deal ? Didn't sell the first time around or the second owners already selling it ?

Too bad Jeff let this one go . It was a great pairing with his Crocker bobber

blogboy said...

It seems obscene to modify a Vincent for non-functional, purely stylistic reasons. That's what modern Harleys are for

Anonymous said...

Is "Cafe" the new (old) "Chopper" fad?

GuitarSlinger said...

@ blogboy - A minor correction if I may . Jeff's Vincent custom along with that of Simon Mills ( see Southsiders site ) are fully functioning and ridable customs ... both ( especially Mr Mills ) having seen a fair amount of riding miles underneath them . Unlike a certain other Vincent custom who's moniker and creator I will not mention .

As far as customizing and hot rodding Vincent's ... that practice has been in vogue since the inception of the mark ... so though Jeff's bike has IMO no real heritage or pedigree to speak of despite any and all claims .. he has followed in the footsteps of many before him ( Read Big Sids " Vincents with Big Sid " )

davidabl2 said...

It is worth mentioning once again that this bike was built up from parts-not by "desecrating" a rare machine. If you wanted to be negative about it I guess you could say that a number of restorations could have been completed with the parts used to build it.
I've seen it in person and I think the "loss" was well worthwhile.

davidabl2 said...

One last thing.. I don't feel it's correct to say that "this machine has no history" (as a single machine, that is)
It's history begins now, with the estimable Mr. Decker.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, it's ugly and stupid. All involved should be ashamed, including the Vintagent. Want to see a proper Vincent custom? Have a look at John Surtees's old race bike.

Anonymous said...

His work speaks for it's self. He understands motorcycle history, artistic balance with historic lore. I was glad to see it and aware it was a special motorbike. To reject it for historic reasons is very short sighted in my opinon. History is made every day.

Anonymous said...

I've noticed none of Jeff's friends have added comments here so I will.

To add tinfoil to a lightning rod, I'm going to say Jeff just may be more talented in customizing bikes than sculpting. The fact that he loves controversy is irrelevant. @Anonymous#2 is right - he knows his history and he knows his bikes.

"Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse." -Winston Churchill

Jeff's incorporated both with this functional sculpture.


Anonymous said...

Looked at auction results. It didn't sell again, for at least the second time.

The Vintagent said...

Yep, no sale. In fact, no sale on any of the 3 bikes at the Bonhams Quail Lodge sale this year; a racing 1920s Indian, a BMW R42, and Jeff's bike. So much for the theory that 'car guys' will spend 'pocket money' on cool bikes! By comparison, the car sales were a grand slam, with a lot of cars going for well over $1M, and around an 80% sale rate.