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.