Vincent Rally in the Rockies, 2012

 

Vincent Rally in the Rockies, 2012

 

Heading east on my Norton through Utah’s lonely red rock country, I came upon and overtook a Vincent Rapide in touring livery. Ahead on the horizon were three dots, and as I neared them it was clear that they, too, were Vincents and equally clear that all were headed to Mancos, Colorado for the rally organized by Sam Manganaro of Vincentworks LLC (www.vincentworks.com). These four intrepid travelers, I was to learn, call themselves the “1900 Club” for the 1900 miles they rode their 60-year old motorcycles to the Colorado rally.

 

Vincent Rally
Member of the 1900 Club

 

Vincent owners are different from other people: they have more money. That’s the 600-pound elephant in the room, and I can’t help feeling a bit like a lower class party crasher, roaming unsupervised through a field of motorcycles with an average market value greater than that of my house.  By definition there are millionaires here - “investors” and “philanthropists”  - but there are also lifelong motorcyclists who chose Vincent decades ago when they were idiosyncratic but affordable motorcycles, not investment-grade icons. I rubbed elbows with people at both ends of that spectrum, and our mutual obsession with vintage motorcycles was the great equalizer. We were all there to celebrate the bikes, and for a few days the Echo Basin RV Resort in Mancos, Colorado was a classless society.

 

Vincent Rally
Vincent for Sale

 

Vincent owners tend to be a “mature” lot, as one might expect. I met Jim Buckwald, who at 84 years old still rides his Egli all over the continent. The youngest rider at the rally was 47 years old. But what they lack in youthful vigor, Vincent riders make up for with enthusiasm; about one third of the sixty-plus bikes in attendance were ridden to the event, including the four that came nearly two thousand miles from British Columbia.

 

Vincent Rally
Jim Buchwald

 

Like pornography, a little exposure is titillating, a lot is overwhelming. The sight of sixty beautiful Vincent twins lined up in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains was mind-boggling. While most were Rapides and Black Shadows, there were some fine Egli Vincents, Prince-framed specials and a beautifully executed if unrideable chopper, nine feet long from stem to stern. A Vincent-powered dirtbike project leaned against a pine tree, and John Renwick’s streamliner, “Altometheus 2”, sat in repose, its cigar-shaped body off to expose its inner workings. Just a week earlier, at Bonneville Salt Flats, the streamliner suffered a front tire failure at 180 MPH. Amazingly, the rider did not crash!

 

Vincent Rally
A Vincent at the Bonneville Salt Flats

 

One of the most intriguing bikes at the rally was Dennis Magri’s Vindian. Magri spent fifteen years planning, building and refining this machine, and his deliberate approach shows in the details. The Vindian is a Vincent Rapide engine in a 1946 Indian Chief frame, but due to Dennis’ careful engineering and workmanship, this extensively modified custom looks like a factory model.

 

Vincent Rally
Dennis Magri on the Vindian

 

Magri enjoys the reactions he gets riding the bike. “The fun part is when someone sees the bike, knows something is amiss but can’t put his finger on it. That happens quite often.”

He’s justifiably proud of his work, and points out details and modifications made with the goal of simplifying maintenance and field repairs. The bike is intended to be a reliable long-distance tourer. “Modern bikes are great but I’d rather be on something that shakes, rattles and rolls.” Magri is no stranger to long trips on old iron, having ridden his 1936 Indian Chief from San Francisco to Alaska and back.

The star of the show, though, was Gunga Din. Originally the 1947 factory test mule,  Gunga Din featured an oil-in-frame backbone fitted with a unit construction Series A Rapide engine. The bike was tuned, developed and raced for several years, turning in the fastest lap (86.25 MPH) at the Isle of Man TT in 1948 and winning hillclimbs, sprints and endurance events over the years. The bike underwent continuous development, and by 1952 Gunga Din had been tuned to what became Black Lightning specs, and ran 143 MPH that year in Ireland.

 

Vincent Rally
Gunga Din

 

With the decline of Vincent’s fortunes in the mid-fifties, Gunga Din was retired and tucked away in a dusty corner. Over the years it was cannibalized, sold and resold, piece by piece. It’s a long story, but eventually the original parts were recovered and the bike painstakingly restored. It is now owned by a Canadian named Bar Hodgson, who brought Gunga Din to the rally. Given the historical significance of this machine, it garnered plenty of attention, and when Hodgson wheeled it onto the starter rollers the air was electric with anticipation. Curious and admiring spectators circled the bike and when Bar toed the starter switch, Gunga Din fired right up, its open pipes shattering the morning quiet with echoes of former glory. Sixty-five years of motorcycling history disappeared in a cloud of over-rich starting mixture and the crowd stood mesmerized, suddenly part of the ongoing saga of this iconic machine.

In the end, a Vincent rally is not just a motorcycle rally, any more than a Vincent is just a motorcycle. Vincent owners are not like the rest of us: they have more money. But with few exceptions, Vincent owners who bring their Shadows, Princes, Rapides and Lightnings to a rally are there to celebrate their special appreciation for these wonderful machines. And to the four Canadians who rode their old warhorses one thousand, nine hundred miles to the event... You are living a dream I didn’t know I had.

 

Vincent Rally 
Vincent Engine

 

 

Vincent Rally
Red Vincent

 

 

Vincent Rally
Part of the Line-Up

 

(All photos courtesy RC Herman) 

 

RC Herman
Crestone, CO
Jan 2013