It is a rare delight to ride a classic motorcycle, so there was no hesitation when Ray Schriever offered me a ride on his prized 1948 Vincent Rapide.
Ray, 69, is a retired aviation engineer who marvels at the British bike’s clever engineering, much of it courtesy of Australian engineer Phil Irving.
“We became friends over the years when he was president of the Vincent Owners Club,” Ray says of Phil.
“He was a genius and this Vincent has some remarkable engineering and unique ideas.”
Unique Vincent Rapide
The mono-shock, frameless chassis bike was ahead of its time.
Among of its more interesting attributes are the two side stands which can be used separately or together to create a front wheel stand.
There is also a rear wheel stand and a hinged rear fender. Together with the front stands, it allows the removal of both wheels at the same time.
The rear wheel can also be spun around so you can have two sets of sprockets for road and race gearing or for the use of a sidecar.
It is also the first bike with hydraulic damping and most of the fasteners are T-bars so there is no need for spanners, even to remove the wheels.
You can even adjust the chain tension with a simple finger-operated control.
“This is truly an engineer’s bike,” Ray says.
“It was the first completely new post-war motorcycle.
“Steel was hard to come by after the war so there is a lot of aluminium and stainless on the bike. It’s a lot lighter than it looks.”
Vincent love affair
Ray’s love affair with the British Vincent HRD brand began as a kid with a photo of a Vincent on his bedroom wall.
“I bought my first Vincent, a Meteor, in 1968 as an apprentice, for $50 and paid it off over 10 weeks. I later bought a Rapide, I sold both bikes and bought a Black Shadow which I rode for years, in fact decades,” he says.
He bought the 1948 Vincent Rapide five years ago from Melbourne for $60,000. It’s now worth about $80,000.
“The Vincent Rapide and Back Shadow are basically the same bike but the Shadow has different cams and larger carburettors,” Ray explains.
“It was in good condition but it had had a hard life as either a speedway or race bike.”
Ray’s done a bit of work on the bike and after tickling the carbs and getting the kickstarter in the right position it starts second go.
He takes it round the block, then allows me a short ride, warning me that the brakes are not great.
As I set out for my ride around the block the Vincent Rapide feels incredibly light with a ballsy engine and surprisingly slick gears which are one up, three down and on the right foot lever.
I almost overshoot the first turn when I go for the brakes and there are virtually none as Ray had warned.
Plus there was the fact that I instinctively clicked down on the right foot lever going up a gear instead of activating the rear drum brake!
It easily flicks left and steers accurately despite that whole front end bouncing around on its girder suspension.
When I round the corner to pull in, Ray implores me to have another lap and give it a red-hot go as he waves his arms in the air.
The ballsy engine roars and the bike vibrates a little but not as much as I thought. It’s a rare and too-short experience, but one I won’t forget.
“They called it the big little bike,” Ray says as I return.
“It’s capable fo 120mph (193km/h) and I’ve startled a few riders in the past on modern bikes as I flash past them.”
Ray has owned a number of motorcycles in his life and still has a BMW R 1100 RS, but says the Rapide is his favourite.
“I’m a Vincent obsessive. I just like the way it works.”