Confessions of my cousin Steve Pate on his motorcycle mania
Matthew and Sid Biberman visited Chicago for the show on June 19th-21st, and were able to spend some time at my shop meeting people and signing books, etc.
It is a visit I will never forget, for several reasons. As Glenn Shriver put it, I got to “sit at the feet of the master” for a while. What capped it all off however, was the opportunity to be the 6th person ever to ride their Vincati.
To say I was giddy at the opportunity would be a massive understatement. When Matt offered, I said “ I will ride it… so be careful what you offer. I ride everything I get offered”.
He appeared unfazed, or at least did a damn good job pretending. As part of my job I get to ride seemingly everything, new and old. The ‘catch twenty-two’ is that I no longer get very excited by much.
I manage a large collection in addition to running the restoration business. So, riding this stuff usually means I am simultaneously looking for issues or troubleshooting, whether it needs it or not. More often than not… I come back from a ride on a bike most people would die for thinking, “Nice bike, but….”. It has kind of ruined it as a hobby, admittedly. But, I have no complaints.
Now, to be perfectly honest, I like my Vincents and I like my Ducatis. I know Italian machines best of all, and am trying like hell to get my Vincent chops to the point where I feel justified in saying “I know them” in front of guys like Sid. However, when it comes to both, I kinda want the separation of church and state… so to speak.
Behind the scenes with Big Sid’s Vincati with Jay Leno
So, perhaps my enthusiasm for the Vincati remained harnessed because of my irrational passion for both marques and my belief that the combination would not yield more than what each master achieved in their original designs. An additional reason might have been because when you compare it visually to a really well done Norvin or Egli special, the machine is very restrained…very subdued by comparison. The color of the machine certainly has something to do with initial impressions. I say this as a compliment however, because upon seeing it in person I realized that it is the perfect color for the project. It fits what this machine is really all about.
Part of being a good designer, (no matter what the discipline), is not coming up with great ideas. That should be the easy part. It’s really about knowing how to edit those ideas and take your own ego and taste out of the equation. Sometimes, what you like best is the worst thing for the project. It took real discipline to make the decisions that made this project appear effortless, and that includes paint color.
For example, I tend to like orange, red or black motorcycles the most. Frankly, it would have been a real amateur move to paint the Vincati red. Not that it would have looked “bad” in red, but seeing it in person I realized it would have shown a lack of maturity and perhaps even imagination. Even before riding it, I was down on the ground examining the fit and finish of the engine and chassis.
Sid was standing over me, making sure I did not miss anything by pointing out all the little notes that went into the Vincati’s song. My “wow” moment came in the realization that it was such an unbelievably natural fit. The seamless craftsmanship and execution all added up to something that, upon close examination, really
startled me! The more I examined it, the more my heart sank as I realized how far I really had to go in the mastery of my own craft. I then realized what this machine truly is… it is absolute mastery of craft.
Being a responsible designer, no matter what type, is about balancing the art and engineering of things in a way that appears effortless…seamless… as if it ‘was always meant to be’. Forget how difficult the Vincati is to build… to “get right”. This machine is so well done, you find yourself briefly forgetting that this marriage was
I know of few factory made machines that worked this well in concert. The Vincent didn’t. The Duati 750GT didn’t.
Video: Starting the Vincati
Whether or not you agree or like the idea of the mixed marriage… the moment you set off on the machine all doubts are gone. The first thing I noticed when Matthew started the bike up in my shop is how mechanically quiet the engine runs. I thought to myself, “Oh God… I am in serious trouble if that’s how they are SUPPOSED to
sound”! To date, I have never heard a Vincent sound that refined. It probably also did not help my ego any that Matthew started the machine up without any perceivable effort. You’d think he had used the electric foot, but he didn’t. I am sure he could have just as easily started it by hand. I always hear that this is possible, and have done it a few times… but you rarely see it first-hand on a machine that is in a higher state of tune.
As I set off on my test ride I notice that overall, the machine feels like a modern motorcycle, but with more soul than most modern machines are allowed to have. If anything, I would say the closest thing out there to it (and I know it is perhaps an unusual and unfair comparison), is the new Ducati Sport Classic GT. However, the GT
lacks the ‘type’ of grunt that Sid and Matthew’s engine delivers.
Shockingly, the Vincati runs smoother and more effortlessly than that new dual spark motor! Also, the classic Vincent torque curve really lends itself to this chassis in a way that is…not to keep beating the same drum… just naturally suited to the chassis. I guess after all, it is a British designed chassis. Colin Seely sure knew what he
was doing when he created one of the best frames ever for Ducati.
Of course, he really just continued the ‘engine as stressed member’ theme in a way that was best suited for racing and ultimately, mass production. So, I cannot help but wonder if he envisioned this pairing. I know he could not have, but it keeps going through my head as I ride the Vincati, “He must have… he must have”.
Knowing both Vincents and Ducatis, I realize immediately that it is not ‘any one thing’ that achieves what I am experiencing, but rather hundreds of things working on concert to deliver and experience that can’t be duplicated. All of a sudden, I am even more impressed.
The weight of the engine is set just right in the frame so that the bike just feels wonderful. Comfortable, stable, neutral and very very willing to play…begging you to thrash it into a corner, hard and fast! It’s like an British RAF pilot and a Italian GP racer got together and said… “let’s build something truly special, just for us”. The Conti 2 into 1 pipe is something I am oh so familiar with, and yet… I was surprised to hear it with a different, more refined singing voice. The motor revs so happily and smoothly, I just forget what I am riding… and just RIDE it.
As it gets going and warmed up, I find an open stretch of road and give it the juice. The Vincati leaps forward instantly and I am effortlessly going 85+ in a 30mph zone before I know it. The sound of the Conti pipe is intoxicating in a way that the bevel drive Hailwood I ride often just does not match. It shifts silently and effortlessly. A bit longer and more relaxed than a standard Vincent, the more traditional frame immediately gives me the feeling that finally I could see what a Vincent motor is capable of on the rough streets of Chicago. As I cook down the road thinking how fantastic this machine really is, I suddenly spot someone inching out of a side street. I give it some front and rear brake and flick into the next lane while quickly shifting down and giving it the juice, hard. I’m ‘gone daddy gone’ before they even have a chance to do something as stupid as pulling in front of me. Another 4 blocks and I am set up for what I came for… a nice set of short sweepers thru another intersection and over a rough patch of road… my usual test track that upsets most machines. Standard Vincents really seem to hate it.
The Ducati chassis responds with, “Yeah… seen it all before… is that all you got, Chump”?
I come to a quick stop and the motor settled to a lovely, impossibly quiet idle… my itchy trigger finger just waiting for me to pop it off the line and make some noise. People are hanging out of their cars, looking at the machine and trying to figure out what the hell it is that I am riding. Like they’d know either way?! The blue color of the paintwork helps the machine disappear in the failing light of the early evening… adding to the mystery of what is making that incredible noise as I pull away hard, running out of first gear at well over 50 mph in one short city block. Really getting warmed up now, the engine begs me to rev it hard and the chassis is pleading to be
out on a Wisconsin ‘alphabet road’ where I can really open it up and do what the God’s intended.
Sadly… I am nearing my shop and my ride must come to an end. I pull in and shut the machine down. I hear Sid quietly ask in a slow southern drawl… “Stephen, honestly… what did you think of it”?
I take off my helmet, compose myself for a second, and say, “What a GREAT f**king machine, Sid. Just absolutely a great f**cking machine”.
Sid pauses and quietly asks, “Really”? I think he must be kidding. I have never ridden anything like that. It is everything I really love about motorcycles, all wrapped up in one machine.
Matthew comes up beside me and in a stream of consciousness I involuntarily say aloud, “I should have never ridden that… now I’m screwed. No Vincent will ever be the same for me”.
Big Sid’s Vincati – with Jay Leno (Hang in for the last third with the test ride.)
Steve Pate is the owner of Restoration Werks.