60 Greatest bikes: Vincent Black Shadow Series C

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When MCN was launched in 1955, the Vincent Black Shadow Series C was arguably the most iconic motorcycle in the world, and Vincents in general were regarded as the finest motorcycles of the time. And of all the sublime motorcycles the British firm produced, the Black Shadow was considered the ultimate. 

  • Year: 1955
  • Manufacturer: Vincent
  • Model: Black Shadow Series C
  • Claim to fame: The Shadow was the fastest and best-engineered motorcycle of the 1950s
  • Did you know? Shadows were so expensive to manufacture that Vincent actually sold them at a loss


Produced between 1949 and 1955, the C model was a tuned version of the earlier Vincent Rapide and was capable of over 120mph – an astonishing speed for the time. The 998cc V-Twin made 55bhp from its black enamel-finished engine and it had the handling and braking performance to match its brute power.

Paul Adams is a retired detective and current Information Officer for the Vincent Owners Club. He’s ridden across America twice on his 1954 Vincent Black Shadow Series C and still rides it on an almost daily basis:


“I bought a 1954 Series C in 1983 and I’ve had it ever since. I’ve owned a whole series of old British bikes from Triumphs to Matchless and an Ariel Square 4 but a friend offered me a go on his Black Shadow and as soon as I rode it I thought ‘Why am I riding a Square 4?’ The power delivery was fantastic and it just did everything I wanted it to do, so I went out and bought one.

The Shadow is not a racing bike but then I’m not a racing man – I like long distance touring. But it must have felt like a rocketship when it first came out in 1949, when the average car was doing about 45mph. The Shadow will easily cruise at 80 or 90mph all day. 

“A decent Shadow now will cost anything between £50,000 and £70,000 and the un-restored bikes are fetching about the same because, as a wise man once said, “a vehicle is only original once in its life” and there’s so few original Shadows on the market now. “I’ve flown my Shadow over to Canada twice and ridden it all round America, just on my own, but meeting up with various people and clubs along the way.

The Shadow is so reliable. On the first trip I covered 5,800 miles and the only thing that broke was the strap that holds the dynamo down – and that was my own fault because it was a non-standard part that I’d made. They’re not expensive bikes to run and maintain. An engine should last about 50,000 miles before it needs any sort of attention. “It’s harder to ride the Vincent than it is to ride a modern bike. My son has ridden it and admits you need to be a better rider because you need to plan ahead a lot more – it doesn’t stop or change direction as quickly as a modern bike. 

“I don’t have exact figures but I think Vincent made about 4,000 Shadows and I’d guess there’s about 2,000 of them still around. I ride my Shadow whenever I get the chance. I wouldn’t want to travel into London on it every day though, it’s a bike best suited to English A and B roads, although it can cope very well with motorways – far better than any other British bike of that era.”





To mark 60 years of publication, we are proud to prompt maybe the most controversial debate yet!
Between now and the end of the year we will keep the argument, over which of these bikes is the best that we’ve seen over our sixty years, raging and we want you to get involved. Cast your vote, send in tales and pictures as you make a case for your personal favourite.
MCN Staff

By MCN Staff