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Falcon Motorcycles unveils its Black

May 12, 2011 |  3:00 am

Falcon Motorcycles occupies a rarefied niche in the motorcycle world, taking pieces of decades-old bikes and evolving their artistry and engineering to levels few builders would even attempt. In three years, the L.A. shop has built exactly three bikes, all of them meticulously handcrafted. Its latest, the Black Falcon, took a six-man team an entire year to build. The bike makes its public debut at this weekend's Quail Motorcycle Gathering in Carmel.

"We started with basically a box of pieces," said Ian Barry, Falcon Motorcycles' designer and primary builder.

Inside that box was the engine of a 1952 Vincent Black Shadow that had been sitting in a former motorcycle racer’s bedroom for 35 years, next to giant X-rays of the hips he’d broken racing.

"The entire thing except for the engine was completely rusted beyond repair," said Amaryllis Knight, Barry’s fiancee and Falcon Motorcycles' co-founder.

The Black Falcon is the most extreme of Falcon’s creations thus far, and the first to be based on a Vincent rather than a Triumph. To craft the Black Falcon in a manner that was true to the Vincent philosophy of adjustability, versatility and performance yet in sync with the Falcon ethos of extreme evolution and design, Barry said he adopted the motto of a book about Vincent Motorcycles: Know Thy Beast.

He read biographies of Vincent’s chief designer and engineer, Phil Irving, and other tomes about the short-lived British marque. He looked at thousands of pictures.

"Then I had to push that all out of my head and just make the thing," said Barry, who described the process as "quite an undertaking."

To fully appreciate the Black Falcon would take hours. Every angle of the bike yields examples of meticulous handiwork, such as the falcon’s claw closure on the gas cap, the bronze alloy cylinders, the machined characters spelling out the word "stop" on the tail light.

The brakes, shocks and gas tanks were all made by hand, as was the frame, exhaust and pretty much everything else on the bike except the wheels and a small, stamped-metal piece on the bike’s neck that says "Made in England" that was salvaged from the original.

Even the engine was entirely overhauled. Each moving piece of the 1,000-cc, pushrod V-twin was examined and improved. Barry has yet to fire up the bike, but he estimates the modified engine will yield an additional 35 horsepower and accelerate to a speed of about 150 miles per hour.

The Black Shadow engine around which the Black Falcon was built had been heavily modified for drag racing. In a nod to Vincent’s drag bike heritage, as well as the Vincent legacy of no-tools adjustability, Barry has engineered the Black Falcon to be ridden as either a drag racer or a daily rider.

There are two gas tank configurations -– a painted, two-part tank that clicks into place over the oil pan and connects the fuel lines with quick-detach connectors, and an unpainted one-gallon drag tank that snaps onto one side of the oil pan with a padded leather seam that runs up the center, allowing the rider to lay flat and also be (moderately) cushioned.

The handlebars can be rotated and locked into different positions using only the lever that keeps the bars in place. Likewise, the foot pegs, even the gear shift and foot brake levers, can be swiveled into different positions depending on how the bike is ridden.

The solo seat can also move forward two inches. The internally sprung, rigid-mounted saddle fits above the swing arm and two modern gas shocks that act as the suspension. A channel was engineered so that the seat stays still when the swing arm moves up and down.

The Black Falcon is an engineering feat as much as it’s a piece of art. Falcon hasn’t priced the bike, but it’s already sold -– and winning praise from Vincent purists.

"A lot of people butcher [Vincents]. It’s about restraint with building a bike like this. I only went over the top," Barry said, before his fiancee completed the sentence: "With everything."

 RELATED:

Bullet Falcon targets motorcycles' colorful past

Falcon Motorcycles gives flight to its second bike

-- Susan Carpenter

 

Video: Don Kelsen and Jeff Amlotte / Los Angeles Times

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