Vincent Motorcycle Project - Overtime Tina

Saving Big Sid's life, one Vincent at a time

By Aaron Frank, Photography by Bob Clarke

Motorcycles make good medicine. Sidney M. "Big Sid" Biberman learned that lesson as a young boy growing up in Norfolk, Virginia, making restaurant deliveries with his father, a butcher. His father could be a cruel man, and Sid remembers the occasional glimpse of off-duty sailors racing motorcycles along the Norfolk city streets as his only joy during those endless, back-breaking delivery runs. A few years later when Sid-by then an American GI and big-time motorcycle enthusiast-returned from overseas duty and found himself betrayed by the man he thought was his best friend, motorcycles saved him again. Sid's tormentor was the best motorcycle drag racer in the Tidewater region. To punish him, Sid built his Vincent Rapide into the fastest bike on the Eastern seaboard, and then used it to beat the man so soundly that he eventually gave up motorcycles for good. Revenge, it seems, is best served on two wheels.

Motorcycles-Vincent motorcycles in particular-continued to soothe and save Sid for four more decades, while he raised his family, opened his own motorcycle shop and earned a rock-solid reputation as one of the world's foremost Vincent experts. Then, in September of 2000, Big Sid faced his fiercest opponent yet, when a serious heart attack almost killed him. Of course, a Vincent motorcycle once again saved his life.

With bad knees, a failing back and a faltering heart, Sid was just waiting around to die. Desperate to pull him from this enduring funk, Sid's son Matthew, an English professor at the University of Louisville, made an insane proposition. The two of them, who never got along well in the first place and especially not in the garage, would build one last motorcycle together. It wouldn't be any garden-variety restoration, however. It would be a "Vincati." This was the mythical hybrid of Sid's two favorite bikes-the Vincent Black Shadow and the Ducati 750 GT-a machine that had animated Big Sid's imagination for decades.

The project, which healed the broken relationship between father and son and saved Sid's life at the same time, is chronicled in Matthew's excellent memoir titled Big Sid's Vincati, which will be released in paperback this May. This story is not about the Vincati, however. This is the postscript, and an attempt to tie up some loose ends. The 1000cc V-twin engine that powers the Vincati came from a Vincent Rapide given to Sid by his old friend Lex, who was dying from cancer at the time. When the Bibermans went to retrieve the Rapide, Matthew made Lex a promise: "We'll use the chassis too," he said. "Once the Vincati is done, we're going to find another engine and build up a bike to race."

This is the story of that next bike, nicknamed Overtime Tina. "We did all the work on this bike after-hours," Matthew explains, "and she just reminded me of a Tina!" Overtime Tina was built to honor Matthew's promise to Lex, and to keep Sid alive for a few more years. "We needed another quest to keep Sid going," Matthew says. Though "The Rattler" (Sid's 10-second, methanol-fueled Vincent Rapide) had won dozens of drag races, Big Sid never held an official speed record, which remained one of his life-long goals. Scanning the East Coast Timing Association's record book revealed a number of 650cc speed records within reach of a well-prepared Vincent single. Father and son decided to make a record attempt at the ECTA's Maxton, North Carolina, race course. Perhaps since I'm more aerodynamic than 6'5", 300-pound Big Sid, the Bibermans asked me to ride the bike.

Maxton is a sleepy nowheresville on the broad coastal plain along the North and South Carolina border. It's an unremarkable place, except for an abandoned, World War II-era airstrip secluded in a stand of pines just outside town. That's now known as the Maxton Monster Mile, home to the ECTA speed trials and Ground Zero for the fastest motorcycles on earth.

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