Remembering Big Sid Biberman

Like many fans, I first became acquainted with Big Sid Biberman through his son Matthew's magnificent memoir, Big Sid's Vincati. Writer Edward Abbey once said it takes the average American male 50 years to come to terms with his father. Matthew slightly accelerated that process by undertaking a massive mechanical project with his Dad, building the Vincati, a mythical Vincent/Ducati hybrid. The book that celebrates their reacquaintance is a remarkable artifact of love, forgiveness, and mutual acceptance.

A few years later I had the opportunity to meet Big Sid in person, when I was asked to race one of his carefully prepared Vincent motorcycles—nicknamed "Overtime Tina"—at North Carolina's Maxton Monster Mile. I was extremely honored to race a Vincent prepared and tuned by Big Sid, regarded as one of the world's foremost Vincent experts. It gave me great pleasure to help Sid set a national land-speed record, finally accomplishing one of his greatest personal goals. More than that, it was a privilege to work closely beside this man and observe him doing what he loved most—wrenching on Vincents.

The next year I went to Bonneville with the Bibermans—where the team set more records—and got to know Big Sid even better. He was the real deal, an authentic motorcycling icon that earned his status the honest way, by building and racing very fast, very beautiful motorcycles for over 60 years. Standing 6’5”, Sid was a giant of a man, but a gentle giant who exhibited an out-of-proportion kindness to everyone he met, from fellow racers to wait staff at the casino restaurant where we dined at each night. He was a fantastic story teller, and it didn’t hurt that his subject matter—ranging from visiting the Vincent factory as a GI in the 50s, to underground street racing in the 60s, to hanging out in Jay Leno’s garage in the 00s—was second to none. That he had a definite salty streak—he referred to the ill-tempered Vincent single as “that little bitch,” and unforgettably compared the chore of cleaning salt off your bike after racing at Bonneville to “a whore that gives you the ride of your life and then, when you get home, your dick falls off”—only made him that much more delightful.

Sid was hardly able-bodied in the years I knew him. Bad knees made mobility difficult, and it had been years since he had ridden a motorcycle, but his mind remained tack-sharp—especially when it came to wrenching on his Vincents. He could diagnose a faltering valvetrain from 50 yards, rejet a carb after just the quickest glance at a plug, and field-strip a Rapide twin in less than an hour in the 95-degree sun for a post-record Bonneville tear-down, without putting a single screw or locknut out of place. The man could tune, and it was obvious to anyone watching that there was nothing he’d rather do.

The real story of the Vincati tale was how, after a serious heart attack sent him into a deep depression, building that motorcycle together with Matthew had kept Sid alive. I lifted that same “unfinished business” literary trope to close my story about Overtime Tina, suggesting Sid would have to “stick around at least a few more years to see Tina run at her full potential.” But I guess that business is finished now. It turns out that not even a global fan base and a brace of record-setting Vincents can defer or delay a failing heart—especially not one as big and full as Big Sid’s. Onward, then, from that Great White Dyno on the salt to that Great White Dyno in the sky. RIP, Big Sid, and thanks again for the ride.