Whilst they may not know makes and models, most people will probably know what a superbike is, even if it is only by being passed by one on the motorway at twice the speed limit accompanied by a loud screaming exhaust note – music to some of our ears.
But, what was the world’s first superbike?
I assume a relatively high number of people will say Honda, Yamaha, Ducati et al. Whilst those of a certain age will in all probability suggest that the Vincent Black Shadow should claim the laurels, and it is a very good candidate, for its time the 1,000cc V twin machine was extremely fast.
The Black Shadow was launched in 1948, developed from the Vincent Rapide which was itself launched in 1936. The Black Shadow had four brakes, twins front and rear, all drums – no disc brakes in those days – and a top speed of 125mph, so as said not too bad for the time.
However, as good as the Vincent’s claim is I believe there is an earlier claimant to the title of first Superbike. Enter the Brough Superior SS100.
George Brough (1890 – 1969) was the son of William Brough who built motorcycles. When George set up his own motorcycles factory he said they would be superior to all others, hence Brough Superior! His father, like the quotation attributed to Queen Victoria was said …. to be not amused.
The Brough Superior SS100 was introduced in 1924. Each model was assembled by hand not once, but twice. The first time for fitting all components, then it was stripped down for painting, plating etc. and assembled again. Each SS100 was test ridden at 100mph before delivery, if it didn’t reach 100mph it was sent back to the workshop and worked on until such time as it could reach that figure. The SS100’s had JAP engines, although I believe there was a Matchless engine used as well, of 998cc capacity. Just a quick word here, the JAP engines did not originate in Japan, the name is an acronym, as they were manufactured by John Alfred Prestwich (1874 – 1952) whose engines powered, among others Ariel, HRD Vincent, New Imperial, Rudge and many other bikes.
Naturally, this level of motorcycle perfection didn’t come cheap. In the 1920’s you would have to pay around £130 to buy an SS100. If you consider that at the time the average new house cost circa £590 and the average wage was £3 per week you either had to have a very deep back pocket or a very understanding other half.
One famous Brough rider was T E Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia. He was in fact killed in 1932 riding his Brough, the 8th one he owned. His 9th Brough was still being built when he died and is currently exhibited in the Imperial War Museum, London.
On a closing note, if Broughs and Vincents were expensive when new, recent auction prices are £242,300 for a SS100 and £124,700 for a Black Shadow! – I’m off now to check the back of the garage, you never know what I might find.