1952 Vincent Black Lightning
The Black Lightning was a Vincent motorcycle designed and built in September 1948 at the Vincent works in Great North Road, Stevenage, Hertfordshire, UK, and produced from 1948 to 1952. At the time it was the fastest production motorcycle in the world.
Interviewed in a 2003 BBC documentary Solitary Life, Thompson said: "When I was a kid, that [the Vincent Black Lightning] was always the exotic bike, that was always the one, the one that you went "ooh, wow". I'd always been looking for English ideas that didn't sound corny, that had some romance to them, and around which you could pin a song. And this song started with a motorcycle, it started with the Vincent. It was a good lodestone around which the song could revolve".
In 2011 Time magazine listed the song in its "All TIME 100 Songs", a list of "the most extraordinary English-language popular recordings since the beginning of TIME magazine in 1923."
The Black Lightning is also famously known as the 'Bathing Suit Bike'. On September 13th 1948, Rollie Free achieved the US national motorcycle speed record at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. During test runs Free reached average speeds of 148.6 mph (239.1 km/h). To reduce drag, Free stripped to his swimming shorts for the final run, which he made lying flat with his legs stretched out and his head low, guiding the Vincent by following a black stripe painted on the salt bed. The technique worked as Free covered the mile in 23.9 seconds, recording an average speed of 150.313 mph (241.905 km/h).