March 24 2011 by Jason Fogelson
A few months ago, I wrote about a few new books about motorcycling that I was planning to read. When I got back from my recent trip to the Gulf Coast, I finally got a chance to sit down and read one of the books on the top of my list, and I just had to tell you about it.
Big Sid's Vincati by Matthew Biberman is subtitled "The Story of a Father, a Son and the Motorcycle of a Lifetime." It's the true story of how motorcycling helped to bring a family together, and how the love of a motorcycle can help to heal old wounds.
Matthew Biberman's father, Big Sid, is a legend in the Vincent motorcycle community. He's a great mechanic with the soul of an artist, a man who can tune a classic motorcycle better than anyone else. This great ability has not resulted in wealth or fame, nor has it delivered a happy home life. As the book opens, Big Sid is in his early 70s and in failing health. In order to give Big Sid something to live for, Biberman promises that they will finally build a project motorcycle together. They will build a Vincati.
A Vincati is a Vincent engine mounted in a Ducati frame. Biberman does a great job of illustrating why that's a cool thing worth doing, and why so few have tried doing it.
The process of building the bike brings up a wellspring of feelings for both Biberman and his father. Biberman is a college professor and writer, married to Martha, a professor and poet. Biberman has never felt like a competent motorcycle mechanic, despite the fact that he has kept several vintage bikes on the road over the years. His difficult relationship with Big Sid has always made him feel like a kid who doesn't know which way to turn a wrench.
Building the Vincati becomes a race against time, a race against Big Sid's health, and a race to preserve Biberman and Martha's marriage. In the process, Biberman and Big Sid each discover the roots of their issues, their anger and their fear. Both men are changed in the process. They may not settle their issues, but they certainly make peace with them, and with each other. And a motorcycle is the vehicle of that change.
The book was particularly resonant for me, and I'm recommending it to you. There are some great passages about motorcycle travel, where Biberman remembers trips that he took as a passenger on his father's bike, and where Biberman recounts rides that he took beside his father on his own bike. Where and how they rode together had a profound effect on the author, from where he went to college to how he envisioned his relationship with his infant daughter, born during the course of the story.
This is a great book to take with you on a motorcycle trip! Now it's time to ride.